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Another Emotion Eating Monster

What:Phobos (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 18 October 2021
Rating:   6

"Phobos" takes place on a kind of thrill resort on the Martian moon Phobos semi-run by ex-hippies. Of course, something is wrong here as one of the ex-hippies tells tales of monsters and the tourists start dying. It all has to do with "fear," which is what "Phobos" means. The resolution involves an ancient evil thingy that feeds on fear. This is old hat for Big Finish and they should make a contractual obligation with the writers never to use this contrivance again.



Probably Better If Longer

What:No More Lies (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 18 October 2021
Rating:   7

"No More Lies" has an interesting premise or two. We get a messing around with time story linked to the question of whether a bad guy can redeem himself. The story starts with Doctor 8 and Lucie about 3/4 through an adventure trying to stop the nefarious Dr. Zimmerman. This is to establish the "bad guy." We are not given any more information about this adventure than this. Zimmerman escapes and the Doctor and Lucie track him down to Earth about 30 years later in Zimmerman's timeline. Things have radically changed for Zimmerman. However, on his tail are some ravenous time-eating, deep-voiced beasties who believe he has stolen something of theirs and want it back. I think the listener could get more invested in this if there were more to know about Zimmerman. That is why I think it would have better if it were longer. On a side note, this particular season of audio Doctor Who seems to have a running theme of love stories. I am not sure whether that was accidental or intended, but there it is.



Good Storyteller

What:The Prisoner of Peladon (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 18 October 2021
Rating:   8

"The Prisoner of Peladon" falls in line with the normal form of Companion Chronicles, being mainly a character from Doctor Who telling a story to someone. This one involves King Peladon relating an adventure with Doctor 3 after "Curse of Peladon" but before "Monster of Peladon." The story itself falls in line with pattern of Peladon, a planet of medieval society and technology with a sincere leader trying to keep the society both traditional, but worthy of entry into the Galactic Federation. Old friend Alpha Centauri is here, as are the Ice Warriors. There is much political intrigue and a mystery to solve. David Troughton is an excellent storyteller. He brings the characters to life and uses just the right amount of emotional emphasis in just the right places.



It Takes You Back

What:The Second Doctor: Volume One (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 5 October 2021
Rating:   8

This box set in the Companion Chronicles series continues the trend of playing with the format and moving it closer to full drama. There are four stories covering the Troughton period. The first is The Mouthless Dead, from year 1 of Troughton, with Polly, Ben, and Jamie, narrated by Frazier Hines and Anneke Wills. To give a full complement of TARDIS crew, Elliot Chapman was brought in to play Ben. I must say, Chapman is fantastic as Ben, not only sounding a bit like Michael Craze in timbre, but imitating his vocal mannerisms with remarkable accuracy. The story itself is a mixture of Dickens' "The Signalman" and Sapphire and Steel. Dead soldiers haunt a lonely signal station when the train carrying The Unknown Warrior is passing through on its way to Westminster. Next is "The Story of Extinction" with Jamie and Victoria. This one is farthest from the Doctor 2 era on TV, and would have been impossible to create on TV. It mixes computer/internet technology as if viewed or imagined from a 1967 perspective. Frazier Hines and Deborah Watling trade narration duties here and this feels like it is mostly a Victoria story. It involves a special kind of paper that anticipates what one wants to read. The third story, "The Integral," is the weakest in my view. This one involves Jamie and Zoe. The TARDIS crew end up in a kind of mental facility for victims of a violent computer game that makes players become raging monsters, the computer "virus" becoming a kind of human "virus." Wendy Padbury gets to stretch her acting talents on this, voicing multiple parts and making each a distinct character. This story has a stock bad guy and rather predictable pattern, but picks up on a central theme of the whole set that becomes fully apparent at this point - the education of Jamie. That theme reaches its climax in "The Edge," which gives us another stock baddie, but focuses almost exclusively on Jamie. Frazier Hines has sole narration duty on this one. The final story is the one that really feels that it could have been done on TV in the late 60s. All told, this set is one of the better entries in the Companion Chronicles and definitely worth checking out.



Gods in the Sky

What:Immortal Beloved (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 5 October 2021
Rating:   7

Doctor 8 and Lucie arrive on a planet just in time to prevent a pair of lovers from jumping off a cliff. Thus begins Immortal Beloved, in which the remnants of an Earth colony have devolved into a quasi- ancient Greek culture sustained by endless cloning of the elite, who fashion themselves as the gods of old. It is an intriguing enough premise and perhaps may have been better given the 90-minute treatment to explore the consequences of the ideas. As it is, at 60 minutes Immortal Beloved feels a bit rushed.



