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Amateurish

What:Timewyrm: Apocalypse (New Adventures novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 30 June 2022
Rating:   6

The third installment of the Timewyrm tetralogy has a few things going for it. Foremost is that Robinson makes the Timewyrm more fully essential to the story than did the writers of the previous two books. Robinson manages to keep this as a surprise until late, thus a reader goes through the novel wondering "Where is the Timewyrm" and then finds out how important it actually was to the plot. Robinson does pretty well with the Doctor 7 and Ace pairing, with Doctor 7 genuinely caring for Ace but unable to show it, while Ace is uncertain about The Doctor's motivations but still trusts him when times get difficult. Most the other characters have believable, though simple, motivations. For me, the main problem with the book is that Robinson feels he constantly has to spring surprises on the both the readers and the characters. Most of these surprises are monsters that spring up from nowhere to delay our heroes. These scenes come across as devices to make a short story longer, but they really do not add anything of importance to the final product. Robinson also has Ace start a rebellion that ends up getting several natives killed, but never has her face that fact, thus trivializing the rebellion and the deaths. There are other aspects to the novel that give the whole thing an aura of having been quickly written.



The Red Queen's Off With Her Head

What:The Contingency Club (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 27 June 2022
Rating:   7

"The Contingency Club" would have fit snugly in 1981 Doctor Who. The story has the TARDIS taken out of action, landing the crew of Doctor 5, Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan, in London 1864 and the world of the Pall Mall gentleman's club. There's a new club in town, snapping up members, and run behind the scenes by a slightly insane woman calling herself The Red Queen. The story has the mix of science-fiction and historical elements that was common in the 1980s. Guest performers Philip Jackson and Clive Merrison are excellent. Ultimately, the story is too snug to be brilliant. There are no real challenges to what one would expect for 1980s Doctor Who.



Interesting Start

What:Colony of Fear (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 10 June 2022
Rating:   7

"Colony of Fear" starts well enough. Part 1 is like the hard-science Doctor Who that some of us have been wanting. A space colony is barely making it, and it is being attacked by giant wasps. There is a clear problem amenable to a clear technical solution. Unfortunately, the story goes a bit sideways by burdensome secondary plot lines that intrude to become the main ones. Thus, but the end of Part Two, the story has become standard stuff: Bugs with the power to transform people into bugs are virtually unstoppable in their assault on the humans, who have little power against them. But wait, there's more. Added to this is a bizarre idea of The Doctor meeting a companion that he cannot remember ever having travelled with. While this idea had already been used in "Terror Firma," this time his memory loss seems to have something to do with the Time Lords. The mystery never gets uncovered. Perhaps, it is a clever ploy for the author to get a commission for a sequel.



Not Much New

What:Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks (Time Lord Victorious audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 31 May 2022
Rating:   7

"Genetics of the Daleks" is basically a rehash of "Power of the Daleks" with a little "Revelation of the Daleks" thrown in, plus some borrowing from "Ark in Space." In this story, a colonizing space ship with the colonists in cryogenic suspension has two forms of trouble. One is that a gang of criminals has somehow managed to sneak on board and replace key members of the crew. The other is that the space ship picked up the remains of a Dalek that they believe to be empty. The Dalek creature has managed to persuade the scientist on board the space ship to rebuild the Dalek, promising the scientist the advanced secrets of Dalek technology. The Dalek has used the scientist to concoct a secret formula of Dalek DNA that instantly turns humans into Dalek mutants. The Time Lords have hijacked Doctor 4's TARDIS and sent him to the ship with no instructions about the problem or how to deal with it. The story has pace, but lacks originality. Performances are good given that the characters are more caricature than character.



