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The end of the world! Or the beginning..

What:Festival of Death (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:Leon Coward, Sydney, Australia
Date:Sunday 2 December 2018
Rating:   8

I had reservations about this novel, fearing it would be a zombie horror cliche. Very pleasantly, it is anything but.

For those familiar with the later stories of Tom Baker's Dr Who, "Festival of Death" fits perfectly with its style of plotting and characterisation. Morris doesn't depart from "how" the story might have looked - interchanging between scenes with the pace of a television show, and also a tongue-in-cheek low production budget - no digital era for spaceships, I'm afraid, it's still lightbulbs and tape spools.

My impetus to read this book came from the fact it was reprinted for the Dr Who 50th celebrations, and this fact kept me in for about 30 pages where I was tempted to read something else. I'm glad I held in, because you begin to realise the challenge Morris has taken up in creating a story where the characters keep looping back in on their own timelines.

The book entertained, it was thought-provoking, and kept me reading faster and faster to find out what happened next. I would certainly recommend it to those who enjoyed this era of Dr Who.



Doctor Who and the Civil War

What:Blood and Hope (Telos novella)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 22 November 2018
Rating:   8

This is a short novel featuring Doctor 5. "Blood and Hope" occupies the pure historical genre of Doctor Who stories, so has a place left vacant during the Peter Davison run on TV. This story also includes the character Erimem from the Big Finish audio series. The plot is fairly simple. The Doctor and companions land, immediately find themselves in trouble, get separated, and spend the rest of the story trying to reunite. In this case, they land at a farmhouse in the borderland between sides near the end of the American Civil War. The Doctor gets in trouble with a kind of jailbreak of some slaves, leaving Peri and Erimem to fend for themselves. The two have to pretend that Peri is a woman displaced by the war, and that Erimem is her slave. They run afoul of mad Confederate Colonel Jubal Eustace, who goes on a vendetta against them. Meanwhile, The Doctor has been forced into service as a surgeon for the Union army. Simple as the plot is, McLaughlin complicates the story and makes it more interesting by writing this as an epistolary novel. The main "narrators," therefore, are a Union officer named Will Johnson, writing letters home to his sweetheart about his search for his cousin, Paul le Val, who is forced into service for the Confederacy, and Peri, who is dictating a kind of personal confession of some action she does not want to admit to. There are a few other writers, plus some extracts of historical documents, but most of the narrating is from these two perspectives. This means that The Doctor is pretty much a side character, seen only in how his actions affect other characters. The novel is not "about" The Doctor all that much. Instead, it is about the psychological effects of war on Peri, Will, Paul, and Jubal. In that regard, the novel is fairly accurate, and McLaughlin does not overplay either the "you should be horrified" angle, or the sympathy angle. The plot does proceed by an abundance of remarkable coincidences, which seems to me a bit of lazy plotting. Overall, it is an interesting and worthwhile read.



Another War for Hex

What:The Angel of Scutari (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 20 November 2018
Rating:   7

"The Angel of Scutari" ends what we might call a Hex-trilogy. Deeply disturbed by what happened on Bliss in "Enemy of the Daleks," Hex asks the Doctor to take him somewhere that he can make a difference. The Doctor takes him to a crucial point in the Crimean War a couple of weeks before the arrival of Florence Nightingale. Leaving Hex to sort himself out, The Doctor and Ace quickly find themselves embroiled in events that they have committed in their future, but in the historical past (just a few weeks). Then, The Doctor and Ace get split up. The Doctor, taken for some kind of double agent, ends up in the Czar's best dungeon in St. Petersburg, Ace in a military hospital in Sebastipol, where she meets a young Russian ensign named Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi. The story is broken into segments and criss-crosses through the weeks (about six altogether). It is potentially interesting to tell a story this way, but here that gets marred a bit by some clumsy and clichéd scene-switching cues (any echo-fade out fans? How about swirly sounds?). It's another pure historical for this character trio and seems in a way a bit redundant because they get caught up in their third war from Earth's history.



Hex Meets the Daleks

What:Enemy of the Daleks (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 20 November 2018
Rating:   7

This story begins a sequence in which we explore the character of Hex in significantly more detail than hitherto. The Doctor takes Ace and Hex to the planet Bliss, which turns out to be used mainly for a scientific research station in the middle of the Dalek wars. We get an intriguing kind of mad scientist whose drive to end the Dalek war leads him to create a monster potentially worse than the Daleks. The framework for the story is pretty much the old Daleks set a base under siege ploy. Hex's moral conscience gets explored a bit as we see how his major motivation in life is to use his medical skills to alleviate suffering, a moral code that takes priority in his mind and leads him to make several foolishly rash decisions. Ace continues her big sister role with him, constantly aiming to protect him from both the monsters and the Doctor.



Strange

What:The Magic Mousetrap (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 20 November 2018
Rating:   7

Every once in a while, Doctor Who goes slightly surreal. This one has a reason for this, which appears in part three. In the meantime, we get an amnesiac Doctor 7 visiting the sanitarium from Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" where resides a collection early 20th-century showbusiness stereotypes and a peculiar physician who treats them to electric shocks to prevent them from remembering something. The Doctor scrambles around trying to figure things out while the other characters all desperately tell him that something terrible will happen if he does figure it all out. It's a clever story, though not emotionally engaging.



