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A Family Drama

What:An Earthly Child (Big Finish subscriber bonuses)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 16 September 2019
Rating:   7

It is now a couple of decades since the Dalek invasion of Earth was defeated, and Susan Campbell, a legend in a recovering Britain, is struggling to keep things together. Her husband is dead, her son Alex is leaning toward radical politics in university, there is a rising tide of populist anti-alien sentiment, and she can't admit to anyone, not even her son, that she is an alien herself. Desperate to see the Earth recover faster, Susan secretly contacts some aliens who promise aid. But are their motives altruistic? Doctor 8 drops in to have a snoop around her life, and ends up trying to clean up some of this mess. This is a reasonably entertaining drama.



Another Collection of Shorts

What:The Company of Friends (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 9 September 2019
Rating:   7

This collection has audio adventures of Doctor 8 with companions he hasn't had audio adventures with: Benny, Izzy, Fitz. Plus, we get introduced to a new travelling companion, Mary Shelley. As with the other anthology audios, the stories are quick and mostly amusing. There is no time for depth. This collection does not really have a linking idea, unlike the ones for the other Doctors.



Too Much Soapbox

What:The Two Doctors (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 16 August 2019
Rating:   4

Robert Holmes is one of the most beloved of classic series script writers. His scripts are best, though, when he does not take to trying to lecture the audience through the story. Sadly, "The Two Doctors" is one of the lecture episodes. His novelization of it only intensifies this aspect. The lesson here is "don't eat meat," a lesson that gets pounded into every scene, just about. Thus, the story is lost in ham-fisted allegory. The novelization clears up a couple of things. One is that Androgums are supposed to be great hulking monsters, much bigger and stronger than what we got in the TV episode. There is a bit more of Botcherby's background. The restaurant name is different, and there is no joke at the expense of "thick" Americans who cannot pronounce Spanish names. Still, the fundamental flaw of the story remains.



Decent Enough

What:Industrial Evolution (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 12 August 2019
Rating:   6

The final story for Brewster and Evelyn with Doctor 6. In the latter case, we don't get the kind of closure we would like, the actual story of Evelyn leaving The Doctor. Maggie Stables' death meant that it could not happen. This does feel like the end for Brewster, though. Doctor 6 is fed up with Brewster, but still has some heart, so takes him to industrial Lancashire in the 19th century, where he might fit in and make a new start for himself. Of course, it cannot be left at that. Some strange things are happening in this copper mine. Machines are making themselves and making grotesque machine/human hybrids. All in all, this is a fairly standard Doctor Who story.



Not Different Enough

What:Project: Nirvana (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 12 August 2019
Rating:   6

Yet another Doctor 7 meets ancient menace from the dark times. The manner of its telling is a bit different, being a Companion Chronicles entry where the companions are just side characters from a pair of earlier stories. It is nice to have a Forge story that doesn't devolve into a family drama. Still, these Cthulhu type dark times critters are getting just a little bit tiring. There is really not much a writer can do with them that Lovecraft hadn't already done.



Big Finish Recycles

What:House of Blue Fire (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 12 August 2019
Rating:   6

House of Blue Fire is a bipolar story in a way. It starts as a spooky, haunted house story with heavy amounts of "nothing is real" thrown in. Parts 3 & 4, though, switch to a conventional Doctor vs. alien story. Both are old hat for Big Finish. There are just too many messing with the mind and plastic reality stories where the fact that nothing is real is the central core for this one to gain much novelty. It proceeds pretty much like all the others. Then, we get Doctor 7 vs. ancient menace from the dark times that feeds off fear, which, again, is old hat, tattered and used up.



Makes No Sense

What:The Abandoned (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 7 August 2019
Rating:   1

This is one of those mad world anything can happen stories because - imagination. The problem is that if there are no rules and reality changes all the time, then there is really nothing for the listener to hang on to. There is no drama for the characters because they have no clear goals. Some people might say that a story like this is great because it pushes boundaries. It really does not, though. When half of The Doctor's dialogue is "shhh" and he waffles on about a Point of Stillness that cannot be described, drawn, referred to, or thought about without any explanation as to why, then we can be sure that there really is not much of a story here.



