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It is What It Is

What:The Stageplays: The Ultimate Adventure (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 11 December 2017
Rating:   4

The audio version of the infamous stage play The Ultimate Adventure works well for what it is supposed to do. The play was created in 1989. It's primary audience was family. This meant that the play had to work for the under-teens. The plot, then, is rather simple. There are some bits where The Doctor must make horrible noises to "talk" to alien species. He gets two "nice" human companions and furry little one who makes only cooing noises. Plus, there are some musical numbers, some set pieces, and some rather more than usually personalized Daleks. To make the play work in audio format, much of the scene description is transferred to dialogue, so that far too often some character is mysteriously describing the action. It's a nice bit of Doctor Who memorabilia, but not really all that good in audio form. Perhaps the play on stage was more entertaining.



Turns out There Was a Trilogy

What:Assassin in the Limelight (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 1 December 2017
Rating:   6

Until one gets to Assassin in the Limelight, one is unlikely to realize that Robert Ross had been writing a trilogy. Here, he brings his previous two adventures together for a final (almost) summation. We get the return of Dr. Robert Knox, as he calls himself, from Medicinal Purposes, and the unnamed blue ball of energy monster from Pier Pressure. Listening to the previous two stories, the audience is unlikely to see that a trilogy had been brewing, but Assassin makes it so. This time, Knox has established his traveling historical horror show at Ford's Theater and the assassination of President Lincoln. Knox, now posing as Oscar Wilde, is up to something, but we are not sure exactly what. The story itself plays out like a 19th-century American melodrama, with a dishonored army major, a femme fatale, a crooked policeman, a dishonest theater owner (sort of), a devious actor (John Wilkes Boothe) and a lovely heroine. There are, of course, a couple of dodgy American accents, since not all the actors are American or Canadian. Of the three Ross stories that make up the trilogy, this is the best, being the most coherent.



4 Vignettes

What:100 (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 1 December 2017
Rating:   7

Another in the Big Finish series of releases that are made up from four loosely connected, but mostly independent, stories. Since each lasts about 25 minutes, the stories are clever, quick, and mild. First is 100BC by Jacqueline Rayner. Here, Evelyn and the Doctor disagree over whether they should meddle in history, in particular in whether they should affect the birth of Julius Caesar. In My Own Private Wolfgang, Robert Shearman has concocted a typical closed-world tale, which he rather likes to do, involving the fate of Mozart, here played with gusto by John Sessions. Joseph Lidster's Bedtime Story is the weakest of the set, involving an alien wreaking revenge on an unsuspecting family. Last is the 100 Days of the Doctor, typical fan-feed fare from Paul Cornell. The Doctor is infected by an assassination virus and must visit locations where different incarnations exist to find out how to stop it. This is basically a two-hander with the characters describing events rather than interacting with others. It's all entertaining and not too demanding.



Excellent! Sad death...

What:Earthshock (BBC classic series DVD)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Thursday 30 November 2017
Rating:   9

I have this story on "The Cybermen" DVD as a special feature and what a story and a heart-breaking companion death (Won't give out the name, Spoliers!) Great story!



Great story for departing 11th Doctor

What:The Time of the Doctor (BBC new series DVD/Blu-ray)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Thursday 30 November 2017
Rating:   9

By far, the most heart-breaking for me as Smith was my first Doctor, but nevertheless it was a great story...not the best but great



Great story for departing 10th Doctor

What:The End of Time (BBC new series DVD/Blu-ray)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Wednesday 29 November 2017
Rating:   8

I loved the story. The way entropy was portrayed wasn't as prominent as in Season 18 but ok. I didn't like that line wher 10 says he doesn't want a new incarnation In his tardis



The Early Years...for DVD!

What:The Beginning (BBC classic series DVD)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Wednesday 29 November 2017
Rating:   10

I love this boxset...I am heading to get the US Re-Release but at the moment it's fine. Although I thought the Marco Polo 30 min recon was too short. I watched the Loose Cannon (post-2003) recons after that one it was still ok! Excellent! (too bad the US didn't get individual for Stories 2 and 3 and the re-release is a all-in-one...)



Not worth it...really...

What:The Daleks (BBC new series DVD/Blu-ray)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Wednesday 29 November 2017
Rating:   1

I have most of the episodes except for the Series 7 and 8 Episodes and Genesis of the Daleks, but this was a budget release and not well restored. It came with The Daleks and a 10th Doctor Sonic Screwdriver toy but that broke. Don't get it, just get Series 1-8 Box Sets and Genesis of the Daleks DVD.



