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Middle of the Road Doctor Who

What:Quicksilver (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 11 February 2018
Rating:   6

Another trick Big Finish is using to keep the brand interesting is to create unlikely pairings of companions - Ace and Mel, for instance. Here we get Constance and Flip. The story of this is rather old hat for Big Finish. A race of alien warriors has arrived on Earth to chase down a fugitive who brings with him advanced alien technology. The warriors then bring their war to Earth as well. The Doctor must straighten this out. The story also resolves where the Doctor/Constance story is going. She insists on going home, but the Doctor takes her there a little later (only by a few months) than expected. They say their goodbyes, then alien intrusion kicks in and back together they are, only this time Constance now believes her husband to be dead. Of course, we know that is not the case. There is a strange contrivance by which the aliens snatch Flip from her wedding in 2012 and whisk her off to Vienna, 1949. The plot has some gaping holes. For instance, just how does Kinvar know who the Doctor is and what a TARDIS is? This is never explained. More than anything else, the weak plotting drags down this story.



An Artistic Dalek?

What:Order of the Daleks (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 7 February 2018
Rating:   7

The apparent genesis for this one is the vision of a Dalek made from stained glass. The story built around that image is rather standard Doctor Who fare. Stranded Daleks take over a monastery that even though is on an alien planet is almost exactly like Catholic monasteries of the Middle Ages. I am not sure why Mike Tucker bothers with the alien planet if he is going to be that close to Earth in all the particulars. The story has much comic relief involving our bombastic Doctor and his plucky assistant meeting an even more bombastic galactic official and his not quite as plucky assistant. This story is amusing mostly.



Interesting Concept

What:Alien Heart / Dalek Soul (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 6 February 2018
Rating:   7

This first in a trilogy of doubles gives Big Finish another approach to keep the Doctor Who audios fresh. This time, the listener gets two 2-part stories vaguely joined, rather than one 4-part story. It helps in having the audios match the pace of New Who. On the other hand, it introduces some of the problems of New Who in that the need to get it over quickly can deny the audience of character interaction and deeper plot development. In this duo, the first "Alien Heart," is the weaker story. The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a secret Dalek plot, this time by an isolated side group. This bunch of Daleks are from earlier in Dalek history than the New Who Daleks. The second, "Dalek Soul," is by far the more interesting. Even though the gimmick is a bit obvious, it is played out very well, with Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton giving extraordinary performances as darker versions of their characters. The whole is a worthwhile deviation from the normal run of Big Finish audios.



Better Than TV Version

What:Mawdryn Undead (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 6 February 2018
Rating:   6

This novelization of a Doctor Who episode was written by the scriptwriter. This makes a bit of a difference, either because it allows him to get some details into the story that did not make it to the televised version, or because it allows him to rethink some details. Either way, the novel turns out to be a little better than the serial by filling in some gaps. Chief among these is the difference between The Brigadier 1977 and The Brigadier 1983. In the novel, Grimwade makes clear that the “breakdown” event had a much greater effect on The Brigadier than the TV serial showed. The story itself is one of the more tightly plotted, as time paradox stories need to be. Grimwade, however, makes a few narrative errors, such using the “Little did he know that...” narrative intrusion several times. I am also not so fond of stories in which everyone knows what a Time Lord is. That makes the Doctor Who universe too small.



Muddled Script

What:The Raincloud Man (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 30 January 2018
Rating:   6

Doctor 6 and Charley return to Manchester and D.I. Menzies for more action with the aliens among us. One reviewer mentioned a Men in Black pastiche, which is just about right. As with The Condemned, which introduced the concept and some characters, this one starts as a police caper that gets sidetracked into protecting Earth from the aliens who are inadvertently threatening its demise. This one involves a high tech casino and its cooler, an empath who casts bad luck wherever he goes, the Raincloud Man of the title. The story does not really advance much from The Condemned. Menzies is all sarcasm hides heart of gold, Charley remains mysterious with the Doctor about her origins, he remains highly suspicious of her, and the Manchester constabulary are generally clueless. It's entertaining enough, but something of a holding pattern.