By the Numbers

What:The Seeds of War (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 17 May 2022
Rating:   7

"The Seeds of War" gives us an introduction to / return of The Eminence, the most boring of the Big Finish original villains. It's another villain bent on taking over the universe, but this time they are never given a plausible motivation for doing so. In this adventure, The Eminence is mostly just a low, whispering voice in The Doctor's head, making all kinds of grandiose threats. Fortunately, there is no demonic laugh, so they don't tick off all the boxes for cliché villain. The story itself is an interesting departure for Big Finish in that, as they point out on the cd extras, each episode is a change of location from the previous episode. Each location change makes the episode a slightly different kind of story from the other episodes. Apart from that, the plot is a by-the-numbers story in which the heroes get separated from TARDIS, desperately try to get back to the TARDIS, but inevitably get drawn into the local conflict becoming the only ones who can solve the problem. The best part of this particular story is the Doctor 6 and Mel relationship, which gets developed far more than we got to see in 1986. Big Finish continue with their characterization of Mel as highly intelligent and highly moral (in a good way), a far better character than the TV series portrayed her.



Better Than Its Predecessor

What:Timewyrm: Exodus (New Adventures novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 27 April 2022
Rating:   7

Timewyrm: Genesys got the new novel series off to a rocky start. Timewyrm: Exodus, by expert hand Terrance Dicks, steadies the ship nicely. It is not that this is a spectacular novel. As with all of Dicks' novels, the word that comes to mind is competent. That's enough. Dicks does not dazzle the reader with his prose. He does, however, manage to pack the most information in the least number of words, a trick that keeps the plot moving swiftly, and the pages turning. Doctor 7 and Ace are trying to track the Timewyrm using her connection to the TARDIS. They arrive in 1951 England, but an England in an alternate time line in which the Nazis won World War II. Ace thinks this has something to do with the Timewyrm, but The Doctor is not so sure. After a few scrapes, and some research, the TARDIS team take off to trace the political history of Adolf Hitler. The novel is interesting in several ways. First, though it does contain some violence and Dicks does not flinch in acknowledging the pain of violence, this novel is nothing like the many gore fests that will follow in Doctor Who original novels. The violence is not gratuitous and he does not let the ending get away from him in a free-for-all of violent mayhem. Indeed, as Doctor Who adventures go, this one is leisurely. The Doctor very cleverly insinuates himself and Ace into Nazi upper echelons, which allows the plot some breathing space. There are the occasional capture and dungeon scenes, but these do not last long and are not too many. Dicks also is very careful to get the history mostly right, to explore little-known aspects of history, and to deviate from history only when necessary. Had he wanted to, Dicks could have been a very good novelist of historical fiction. The plot still, in the end, comes down to The Doctor versus the Bad Guy. Also, the Timewyrm is pretty much out of action for most the novel, which advances the story arc of the series very little. All in all, this novel is a pleasant way to pass an afternoon.



As Expected, but not Quite

What:Shadow of the Daleks 2 (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 20 April 2022
Rating:   7

Part 2 of Shadow of the Daleks is another anthology series with a single story arc. The Doctor continues to follow the time anomaly he found in Part 1, continues to meet the same people who are not the same people, and continues to be confounded about what it all means. The first adventure is Echo Chamber, the most surreal of all the stories in both Shadow series. The Doctor finds himself becoming the substitute host for a political provocateur radio show. Through most of this, he is utterly confused about why he is there and what he is supposed to do, but again finds the faces and voices he keeps remeeting through time. The same themes of interspecial war, of aggression, of memory loss, appear as well. The next story is Toward Zero, an old style murder mystery in which The Doctor has to discover who murdered him. This one is the least attached to the story arc, and seems to be mostly to lighten the mood. At this point, The Doctor seems no nearer to discovering what this time anomaly is all about. Story three is Castle Hydra, another peculiar and somewhat surreal adventure that partly solves the mystery of why The Doctor keeps meeting different people with the same faces as each other. Last is Effect and Cause, which brings back the Daleks in a proper Dalek type story, but one bent by what we have learned from the previous 7 adventures. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem, not even the Daleks. I cannot say that I found the solution totally satisfying. Given how long it took to get there, I guess I expected a bit more. In total, Shadow of the Daleks 1 & 2 are well acted in an ensemble cast fashion, like repertory theater with each actor playing a different each night. I was left with wanting more out of each episode than what we got. There were too many interesting ideas hurried to the end, leaving not much room to contemplate their significance. Peter Davison does well performing as a Doctor without companions, and that aspect works well. Companions would have gotten in the way and cluttered the narrative.