Suffers from the Format

What:Forty-Five (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 8 November 2018
Rating:   7

Forty-Five is one of the series of 4 individual stories, loosely linked. Each story is 1 "part." Each story has a different writer and cast. Here, we have The Doctor, Ace, and Hex encountering the number 45 all over the place. First stop is Egypt, Valley of the Kings, 1902, and a meeting with Howard Carter. Most of the story involves avoiding too many references to "The Mummy." Next, we head to the far future, where, apparently, there are still mad scientists in creepy, old castles. The third part takes us to 1945 and another encounter between Ace and her mother, this time, mom aged three and not very convincingly voiced. We also get another encounter with The Forge, and The Doctor's first hint to Hex that he may know something about Hex's mother. Last is the story that ties it together and is probably the best of the bunch. Here, in the near future, The Doctor is called in to solve a murder in an international base in Antarctica. There, he meets a truly interesting and powerful enemy - The Word Lord, a being from a universe 45 dimensions to the left (or something like that), a trans-universal bounty hunter. The problem here is that each story is potentially quite interesting, but all are too swift and underdeveloped, given the 25-minute limitation for each one.



Light Comedy

What:The Dark Husband (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 8 November 2018
Rating:   6

The Dark Husband injects some comic relief into the Ace/Hex sequence, which up to this point has been pretty bleak. We find Ace and Hex developing a Big Sis/Little Bro relationship, though Hex has some deeper feelings. Looking for a real holiday, the two companions convince The Doctor to take them to a big party. It turns out that the big party is a scheduled break in a 10,000-year war. The Doctor decides to end this war by taking on the role of a figure in the planet's mythology - The Dark Husband. Of course, he only half knows what he is getting into. There are amusing bits to this story, which becomes about as much of a sex farce as one can get with Doctor Who. Not much more than that can be said for this story.



Best Third Doctor BF Set Yet

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume Four (Miscellaneous audio)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   9

It's been two years now since the first of The Third Doctor Adventures arrived from Big Finish. In that time, the range has gone from strength to strength across three previous sets, recreating early 1970s Doctor Who on audio with Tim Trealor stepping into Jon Pertwee's role. While the range has played it safe to an extent up until now (most notably with the Dalek story in Volume 3), this fourth entry promised to explore new territory by taking this Doctor up against two foes he'd never encountered on TV.

The first is the Meddling Monk who features in the set's opening story The Rise Of The New Humans. Written by Guy Adams, the story sees the Doctor and Jo Grant (played by the ever-delightful Katy Manning) investigating a private hospital connected to two strange deaths brought to UNIT's attention. There they discover enough strangeness to consider the involvement of a certain Time Lord, only to meet another one entirely. Adams uses the first episode to have fun with the cliche of the era's big Time Lord baddie before delving into the story proper which races from plot twist to plot twist, ever increasing the stakes as the consequences of the Monk's meddling spiral out of control. It's also a genuinely fun story with the wonderful chemistry between not just the Doctor and Jo but between the story's two Time Lords, the latter drawing out laughs but ones that never overwhelm the actual plot. It's a Third Doctor story that is at once familiar but refreshingly seemingly new.

Perhaps more enticing for fans is the second story of the set. The Third Doctor somehow never faced the show's second longest running villains the Cybermen on TV, something Big Finish has rectified with The Tyrants Of Logic. Written by Marc Platt (whose other Big Finish credits include the Cybermen classic Spare Parts for Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor), it's a story quite different from anything done with this Doctor on TV or audio to date. Set on a mining planet ravaged by the Cyber-War decades earlier, the Doctor and Jo find themselves among a genuine cast of characters including a literal one-man band and a man hunting down remaining Cyber tech. It's the latter that brings the silver creatures to the planet in search of something that could bring about a new war. Platt takes the idea behind the base under siege format and combines it both with the inherent horror of the Cybermen and with a genre take on the familiar 1970s trope of Nazi relics and potential resurrection. Even more surprising is that he finds something new to do with this Doctor in the process, making this story not only the highlight of the set but perhaps of the entire range to date.

It helps the casting is solid as well. Tim Trealor continues to give excelling performances as the Third Doctor, with this set feeling as if their seeing what he can do more in the role, especially in the Cybermen tale. That same story also gives Katy Manning a chance to shine as well with a beautifully delivered little monologue. While Manning never quite recreates the sound of her 1970s self, there can be no denying the genuine chemistry between the pair that conjures up Pertwee and Manning onscreen more than four decades ago. When you add the likes of Rufus Hound as the Monk or Nicholas Briggs' Cybermen, it makes the entire experience even better.

Big Finish is known for their almost cinematic audio production values and this set is no exception. Jamie Robertson, who has proven himself to be one of Big Finish's most talented composers, has once more created a score that truly evocative of the era on TV. The inclusion of a suite of music from each story will appeal greatly to fans of Doctor Who music. Meanwhile, the sound design nicely brings the varying locations of the stories to life ranging from the English countryside to a ruined mining town under siege by the Cybermen in the future. All of which makes this a solid example of the company's work in these fields.

This fourth volume is another triumph for both the range and Big Finish. From bringing this Doctor with two foes he never encountered on TV to fine stories and solid production values, it shows off Big Finish at their best. Indeed, it might well be the best release in the range to date and a go-to place for fans of this Doctor's era looking to experience Big Finish for the first time.



Third Time Isn't Quite The Charm

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume Three (Miscellaneous audio)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   6

After four stories across two sets, Big Finish's The Third Doctor Adventures audios can be said to have firmly arrived. Tim Trealor has settled in as the new voice of the Third Doctor on audio and the company has proven just as adept at recreating this era as they have others. So this third set would seem to be setting up two more fantastic tales, especially with a Dalek story. But does it?