Very Enjoyable

What:The Mahogany Murderers (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 5 October 2021
Rating:   8

As Big Finish have gone along with the Companion Chronicles, they have gotten more experimental with the format. In this case, we get two characters telling each other fundamentally the same story, as their exploits converge about halfway through. Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot have teamed up again to solve the peculiar case of the resurrected criminals made from wood. Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter fall right back into their roles from thirty years before. They work extraordinarily well together. The story itself suits the Victorian setting. It's a fun ride.



Rescue the Princess

What:Independence Day (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 3 October 2021
Rating:   7

Peter Darvill-Evans' "Independence Day" is a bit of a mishmash of multiple elements that do not quite come together. The plot is basically rescue the princess from the tower, done twice. The setting is the twin planet system of Mendeb Two and Mendeb Three. The novel has a little vignette opening with Doctor Two and Jamie in which Jamie takes a communicator component from a ruin as a kind of souvenir, and The Doctor does not really recognize its significance. When the main plot starts, it is now The Doctor several regenerations later with Ace, who discovers the old communication device and sets it up as a kind of objet d'art in her room. The Doctor recognizes the object, this time realizes its significance, and heads off to Mendeb Two to return said object. However, this becomes the excuse for yet another blame The Doctor. The situation is not quite what The Doctor has expected. The two planets, both with Earth colonists from centuries before, have devolved into lower level societies. On Mendeb Two, you get fisher folk and farmers at a medieval level who have no clue that there is another civilized planet nearby. On Mendeb Three, you get a mixed up society of medieval political structures, 18th-century military styles, and 20th to 21st century technology being reintroduced. This is all thanks to two aristocrat scientists, the impossibly perfect in every way pair of Kedin Asher and Tevana Roslod. These two have sold their technological rediscoveries of the former Earth colonists to a local warlord, Vethran, who uses it to make himself king of the planet. To ensure Kedin's cooperation, and because he has the hots for her, he takes Tevana captive. Using the new technology, he has his armies invade Mendeb Two to steal the population, give them a drug to make them docile, and then turn them into slaves. Along come Ace and The Doctor. Ace apparently cannot control her sex drive and falls instantly for Kedin, who apparently looks quite a bit like Richard E. Grant. Kedin extracts information from her, uses a modified form of the slavery drug on her, and sells her into slavery. But that's ok. He's good looking and impossibly perfect in every way, and so late in the novel when she comes to her senses she forgives him and wants to become his new consort. Go figure. Kedin has been secretly plotting to overthrow the evil Vethran, not so much because Vethran is evil, but because he wants to get back Tevana. But they are both impossibly perfect in every way, and so that is ok. The plot splits The Doctor and Ace for almost the whole book. So, while Ace is enslaved to advance Kedin's plans of rescuing his princess, The Doctor unwittingly becomes a kind of Spartacus to the enslaved people of Mendeb Two so that he can rescue Ace, his princess so to speak. The novel has quite a bit of political scheming, and seems to be a means of getting medieval politics joined with high technology. It reads more like a historical than a science fiction story on alien worlds. Darvill-Evans keeps the plot going apace. There is plenty of action and subterfuge. It's entertaining enough, even if the various different kinds of story do not fully gel.



Magrs Misses Again

What:Horror of Glam Rock (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 20 September 2021
Rating:   6

Here is another example of Paul Magrs love of kitsch, and his usual method of getting in as many cultural references as he can despite their making any sense in terms of plot. Doctor 8 and Lucie arrive in England, north of London, in 1974, the closest The Doctor can get to getting her home. They step into a diner under siege because one the performers in a glam rock band is in contact with aliens through his stylophone. Plus, Lucie meets her Aunt Pat before Lucie is even born and spills the beans about time travel and all that. If kitsch and nostalgia are what one wants in Doctor Who, then this is the story.



Fan Fic

What:Prime Time (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 15 September 2021
Rating:   6