6th Doctor in a 3rd Doctor Adventure

What:Players (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 2 August 2019
Rating:   7

Having escaped death by slogging through some alien sewers, Doctor 6 promises Peri some hi-class relaxation. Aiming for London 1899, they arrive in South Africa 1899 just in time to save the life of a young, ambitious failed politician and war correspondent named Winston Churchill, and then get captured and sent to prison by the Boers. Somebody, however, is deliberately trying to kill Churchill himself, and this sets the Doctor to thinking about a time in his second incarnation when he again (before?) had to save Churchill from some strange people who might be time travellers of some sort. Using this memory as a jumping off point, The Doctor takes Peri to London 1936, where events are ramping up for the abdication crisis. Here, again, they meet some strange characters out to get Churchill. Dicks does a great job of inserting The Doctor and Peri into history, sticking closely to the known facts where he has to and being somewhat looser when can be. His story allows Doctor 6 to live the high life, a situation that might more comfortably have suited Doctor 3. The dialogue between Doctor 6 and Peri is spot on, giving the reader some insight into why Peri would continue travelling with the Doctor (hint: despite her protestations, she rather likes it). Dicks also has very little sympathy for Wallis Simpson, the cause of the king's abdication, and portrays her as fully a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator. As usual for a Terrance Dicks book, this is an enjoyable read, not too deep, and only a bit improbable in places.



6th Doctor in a 3rd Doctor Adventure

What:Players (50th Anniversary Collection novel reprints)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 2 August 2019
Rating:   7

Having escaped death by slogging through some alien sewers, Doctor 6 promises Peri some hi-class relaxation. Aiming for London 1899, they arrive in South Africa 1899 just in time to save the life of a young, ambitious failed politician and war correspondent named Winston Churchill, and then get captured and sent to prison by the Boers. Somebody, however, is deliberately trying to kill Churchill himself, and this sets the Doctor to thinking about a time in his second incarnation when he again (before?) had to save Churchill from some strange people who might be time travellers of some sort. Using this memory as a jumping off point, The Doctor takes Peri to London 1936, where events are ramping up for the abdication crisis. Here, again, they meet some strange characters out to get Churchill. Dicks does a great job of inserting The Doctor and Peri into history, sticking closely to the known facts where he has to and being somewhat looser when can be. His story allows Doctor 6 to live the high life, a situation that might more comfortably have suited Doctor 3. The dialogue between Doctor 6 and Peri is spot on, giving the reader some insight into why Peri would continue travelling with the Doctor (hint: despite her protestations, she rather likes it). Dicks also has very little sympathy for Wallis Simpson, the cause of the king's abdication, and portrays her as fully a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator. As usual for a Terrance Dicks book, this is an enjoyable read, not too deep, and only a bit improbable in places.



Harry sullivans war was a lot better.

What:Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma (The Companions of Doctor Who novels)
By:C G Harwood, Dunedin, NZ, New Zealand
Date:Wednesday 31 July 2019
Rating:   4

This book was ok but it was a lot longer than it needed to be be. I think you could have reduced this book from 221 pages to probably 130-140. I just don't get why it was so long. There were bits were I was just praying for it to get to the point.
To be honest after reading this I can see why they stopped doing these.