Long Set Up

What:Shadow of the Daleks 1 (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 20 April 2022
Rating:   7

This is part 1 of 2, and is itself a 4-part story, done anthology style, with each episode mostly independent of the others. By the end, the listener is left with more questions than answers, which would come only from Shadow part 2. An interesting aspect of this adventure is that even though Daleks are in the title, they are not all that present in the story. They are, really, mostly a shadow, a presence in the background. Story 1, Aimed at the Body, sets the main sequence of events. The Doctor lands in Australia in the 1920s, where he meets a famous cricketer and his two female companions, who seem to be lost. Something is playing havoc with the landscape and with time, and the three lost travellers keep temporarily getting Dalek voices. This sets the Doctor on the trail of the time anomaly that he will chase through the rest of the series. Next is Lightspeed, taking place on a far future space ship on which The Doctor meets the same people as in Australia, except they are not those people. The space ship is a trap for The Doctor from a criminal he has yet to meet. Next is The Bookshop at the End of the World, which is my favorite of this first series. The Doctor finds himself in a mysterious book shop cafe where the same faces as before adorn different people. In this case, the bookshop is a haven from a war, probably against the Daleks, yet all the people in the bookshop, including The Doctor, are not acting quite like themselves. The pattern is being set - the same people in different guises, linked by war, aggression, or violence, plus distortions of time and memory. The final episode for this collection is Interlude, the one that most features The Daleks, in a alternate Renaissance setting. The Doctor becomes part of a travelling troupe of actors set to play for the new lord. But just who is this lord? The various stories are interesting in their own right, but there is some rushing due to the 25 minute limit. I would really liked to have had all but the first extended for at least one more episode. After all of these stories, The Doctor seems not much nearer to solving the mystery set in episode 1. Now, only four more episodes in part 2 before we get all the answers.



A very bad novelisation

What:Junior Doctor Who and the Giant Robot (Miscellaneous novelisations)
By:Larry VanMersbergen, Aurora, United States
Date:Saturday 16 April 2022
Rating:   1

It's a shame it feels rushed and not the best style that Terrance Dicks could write. It's clear by having only 2 Junior titles that this might have been a project thrust upon him and didn't sell very well. One rumor suggests that Tandem dumped remaining stock making these books very hard to find. They were not included in the US distribution.



The First, Not Nearly the Best

What:Timewyrm: Genesys (New Adventures novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 13 April 2022
Rating:   6

The first official original novel for Doctor Who, supposedly to make up for the lack of DW on TV following the 1989 cancellation, amounts to a decent fan novel. John Peel, the DW fan writer, not the famous DJ, has a bit of a tough job. He has to write the novel, at least the beginning, both as if the reader knows little or nothing about DW, and as if the reader is a fully paid member of the DW Superfan Club. He also has to get a four-book story arc going, plus make DW more "adult" and "up to modern standards." Given what is required, I do not understand why Peel was chosen as the writer to do this. He simply does not have chops. For instance, to get the uninitiated in, he conjures a routine in which The Doctor has used the TARDIS telepathic circuits to erase some useless memories of his, but this action has accidentally wiped out almost all of Ace's memories. It is a throwaway routine that has almost nothing to do with rest of the novel except for setting up the telepathic circuits for use at the end. The main story is rather standard DW fare, with The Doctor and Ace following up a trail to find the Timewyrm and landing in ancient Mesopotamia, where they meet Gilgamesh and go through the sci-fi version of events that will become part of the epic of Gilgamesh. The story is fast-paced, with the usual twists and turns that make for light reading. Problems, however, arise with the brief for what the new novels are supposed to be. To make the story "adult," Peel has multiple references to bare breasts, Gilgamesh's insatiable libido, and the job of the priestesses of Ishtar, which is mainly to have sex with whoever makes an offering to the goddess. It makes Peel seem lecherous rather than realistic, and this reader at least would have liked fewer such references. Peel is also very much a fan writer, so drops in too many cute references to previous DW eras, some of which he gets wrong, such as saying that Ace visited Paradise Towers (it was Mel). Peel, in my estimation at least, also gets wrong the relationship between The Doctor and Ace. In this novel, The Doctor is constantly annoyed by Ace and she is constantly angry at him. That is not at all the relationship as it existed in the TV series, and it made me wonder, as one is wont to do when looking at a bad marriage, why the two even stay together. So, the novel has its entertaining moments and basically serviceable plot, but many deficiencies in execution.



