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Big Finish Chrsitmas Special

What:Relative Dimensions (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 27 March 2017
Rating:   7

Big Finish enters the Chrsitmas special category with one for Doctor 8. The Doctor takes Lucy to future Earth to pick up Susan and her son Alex. Everyone is to have Christmas dinner in the TARDIS. The Doctor insists that whatever strange noises and sudden temperature happens, he's going to ignore it until later because he wants nothing to spoil the occasion. This story has everything that the usual Christmas special has - the Christmas theme and setting, some mild danger, the Doctor left on his own, and of course a giant flying fish. We get some fun, we get some pathos. Nothing too deep or serious happens. It's just Christmas enough and just Doctor Who enough.



Marred by a Poor Ending

What:Spaceport Fear (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 27 March 2017
Rating:   7

Spaceport Fear has much going for it. This entry into the devolved society genre works the trope well. 500 years ago, the spaceport went into lockdown. The survivors devolved into two rival societies - Economy and Business. This setup is the source of many jokes about airports as the societies turn the ordinary into the irrationally important and stock phrases become maxims. The two societies both fear a monster, the Wailer, living in the control tower. There is much to say about why devolved societies of this kind would never come about, but the fun of it in this episode and the conviction put into it by the actors make the listener almost forget how preposterous the setup is. The excellent Ronald Pickup is marvelous as Elder/Director Bones, an unrepentant villain whose justification is that he is only doing what is practical and necessary. What drags this episode down for me is the last 20 minutes or so. We get introduced to an alien culture whose communication can only be described as a torture to listen to given the torture that must have gone in to creating the voice. There is a failure of conception as well. Given that a baby Wailer is huge, just how big are adult Wailers? Certainly they must be too big for several of them to chase people down hallways. While we get a good idea of the Wailer's sound, we get little information on what it might look like. We also get the false dilemma of an impending nuclear meltdown the failsafe for which can be turned off by mere touch of a button and the stoppage of which can happen merely by unplugging the cord. Clearly, the writer had no sense of engineering. So, very interesting and entertaining first three parts, disappointing fourth part.



Old War Stories

What:The War Doctor: Agents of Chaos (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 20 March 2017
Rating:   7

It is easy to get overtaken by the cast for this. Great actors turn in some great performances. Of that, there is no doubt. Honeysuckle Weeks is especially good, wresting nuance out of a less-than-nuanced part. The set itself follows along the lines of the previous two, with a general theme binding all the stories, while the first story seems almost standalone compared to the other two, which are more tightly bound by plot. The theme this time is traitors, and the reference point for the drama is Alistair MacLean. The Doctor is now fully, if very reluctantly, an agent for the Gallifreyan War Council, with Ollistra as his handler. Try as he might, he just can't wriggle out of it. Part one, The Shadow Vortex, has the Doctor chasing down a humanoid agent working for the Daleks, who, for some reason, has gone to 1961 Berlin. The Cold War setting plays counterpoint to the distant hot war going on light years away. The story sets the general style for the series and acts as prologue for the next two. The Eternity Cage finds the Doctor leading a band of soldiers under cover to rescue Ollistra, now captured and held by the Sontarans, who want in on the Time War, the side mattering nothing. The Sontarans have somehow gotten hold of Time Technology. But, there's a traitor in the band of daring Gallifreyans, revealed at the end, and leading to... Eye of Harmony, which attempts a kind of submarine at war story inside a battle TARDIS.

It seems to me that, as I said in my review of War Doctor 2, the Time War backdrop is going to be a limitation on the kinds of stories the War Doctor series can do. This set, as I see it, proves me right. The Daleks seek an ultimate weapon, supplied with a dubiously pompous name and an unconvincing description of what it does. In The Eternity Cage, the Sontarans apparently have another of the same. The Doctor gets to make some speeches about the futility and horror of war. The stories follow predictable war story patterns. All in all, it's a very mixed level. The acting is first rate, the writing not so much.