The Reich Falls Again

What:The Architects of History (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 23 July 2019
Rating:   7

I find Steve Lyons to be a better novelist than script writer. The novel form works for him because he can give his ideas room to breathe. In this audio drama, though, too many things happen too quickly, making much of the story a rather standard base under siege tale. That is too bad, because it could have been much more. The idea is that Klein, having successfully stolen the Doctor's TARDIS, has gotten exactly what she wanted. She is able to nip back in time, re-write history, prevent disasters, and allow the glorious 1000 year Reich to be real. But, there is something niggling at the back of her mind, something is just not quite right about it all. So, it's off to the moonbase in 2044 (exactly a century after her little adventure at Colditz) to interview the prisoner, aka The Doctor, one more time. Unfortunately for her, she doesn't know which Doctor from which time line this is. That is a brilliant setup. The possibilities for following the story of Klein's repeated attempts to undo her mistakes while the web of time becomes undone strand by strand would have been such a great story. Instead, Lyons has opted for plan B, which is that one of the alternate Doctors has made a desperate plan to use the Selacians (one of Lyons' creations from his novels) to attack the moonbase using time technology that the Doctor gave them, so that the Doctor can decommission Klein's TARDIS and remove Klein from time. Unfortunately, this Doctor can only guess at what the other Doctor had planned, so things go very wrong indeed. As base under siege stories go, it's not bad. It's just that Lyons left behind the more interesting story to pursue this one.



A Very Good Story

What:Survival of the Fittest (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 23 July 2019
Rating:   8

Doctor 7 has now encumbered himself with Klein. He tries to show her the wonders of the universe, to get her out of her limited view of the Reich as the pinnacle of everything. Part 1 is Klein telling her story, so we get the rundown of how she got to Colditz castle. Then, it's on to the main story. This one is really quite good. It is pretty much straight science fiction, which is unusual for Doctor Who yet works well. The Doctor and Klein encounter a species of intelligent giant insects, a kind of cross between termites and bees. This colony, however, has been devastated by human opportunists, using poison. The situation turns the tables on Klein, who, to her surprise, finds herself defending the weak against the strong. Tracey Childs pulls this off brilliantly. The story provides a great way for the listener to explore the life and culture of this insect race, and Jonathan Clements shows some guts in allowing the story to slow down so that the listener gets the full effect of this culture, which is what is needed to make Klein's self-revelations convincing.



An absolute dilight

What:The Collection: Season 10 (The Collection Blu-ray box sets)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 20 July 2019
Rating:   10

Yes, there is a considerable improvement in picture and sound quality. Honestly the colour of the show has never looked more wonderful and rich. Yes, this may not be quite as awesome as the sublime Spearhead from Space Blu Ray release, but considering studio camera work is renowned for being hard to produce in HD it doesn't half look stunning still. In fact if anything its all the studio scenes that look the most clear and beautiful in these sets strangely. Not a blip at all. It just thoroughly enhances your enjoyment of the stories of Season 10. And this season was a really strong one, story wise too and brilliant to see them get a loving restoration. Honestly these stories have never ever looked so beautiful. And the bucketload of extras you receive is superb.

The Three Doctors was a wonderful tenth birthday special story that succeeded in brilliantly bringing back Pat and William together with Jon for a very memorable and enjoyable romp together with Doctor Who brilliant villain Stephen Thorne!
Carnival of Monsters was one of Robert Holmes classiest and most imaginative stories of all and the Drashigs were superbly realised. I don't even give a toss about how sometimes the bad CSO lets the show down because it was a budgeted show and it was always awesome no matter how wonky the effects were!
Frontier in Space is brilliant space opera, the show's finest ever stab at that type of story in my opinion. Some superb model work shots and the Draconians and Ogrons are fabulous monsters and aliens indeed. And the poignant last performance of Roger Delgado is just so bittersweet but wonderful.
Planet of the Daleks is Terry Nation's greatest hits presented in a wonderful comic strip styling. Love all the characters and the daleks are back in force and the Ice Volcano is a well realised and brilliant idea.
The Green Death is a lovely and extremely strong goodbye to one of the best companions ever in the show. It also has powerhouse performances and the Giant Maggots are sublimely realised and look so damn realistic. And Jo's goodbye is very moving and touchingly done indeed.