BBC effects designer, Doctor Who fan, and frequent co-author with Robert Perry of Doctor 7 fiction Mike Tucker goes solo this time. He lets his inner fan run rampant in "Prime Time," a novel that seems mainly to be a vehicle for him to let out his anger at the BBC for cancelling Doctor Who. Doctor 7 pursues a mysterious "signal" to planet Blinni-Gaar, a once agrarian society now completely enthralled to the massive television corporation Channel 400, run by the slick, merciless, tasteless, and generally odious Vogol Lukos (sounds just a bit too much like a James Bond villain name?). Lukos has one interest only, to capture the attention of the entire galaxy through his programming, and so programs only the lowest grade forms of "entertainment," which have already mesmerized the entire population of Blinni-Gaar into bland capitulation to endless TV wherever they go. Now, Lukos has made some kind of arrangement to fulfill his dreams by using The Doctor as his newest star attraction, without The Doctor even knowing it. The novel is another entry in the wink and nod to as many Doctor Who references as you possibly can kind of story. Everyone in the universe, apparently, knows who The Doctor is, the Time Lords, the TARDIS, and the whole of all of Doctor Who. This sort of thing changes The Doctor from "just a traveler," which is what he should be, to "world-famous crime fighter" of the kind in 1930s movies and comics made for boys. The resolution of the plot rests on magic again. Can one really create a fully functioning clone copy down the clothes in just a couple of hours? The novel is not irredeemable. Tucker paces the story well, with plenty of exciting and desperate actions to keep it going. He ties up the story well, so that there are no obvious loose ends. Still, it is just too much in the Pip and Jane Baker variety of Doctor Who for me find it enjoyable.



Drab

What:Doom Coalition 2 (Doom Coalition audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 7 September 2021
Rating:   6

The second Doom Coalition collection is not exactly a full follow-up to Doom Coalition 1. It feels more like an independent adventure. These box sets are necessarily set up so that there is a central plot, but each story is a self-contained incident. Thus, they end up following the quest formula, thus limiting the narrative potential. This time, we get introduced to a new Time Lord villain, eventually to become The Sonomancer. We also get an injection of River Song, who, of course, cannot actually meet the Doctor because it is too soon. This is always problematic to me because River Song inevitably gets overly written as so competent and so smart that necessarily The Doctor looks like an idiot. Also, The Eleven is back for the final episode, but is totally wasted here. All he gets to do is bully Liv a bit. The stories have some genuine interest and pace, and would probably be better if each were wholly independent.



Part 2 Has More Daleks

What:Blood of the Daleks: Part 2 (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 7 September 2021
Rating:   7

The new radio series for Doctor Who now fully brings in the Daleks. The new companion, Lucie Miller, spends most of the story trying to get away from The Doctor, and he is only too happy to let her go, if he can. The solution to the problem at the end is a bit naff. Daleks defeated by dumping trash on them? I have said elsewhere that radio drama is probably not the best fit for Steve Lyons, whose talents as a writer are much better suited to novels.



Good Start

What:Blood of the Daleks: Part 1 (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 7 September 2021
Rating:   7

A new radio series for Doctor Who has to start with the promise of the show's top audience draw. Hence, Blood of the Daleks. We get introduced to a new companion, the brash northerner Lucie Miller. She has been foisted on The Doctor and from the start neither likes the other. The contention between them helps drive the story. This is, otherwise, a serviceable but not wholly original Dalek story with many features from previous Dalek stories, but that is really a matter for Part 2. The Daleks appear only late in Part 1.



Excellent Debut

What:The First Doctor Adventures: Volume One (First Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 7 September 2021
Rating:   8

The first of a new series sees all new actors (sort of) stepping into the roles of the original 1963 TARDIS team. The box set has two 4-part stories written and produced to seem as if they would fit right into the first season of Doctor Who. The Destination Wars is an outer space adventure about a colony world in trouble as tensions rise between the colonists and natives. At the heart of it is the mysterious benefactor, The Inventor. It's an excellent thought experiment in a what if a certain foe of The Doctor's were introduced earlier in the series? The second story, The Great White Hurricane, is a pure historical that has exactly the right feel for 1964 Doctor Who. The TARDIS team get split for almost the duration, each dealing with the historical problem, in this case a massive blizzard that blitzed the US eastern seaboard in 1913. Both stories look at their situations through the moral lenses of Doctor Who at the time. The second story has a few dodgy accents. The new actors play their parts well. Huge credit goes to Big Finish for not making them try to impersonate the original actors. David Bradley is outstanding as Doctor One, conveying the same mannerisms as Hartnell without trying to sound like Hartnell. It's a very entertaining addition to the Big Finish version of Doctor Who.



Goodbye Charley?

What:The Girl Who Never Was (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 23 August 2021
Rating:   7

For her sendoff from Doctor 8 world, Charlotte Pollard, Edwardian Adventuress, gets a much better vehicle than C'rizz did in the previous episode. Given Charley's backstory, it had to be a time-twister. This one involves a mysterious vessel from 1942 off the coast of Singapore, a dodgy Australian scavenger named Something Byron or Byron Something, and The Doctor and Charley getting split apart in time, each time zone affecting the other. It's a nice little puzzle of a story with the return of surprise villains, as long as one doesn't take a good look at the cover art. The ending seems to me too convenient. It's another memory erasure thing, which I think gets overworked in Doctor Who. Still, this is a quite entertaining 90 minutes.