Good Job of Interpreting Hayles

What:The Lost Stories: Lords of the Red Planet (Lost Stories audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 14 March 2017
Rating:   8

This story began as two treatments that would have been scripted had they been accepted. The producers at the time, 1969, chose Seeds of Death, over this one. One can only surmise why, but the most probable reason is cost. It would require quite a large number of extensive costumes and several quite different sets. John Dorney has chosen to write this very much in the Hayles style, melding the two treatments and fitting together a complete story. In this case, we get an origin of the Ice Warriors story, sort of. The last remnants of a Martian civilization are holding on, just. In charge is the cold Zaadur, a benevolent tyrant who turns out to be not so benevolent. She is forcing her father to perform genetic sculpting on some of the local fauna so as to produce the next generation of survivors, seemingly. There is, of course, more to it than that. The story draws attention to the ethics of animal experimentation and the sad truth about both time and evolution - all things must pass. Given this, the story is rather dark, sombre at times, and intense in a way in keeping with the series after Zoe was introduced, recalling such stories as Wheel in Space and The War Games. It is also in keeping with the 1960s Doctor Who to have an out and out bad guy (or girl in this case) bent on destruction for dubious psychological reasons. This is probably the weakest area of the script. Another is the choice to have this in narrated audio-book form rather than full cast drama. The casting is a family affair, with Patrick Troughton's son Michael Troughton playing the beleaguered Martian scientist and Wendy Padbury's daughter Charlie Hayes playing the vain princess. This one is definitely worth having.



Light and Trivial

What:The Gallery of Ghouls (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 March 2017
Rating:   6

Alan Barnes in the 2010s seems to want to go to the funny really, really badly. Gallery of Ghouls has much of the schtick that we found in Doctor Who of the Graham Williams era. The story is of rival waxworks operations in Brighton, 1833, being used as a send-up of Madame Tussaud's. Each is a fake in its own way, though one with more deadly implications than the other. We also get rival fake French accents quite outrageously out of kilter. The script has some unreserved punning, such as Goole's hous of ghouls, and the planet located in the Slough of Despond, making some jokes at the expense of the city of Slough. The story never quite leaves this level of trivia. It's fun, but not particularly memorable.



Amusing, Nothing More

What:Suburban Hell (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 March 2017
Rating:   6

Suburban Hell has many of the features of a typical Alan Barnes script. One is placing Doctor Who into a non science-fictional environment and having the audience relish the "fish out of water" consequences. Another is to turn that non science-fictional environment into a science-fictional one. In this case, a 1970s themed dinner party provides the occasion for the Doctor and Leela to be in one of those dinner party plays so common to the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, Leela is utterly perplexed by the language and customs of such events, and describes her cocktail as "poison." There is much amusement as people mistake what the other is saying by trying to place it into their own context. Again, this is quite amusing. Another commonality of Barnes' writing is to be fairly loose on the science, so loose that it is more or less just magic with some science-y words flung at it. One of the most annoying aspects of Barnes's writing is his constant turning to "it's all the Doctor's fault" as if each time this were a new discovery. Couple this cliché with a reset button ending that often goes with the timey-wimey stories, and Suburban Hell simply fails to hold all its parts together.



Gothic Horror

What:The Lost Stories: Point of Entry (Lost Stories audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 7 March 2017
Rating:   7

Very reminiscent of Masque of Mandragora, Point of Entry heads to London in the 1590s and involves Christopher Marlowe working on his Faust play and imitating Faust in selling his soul, more or less, to gain knowledge, which in this case would allow him to create his masterpiece. The Doctor accidentally contacts an alien entity of some kind and gets diverted to this period, which, as with Masque, accidentally allows the aliens access to Earth on the night of an eclipse. We even get an evil magician as in Masque, this time being the disgraced Spanish nobleman Don Lorenzo Velez. It's a decent enough pastiche piece more in line with Hinchcliffe Doctor 4 stories than with Nathan-Turner Doctor 6. Still, Colin Baker makes it work for his Doctor. A problem area in this story is Peri in the first half, who spends most of it in "save me, Doctor" mode. She does get better in the second, with a comic impersonation of Queen Elizabeth, only the wrong Elizabeth. All in all, it's an entertaining if not particularly original story.



Stylish but Pointless

What:Heart of TARDIS (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 5 March 2017
Rating:   6

Because Dave Stone has a distinctive style and voice for narrating a story, his works can be offputting to those who like a plot delivered straight. Stone's style is of a certain kind of narrator in modern British fiction, one who maintains a long distance between the narrator and the story, commenting ironically on events, stepping in with whimsical observations and seeming non-sequiturs. It's the style of Douglas Adams, Gwyneth Jones, Ford Maddox Ford, and others. A reader looking for some style in the narrative, however, finds this approach rewarding and probably, in the case of Heart of TARDIS, the best thing in the book. The main problem dragging this novel down, though, is the plot. It's as though Stone paid so much attention to the style that he ignored the fact that a novel in a popular genre needs a plot.