It is an absolute joy to watch the Behind the Sofa segments with Katy Manning, Richie Franklin and John Levene because they exude love for the show and this just totally hooks you and you just love watching these brilliant new extras. Behind the Sofa is an awesome conceptual thing that I just love most, and never more so than when sitting watching Katy, John and Rich wax lyrical on how much they love the show!

All the other rare archive stuff too is amazing. Its wonderful seeing Jon on old news reports and the new feature length documentary of the Third Doctor era maybe just could have had a few more clips from the series as this one for once just felt a tad boring, and nothing anyone said in the documentary was anything I hadn't heard on countless documentaries before. But the Panopticon snippets are totally brilliant!

Keeping up with the Joneses though is my favourite extra of all. Its lovely watching Stewart Bevan and Katy revisit all the people and locations from the The Green Death. Katy seems so sweet and bubbly that the joy she exudes is infectious indeed. Its a delightful little drama and worth buying the set for this alone, let alone all the wonderful other titbits and excerpts from the archives!

The Season Ten Blu Ray set is an unequivocal success story. Its such a tribute to the people who made this season for television back in 1973. I think Jon Pertwee would have been proud of this set himself. Oh how I miss that oh so awesome moral James Bond-esque Doctor so much to this day!



The Worst of 6's First Season

What:The Mark of the Rani (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 16 July 2019
Rating:   1

Judging by what they wrote and how they wrote for Doctor Who, Pip and Jane Baker viewed the program as a children's show. Everything is pitched to the 10-year-old. The original brief for The Mark of the Rani was to give The Master a companion, like The Doctor has a companion. Instead, the Bakers opted to create their own rogue Time Lord and then spend the rest of the story never missing an opportunity to say how great she is while belittling the other two Time Lords in the story. In their novelization, there is far too much obvious foreshadowing of the "little did he know that" variety, and quite a bit of ham-fisted exposition, even if it all comes in small doses. Even at only 135 pages, this was tough to read.



Klein Returns

What:A Thousand Tiny Wings (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 13 July 2019
Rating:   7

This story is a kind of closet drama (with a few outdoor scenes) with political philosophy thrown in. Set in an isolated farmhouse in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising (mid 1950s), the story is designed to test the contentions between democracy and fascism, with colonialism as the test case. A small group of women are isolated, hiding from the Kenyans who are seeking freedom from British colonial rule through violent overthrow. Mrs. O'Donnel, the grand matron, is an old-time colonialist with a German husband and fascist ideas, who believes that the natives need the strong hand of European guidance. The other women are primarily scared and precious. And then there is Dr. Elizabeth Klein, who has come to Africa after hiding out in South America so she can test a theory and try to get her world back (listen to Colditz for the back story). Then, The Doctor just appears. This leads to much back and forth between Klein and The Doctor about the relative strength of their values. Add to this a strange alien presence and one gets an odd story for Doctor Who. It's the first of a trilogy, so we wait to see how The Doctor and Klein fair as a TARDIS team, so to speak.



Interesting, but Predictable

What:Kingdom of Silver (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 12 July 2019
Rating:   7

A steampunk society with a medieval political organization has found some strange, ancient artifacts on an island. They call the site "The Heart." The Doctor arrives and connects with a pair of android agents from the Orion War (the war between humans and androids featured in other Big Finish audios) who are searching for Cyberman technology. The plot unfolds mostly as predicted - The Cybermen are reactivating, ready to convert any and all. The Doctor has to fight both the Cybermen and the political upheavals of this culture to prevent the complete takeover of the world. There is also the subplot of how the androids are becoming more human-like. This is a three plus one set, so after the main three-part story, there is a one-part follow-up in which we learn of the fate of the androids after this adventure.