Excellent Pure Historical for Doctor 5

What:The Peterloo Massacre (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 4 April 2022
Rating:   8

Paul Magrs seems to have found what he is good at when writing for Doctor Who, and surprisingly, it's the historical. His "Lady of Mercia" worked quite well in mixing the science fiction with the history. This time around, once the TARDIS crash lands in 1819, it's pure historical along the lines of the 1964 historicals. Doctor 5, Tegan, and Nyssa get caught up in the events of the Peterloo Massacre, when local Manchester authorities overreacted to a labor protest march, essentially treating the protesters as if they were an enemy army. The TARDIS team first get involved with the family of a local factory owner, a self-made man who overcompensates by bullying his workers in the names of money and progress. Magrs splits up the TARDIS team so that the listener can learn about three sides to the event - the rich and powerful side, the workers' side, and the militia's side. By making the story in essence a family drama, Magrs can keep the three perspectives strongly intertwined. Also, with the requirements of a Doctor Who historical, he avoids his usual indulgences in kitsch and whimsy that so mar much of his other writing for Doctor Who. The one problem, if it is a problem, is the grim inevitability of these stories. The Doctor knows, and thus we know, just how horrible the events will be. We also know that there is no way to stop them. And, in a rare moment, we get to hear Doctor 5 become angry and outraged, a turn that Davison handles very well. It's a good listen.



A Decent Dalek Story

What:Dalek Universe: The Dalek Protocol (The Fourth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 March 2022
Rating:   7

This story is a 4th Doctor tie-in to the cross-series sequence "Dalek Universe." In itself, it is an enjoyable Dalek story, though not terribly original as they go. In this one, we return to Exxilon a few decades after The Doctor left it in "Death to the Daleks." Only one character returns from the previous story - the native Belal, this time voiced by Nicholas Briggs. True to "Return to ..." stories, writer Nicholas Briggs has resurrected much from the previous story. The humans are still on Exxilon, still mining Perinium to cure a space plague, still at odds with the natives, and someone has partly restored the energy-draining beacon. Nicholas Briggs does quite a bit of work in this one, voicing multiple main characters, including the testy human space captain. Briggs' take on the captain sounds uncannily like Kevin Whately. The main feature of this is to establish the characters of Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven, who feature significantly in other "Dalek Universe" stories. Typically for Big Finish, there is much fiddling with time, so that Anya is meeting a Doctor after her travels with him (Doctor 10), but before The Doctor (4 in this case) has met her. There are other bits of information linking to various other stories. In the end, there are not many surprises given the "Return to..." nostalgia in play with a Dalek story that runs like a Dalek story.



Good Third Doctor Vibe

What:The Sentinels of the New Dawn (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 March 2022
Rating:   7

"The Sentinels of the New Dawn" is a bit different for a Companion Chronicles story, being almost a full audio drama. The story itself is written as a kind of cross-over between Third Doctor series 1 and series 2, which were quite different in tone and style. Thus, we have Liz about a year after she left UNIT connect with The Doctor in a story that would generally fit more in the Jo series than the Liz series. As is usual with Companion Chronicles adventures, we start with a much older companion reminiscing to someone else about an adventure she/he had with The Doctor long ago. In this case, the other character is a Captain from UNIT, though the listener gets some clues that his status may not be what he says, and that perhaps Liz knows this, but tells him about her adventure anyway. The story itself involves Liz now back at Cambridge University. She's a bit worried about some time experiments that her mentor is conducting, and so calls in the expert, i.e. The Doctor, for a second opinion. The time experiment goes a bit wonky and Liz and the Doctor get catapulted to the early 21st century, in which someone has recreated the time experiment. This somebody runs a kind of ultra-conservative cult cum political party using the time window to enrich a few like-minded people and establish the conditions whereby they can step into power and return England to a feudal society. Carolyn John is an excellent narrator and the story moves along at a nice pace.