Not worth it

What:The Cybermen (BBC new series DVD/Blu-ray)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Wednesday 29 November 2017
Rating:   1

I have most of the episodes except for the Series 8 Finale and Earthshock, but this was a budget release and not well restored. It came with The Daleks and a 10th Doctor Sonic Screwdriver toy but that broke. Don't get it, just get Series 2-8 Box Sets and Earthshock DVD.



Light and Fun

What:Black Orchid (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 24 November 2017
Rating:   6

Terence Dudley's novelization of his own teleplay is actually better than the original episode. This episode was a two-parter that felt truncated at two parts. The novel format allows Dudley to fill in some gaps and add some depth to the character. The story itself is a typical 1920s mystery/adventure, with The Doctor mistaken for a Cricket player, taken to a stately mansion in the countryside and becoming the chief suspect in a murder. Yet, something's not right at Cranleigh Hall. Add to this a bit double-trouble when Nyssa and the current Lord Cranleigh's fiancée are nearly identical, one South American native with a deformed lip, a masquerade ball, and one get all the elements typical of the genre. In this, Dudley has perhaps gone a bit overboard. There are some clumsy bits of foreshadowing of the "little did he know that in the very near future he would be in deep trouble" variety. It's light and fun and not much else.



Decent

What:Doctor Who and the Visitation (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 20 November 2017
Rating:   6

Saward's novelization of his own script generally meets the requirements set by the Target novelizations. It is not too difficult, so pre-teens can read it and not get lost. It preserves most of the televised episode. It has novelistic characteristics enough so that a reader does not feel that he/she is simply reading a reformatted script. It's not too demanding and bit more of a novel than the typical Terrance Dicks novelization.



Doctor Who Meets The Invisible Man

What:Last of the Colophon (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 18 November 2017
Rating:   5

With the Doctor 4 series, Big Finish have aimed for recreating the spirit of 1970s Doctor Who. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. It depends upon which aspects of that era one wants to emphasize. With Last of the Colophon, Jonathan Morris has chosen to go with the Doctor Who reworkings of classic science fiction for emphasis. In this case, the remake is of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. This could work reasonably well in audio because it is easier to give the sense of invisibility. The trouble with Last of the Colophon is that Morris sticks too closely to Wells' concepts and the changes he makes add little to what Wells had already done. Basically, invisibility turns an ordinarily nice guy into a power-mad lunatic. In this story the lunatic, played superbly by Gareth Thomas, is all we get. So, even the main lesson is somewhat lost. Another aspect a little worrying is Doctor 4's rather cavalier attitude toward death. As people through the story die, he just does not seem to care. And he rather quickly runs to the solution of killing the villain, again with no particular remorse. Some strong script editing could have hammered out these problems and provided a more coherent and entertaining story.



Fascinating Structure

What:Tomb of Valdemar (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 5 November 2017
Rating:   8

Simon Messingham is definitely one of the more interesting writers of Doctor Who novels. It's the ambition that sets him apart from so many of the others. Tomb of Valdemar is probably his most ambitious Who novel, and for that reason alone most reactions seem to be either love it or hate it. My own feeling is that in this novel Messingham has tried to do too many things and probably should have taken more time than the publishers no doubt gave him to work it all out.

On the level of plot, at least for the main story, there is not really that much unusual. The Doctor and Romana are on their way to track down part 2 of the Key to Time, but get sidetracked by an anomaly onto a deadly planet where a mad cult leader is trying to resurrect an ancient superbeing known as Valdemar. The Doctor is quickly convinced that there is no such thing as Valdemar, but instead there is an ancient gateway or access to some "higher dimensions" that, if let loose, would rewrite the physics of the cosmos. To add to the troubles, the cult leader Neville is an upper-class fugitive from a new workers' revolution, and the ruthlessly dedicated Hopkins, a kind of witch-finder general, is on Neville's trail.