Surprisingly Enjoyable

What:The Doomsday Quatrain (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 27 January 2018
Rating:   7

The Doomsday Quatrain has low ratings here. It would be interesting to find out why. I myself was a little skeptical to begin with. Nostradamus is an over-rated figure historically speaking. This story deals with the issue of Nostradamus the seer quite well, so that we can bypass the whole prophecy matter. The story is a little derivative. It came out a few months after "The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People" was aired, and I don't know whether recording of the story was before or after the TV serial, but the fundamental technological idea is basically the same. Only the scale is different. The Crowe (Crow? Kro?), the crocodile baddies, are a bit dull as bad guys go, so we get a somewhat more interesting one in the greedy Brors. The standout performance here is David Schofield as Nostradamus. He strikes the right balance of OTT and pathos. Sylvester McCoy is Sylvester McCoy. Those who love his Doctor will love what he does here, and those who hate his Doctor will hate it.



Great Novelisation of a Cyberman story

What:The Wheel in Space (Target novelisation)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Thursday 25 January 2018
Rating:   8

I read this (but couldn't finish and now it's readale but destroyed due to liquid damage) and it is quite the read...great way to interpret Episode 1 and probably 2.



Gets More Interesting as It Goes

What:Equilibrium (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 18 January 2018
Rating:   7

Equilibrium has the TARDIS crew chasing after a component necessary to get them out of e-Space. They crash onto an icy world that is totally self-contained. The population is kept absolutely constant to balance the "energies," so that for every birth there must be a death. The first part of the story runs through a number of Doctor Who clichés, including Nyssa's dropping of a tracker while running away from some monsters, a "there's nothing down there" corridor, and so on. It gets more interesting as it goes, in part because although evil of a kind is going on, the people performing the evil do not recognize that it is evil or even wrong. Thus, a situation a bit like that in State of Decay gets a new life. On the whole, the novelties outweigh the clichés.



A superb Georgian Outting for the Doctor

What:The Behemoth (New Audio Adventure)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Tuesday 16 January 2018
Rating:   10

Its been a little while since we had a good historical in the main range of Big Finish. And now we finally get another fresh and superbly intense historical drama for the sixth Doctor and Flip and Constance. I am a massive fan of this TARDIS team. I really love their camaraderie and friendship it feels totally real and never once forced. The two women here have such superbly rich characters but they don't jar with each other, they compliment each other.

The Historicals always have possessed an intenseness in the drama department. William Hartnell's era was a joy to watch for this very reason. We had real characters instead of just plain marauding aliens all over the shop. They aren't needed. There are plenty enough monsters of history in human form, and we get yet another venomous character in this superbly crafted tale by Marc Platt. Marc's knack with historicals is rightly applauded. He has such an ease of touch with them and he never fails to deliver powerful stories.

And the whole cast in the Behemoth really seem to enjoy the script, as each character is approached with total zeal and relish. They really all come together to make this one of the most memorable stories that Big Finish have done in a while. And the production and sound design are really truly authentic and the atmosphere is full on and pretty intense.

And I particularly enjoy the story line that is given to Flip in this story. She really is absolutely winning and feisty and never ever a pushover! I love the way she stands up to a certain character in this story. I adore women with guts!

And this story is also perfect in its pacing and the Behemoth in question of the title is really interesting for an audio story. Its great to have an animal as a major role in a story. And this story uses the animal well but I wont say what it is so as not to give away too many spoilers! All I can say is this is a fantastic and moving historical story. It is packed full of great intrigue and multi layered characters. I have not been let down by a Big Finish historical tale yet. And The Behemoth is definitely one of the strongest yet. Its frankly superb and is already one of my favourite audios.



Great story

What:The Keys of Marinus (BBC classic series DVD)
By:Shawn Diehl, El Paso, United States
Date:Wednesday 10 January 2018
Rating:   8

I've watched 1-5 (almost, 6 episodes, by the end of the day) and it is a good story. I've also noticed Ian still wears his outfit from Marco Polo From Episode 1 through 4. So there's that. Either way it's great.