Horror in Space

What:The Death Collectors (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 4 July 2019
Rating:   6

This is one of the sets that have 1 3-part story and 1 1-part story. Both have the same writer, and the second is a sort-of sequel to the first. Solo Doctor 7 follows a distress call to a space station dedicated to researching a mysterious disease called "Decay." The station is aligned with some beings called Dar Traders, who exist on the brink of death and who "trade," though we do not know what they trade, for people's deaths. Problems with this one for me are that the writer has not really worked out the properties of either Decay or the Dar Traders all the way through, which means that they tend to be whatever is needed at the moment to serve the plot. The 1-parter is a timey-wimey story in which The Doctor and couple of princesses are trapped in a time-loop that is gradually getting chaotic. The lesson seems to be "tell your little sister she's pretty." Writer Sheargold apparently likes his extra-dimensional beings that poke into our universe. As with The Death Collectors, these elements feel like lazy writing to allow whatever the writer wants to happen rather than to work out the logic of the initial idea.



Doctor Who Goes Lovecraft

What:Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 26 June 2019
Rating:   7

Pretty much all one needs to know about this is that we get Doctor 7, Ace, and Hex stuck in a Lovecraft story. It's the late 1930s, and an island off the coast of Alaska has sprung up from nowhere some few years before. On the island is a lunatic asylum meant mostly to look after one man: C.P. Doveday, one-time writer of weird fiction for popular magazines. However, the island has a secret vault in a secret cave that can be opened only by a secret key. Throw in one mad millionaire with Nazi sympathies and one mad psychiatrist with ambitions of discovery, and you get access to the hibernation chamber of ancient, evil aliens. The story is fine as it goes, if one doesn't look too much under the hood (bonnet for you Brits).



What is Expected

What:The Eighth Doctor: The Time War 1 (The Eighth Doctor: Time War audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 11 June 2019
Rating:   7

Big Finish is now dedicated to chronicling the Time War, with The War Doctor, The War Master, new stories in the Gallifrey series, and more. Now we take our first look at Doctor 8 in the Time War. Mostly, he's trying to avoid it, but gets sucked in any way. Because the backdrop is war, this box set is mostly about the Doctor in various war stories we already know. "The Starship of Theseus" is a refugee story with the added dimension that the Time War is affecting reality so that circumstances are repeatedly changing. "Echoes of War" has the Doctor and friends trying to hide from the Daleks on an isolated jungle planet. Again, there are some funny things with time going on. "The Conscript" sees The Doctor and friends captured by Ollistra. The friends are sent off for evaluation and investigation, while The Doctor gets sent to boot camp, where makes an appropriate mockery of the whole thing. It is mostly a typical recruits in training story. "One Life" reveals the secret weapon that has been bouncing around throughout the set. The Doctor is surprised that nobody is all that interested in him. This box set has a strong plot line throughout, so that each story is really a part of the longer story rather than a standalone episode. The whole has an unfortunate "reset button / it didn't really happen" ending, a trick I never much liked because it makes everything that happened before pointless. As usual, the cast is excellent, as is the sound production.



A Bit Disappointing

What:The Lost Stories: The Children of Seth (The Lost Stories audio dramas)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 30 May 2019
Rating:   7

Given the origins of this adventure as a Christopher Bailey script, I guess I was hoping for something a bit more philosophically substantial than it is. There is some playing around with the concepts of probabilities, but this never gets fully integrated into the main story, remaining as a tantalizing tit bit. The story itself has Doctor 5, Tegan, and Nyssa responding to a call for help (maybe?) that takes them to a future society in the midst of social collapse and a coup d'etat by the conniving head minister. The demented, old Autarch, May He Live Forever (David Warner), cannot keep control any more and wants to cede power while retaining his own prestige. His estranged consort (Honor Blackman) desperately tries to change his mind, but cannot get past Minister Byzan (Adrian Lukis) to see him. Byzan is illegally using androids (against a law he himself made) to help him stir up fear using a made-up demon named Seth to rile public sentiment into accepting a war and martial law. There is quite a bit of court intrigue in the whole thing, with some analogs to mythology of the kind that Bailey used in Kinda and Snakedance. This one is probably best listened to twice to get the full sense of the relationships of all the characters to each other and to their society.



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