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A Bit Preposterous at the End

What:Synthespians (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 19 April 2019
Rating:   6

"Synthespians," Craig Hinton's final Doctor Who novel, is probably his best Doctor Who novel. However, because the others are not particularly good, I am merely saying that this one is somewhat more tolerable than the others. The problem of Hinton's writing, in my view, was that he tried to go too big, but was rather limited in his imagination of what big was. This led to trying to write from the perspective of godlike beings, but only imagining them with flimsier motivations and more adolescent emotions than the human characters had. Thankfully, Hinton resists this impulse here, though he had the opportunity to do so had he wished. The story itself is a camp sendup of late 20th-century television, and in some ways anticipates the "Bad Wolf" episode that would be broadcast a year later. The TARDIS is dragged off course, arriving on Reef Station One in the 101st century. Here, a long isolated human colony has been reshaped to conform to Earth television broadcasts that are only just arriving. The station has zones set up like sets for various kinds of TV drama - a gritty, depressed 1960s style noir London, a glitzy night-time soap opera land of mansions full of bickering billionaires, and so on. At the heart of all this is Walter J. Matheson III, the owner of virtually everything, who is ruthlessly destroying the remaining owners of what he does not have. He is in league with the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons (no giveaway there to anyone who knows Doctor Who lore). Doctor 6 and Peri get separated for most of the novel. The early parts work as a slow buildup of menace - things seem normal, but something is lurking there. The action slowly picks up pace toward a melodramatic and gory conclusion. The plot is fairly predictable. Hinton, as is his wont, drops in dozens of throw-away cultural and Doctor Who references, and sometimes awkwardly breaks his role as third-person narrator to make ironic asides. It is readable enough. The superficial characterizations and predictable plot drag it down.



Possibly Cut Down Too Much

What:Original Sin (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 5 April 2019
Rating:   7

This adaptation of one of the more popular Doctor Who novels introduces the "new" companions of Roz and Chris. Thus, much of the story is the origin story for them. Doctor 7 and Bennie are now a comfortable pair who understand each other very well. The story itself is very much in the 1988-9 spirit of The Doctor as a man on a mission, yet stricken by conscience. Thus, we start at the end of a previous adventure about which we know very little. A dying alien tells Bennie, "don't go there," so our crusading Doctor naturally goes there. Earth is now under an expansionist imperial phase, and has destroyed the homeworld of a species that is forced to revamp their civilization as lone individuals hiding amongst the enemies. There is a mysterious person who throws his consciousness into various robots, stalking The Doctor for unknown reasons. And, a bizarre and scientifically impossible form of radiation is driving people mad, turning them into homocidal maniacs. Apparently, much cutting was done to get the novel down to a 2-hour drama, and this one feels like it. There is much skipping around, and often it feels as if the listener has missed something going from scene to scene. The authorities take The Doctor and Bennie at their word all too easily. Late in the story, there are several long monologues to supply large amounts of missing background, a technique that really slows down the pace of the story.



Well Thought Out

What:Philip Hinchcliffe Presents: The Helm of Awe (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 5 April 2019
Rating:   8

Philip Hinchcliffe provided the story and Marc Platt, in consultation, wrote the script. Between them, they have created a taught adventure very much in the 1976-7 vein of Doctor Who. This one involves a remote Scottish island, viking relics that aren't quite Viking relics, and an underground alien menace who messes with time in very dangerous ways. It's quite enjoyable.



By the Numbers Doctor Who

What:Absolute Power (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 5 April 2019
Rating:   6

Absolute Power is very routine Doctor Who. The Doctor takes newish companion Constance to a place he thinks will make a nice rest, but bad things are happening there. In this case, it involves an intergalactic mogul with a quasi-New York accent trying to revive a race of electricity beings who operate by occupying bodies. It is listenable, but not particularly original or different.