The ambitious part of the novel is the manner of the telling. This is a frame-tale novel in which the main plot is told by someone telling it to someone else. In this case, an old woman identifying herself as one of the chief figures of the adventure, the novelist Pelham, is telling this story to a group of barbarian fur traders on a far away planet. But, she is really telling it to just one fur trader, Ponch, who seems strangely affected by the whole thing. About three quarters of the way through the tale, the old woman dies, and Ponch leaves his life behind to discover the source of his meaningless existence and complete the tale in his own imagination. There are several discussions along the way of this frame tale about the power of storytelling to change people's perceptions, which it seemingly has done for Ponch, who never looks at his world in quite the same way.

One thing that may disturb the reader while going through the story is the level of detail that storyteller Pelham seems to know. There are far too many details that Pelham could not possibly know, especially details about Gallifrey and about what Romana in particular is thinking at any given moment. However, Messingham manages to resolve this problem at the end.

What keeps this novel from meeting its ambition is mainly the difference in quality between the frame story and the inner tale. So, while the attempt seems to be not only to validate the value of storytelling, but also to validate the value of Doctor Who as a storytelling mechanism, an explanation for why so many people keep reading and watching, this message gets undercut by the rather ordinary plot of the inner tale, the only one that the Doctor is actually in. A better Doctor Who story with more direct referentiality to the frame tale would have made the novel's structure more effective in getting across this key message.

Some stray observations: 1) Messingham writes a very good version of Doctor 4, a feat that few other novelists were able to master; 2) As I've said elsewhere, Messingham is very good at writing interior monologue, and quite good at portraying the mental states of deeply disturbed people; 3) The character Redfearn from straight out of two-bit American Westerns has no business being in this novel; 4) There is too much focus on mental powers that can destroy the universe; 5) The villains Neville and Hopkins are too much stock characters, baddies of little particular interest.

So, high marks for the ambition, but some demerits for lack of imagination in some core parts of the novel.



Good in Places, Awful in Others

What:Divided Loyalties (BBC Past Doctor book)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 5 November 2017
Rating:   6

Many readers really dislike this book. I was not quite that put off by it. The book is basically in three parts. Part 1 is the set up, where Doctor 5 and his first crew get caught up in a situation involving a planet being guarded by a space station on which no one in the crew really cares. Russell spends quite a bit of time getting into characters' heads, showing us what he thinks the TARDIS crew really think of each other, and most of it is not nice. The Celestial Toymaker is hanging about, but his exact relationship to what else is happening is somewhat elusive. At this point, the novel is fairly straightforward Doctor Who fair with a few of Russell's typical revisionist tendencies. Part 2 is a long flashback to the Doctor's time at the academy on Gallifrey, meant to explain how he became familiar with the Toymaker who shows up in The Celestial Toymaker first Doctor episode. The Gallifrey sequence is probably the weakest part of the novel, mostly because here Russell lets loose his penchant for feeding red meat to the fans. Thus, we find out that pretty much all of the various rogue Time Lords the Doctor later encounters - The Master, The Rani, The Meddling Monk, Drax, and so on - not only went to the same school (no surprise there as we have only ever heard of one academy on Gallifrey), but were all part of the same collection of misfits who hung out together and got into trouble together. They were all friends of some kind. This is really wholly unnecessary other than to save Russell the trouble of having to invent new characters. All of this slowly leads up to The Doctor's first encounter with The Toymaker. Part 3 returns the reader to the "present" and a showdown between The Doctor and The Toymaker. So, the novel is really dragged down by Russell's desire to throw into his story as many Doctor Who references as he can, not just to prior Doctor Who TV episodes, but also to prior Doctor Who novels and to his own Doctor Who novels and dramas. Had Russell bypassed all of that and stuck to the story, "Divided Loyalties" would have been a much better book than it is.



Doctor Six Gets a True Regeneration

What:The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 27 October 2017
Rating:   8