The Conquest Of Far, which opens this set, is the aforementioned Dalek story. Picking up from the end of the TV story Planet Of The Daleks, the story finds the Third Doctor and Jo Grant on the planet Far which is under Dalek occupation and about to be the target of an Earth Alliance offensive. Nicholas Briggs (who also voices the Daleks) has proven himself adept at writing traditional Who stories, especially where Terry Nation's famous creations are involved and The Conquest Of Far is no exception, right down to its title. Unfortunately, that is precisely its problem. The Third Doctor era on TV is (in)famous for Nation's uber-traditional Dalek stories, effectively reducing them to greatest hits compilations. Briggs does the same thing here and the result is a story that is immensely listenable but not surprising or highly enjoyable. Plot twists are obvious and the listener will likely spend the story waiting for the other shoe to drop through its nearly two-hour length. A story that could have been a chance to do something different with the Third Doctor and the Daleks is instead reduced to a bunch of cliches strung together.

The second story in the set is far more effective. Written by Andrew Smith, Storm Of The Horofax brings the TARDIS team back to 1970s (or is it the 1980s?) Britain as a Royal Navy exercise turns up an alien visitor. One who claims to come in peace but which leads to UNIT and the Doctor being called in to investigate. Of course, things are not what they seem and shenanigans ensue involving time travel and the threat of an alien invasion. If Briggs' script was too traditional for its own good, Smith's script for this story makes up for it in spades. All the traditional trappings are there but there are some neat subversions of the tropes of the era and some neat playing around with others. It's an exciting story that plays around with the possibilities of time travel in a way that's very of the era and yet fresh at the same time. Thankfully it isn't too difficult to follow but it is the definite highlight of this box set.

Beyond the stories themselves, the cast is solid. Tim Trealor continues to excel as the Third Doctor, capturing the spirit and ethos of Jon Pertwee's performance throughout without ever going into an imitation of the late actor. Katy Manning, reprising the role of Jo Grant once more, also continues to excel and though at times she doesn't quite recapture her younger sounding self, she's handing in fantastic performances and in the second story especially. The chemistry between the two of them in undeniable as well, further cementing the recreation of the long-ago era of Who on TV in the early years of the 1970s. Add on some solid supporting casts and it's everything you'd want out of a set like this.

Like with its predecessors, one of the big highlights of volume three is its sound design and music. The score especially from Jamie Robertson, who has proven himself to be one of Big Finish's most talented composers, brilliantly creates a score that is all the more evocative of some of Dudley Simpson's work on the era and more experimental scores from the likes of Malcolm Clarke, for example, and the music suites for each story are a joy for fans. The sound design of David Nagel and Joe Meiners is effective as well, bringing to life the various locations and soundscapes from Dalek control rooms to a Royal Navy frigate. It's the work that the company has rightfully become well known for.

Contrary to the old saying, the third time isn't quite the charm for The Third Doctor Adventures. The opening Dalek story is a little too traditional, a little too predictable for its own good which takes down the volume's overall quality. Yet the strength of the second story, the performances, and the production values all kick the set up a notch after it. So while it might not quite be up to the level of the previous sets, it's still a highly enjoyable piece of work and well worth checking out for fans of this Doctor.



Back And Third

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 2 (Miscellaneous audio)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   8

One of my favorite Big Finish releases of 2015 was the first volume of Big Finish's The Third Doctor Adventures. Like so many out there, I was initally skeptical of Tim Trealor effectively slipping into the large cape left behind by Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor before its release but was won over just minutes into the set. All of which left me waiting for the second volume which was released back in November So did it live up to the high standards of the first set?

Well Trealor certainly did. The Welsh actor builds on the successful performance in the first release, once again going from strength to strength. The vocal inflections are all there, the tones, the pitch, all of it to the point that I found myself forgetting on one or two occasions that I wasn't actually listening to Pertwee himself, especially in latter parts of the second story. Then there's his chemistry with Katy Manning's Jo Grant which harkens back to the best moments from that era as the two play off each other so beautifully. While he might not be totally spot-on for some, there is no doubting that Trealor has captured the spirit of this Doctor superbly and it is something that makes listening to this set an absolute pleasure.

Indeed, the performances are solid throughout. Katy Manning is in fine form as Jo, seeming to have better captured her more youthful voice than she sometimes has in previous releases. Both stories have strong supporting casts including major female characters in the form of Richenda Carey's Mother Finsey and Sandra Voe as Miss Barnett. Bernard Holley, a veteran of the Third Doctor's TV era, is among the cast in the first story playing a suitably stress inducing corporate manager in charge of a major project with a cast that also includes Nigel Peever and Karen Henson. The second story meanwhile features a suitably alien sounding George Asprey alongside Big Finish regulars such as Clare Buckfield as Jo's cousin and Richard Earl (perhaps best known to Big Finish listeners as the Dr. Watson of their Sherlock Holmes range) playing a very nice police inspector alongside Alex Lanipekun as the younger police sergeant. Like so many of their releases, this benefits greatly from the quality of acting talent that Big Finish brings to bare.