Different Sort of Two-Hander

What:The Key 2 Time: The Prisoner's Dilemma (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 23 August 2021
Rating:   7

The Prisoner's Dilemma has an interesting structure unlike other Companion Chronicles stories. Here, narrating duties get traded off between Zara, from the Key 2 Time series with Doctor 5, and Ace. However, they also get some interactive dialogue. Zara narrates Part 1, while Ace narrates most of Part 2. This is the origin story, more or less, for Zara, so here she does not even have a name. Ace finds herself in prison with Zara, whom she knows nothing about. However, they have been interacting with the same dodgy character, Harmonious 14 Zink, each without the other knowing. It's an interesting enough story, with long segments in which the two narrators reflect on the meaning of their existence.



Goodbye C'rizz

What:Absolution (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 23 August 2021
Rating:   4

We always knew that C'rizz story had to end badly. Just how badly is another matter. What I mean is that he was given a really bad story for his exit. Of course, it all has to do with his impulse to "save" people by killing them so that they can then live on in his memories. Now, someone from across the universe has latched onto him and pulled him and the TARDIS there so that C'rizz can fulfill his destiny. It's all a confused muddle. Most of the story works by magic. Late in, there is some attempt at a kind of scientific explanation, but not much of one and it gets abandoned for more magic. Just how does Aboresh know anything about C'rizz, locked away as he is in his hell-dimension? C'rizz is from another universe. Our universe is big enough that there is just no way. The whole roaring armageddon like battle at the end comes down to a family squabble. So many things just do not make sense about this story it is hard to pin it down without giving away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that whatever one thinks about C'rizz as a character and companion, he deserved a better sendoff than this.



Another Holiday Goes Wrong

What:One Mile Down (Tenth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 22 August 2021
Rating:   7

"One Mile Down" fits well into the middle of the Donna season. Here, The Doctor and Donna are very palsy, with Donna constantly taking the mickey out of The Doctor. The story is also rather obvious in its political messaging. The pair go to visit an underwater city, once a great wonder, but now turned into a chintzy tourist attraction by a corporation operating as a quasi-official branch of the government. The local economy is depressed, totally dependent upon tourism. Someone, however, is sabotaging the systems, causing leaks in the shielding protecting the system. It's only a matter of time before things get out of hand. Like much of Davies-era DW, it's brisk, entertaining, and only a little preachy.



Standard Doctor Who in Gory Detail

What:Storm Harvest (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 22 August 2021
Rating:   7

After the experimental "Matrix," Perry & Tucker return to more normal Doctor Who territory with "Storm Harvest." Doctor 7 and Ace go on holiday to beach resort planet Coralee. What could go wrong? Well, apparently there was once an ancient civilization there that built a nearly indestructible bio-weapon called the Krill. No, not the tiny shrimp-things that whales eat. This Krill are individual mechanisms of pure destruction that cannot be reasoned with. It turns out that a race of rugby-player sized humanoids called the Cythosi have somehow learned about these Krill and want to reactivate them to use in their own war. The first two parts of the novel are the exploration parts, where The Doctor and Ace gradually uncover what is going on. The second two parts are the bloody denouement. It becomes one big gore fest driven by not one, not two, but three mad men (well one a Cythosi, one a dolphin, and one a Cythosi who thinks he's human, or sometimes not), each of whom want more or less total destruction of everyone else. I have some quibbles with some of the basic science that Perry and Tucker really ought to have known about, such as that nuclear reactors do not blow up, and probably in the far future, if they are still using nuclear reactors by then, the likelihood of blowing up would be next to 0. Another is that objects travelling in space do not arc. The novel has a number of interesting bits, and goes a long way toward straightening out the relationship between Doctor 7 and Ace. Still, the ending is too frantic, too desperate.



A wonderful return to form from Chris!

What:The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Ravagers (The Ninth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:Sofia Fox, El Paso, United States
Date:Tuesday 17 August 2021
Rating:   9

This boxset is a pretty wonderful return of the 9th Doctor. 3 connected stories to bring back 9. All 3 stories are really good, with Food Fight being the best of the set!



Very Good 2-Hander

What:Solitaire (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 9 August 2021
Rating:   8

This audio differs from most other Companion Chronicles stories in being a 2-hander drama rather than a narrated story. Charlie finds herself in a toyshop, but cannot remember who she is, why she is there, and what she is meant to do. The Toymaker runs the shop. She must play his game, but she does not know the rules or the objective of the game. It's as if Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett were writing Doctor Who. The interaction between India Fisher and David Bailie works very well. Some of the dialogue gets repetitious, and Charley seems far too clever at points. However, overall this audio is very good.



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