One of the big gaps in Doctor Who lore is the account of exactly how Doctor Six becomes Doctor Seven. Big Finish decided to make that story, complete the transition, fill the gap. They decided to do this in the style they have used more and more often since about 2013 - a box set of 1 hour stories loosely connected. The advantage of this method is not to overtax any one writer with trying to produce the big spectacular. If anyone remembers "Zagreus" and "The Next Life," then he/she will know just how large a disaster that can become as the writer loses control of the story. The rationale for this set is to visit four different moments in Doctor Six history as constructed by Big Finish. So, each story includes a different companion, and the stories do not themselves happen in strictly chronological order. Sadly, the death of Maggie Stables made using Evelyn out of the question. However, we get Doctor Six with Constance (his newest companion in Big Finish terms), Charley, Flip, and Mel. That makes three entirely Big Finish companions. The story arc is intriguingly different because it follows not Doctor Six's development, but The Valeyard's development. The listener goes through the series witnessing The Valeyard slowly put together the means by which he will take over The Doctor's life. Part 1, "The End of the Line," is a murderer on a train story with the twist that the train is part of a multidimensional instability. It is quite creepy and quite inventive. Part 2, "The Red House," is a bit more standard Doctor Who fare, with Doctor Six and Charley arriving on the planet of werewolves, or is it the wolves that turn into humans? There is a dodgy scientific experiment going on and a cold, callous mad scientist who suddenly goes all sympathetic and caring. This story, to my mind, is the weakest of the set. Part 3, "Stage Fright," connects Doctor Six and Flip with Jago and Litefoot. The Valeyard has commissioned Jago's theatre for private dramatic recreations of The Doctor's "deaths." We see that as The Valeyard grows in power, he starts taking increasing amounts of story space. Part 4, "The Brink of Death," begins right off with The Valeyard succeeding. He has inserted himself in The Doctor's place so that even Mel does not know it has happened. Doctor Six is down to six minutes (significance in the number?) to save himself from being erased from existence. His solution is self-sacrifice for the greater good, which fits perfectly with Doctor Six as portrayed in Big Finish stories.

There are a couple of quibbles on my part. One is that "The Brink of Death" involves a magical form of radiation lethal to Time Lords but only mildly uncomfortable to humans. That is simply not how radiation works. In "End of the Line" there is a bit about multiverse versions of oneself leading to "the dark side" taking over and converting nice people into homicidal maniacs. It just doesn't ring true. Mel does not get nearly enough to do in "The Brink of Death."

The performances are generally outstanding. Michael Jayston really relishes his role as The Valeyard. Some Big Finish regulars, such as Anthony Howell, Lisa Bowerman, and Robbie Stevens turn in top rate performances. Generally, we can say that Big Finish took a Big Risk that succeeded very well.



The Return of 1972

What:The Third Doctor Adventures (Miscellaneous audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 18 October 2017
Rating:   9

This excellent bit of nostalgia gets nearly everything right. We get two stories very much in the manner of 1972 Doctor Who that also do not simply retread plots from that era. "Prisoners of the Lake" is an Earth-bound story following the "Quatermass and the Pit" style, with the discovery of an alien artifact leading to potential Earth annihilation. This time, the artifact is deep under a lake. There are some interesting ideas, such as a stone-based technology run by magnetism, an extension of the idea of ferro-magnetic tape. The story includes a typical cast of characters - corrupt project director, dedicated scientists, aggressive aliens, and so on. "The Havoc of Empires" is a space-bound story, also typical of 1972-3 stories such as the "Peladon" adventures and "The Mutants." The Doctor, Jo, and Mike Yates arrive via TARDIS on a space station that is the site of delicate interplanetary negotiations. Someone, though, does not want this plan to succeed. Jo gets an especially strong role here when she takes command by pretending to be the lead security investigator. She gets to take positive action without always consulting The Doctor.

The standout element of this collection has to be Tim Treloar's impersonation of Jon Pertwee's Doctor. At times, it is so exactly right that you would swear it really was Pertwee saying those lines. Treloar sounds more like Pertwee than Katy Manning and Richard Franklin sound like their younger selves. The one drawback for me is that Big Finish still wants to run past Doctor stories with narration. I still find the narration, even though this set does not have much of it, gets in the way. Despite that, these stories are superb testaments to the quality of early 70s Doctor Who.



Very creative wih great voice acting

What:Sword of Orion (New Audio Adventure)
By:Jared Harr, St. Marys, United States
Date:Monday 16 October 2017
Rating:   9

This was a very creative twist on the show as it introduced androids in a modern styled fight for rights. With the episode also containing Cybermen at one of their most deadly. The cybermen were written so well in this story that it feels like Kit Pedler wrote it! Plus this story is not without an incredible plot twist. I was stunned by the end!