The premise is promising enough. Doctor 2, Jamie, and Victoria are having one adventure while Doctor 4 and Romana (K-9 gets only briefly mentioned) are having another, but even though these are at different times and different places they are in some way happening simultaneously and each is affecting the other. The concept is daring, but it requires a writer skilled in maintaining the connections, one who knows at each point what the link is. This is where Heart of TARDIS falls to pieces. We learn that the connection has something to do with a prototype TARDIS gone haywire, and that the proximity of Doctor 2's TARDIS accidentally landing near the anomaly created by the prototype TARDIS sets off a kind of chain reaction. Had the story been left at the level of just this problem, it would have been fine. However, Stone heaps on top of it some extra-dimensional demons acting like Cthulu mythos monsters, a possessed Aleister Crowly with extended life, a secret US military base in England, and a secret government agency infiltrating UNIT. Early parts of the novel work well, keeping the reader guessing as to what is causing events and how they are connected. However, about 3/4 of the way through, Stone loses control of the plot. It becomes "and then reality went all crazy" and "look, an elephant in pyjamas, isn't that weird?" and a giant human pyramid of 250,000 people creating a human analog thing of some kind. Adding to the catastrophe are dozens of off-hand references to popular television scattered throughout the novel - The Simpsons, The X-Files, Queer as Folk, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and on and on. Finishing with an ending that isn't an ending, just "and then it was all over" more or less, the last 1/4 of the book is one of biggest disappointments for a Doctor Who novel. It's sad because given the premise, Heart of TARDIS could have been one of the best Doctor Novels.



Entertaining but Flawed

What:The Lost Stories: Paradise 5 (Lost Stories audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 5 March 2017
Rating:   7

Paradise 5 is another of those should be a satire but isn't quite one stories. The Doctor and Peri go to visit an old friend of the Doctor's, but he's disappeared. The Doctor then springs into action, volunteering Peri on an investigation of the luxury holiday space station Paradise 5. Peri makes her way on as an employee, while the Doctor works behind the scenes. Something is definitely wrong here as tourists go in, but never come out. The script is both interesting and infuriating. The story has many holes in it. The elaborate plot to steal people's essence as fodder in a war in the "higher dimensions" does not make much sense. On the other hand, the performances are excellent. Particular standouts are Alex Macqueen as Gabriel and James D'Arcy as Michael, one of the best double acts in all Big Finish productions.



Heart of darkness.

What:Fear of the Dark (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:Trevor Smith, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 4 March 2017
Rating:   9

I really, really enjoyed this. A cracking tale, told at a terrific pace. It has a real sense of dread all the way through with echoes of Alien/Aliens films. Loved the way Nyssa and Tegan are used in thus book, so much better than in a lot of the TV stories and the fifth Doctor feels very vulnerable. All in all a superb novel.



Don't Know Quite What to Make of It

What:The Lost Stories: The Hollows of Time (Lost Stories audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 1 March 2017
Rating:   7

Christopher H. Bidmead's strength as a writer was in really interesting ideas from the edges of science regarding warping reality. This is probably the best element of The Hollows of Time. The worst element is the boy Simon (Susan Sheridan), one of those annoying brilliant, lonely kids who seemingly end up in every family-oriented program. One of the repeated elements of the lost season seems to be "get Peri to be a babysitter," as we see in The Nightmare Fair (Kevin's not a child, but certainly acts like a young teen who needs to reigned in by the more level-headed Peri), Mission to Magnus, and now this. Leviathan even had a child part. Simon in this story is mostly a needless distraction. The story itself is curiously structured, told in flashback with the Doctor and Peri after the events trying to remember what happened and telling each other bits of the story. It is not quite clear why the story should have been told in this way apart from Prof. Stream's apparently magical ability to mess with people's memories. Another curious aspect of the story is that for long stretches there is not much action. Part 1 is mostly in the form of a slow investigation of a mystery. The action picks up in Part 2, but then slows down again as the story reaches its climax. Also, curiously, all the conversations between the Doctor and the Gravis happen off stage. The only reason I can think of for this was that Big Finish did not want to replace the voice of the original actor for the Gravis. The choice is another element slowing down the action, so that we get characters fretting, "what did he say?," and the Doctor reporting on the conversation. Apparently, in the original TV version, Prof. Stream was to have been revealed as the Ainley Master. With Ainley unavailable, Big Finish got David Garfield (from The War Games and The Face of Evil) to play the role very Master like, while the Doctor keeps saying "He reminds me of someone." The takeaway: interesting villain, intriguing bent reality concepts, but clumsy plotting and strange writing choices.