Like its predecessor, this volume contains two stories with one being out in space and the other on Earth. The Transcendence Of Ephros by Guy Adams is the opener with the Doctor and Jo arriving on the titular planet to find a religious group and Galactux Power Inc both awaiting an incredible event that ought otherwise to be impossible. While it gets off to a slow start, Transcendence Of Ephros quickly gather strength as it presents one twist and cliffhanger after another alongside some neat callbacks to the era on TV. The second story is the Earthbound The Hidden Realm by David Llewellyn which seems to fit into the era perfectly as the TARDIS team head off to Bramfield New Town where the husband of Jo's cousin has become just the latest in a series of disappearances dating back decades. It's a tale that calls to mind tales like The Daemons and Spearhead From Space as well as elements of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass II while also putting Llewellyn's own twist on it. That being said, the two stories perhaps suffer from being paired together as they both ultimately work around a very similar plot point in their latter half, something that perhaps nulls enjoyment of the latter story somewhat.

Elsewhere as well, I found myself missing things from the first set here. One of the things I loved about volume one (but that other listeners did not apparently) was the narration that Trealor supplied alongside his duties as the Third Doctor, something that gave it the sense of being like a missing story from the era ala the BBC TV soundtrack releases. Despite being a long-time Big Finish listener, I found myself having a hard time adapting to their usual format being played out with this Doctor for some reason. There's also the matter of the music which in that first release so wonderfully evoked the era but only half succeeds here as the score to Hidden Realm sounds like more out of the McCoy era than Pertwee's. These are largely minor niggles I admit but they are something that perhaps takes this release down a peg for this reviewer.

While I can't quite put it up on the same pedestal as I did volume one, volume two of the Third Doctor Adventures holds up well indeed. Tim Trealor continues to be an exemplary Third Doctor, capturing both the spirit of Pertwee as well as his chemistry with Katy Manning and both stories are solid outings that evoke very different sides of the era though also perhaps suffering from being paired together. If you're aching for more Third Doctor to experience, you could do a lot worse than check out this set.



Recreating An Era

What:The Third Doctor Adventures (Miscellaneous audio)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   9

With the winding down of the Companion Chronicles range and the launch of the Early Adventures, many wondered what Big Finish would do with the Third Doctor era. With the loss of many cast members from that era, and the unwillingness of John Levene to work with Big Finish again, speculation has been rife for sometime now. Well now we have our answer in the form of The Third Doctor Adventures Volume One, featuring Tim Trealor in the role of narrator as well as the Third Doctor alongside returning cast members from the era. Big Finish's trailer promised to be “recreating an era,” but have they done so?

Let's start by looking at Trealor. Trealor has worked with Big Finish before, perhaps noticeably in Tom Baker's first Big Finish outing Destination: Nerva, and first played the Third Doctor in Big Finish's fiftieth anniversary outing The Light At The End. I was unimpressed with Trealor there and was immensely skeptical about his playing the role in this release. After all, I am a fan of the Pertwee era. It was the Pertwee era in large part that got me into Doctor Who back in 2007 (that's right, I found Doctor Who in the 21st century through the old series rather than the new one). Pertwee was my favorite Doctor until I found Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor, though his Doctor remains high up on my list and that era remains my favorite. So for me, and I'm certain many others, the success of this venture would rest largely on his shoulders.

Having heard both stories now, I feel my skepticism was unfounded. Trealor does a marvelous job and has greatly improved since his rather dismal performance in Light At The End. Within the opening fifteen minutes of Prisoners Of The Lake, the story that opens this release, I was won over by his performance in a scene right out of the Pertweee era on TV: the Third Doctor having a confrontation with a bureaucrat (in this case the director of an archeological project). Trealor's performance was spot on and he went from strength to strength throughout the rest of the release. He's far closer to Pertwee vocally then he was nearly two years ago and, perhaps even better, he's really captured the vocal inflections of the man as well. While it might not quite be as well done as Frazer Hines' Patrick Troughton, Trealor's Pertwee is comparable to William Russell as William Hartnell. He captures the spirit and sometimes his voice with the results being both pleasing and authentic.

Moving on from Trealor, the rest of the cast is solid. Katy Manning and Richard Franklin reprise their roles from TV as Jo Grant and UNIT Captain Mikes Yates, respectively, which both have done for Big Finish before. Well Manning undoubtedly sounds older no matter how hard she tries, she nevertheless does well here and certainly captures the spirit of her 1970s self better than she did a short time ago in the main range release The Defectors. Franklin, who has become the last surviving member of the UNIT team in some respects, does a better job as he sounds very much like his 1970s self and gets a larger chunk of the action to take part in. Both of them do well and they seal this recreation of the era in many respects.

It also helps that there's a strong supporting cast as well. In both stories, Big Finish have put together a nice ensemble of actors including Caroline Seymour from Survivors and the ever dependable John Banks playing roles in the first story Prisoners Of The Lake. The second story, The Havoc Of Empires, features an equally strong cast including Hywel Morgan and Lucy Briggs-Owen as the leaders of the empires in question along with Helen Goldwyn in the roles of both a high-strung wedding coordinator and the AI of the space station where the story takes place. While Goldwyn's wedding coordinator is sometimes on the very edge of parody (if not annoyance), the results work with actors often playing multiple roles bringing them to life splendidly.