Just Like the Old Days

What:The Black Hole (Early Adventures audio)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 6 October 2017
Rating:   7

The Early Adventures series is kind of halfway between Companion Chronicles and New Adventures. They have a narrator to provide links and description, but for all practical purposes are full-cast dramas. Some may like the narrative links. I think they get in the way. This time around, David Warner provides the narrative without playing a part in the drama. This allows Frazer Hines a chance to concentrate on playing Jamie and the Doctor. This time Victoria is along. Deborah Watling does her best to pitch the voice higher, but still can't get that girl sound she had in 1967. The story itself is written as if it were produced for TV at the time. Computers in space, for instance, are large metal boxes that use tape. The story itself involves our travellers accidentally arriving in a space station, where strange things are happening with time. It turns out that somebody is creating an artificial black hole, and The Doctor suspects "his people" are involved. Simon Guerrier has a tricky brief here, trying to fit the story to 1967 while also slotting it into Who sequence. This means that somehow all the many references to Time Lords and so on will have to be erased. The science of black holes is seriously wrong in this story. There is some playing around with time. It's entertaining, but flawed in key areas.



Cold War Spies

What:1963: The Assassination Games (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 30 September 2017
Rating:   7

1963: The Assassination Game picks up one week after the events in Remembrance of the Daleks, with Group Captain Gilmore desperately seeking backing for his new project: Counter-Measures, a sort of UK precursor to UNIT. Sir Toby Kinsella has secured a job for Gilmore as general lookout for John Rutherford, MP, during the scheduled launch of a new missile system called Starfire. Of course, nothing is quite what it seems, especially when certain politicians get assassinated by members of a supposedly non-violent anti-nuclear protest group. Rachel Jensen and Allison Williams get coerced into investigating certain people associated with Starfire. The Doctor and Ace are working under cover, already on the job it seems. What is the real purpose of Starfire?

This story is very much in the 1988 manner of Doctor Who. It's purpose is to bring the listener nostalgia both for Remembrance of the Daleks and for the original Doctor Who. At the same time, it works as the setup story for the already running Counter-Measures series (that's time travel for you). The story is very much in the Cold War spy manner, a bit of Le Carre, a bit of Man from UNCLE, and a bit of James Bond, even perhaps a bit of Captain Scarlet. It's decidedly entertaining, even if it does not break any new ground either in Doctor Who or the spy genre.



A superb evocation of Old Historicals...

What:The Night Witches (Early Adventures audio)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 30 September 2017
Rating:   10


As a massive fan of the Early Adventures of Big Finish, I am always particularly looking forward to the plainly historical adventures. I am a massive fan of them and they have always been brilliant. And then along comes the Night Witches and to me this was an absolute winner of a tale. The first Doctor Who script for Big Finish by newcomer Roland Moore is absolutely superb.

In this story, as with all other historicals, the focus is wisely more on character. And here the heart of the Russian Night Witches unit is brought to life brilliantly by unusually an entirely female cast, with only the reliable Frazer Hines and Elliot Chapman as Ben along for the ride! And every single actress in this story is amazing.

Firstly Anneke Wills truly gets to shine with a superb part given to her, more in the helpful vein of her more prominent role in the Highlanders on TV than say the Underwater Menace where she is a little dumbed down and even silly. But not so here. Here Polly is the centrepiece of the whole story, as she is the doppleganger of one of the Night Witches.

Wanda Opolinska is amazing as Nadia the leader of the Night Witches, and she turns out to be quite calculating and devious. Willing to use Polly to her own ends in an attempt to foil the German Panzer advance at Stalingrad in 1942. Here the sound design has to be praised, cause this really feels like youre in a snowbound wilderness with a lonely ill equipped team of women fighting to stave off the Germans with resources dwindling. Needless to say there is a mass of superb emotion woven throughout this story too.

Scenes where Polly and Ben are thinking the Doctor and Jamie are dead are particularly moving, as the pair wonder what they will do to survive if they cant find or fly the TARDIS properly. This story really does have some great moments also between Kristina Buikate’s Lilya, and you can almost feel the two of them getting quite close at one point, and that maybe Ben’s eye has been taken by someone else other than his duchess for once.

The finale is cranked up to an explosive amount of brilliance. The story is not once plodding or stilted, the characters are all extremely convincing and superbly performed by all involved. I hope that we are to get more second doctor historical audio adventures. If they even only half as good as the Night Witches, then they will be superb indeed.
The Night Witches is a really satisfying and brilliantly gritty and endearing war story for the TARDIS team!
For people who really love the historicals, then I cant recommend this story enough. Its incredibly enjoyable and a great start to the second series of Second Doctor early adventures indeed!



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