Excellent Follow-up

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 2 (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 25 March 2019
Rating:   8

The second volume of the Third Doctor adventures continues the strong characteristics of the first set. Tim Treloar is magnificent in his evocation of Doctor 3, at many times making me feel that it really is Pertwee back in the role. Katy Manning still struggles a bit to get the right voice for her younger self, but she has recovered the cadences of her youthful self quite well. The set follows the Big Finish tradition of trying to evoke the period of the Doctor and characters. Thus, the stories have that feeling that they could have been played in the 1970s. Once again, we get a setting split, one story in Space, one on Earth. The first of these continues the environmental message of many Pertwee stories and adds to it some critique of novelty religions that become death cults. The second story has the hidden alien causes mischief vibe and a very strong part for Jo. If there is one idea linking both stories, it is this: don't trust sweet, little, old ladies.



Decent Novelization

What:Vengeance on Varos (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 24 March 2019
Rating:   6

"Vengeance on Varos" may be the best of the season of Colin Baker's first full outing as The Doctor. It has the very interesting premise of a former prison planet that has modeled its society along the prison rules, with the officers and guards becoming the elite governing class and the prisoners becoming the oppressed labor class. Martin has introduced an added twist in that the punishment system has been turned into mass entertainment. There is some strong social commentary about addiction to television. Martin has added some elements in his novelization that make the setup more sensible. These may have been in the original script, but probably could not have been done given budget constraints for television. These include having the guards' squad cars run on a monorail rather than being glorified golf carts. The size of the Varos colony is increased, with separate domes and access ways. Martin explains why the colonists live in domes rather than on the surface. There are several limitations in the novelized version still. These include a requirement to keep it short, to write to a youngish (early teens) audience, and to keep most of the original TV story intact. As interesting as the background is, Martin's storytelling technique is less thought out. The plot is mostly a long series of "evade and capture" events. Martin goes with the A.E. van Vogt method that every so often one must introduce a plot twist no matter what the logic of that might be.



Great Setup

What:Static (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 March 2019
Rating:   7

Static is an example of great buildup marred by a predictable final act. The story itself, of a creepy caravan park, its creepy manager, and the return of the dead, works very well. It all has a strange logic. This gets undermined in part 4 when we discover that it is all another alien invasion plot. Also, there is the matter of Constance at the end. This sets us up for Constance's becoming another Charley, someone alive who should be dead. And we all know how in Big Finish world, the universe just will not stand for that.



It's Definitely 1977

What:Energy of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 March 2019
Rating:   7

Energy of the Daleks would have fit well into the mid season of the 1977. It has several cultural references to the 2010s, but still plays as a 1970s story. The Doctor intends to take Leela to one place, ends up in London 2025 instead, and finds the UK as a quasi-authoritarian state running out of energy and a corporate genius with seemingly magical means to get the UK endless energy. It is nice to have Doctor 4 go up against the Daleks without Davros. Tom Baker plays the part as if he had never left it. It's entertaining, though there are some major plot holes (no light gravity on the moon?).



Quite Good

What:Cold Fusion (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 March 2019
Rating:   8

This audio of version of Lance Parkin's typically complicated novel works extremely well. It's a two-doctor story, but Doctor 5 takes most of the narrative space. We get Doctor 5 and friends stumbling upon a plan hatched by Doctor 7 with newish companions Chris and Roz. Doctor maybe does and maybe doesn't remember his first time through it all. The story allows for interesting pairings of companions, with mild-mannered Adric teaming with soldierly Roz, while Nyssa gets romanced by Chris without a clue that this is what is happening. Some great humor comes from Tegan's outrage at Chris's phony Australian cover. The whole is well plotted and very entertaining, but a little talky at the end.