The scripts, written by Justin Richards and Andy Lane, are the backbone of this release and both serve it well. Richards is often noted for his writing of “Traditional Who” and Prisoners Of The Lake is no exception. It's a tale that echoes stories like The Daemons and The Sea Devils (for which some underwater planning was mooted by deemed unfeasible on a BBC budget) with its mix of a mysterious archeological site, underwater action, and a threat to Earth as we know it. Lane's script for The Havoc Of Empires takes the TARDIS away from Earth and into the future with a diplomatic wedding between the leaders of the human led Teklarn Incorporation and the Chalnoth Hegemony being put into jeopardy by what appear to be acts of sabotage that only adds to tension and distrust between the two sides. If Richards' script echoes the Earthbound parts of the Pertwee era, Lane's echoes stories like Curse Of Peladon and The Mutants while also managing to work in a decent thriller plot to keep in going. The fact that both of these stories are only four episodes helps and both writers make good use of Trealor as narrator, helping to get across more visual aspects of the stories while thankfully avoiding the cliches of describing things in audio that hurt the two Third Doctor audio stories that Pertwee himself starred in back in the 1990s for BBC Radio. The results are two solid, well-written tales that wonderfully evoke two different sides of the same era.

Elsewhere, Big Finish have set about making the release as authentic as possible. This is nowhere more evident then in the music of Jamie Robertson and Nicholas Briggs. Like Trealor's Third Doctor, they capture the spirit of an era of often experimental music scores. While there is perhaps a bit too much music at times and while it perhaps occasionally goes a bit too far in evoking the more experimental scores of composers like Malcolm Clarke (whose score for The Sea Devils divides fans to this day), there is no doubt that it certainly helps to complete a remarkable piece of work from everyone involved.

In the end, as both a Big Finish listener and as a fan of the Pertwee era, I can't help but sing the praises of this release. Trealor's Third Doctor is splendid, capturing the spirit of his Doctor in as respectful and exciting a manor as possible and there's solid performances all round. The writing and music both do what Trealor does: envoke the era without slavishly copying it. In a year of triumphant releases from Big Finish, including their Last Adventure with the Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor, this might be the most exciting release so far this year.

“Recreating an era”? Indeed it does.



Why Aren't We Talking More About This?

What:Faction Paradox: This Town Will Never Let Us Go (Faction Paradox book)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   10

Nearly a decade ago, I attended a panel at the Chicago TARDIS convention on the topic of the novels of the wilderness years of Doctor Who (i.e. that time period between 1989 and 2005 when there was no TV show airing). On the panel were convention guests who had contributed to those books: Jonathan Blum, Paul Cornell, Kate Orman, and Gary Russell. Perhaps it was inevitable that the topic of Lawrence Miles, that looming but an immensely controversial author of the era, came up as the proverbial "elephant in the room." Despite Miles attacking them all in interviews, all four had great things to say about his work and it was Cornell who said that Miles, "should have been the next great British science fiction writer." In reading this, Miles' last published novel (which I bought at the same convention six years later), I can't help but feel he was right in that assessment.

Technically, This Town Will Never Let Us Go was meant to be the opening standalone Faction Paradox novel from Mad Norwegian Press. Considering that, it feels like an odd book indeed. The faction, a sort of time traveling voodoo cult obsessed with paradoxes, hardly features in the novel at all, mainly through little references here and there. Indeed all the things one would have expected from Miles previous set-up in Doctor Who novels like Alien Bodies barely comes into play at all. It's a strange way to kick-off a series to say the least.

Or at least one might think that. Instead of what the reader was likely expecting, Miles instead spends 281 pages following a trio of characters across six hours one morning, the novel presents us with a human eye view of that conflict known simply as The War. We meet Inangela, a Goth girl living in a van determined to join the ranks of the Faction by engaging in a ritual across the titular town. There's Valentine, an ambulance driver who has decided to make his own way into The War. Last but not least is Tiffany, a Latina Britney Spears type who goes on a journey of self-discovery right into the heart of modern media. These three apparently disconnected protagonists eventually converge in the plot's last couple of hours but that isn't what's most surprising about the novel.

That would be the fact that Miles does what all great science fiction does. He takes this human eye view of The War and engages in an almighty critique of British society and Western culture in the aftermath of 9/11. The War becomes a metaphor for the War on Terror and Valentine's subplot becomes an all too familiar story of radicalization that wouldn't be out of place in headlines fifteen years or more after the novel was first published. Miles is also keen to take shots at the media, advertising, and pop culture in general as he finds symbolism and banality side by side in places. Despite it being "the most 2003 book imaginable" (to paraphrase and indeed correct Miles in the last interview I'm aware of that he did in 2013), it's also a remarkably prescient book as he discusses the spread of information and ideas, knee-jerk reactions, and cults of personality around celebrities that doesn't feel at all out of place in the age of Twitter and social media. What's remarkable is that Miles does all that is what is really a novel meant to be aimed at a niche within a niche (Doctor Who fans who not only read his previous BBC novels but also wanted more of Faction Paradox in print) and tells a compelling story along the way.

It's compelling in large part because of how Miles chooses to tell his story. The novel unfolds minute by minute, hour by hour in the unnamed town that seems to have more than a few similarities with London. The novel is full of asides worthy of Douglas Adams and an almost obsessive eye towards the mythological dimensions underpinning behind ordinary things that would not be out of place in one of Neil Gaiman's novels from Neverwhere to American Gods. Indeed, reading this made me understand some of Miles' animosity towards Gaiman that he has expressed on his blog. They're both British writers (though Gaiman spends a lot of time in the US these days) who deal in similar territories at times. Miles is what Gaiman (and perhaps even the aforementioned late Mr. Adams) would be if they were cynical to the extreme. The cynicism and the at times borderline pretentious literary style (along with the small print of the physical edition I read) makes reading the novel difficult at times. It's a novel overflowing with ideas and insights (as painful and difficult to swallow as they are at times) but well worth making it through.