Strange Mysteries

What:The Lost Stories: Leviathan (Lost Stories audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 1 March 2017
Rating:   8

Leviathan works a clever variation on some old SF tropes. It starts as sort of classic Doctor Who historical, with a medieval setting. Things really aren't what they seem, however. The story works a nice slow reveal as the Doctor and Peri gradually find the clues leading to what is really going on. Peri works well in this story and the way she is written shows how the character may have developed before Trial of a Timelord scuttled things. It's difficult to write about this story without giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say that the Doctor gets some really choice lines, while Peri shows her brave heart and sensibility. Some elements do not work wholly well. The large cast of characters requires that some actors perform several different characters, leading to some one-note acting with some characters. Eada (Beth Chalmers) and the Baron (John Banks) particularly suffer from this. The medieval accents are bit overly Mummerset. Once again, in trying to recreate the 1985 television experience the soundtrack composer goes a bit overboard on the simplicity. These are minor compared to all that works well in this story.



Clever Time Twist Tale

What:The Wrong Doctors (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 25 February 2017
Rating:   8

The Wrong Doctors takes the troubling tack of trying to work two of the same Doctor and two of the same companion into the same story. In this case, Doctor 6 saddened from saying goodbye to Evelyn decides to "meet" Mel and thus sync the timeline with the end of Trial of a Timelord. However, he gets the date wrong and arrives at the same time as another version of himself is dropping Mel back home right after the events of Trial of a Timelord. As if this wouldn't cause enough trouble, something is decidedly wrong in Pease Pottage. Anachronisms pop up all over the place, young Mel has no tech skills at all, and a strange man named Petherbridge seems to be running everything happening in the village. This supplies many chances for combinations, Doctor talking to Doctor and each Mel talking to each Doctor, and even Mel talking to Mel. Both Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford bring this off rather well, making clear, yet subtle distinctions between the two versions of their characters. The villain at the center of all this, Petherbridge, is, however, not all that interesting and what he is seems to be contrived for convenience and simplicity. There could have been much more regarding him. It's an enjoyable story with some pathos and some humor.



Sadly Weak

What:The Lost Stories: Mission to Magnus (Lost Stories audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 25 February 2017
Rating:   5

One of the unproduced scripts from 1985, one could be thankful that this was not actually done for television. It's a bizarre concoction of half-baked ideas, some truly dreadful science, and much sexism. It also seems a precursor to the style of 1987, when the producers could not seemingly decide whether to be serious or silly and opted for half of each. Magnus is a planet run by women because the men all die in their early 20s from a strange virus that affects them only in sunlight. The Rana of Magnus has contacted the Time Lords for permission to wage war retrospectively against the neighboring planet of men, or at least male-ruled, before they wage war on Magnus. The Time Lord sent to negotiate is a bullying oaf of whom the Doctor is scared because of what happened between them in their school days. The simpering Sil is there, too, trying to make some kind of deal to restore himself in the company's good graces. As this situation does not really provide much for a full 90 minutes, the plot includes some Ice Warriors who have no interest at all in what is going on with Magnus, but instead simply want to use nuclear weapons to shift the orbit of Magnus and thus make it their new home. There are some dreadful child actors as well, playing the oppressed boys of Magnus. It all just does not hang together, and much of it is overtly sexist in a way that would have seemed old-fashioned even for 1985.



Just like the 10 of Old

What:The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Technophobia (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 25 February 2017
Rating:   7

Doctor 10 is back in audio form, and it's as if he never left. The Doctor and Donna travel to a tech museum in the near future only to find that people are becoming afraid of their technology. Of course, there is an alien race bent on conquest behind it. Tennant slips right back into 10, quirky, charming, running around promising to save everyone when he really can't, and offering the bad guys an option out. Donna is the more confident woman of the later episodes with her. The story itself gives us nothing new with regard to the characters, and it plays out as a typical Doctor 10 one-off.