Another Return

What:Mistfall (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 3 January 2018
Rating:   7

Mistfall kicks off a second e-Space trilogy. A program that Adric left behind on the TARDIS kicks in accidentally, sending the TARDIS through a CVE and back to Adric's home world. It's now about 300 years later, and the people of the Starliner have established a fully functioning society on Terradon, complete with political factions and colonial oppression of natives. Now, an expedition has returned to Alzarius to capture and study Marshmen. However, the whole thing goes horribly wrong because of a sabateur. The plot is relatively simple. Despite Andrew Smith's best efforts, not much new is here to learn that one could not get from watching Full Circle once more.



Great Episode, Meciocre Novelization

What:Snakedance (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 30 December 2017
Rating:   6

It really is too bad that Christopher Bailey did not novelize the episodes he wrote. It would have been fascinating to get further exploration of the concepts and traditions that are so much of what makes his two Doctor Who episodes so appealing. Here, Terrance Dicks, who, one suspects, has little sympathy for the Buddhist and multicultural perspective that form the thematic structure of the story, has done his normal serviceable, but largely forgettable writing of the Target novelizations. At least he does not tinker much with the script, so one can recreate the episode while reading.



Near Bottom of Davison Era Episode

What:Arc of Infinity (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 21 December 2017
Rating:   2

"Arc of Infinity" was one of the least of the Davison-era episodes. Johnny Byrne, who had written a cracking good story in "Keeper of Traken," here comes up with a very drab story. Much of this is down to extremely vague science and not much of a grasp of the backstory. In fact, it feels as if the script were quite hastily written, with some ad hoc off-the-cuff explanations thrown in. Just what is the Arc of Infinity? How does it "shift"? Why does its shift matter? A matter-antimatter explosion would certainly be worrisome, but not of the universe-ending proportion that it is made out to be. Near the end, we also get the dreary scenes of the side characters sidelined to watch the Doctor do his magic. They fret and worry, then all go "yay" when he succeeds. A similar thing happened in "Four to Doomsday" and was not particularly interesting in that show either. Terrance Dicks does his usual job of reproducing the script with minimum amounts of dressing up. The storytelling is a bit clumsy at first, but once he gets into it, the Dicks manner of racing along and not giving the reader time to think comes through. So, while the book is very true to the original episode, not much more is learned from reading this. The many problems of the script remain.



Weak Novelization of Weak Story

What:Time-Flight (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 16 December 2017
Rating:   3

Time-Flight was one of the lesser Davison-era stories. Part of this was down to the we've-run-out-of-money sets and effects. Another part was a seemingly hastily written script that peculiarly involves The Master seemingly shoe-horned into a story that might not have been written for him. That is how it feels, even if that may not be the case. We return to Heathrow Airport, last featured in The Faceless Ones from 1967. As with that story, once more we have a missing plane with passengers. This time, though, rather than taking a ride to low Earth orbit, they take a ride to prehistoric Earth. The TARDIS gets sidetracked by the time meddling and the Doctor has to pull out the UNIT card, making him suddenly involved in the whole affair. The story continues the approach to The Master that John Nathan-Turner would favor through his time running the show. The Master is heavily disguised, only to be revealed as The Master after half the story has gone by. Also, The Master is greatly reduced as an adversary. His main motive is to save himself rather than to take over the universe. His motivation is desperation rather than domination, and it greatly reduces any threat potential The Master may have. This, too, is typical of the Nathan-Turner era Master stories. One major problem with this story is that there is no clear reason for The Master to be in disguise, and none is given. Add to this several plot holes and overly convenient ways out of dead-end situations and one concludes that the story needed serious revision. Peter Grimwade's approach to novelizing his story is to focus on the "for children" brief from Target, so that there are many clumsy explanations that read as if a presenter from Blue Peter were telling the story. It's a brisk read, but insignificant.



Daleks of the World Unite!