Perhaps the biggest problem the novel has is that it is, ultimately, meant to be a Doctor Who spin-off novel. It's the fact that it is aimed at the aforementioned niche within a niche that made its audience so small. This Town Will Never Let Us Go is a remarkable, breathtaking, even uncomfortably getting under your skin piece of work. It should have been the start of something new, maybe a way of bringing Faction Paradox and its creator to a wider audience.

Instead, it's a footnote. One of many Doctor Who spin-off novels out there at the moment. Miles said in the aforementioned 2013 podcast interview that he has all but given up writing at this point and indeed this novel is his latest published novel as of writing this in early 2018. All of which makes me sad because This Town Will Never Let Us Go ought to be screamed about from the rooftops and Miles ought to be winning prizes. Instead one is out of print (though still obtainable at reasonable prices) and the other has given up writing.

Neither of which feels right.



Murder On Top Gear In Space

What:Max Warp (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   8

Across more than a half-century of storytelling, Doctor Who has found time to homage and spoof a little bit of anything and everything. From Gothic tales like Frankenstein to British icons such as Quatermass and James Bond to a couple of semi-musical tales, there seems little the series can't do. So it comes as no surprise then that it found time a decade ago to spoof Top Gear, another venerable BBC franchise, via one of the Big Finish audio adventures.

Written by Jonathan Morris, "Max Warp" finds the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) arriving at the Sirius Exhibition Station in time for the Inter-G Cruiser Show. Broadcasting from there is Max Warp, the hugely popular show about spaceships. It's in the middle of a test flight of one of the ships built by the sponge-like alien race the Kith that something goes wrong, apparently killing a presenter. With tensions still boiling between the Kith and Varlon Empire despite decades of peace, it's up to the TARDIS crew to solve who was responsible and stop a war for re-igniting.

As that plot summary may suggest, the Top Gear spoofing show of the title isn't all there is to the story. It is, on the other hand, a big part of it and Morris does a superb job with it. Viewers of that program will likely recognize the basis of the various hosts: Geoffrey Vantage (Graeme Garden) the "outspoken columnist and media personality," who fronts it, the technically minded O’Reilley (James Fleet), and the seemingly overeager daredevil pilot Timbo ‘the Ferret’ (Duncan James). If you're a fan of that series as well as Who, there will be plenty to enjoy in listening to the banter between the various hosts, what happens with Lucy goes undercover at the program, and just how everything ends up at the end of the episode. Indeed, you'll likely get a few chuckles and laughs out of it. While it isn't necessary to know Top Gear to enjoy "Max Warp," you'll likely get more of it if you are.

It's also a fun little detective story. There's something about the Eighth Doctor and such tales as evidenced by stories like "Invaders From Mars" and it's something that both writers and McGann alike seem to relish. Given the format of these stories emulated New Who rather than Classic Who's four-parters, it's neat to see just how many suspects and plot twists into less than an hour's worth of story. And yet, unlike when TV Who did it's on semi-spoof of the genre with "The Unicorn And The Wasp" the same year as "Max Warp" was released, this one feels immensely satisfying in its conclusions and tone. Hats off to Morris for that.

The story's also helped by having all the hallmarks of Big Finish's output. There's the strong cast from McGann and Smith with their excellent chemistry to the trio of Max Warp presenters who all bring their top to proceedings. The sound design and music from ERS is top rate as well. Whether creating a take on the Top Gear theme or building spaceships out of sounds, they prove more than up to the task. It's another example of just why the company's work has become so renowned in the audio drama community: they do things well.

"Max Warp" is a neat example of the kind of storytelling perhaps unique to Doctor Who. Where else can you have a spoof of Top Gear inside a murder mystery with the fate of planets at stake? It's a romp of a story, one that should a smile on the listeners face while engaging them in a little detective work. In short: it's a bit of Doctor Who in a nutshell.



Back And First

What:The First Doctor Adventures: Volume One (Miscellaneous audio)
By:Matthew Kresal, Owens Cross Roads, United States
Date:Saturday 20 October 2018
Rating:   8

It's what fans have been wondering ever since "An Adventure In Space And Time" aired back in 2013. Having brought together a group of performers to play the iconic first ever Doctor Who cast, many had been wondering if there might be some new adventures in store involving the original TARDIS crew. December 2017 offered a helping of just that thanks first to the 2017 Christmas special offering David Bradley the chance to play the First Doctor on screen alongside Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. Meanwhile over in the licensed audio dramas produced by Big Finish Productions, the entire group has been reunited and the results are just what the Doctor ordered.

The set is something that it seems Big Finish has been moving towards in a way for the last couple of years. With the loss of many actors from the early years of the series and others well into their seventies and older, the question of recasting has been one that has been around for some time now. Indeed, go to any forum where the company's Doctor Who output is discussed and you're likely to find a vigorous debate about it. With the casting of Tim Trealor as the Third Doctor to good reviews and the casting from "An Adventure In Space And Time", perhaps it was inevitable that this First Doctor set would one day occur. The question is not only if the casting could work but if the stories could capture the flavor of the era.

The latter of which is something that fans, with nearly twenty years of Who stories produced by the company to look at, should have no worries about. The First Doctor Adventures does a fine job of capturing the spirit and flavor of those heady early days of the series when little about the mysterious Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and their ship had yet to be determined. To do that, the two stories that make up the set also employ the formula from this era of having a science fiction story followed by a "pure historical" story in which the only science fiction element is the time travel involved in getting them there.