Decent Novelization

What:Attack of the Cybermen (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 11 March 2019
Rating:   6

When Eric Saward novelized Paula Moore's only script for "Doctor Who," he went at it with the idea of making it a novel and not just a script with the tag lines removed. However, "Paula Moore" is a pseudonym and it is not fully known who wrote the original script or story outline. Most those involved agree that whatever material Saward originally got when he was script editor for the TV series, he heavily rewrote for broadcast. The script has all the elements of a typical Saward script, being a quest scaffolding on which to hang scenes that proceed with increasing violence. The novel maintains this structure. Pretty much all of the original script is here, with a few lines paraphrased rather than quoted. Additionally, Saward adds some back story, descriptions, and narratorial observations. The largest addition Saward makes in the novel is the increased storyline of small-time criminal Charlie Griffiths, who gets a homelife with his mother, backstory as a man too stupid to be a criminal and not smart enough to be anything else, and for large portions, especially early in the book, the central point of view. Saward zips a reader right through the story. However, when the reader ponders why things happened, then the plot just does not hang together all that well.



Very very funny and very very nasty too

What:Suburban Hell (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Sunday 3 March 2019
Rating:   10

The story opens with about the most real piece of normal everyday couple talk Ive ever heard from any Doctor Who story ever. A typical couple taking chunks out of each other in a very normal and real way that makes one think for the moment is this a Doctor Who episode or an episode of some old corny soap, thankfully it is clearly Doctor Who with some superb and very funny writing from Alan Barnes. I love how Alan constantly places the Doctor in areas we'd not normally think of for his Doctor. And as he lands on a normal everyday London suburb this just feels strangely fresh and diverting. That he gets to be in this place too with Leela is all the cooler as well. I always love hearing Tom and Louise acting together. Its always a recipe for success.

The villains of this piece do come across as nasty and vicious though. And soon all trace of the corny old soap is gone. Its also another stroke of genius to have Annette Badland grace the story too. Shes a marvellous actress who always delivers with her performances. Maybe the main villain caught in the picture is just a bit cliched, but who the hell cares when the story is as fun and entertaining as this surely is. And as ever the soundscape and production are top notch and the score is memorable and distinctive, as is the polished acting from all involved. This is yet another delightful story in the Fourth Doctor adventures. And the knife sharp wit with which Alan Barnes embues his stories for me is always welcome..



The Strange Case of the Doc and the Nuns

What:The Cloisters of Terror (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Sunday 3 March 2019
Rating:   10

Johnny Morris is always one of my favourite Big Finish writers. The fact that he is reliably enjoyable in his story telling. And the little or bigger ways he includes the themes of time within his stories is always bound to make them very interesting in the least. And the Cloisters of Terror is no exception.

The team of the Doctor and Leela is also working amazingly for Big Finish. Tom and Louise make a brilliant and wonderful team. They are so strong and just drive the story on no matter what the story may be. Add to this the creepy atmosphere of a lady's college haunted by the ghost of Nuns and you have the perfect Ghostly story for late night listenings.

The addition of Liz Shaw's mother too is great, and its wonderful how Rowena Cooper brings the character to life. I really hope that we hear more from her character in the future. And its also brilliantly hearing Claudia Grant be a character in her pre Susan days from An Adventure in Space and Time. Its great hearing the Doctor cope with being the only man in the story for once, a nice spin on The Deadly Assassin!

And the Doctor gets to give a nice small, yet relevant epitaph for the woman who gives her life so the rest of the ensemble can escape the impending doom brought about this time by an ancient spaceship...this story is eerie, creepy, and the nearly all female cast is lovely to hear. I think I am correct in saying this is the only Fourth Doctor story ever where the Doc's the only male on the block!!



A great surprise from a great villain

What:The Wave of Destruction (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Sunday 3 March 2019
Rating:   10

When we have the return of classic villains, the story has to be new and fresh and not recycle any of the elements from the first story that features the villains. And Justin Richards has done that with the return of the...well youll have to listen to this story to find out!

Its great to see a female getting one of the villain parts and playing it so well too. And the ever present wit and charm of the bantering between the Doctor and Romana is as ever brilliant to listen to. And yet again its good that K9 gets to be more than just the background computer again!

The most bland thing about this story is the tepid title, but dont fret. The story itself is very very entertaining indeed!! Big Finish always make some great new ideas for when they chose to resurrect old villains. They never just retread the same old ground. And thats so awesome!!