What:Brotherhood of the Daleks (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 16 December 2017
Rating:   7

A five-part drama involving a weird experiment is as intriguing as it is confusing. A Thal scientist has somehow gotten a hold of the works of Karl Marx. Running his operation as a socialist collective, he works to integrate Thal psychology into Daleks, trying to turn Daleks from essentially National Socialists to Marxist Socialists and thus to end the war between Thals and Daleks. That in itself is an interesting idea. Alan Barnes has complicated matters, though, by making the experiment depend upon hallucinations from psychotropic drugs, and introduced Dalek replicants into the mix. Thus, there is quite a bit of "is this reality?" running through the story. The trouble with the "what is real?" approach is that the writer needs to signal to the listener at the right moments whether a particular scene is real or imaginary, while at the same time not making the revelation so obvious that the listener would not believe that the characters couldn't catch on. Barnes has not really negotiated this aspect of hist story very well, so that by about part 3 it is nearly impossible for the listener to trust that any scene is real or that any character is not a Dalek replicant. Add to this some un-accounted-for gaps in scene changes and Barnes has greatly reduced the impact his central idea may have.



Brought back to life

What:Shada (BBC classic series DVD)
By:Trevor Smith, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Date:Thursday 14 December 2017
Rating:   10

I’ll admit I was a little bit sceptical when I heard that Shada was to be the next classic story to be animated. Shada? Again? But oh this is so good and so much more than just a reanimation. The team behind this have really gone to town, not only animating missing scenes, but creating film scenes to fill the gaps and making them look like they were made in 1979 as well as getting the (surviving) actors to come back and fill in the missing vocal gaps. A ton of extras are including the VHS and Big Finish/Paul McGann versions of Shada. Wonderful stuff.



Decent Novelisation

What:Earthshock (Target novelisation)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 December 2017
Rating:   7

Earthshock is, like most Eric Saward scripts, a bit controversial. I found the TV episode quite compelling as the story pens in the Doctor tighter and tighter. There are a few aspects that don't quite make sense. For instance, no one on Earth seems to know what a Cyberman is, at the same time that an important multi-world conference is going on to create an alliance to fight the Cybermen. I also thought that the Cybermen were introduced too early, which detracts from the impact of the Doctor's reaction. The audience should learn about them when the Doctor does. Well, that is the script that Ian Marter has to work with. He very judiciously changes very little of the plot and keeps most of the original dialogue. He has added a couple of explanations to some things that seemed merely convenient for the plot in the teleplay. It's a swift read and quite as suspenseful as the original.



Good Fun

What:The Doomwood Curse (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 December 2017
Rating:   8

The Doctor and Charley head to the library to return an overdue book, an over-the-top 19th-century historical Romance that Charley (Edwardian, or that should be Georgian, adventuress) simply adores. They end up charring the book while Charley thwarts some fact-obsessed aliens in their mission to burn books that contain "bad facts." On their way to retrieving another first edition to replace the charred one, they end up in the late 18th century where reality seems to be changing to fit the rules of the damaged book, with Charley the center of it all. It is an intriguing ploy to get Doctor 6, Mr. Overthetop, into a genre in which he can really go over the top and not seem out of place. The story is quite amusing and performed very well, with plenty of literary allusions. Some listeners might be put off that it does not seem to "go" anywhere, but it still is a fun ride.



How to Recycle a Character

What:The Condemned (New Audio Adventure)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 December 2017
Rating:   7

Big Finish decided to finish Charlotte Pollard, then decided not to. The answer? Stick her with a different Doctor. And which Doctor might be furthest away from Doctor 8? Doctor 6, of course. So, stranded in the distant future and believing the Doctor dead, Charley thinks she gets a reprieve when the TARDIS turns up in answer to her distress call. However, it's not her Doctor whose TARDIS she runs into. Unable to tell this Doctor who she is (laws of time and all that), she lies, poorly, that she has amnesia. Doctor 6 becomes quite interested in this conundrum of a young lady, and takes her along hoping to figure her out. Their first stop is Manchester in 2008. There, they stumble across a murder in condemned block of flats, but, of course, nothing is quite what it seems. Charley gets kidnapped, and the Doctor pairs up with a sarcastic police officer, DI Patricia Menzies. Aliens are hiding themselves as humans. Why? And why was one murdered? The story itself is somewhat standard Doctor Who fare with a rather preposterous explanation.



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.



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