The opening story, Matt Fitton's The Destination Wars, is the science fiction entry into the set. Opening in a utopian city in the “space year 2003”, the story finds the TARDIS crew is a city that seems straight out of the Disneyland Tomorrowland of the 1950s. A city who owes much to the legendary and mysterious figure known as The Inventor. All utopias have a dark underbelly and this one is no exception as The Inventor's true identity is revealed, time travel comes into play, and the wars of the title leave a changed landscape and people alike. Fitton's playing around with time is in keeping with this era's few sojourns into serious time travel storytelling such as "The Ark" while elsewhere the story presents enough action and intrigue to keep it going. The story is also given a major boost by James Dreyfus' wonderfully sinister performance as the Inventor with his links to a particular villain from the show's history. This opening salvo hits all the right notes and gets the set off to a fine start.

The second story, the “pure historical”, is Guy Adams' The Great White Hurricane. Set in New York City during the Great Blizzard of 1888, the story finds the TARDIS crew caught up in gang rivalry and personal dilemmas rather than time travel and alien invasions. It's a story that also fits right into this era beautifully with everyone getting separated from one another and from the ship, trying to find each other and survive the freezing weather long enough to make it out alive. What could potentially be a dull story is far from such thanks to Adams who plays up the dramas everyone is involved in from the Doctor and Susan getting caught up with members of rival gangs to Ian and Barbara trying to help an injured mother (played by Carolina Valdes) find her son. The production is further aided by some fine American accents, something which can often be a detriment to UK productions for an international audience as Big Finish has learned in the past (for example: hear the southern accents from 2001's "Minuet In Hell"). Thankfully, The Great White Hurricane works and tells a compelling story all the way through.

Much of the attention for this set will be focused on the recast TARDIS crew and if they not only look the part but sound it too. Perhaps taking a note from Tim Trealor's Third Doctor that it is just as important to capture the spirit and ethos of the characters as much as actually sounding like them, that is precisely what they do here. Bradley doesn't sound exactly like William Hartnell but he gets much right in his performance that sells him as much on audio as the First Doctor as he did visually in 2013 and this past Christmas. Jemma Powell, who has already been playing companion Barbara Wright for the company, gets to build on her work here and comes to the fore in the second story where the history teacher's knowledge and morality come into play. Jamie Glover's Ian Chesterton doesn't sound at all like William Russell did in the 1960s but he creates his own version of the character, playing the most physically active member of the team who gets in and out of scrapes figuratively and literally. Last but not least is Claudia Grant as Susan, a character underutilized on TV back in the 1960s but who here finds new life and plenty to contribute, especially shining in the first story when given the chance to play off Deli Segal's Reena and Bradley's Doctor. If you're looking for someone to sound precisely like the original cast you'll likely be disappointed but each and every one of them does an excellent job capturing the characters and putting a bit of their own spin on them.

Indeed, that summary also applies to the entire set. From the performances to the stories themselves, The First Doctor Adventures Volume 01 harks back to the earliest days of what has become the world's longest-running science fiction series. For those craving more of Bradley's First Doctor or wanting new tales with a nostalgic twist, this set is perfect.



Strange Novel

What:Warmonger (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 9 October 2018
Rating:   6

Terrance Dicks has long been a Doctor Who traditionalist, a writer with very clear ideas about both what The Doctor should be like and "Doctor Who" should be like. This novel is, then, an utter surprise as he abandons both of those lines. This Doctor 5 is very little like the Doctor 5 we saw on TV, and very little like any other Doctor. And this story is very little like traditional Doctor Who stories. Ostensibly, the novel takes the reader to the backstory of "Brain of Morbius." The reader gets to see Karn prior to its war-torn ruins on TV, the Sisterhood as a powerful and influential organization, Solon as the self-absorbed chief surgeon, and Morbius on his rise to power. Of course, getting a later Doctor to an earlier period on Karn where he knows all these characters, but they don't know him, is a tricky matter. So, the Doctor spends much time and effort preserving an incognito. That is all fine, as it is. The difficult part for this reader is the elaborate plot Dicks has built around that central idea. To get The Doctor to Karn at the right time, the plot (but not the story) begins when The Doctor takes Peri to a planet unencumbered by civilizations and their various problems, so she can get some R&R. In less than half an hour, Peri is almost fatally wounded by a prehistoric creature, and the Doctor takes her to the best surgeon he can think of - Mehendri Solon, chief surgeon at the Hospice of Karn, a hospital renowned in the galaxy. There is some business with Peri's stumbling upon Solon's secret experiments and The Doctor's surprising uninterest in that, at least surprising to her. There is quite a bit of this before Morbius arrives, nearly midway through the novel. At that point, the novel takes a sudden turn to full not-Doctor-Who territory while using all the trappings of Doctor Who. The Doctor ends up going back to Gallifrey to convince the Time Lords to do something about Morbius. They do, mainly by setting up The Doctor as military leader who gathers forces from various, and given Doctor Who history highly unlikely to join such an endeavor, races. The Doctor becomes supreme military commander, must become everything he hates, but somehow finds that he actually kind of likes it. Meanwhile Peri, of all people, becomes a guerilla leader by accident.