Legacy of Timey Wimey Business

What:Legacy of Death (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Sunday 3 March 2019
Rating:   10

Johnny Morris is a better writer than Steven Moffat. Because all of his timey wimey story efforts are always still understandable. Whereas Steven's are mostly unfathomable and lamentable. And also Johnny has the Fourth Doctor totally worked out and gets his character spot on every time.

The Paradox Planet also begins a great great tale for K9. This is great to see the metal mutt get his hour in the lime light. The added brilliance of Simon Rouse and Tom Chadbon also just adds to the great feel of this excellent story. Its a very interesting concept of a planet at war with itself in different time zones!

What I also hugely enjoyed was the pertinent dwelling on the conservation of endangered species, a stance which I agree with and take very seriously indeed. This could easily have been made an Earth story for our species here so many of them are rare and almost extinct and we need to wake up.

In many ways this story resembles Festival of Death, Johnny's first ever Doctor Who book which is still one of his finest ever! In that time is used so interestingly and the characters are all totally real feeling. The standard of actors Big Finish get cannot be denied. This story feels more like the end of season style story! It is yet again another success for Johnny Morris.

The second half of the story builds up to a riveting and great conclusion. K9 has never been used so well before either. John Leeson must have had a ball with this story! Johnny always seems to love to use the theme of time in his stories, and its so incredible he always finds new ways of using time within so many of his stories. He is one of the most reliable Big Finish writers. This story is suitably sublime in every respect.



As ever, Johnny Timey Wimey business!!

What:The Paradox Planet (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Sunday 3 March 2019
Rating:   10

Johnny Morris is a better writer than Steven Moffat. Because all of his timey wimey story efforts are always still understandable. Whereas Steven's are mostly unfathomable and lamentable. And also Johnny has the Fourth Doctor totally worked out and gets his character spot on every time.

The Paradox Planet also begins a great great tale for K9. This is great to see the metal mutt get his hour in the lime light. The added brilliance of Simon Rouse and Tom Chadbon also just adds to the great feel of this excellent story. Its a very interesting concept of a planet at war with itself in different time zones!

What I also hugely enjoyed was the pertinent dwelling on the conservation of endangered species, a stance which I agree with and take very seriously indeed. This could easily have been made an Earth story for our species here so many of them are rare and almost extinct and we need to wake up.

In many ways this story resembles Festival of Death, Johnny's first ever Doctor Who book which is still one of his finest ever! In that time is used so interestingly and the characters are all totally real feeling. The standard of actors Big Finish get cannot be denied. This story feels more like the end of season style story! It is yet again another success for Johnny Morris.



The Lightest story ever for Tom Baker

What:The Gallery of Ghouls (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Sunday 3 March 2019
Rating:   10

Sometimes Big Finish have huge and epic rides for the Doctor and his friends, and sometimes we do need a story that just lets us ease off and relax a little. And for me The Gallery Of Ghouls is just that kind of story!

This is nothing openly epic and huge. But what it is is a very very enjoyable breather episode. The characters are all light and some are amusing and pretty diverting, not least of all Tom's Doctor himself who seems openly playful and brilliant in this little gem of a tale.

And its always so great hearing Celia Imrie, an actress Ive always greatly liked. And her character Madame Tissot is wonderfully funny in the best of ways. And the plot here is very easy to follow and so is gratefully received by me. I don't mind big epic stories, but sometimes convolution is a bad thing that ruins some story efforts as they try to be too clever, which is what good stories don't need.

The banter between Romana and the Doctor is as sparkling as it was in season seventeen of the TV show! Its always marvellous to hear these two brilliant characters sparring together! Nickolas Grace as Goole too is very well played. The creepiness of waxworks is nicely played too, there are some great sound moments where the usual Big Finish attention to audio sound is quite wonderful. This is the kind of story to enjoy with a cup of tea and some crumpets in the afternoon with your feet up on a cushion!