Squeek

What:Rat Trap (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 20 February 2017
Rating:   7

The plot of Rat Trap involves Doctor 5, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough heading for a medieval joust and arriving in the right place, wrong time. It's 1983, election day, and deep under a medieval castle are the remains of WWII safety tunnels for the PM. Ah, but something is down there with them. The tunnels were taken over for use in secret experiments to augment rat intelligence, to make rats into weapons. Now, our heroes, some amateur investigators, and two pen pushers, are trapped down there with telepathic, oversized rats who just hate what humans have done to their kind, and who are planning sweet revenge against all of humanity. The story follows 1983 Doctor Who very well, with the TARDIS crew swiftly split up and following multiple trails to the same location. The small central location and tight plotting makes the atmosphere claustrophobic and tense. This story, however, never would have been done in 1983 given the sensitivities of many viewers about rats, one of the more common phobias. Each of the companions comes out strong in this one. Tegan uses sarcasm to deflect fear, Nyssa is determined to do what she believes to be right, and Turlough is clever rather than cowardly. The electronically processed rat voices get kind of annoying, though. Also, there is a cliched Doctor Who ending in which ignoble people decide to do the noble thing.



Is It The Doctor's Fault Again?

What:Maker of Demons (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 20 February 2017
Rating:   7

Maker of Demons follows the pattern of the last few years that involves taking every species of animal on the planet and one by one turning them into monsters. This time, it's the moles' turn. This of course leads to much funny-voice acting. The story itself is interesting enough, a variation on Shakespeare's Tempest, though the BBV Time Travellers drama Prosperity Island was a much better variation on the same thing. In this case, Doctor 7 and Mel managed to save some future throwbacks to Renaissance Milan from an unidentified disaster without losing a single life. Now, Doctor 7, Ace, and returned Mel go back 100 years later expecting peace and prosperity, but finding war and deprivation. Everyone but everyone is blaming The Doctor for this situation, and The Doctor takes it all to heart, blaming himself the most. That's fine as it goes. On the negative side, non-TARDIS characters are rather one-dimensional. We get some cartoon bad-guy acting. Several deaths and surprises are clumsily telegraphed. On the positive side, the chemistry between Doctor, Ace, and Mel is surprisingly good. The companions act as two sides of The Doctor's conscience, Ace the "do something" side, and Mel the "let's think about this" side. Though they have few scenes together, Ace and Mel manage a real connection, a mutual understanding and respect for each other that makes them a refreshing combination for traveling companions. Ace gets some excellent lines. So, though a little predictable at times, Maker of Demons is still entertaining.



Light Entertainment

What:You Are The Doctor (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 14 February 2017
Rating:   7

Another entry in the 4 short stories sequence for Big Finish, You Are The Doctor goes for entertainment over substance. The linking element of the stories is that The Doctor is now letting Ace pilot the TARDIS and she keeps getting it wrong. The first story, You Are The Doctor, has our heroes running around in what appears to be a computer game version of "choose your adventure." The villains are comic relief pig aliens. Next is Come Die With Me, a traditional one-house murder mystery. Third is The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel, about a heist gone wrong. It has an interesting flashback narrative technique. Last is Dead to the World, in which our heroes end up on board a seemingly doomed spaceship with only three people left alive. As is usual with these collections of shorts, the action moves apace and things happen quickly. All are played in a half-silly half-serious manner except for the first, which is just silly.



More Time Twisting from Jonathan Morris

What:Prisoners of Fate (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 12 February 2017
Rating:   7

Prisoners of Fate is going to impress those who like tidbits thrown to the fans. It has these in abundance. The brief for this was to tie up the loose ends that have been hanging about Nyssa's story as Big Finish has developed it. This means much emotionality and hand-wringing. It means that Turlough's part in the story is much smaller, though to be fair he got his spotlight in Eldrad Must Die and Kiss of Death. The story itself revolves around a time paradox set in motion by Nyssa crossing her own history, but a part of it she knew nothing about. Now, having learned that she left behind her children for 25 years, she cannot go back to her old life as she thought. But, there is a villain just waiting to capitalize on the energies of the paradox from her doing just that. Much of this story has similarities to Morris's earlier time twister, Flip-Flop, in that we have a depressing society run by corrupt leadership, setting the stage for much "it did happen/it didn't happen" plotting. The corrupt leader, Sibor, is too much of a cartoon baddy to be of much interest. The story does present some challenge for the listener regarding the various directions of the possibilities. It also does tie up most of those loose ends.



Very Very enjoyable

What:The Power of the Daleks (BBC classic series DVD)
By:justin barnes, st.louis/mo, United States
Date:Saturday 11 February 2017
Rating:   10

This has always been a BBC favorite, so for them to totally do this was not a
surprise for me.It's looks Fantastic, Mark Ayres has done a wonderful job with the
audio, plenty of extras, and the plus is the original BBC Website Recon of the story with audio and telesnaps.
DVD's were done write.

SPOILER
There a humors animated error in episode 1 if anyone can spot it and the scene
actually adds to it.



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