Dicks with his later Doctor Who novels seems to be very interested in war, the phenomenon of war, the political necessity of it, and the tactics of it. With this novel, Dicks has forced the Doctor, who is otherwise both uninterested and opposed to all those things, to share these interests out of necessity.

As I read the book, I kept thinking of it as being much like Lance Parkin's "The Infinity Doctors." Like that novel, "Warmonger" has the recognizable characters, the references to various episodes and periods of the show, the trappings of "Doctor Who." And yet, like "The Infinity Doctors," "Warmonger" reads as if it occupies a parallel universe to Doctor Who's. It reads as a kind of "what if" exercise.

It might have worked in some way. However, Dicks, who is usually pretty careful about keeping his plots tidy, has left many loose ends; plus, he has created an unresolved paradox in which Borusa meets The Doctor and knows who The Doctor is before The Doctor is even born, if I get my time lines right. Certainly, it is before Borusa is a teacher at the academy and the young Doctor his pupil. How is it that the CIA know who The Doctor is before he becomes The Doctor? Why aren't the Time Lords panicking about time paradoxes and crossing one's own timeline? Plus, the whole beginning of the story (though not of the novel, which uses flashback storytelling) when Peri gets injured seems a mere contrivance to get The Doctor to Karn.

Audacious in some ways, "Warmonger" just does not quite hold together well enough to make the ambition pay off.



Great setup, horrible end

What:Winter for the Adept (New Audio Adventure)
By:Adam Bradshaw, London, United Kingdom
Date:Thursday 4 October 2018
Rating:   4

This story had such an interesting beginning that it really is a huge shame that they ruined it at the end. I really think that it needed another story to resolve the build up so that they didn't have to resort to the most ludicrous ending to a story I have ever seen. Personally I didn't think this story actually needed the aliens and it could've been so much better if they hadn't tried to crowbar in a totally forgettable alien species which, when one looks at the story as a whole, were useless.



Ok

What:The Ambassadors of Death (Target novelisation)
By:Archie Simpson, Canberra , Australia
Date:Tuesday 25 September 2018
Rating:   6

This is a fairly straight novelisation of the tv story. Still, a nice read.



Oh my god!!!!!!!

What:Borrowed Time (BBC new series novel)
By:C G Harwood, Dunedin, NZ, New Zealand
Date:Sunday 16 September 2018
Rating:   10

I think the comments on this book shadow my own. So I will say the exact same Hong they all said. WOW.... JUST WOW!!!!!



Better as a Novel

What:Planet of Fire (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 9 September 2018
Rating:   6

Peter Grimwade's novelizations of his own scripts are always better than the televised version. Perhaps it is that the original scripts were drastically changed in production. Perhaps it is that novelizing the scripts allowed Grimwade to rethink what he had written. Or, perhaps Grimwade was just a better novelist than script writer. Whatever the reason, the novelized "Planet of Fire" gives us insights into the characters, especially Turlough and Peri, that we did not get on TV. There are also some additional scenes early, which add background and supply some rationality to some of the plot elements. The plot itself is a bit overly complicated in ways it need not be. There are some unanswered questions, such as how a Trion beacon ended up in the bottom of the Mediterranean. Also, in the novel, Grimwade makes Turlough a bit more snobbish, with some worrying opinions about the lower classes. He never does fully explain to the Doctor why he acts as he does. It is also a very small universe in which The Master just happens to need something on a planet used as a kind of prison by Turlough's people, and just happens to have the means to get Turlough there without trying to, and that Turlough's family just happened to crash their spaceship on that planet. Too many "just happened tos" for my taste.



Forgive the pun but, Excellent!!!!

What:Hour of the Cybermen (New Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Friday 31 August 2018
Rating:   10

I am a huge fan of Andrew Smith. He wrote an awesome tale for Tom at just seventeen years of age in the classic Who era, and with Big Finish he has risen to become a firm favourite writer of mine for many reasons. What all of his stories possess now is a brilliant portrayal of the characters. Andrew instantly makes you care for the people in his stories, and it takes some writing skill to make one do this almost in every story he writes. And its even more brilliant when he does it with the return of the Cybermen on audio yet again.

And what is even better is when you have the great original guys playing the Leader and Lieutenant! And both David Banks and Mark Hardy slip back into their cyber roles with gusto and make this story immensely enjoyable. I also greatly enjoy the fact that this is yet another brilliant story for the amount of time the silver giants appear too. I love to have as much cybermen in my stories as possible, and its great the amount they are in this corker of a tale.

Daniel Hopkins is a brilliant and very very intense character. Its great the development he gets in this story. And his story is very believable and his state of mind is brilliantly portrayed by Blake Harrison. And as ever Colin Baker leads the cast with all the usual Old Sixie brilliance. And I also love the character of Riva. I always adore my strong female parts in a Doctor Who story.

What I also love is when the cybermen are portrayed just as they should be. As very powerful enemies who should never be easy to defeat or stump. And the plot of this story is awesome, and the pacing is spot on and the superb sound design and production just make this just yet another Big Finish cyberman success story. David Banks and Mark Hardy are amazing stepping back into the role of the brilliant Earthshock style cybermen. And its great to hear David spar again with the Doctor just as he memorably did with Peter's Doctor in Earthshock. This story also fully incorporates all the best elements that made the cybermen the brilliant and resoundingly awesome villains they are.

Andrew has woven a corker of a tale and this joins the ranks of the heights of Spare Parts and Kingdom of Silver for awesome cyber telling! I hope this also isn't the last we hear of David or Mark!



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