The cleverness of Alan Barnes is he can weave stories that take place in unusual places for Doctor Who. I cant believe they have never thought of a wax works for a TV episode. But The Gallery of Ghouls satisfies on every level, including the level of this is one to listen to just for plain old fashioned enjoyment and not pulse pounding draining thrill ride, though they are good for when youre in the mood!! But for those who just want to take it easy, then this is definitely a story you should enjoy. I most certainly do!!



A superb return of Del Boy From Space!!!

What:The Trouble with Drax (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 2 March 2019
Rating:   10

It is only very sad that Barry Jackson couldn't have been here to reprise the role of Drax, the wonderful interspacial Del Boy from Gallifrey! I imagine he would have relished the chance to appear in this corking good fun story from the ever reliable John Dorney. Drax is well and truly given his full potential in this wonderfully bonkers instalment of the Fourth Doctor adventures. We don't get these comedic feasts very often from the guys at Big Finish.

In the stead of Barry we instead get the brilliant Ray Brooks, John Challis and even Hugh Fraser as differing incarnations of Drax. Honestly how John gets his head round including all these many different types of Drax into one hour story and actually makes it a roaring success has to be applauded. In fact I think this is the single most funny story since Bang Bang a Boom! I was craving a bit of a laugh fest for years and at last we get one here!


You do have to concentrate though or youll miss some jewels along the way. Its great that Romana and K9 get to have some decent and cool dialogue too. And the Doctor is brilliant as he initially doesnt seem to notice he is being taken for a ride by the dippy Drax! Tom Baker can always be relied upon to liven up the preceedings too!!! The banter between the Doctor and the Drax's is highly entertaining indeed. I dont know how youd classify this story. Maybe a spacial Only Fools and Horses is a good description!!!! It has all the elements of a great ripping space comedy!!



Into the bowels of the Alien Planet

What:Subterranea (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 2 March 2019
Rating:   10

I love the sound scenes that Big Finish always do so beautifully well. They don't half bring the stories to amazingly realistic sounding life. And where the script calls for the Doctor and Romana going underground in a huge drill machine, then you have to come to expect big industrial sounding effects. And yes, again you get it with this story from the ever reliable Johnny Morris.

Tom and Lalla are of course as amazing as ever. And the Silex are a very interesting and mean looking and sounding villain. The other characters here are all as usual superbly well rounded and acted and characterised. Johnny has a way of writing the Fourth Doctor that makes you feel he knows this incarnation of the Doctor inside out. And the banter between Romana and he are as usual one of the most winning elements of this story, as always used to be the case in the classic era period.

I really enjoyed the epic quality to this short little marvel of a story. Its all a bit industrial steam punk with heavy threat from massive machine eating creatures! The Silex definitely deserve a return escapade on the strength of this. Big Finish have done it again. The Last Year Era of Tom's tenure remains alive and well with this amazing company....



Not as good as Part 1

What:The Thief Who Stole Time (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 27 February 2019
Rating:   7

Marc Platt loves the alternate reality kind of story. Part 2 of the season ender turns the adventure story of part 1 into the alternate reality story. What is the secret of this planet that Sartia is so desperate to uncover? It has something to do with the Time Lords of the distant past sealing off a time anomaly. Here, we get the full-blown "Sartia is Romana's The Master" treatment. In pursuing this line, Platt drops the ball a bit on some of the more interesting features set up in "The Skin of the Sleek." It's good entertainment, nonetheless.



Interesting Premises

What:The Skin of the Sleek (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 27 February 2019
Rating:   8

This is the first part of the 2-part season finale. As the setup segment it works quite well. The Doctor and Romana II arrive on an ocean world in which the ocean is sort of like soft jello. The planet has one population, a village of fisher folk who all have that West Country accent that is apparently required for fishing people. There is also an off-world crew making a documentary. The major form of life on the planet is a type of electric eel, the largest of which is worshiped as a goddess and used to power the village. Surprisingly, in the crew of documentary makers is an old school mate of Romana's, Sartia, who pretends to be chums, but secretly loathes Romana, or Mana as she calls her. The Doctor has his suspicions about Sartia from first sight. The story moves at a good pace and has plenty of interesting elements to make one want to get to the next segment.



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