Good Payoff

What:Worldwide Web (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 March 2022
Rating:   8

"The Eight Truths" sets the pieces in place for this finale. "World Wide Web" sets those pieces in motion with a vengeance. Whereas not much happened in "The Eight Truths," this one is pacey and interesting. The villains are revealed as the Spiders, sorry, the Eight-Legs from Metebelis, with a new queen spider planning maker herself the next Great One. She has recruited The Head Hunter to assist her in accomplishing this. The Head Hunter has delivered to the Eight-Legs the remote stellar manipulator from "The Vengeance of Morbius" and "Orbis," and in conjunction with millions of Metebelis crystals distributed through the Eightfold Truth cult, the new Great One is harnessing human minds as the amplifiers to make her universally worshiped. The new Great One has taken control of Lucie, but we find out that plucky Lucie ain't so easy to control. Stephen Moore gives a good performance as cult leader Goodman, thoroughly baffled that new age nonsense he thought he invented turned out to be true. For anybody who has seen "Planet of the Spiders," there is much deja vu about this story, though, which brings it down just a bit. Overall, though, it is a satisfying season ender.



Part 1 of the Climax

What:The Eight Truths (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 March 2022
Rating:   7

The finale of this season of Eighth Doctor adventures begins with The Doctor and Lucie seemingly taking a break in London of the early 21st century. The Doctor, however, can't help but do some meddling when he learns of a space probe to Mercury gone missing. Lucie, meanwhile, just happens to meet Karen once more, this time played by Kari Godliman, who promises that she has left The Head Hunter (would you believe her?) and has joined a new self-help movement called The Eightfold Truth. What connects these events? It's the arrival of a "new sun," or so it seems, just as the cult leader Clark Goodman (played by Stephen Moore) has foretold. The cult is very much modeled on Scientology, and the idea of the story seems to be "what if the cult based around aliens coming to Earth were true?" One of the problems with this one is that it is all setup for the next story, and so in itself does not seem to get us much of anywhere. Writer Eddie Robson spends most of the story putting the pieces in place. Therefore, it really must be listened to in conjunction with "World Wide Web."



Loud

What:The Cannibalists (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 March 2022
Rating:   6

"The Cannibalists" is almost unremittingly loud and violent. It starts with a gang of thug robots tearing apart another robot, with much shouting and screaming. It pretty much continues on that note for the next hour. Phil Davis is rather wasted as Titus, leader of the thug robots, since all he has to do is shout in nearly every scene. The useless trio of good robots is voiced such that it is difficult to distinguish the three. Phil Jupitus puts in a good performance as Servo, the robot poet. The story itself has interesting background. The location is Haven, a large, orbiting colony, or so it would seem. It turns out that the humans set the robots to build the colony, but the humans for unknown reasons either never really arrived to take charge, or were wiped out before the station's completion. This leaves the AI robots on their own. Some programming glitch gives the robots individual personalities, and allows a few robots to gain independence from the orders of the main computer. These independent robots go on rampages where they track down other robots and cannibalize them for parts. It is interesting enough. I just found all the shouting and screaming quite irritating, with violent scenes that carried on just a bit too long.



As the Title Says

What:To The Death (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 March 2022
Rating:   7

"To the Death" is a double sequel, both to "Lucie Miller" and to "Patient Zero." The Daleks are reinvading Earth a couple of decades after the failure in "The Daleks' Invasion of Earth," and using mostly the same plan they are succeeding this time thanks to the help of The Monk and to the strategies of the Dalek Time Controller. The Doctor is seemingly dead, but Lucie doesn't believe it, and sets out to get back to him by getting back to the TARDIS. The situation is desperate, and writer Nicholas Briggs has upped the emotional impact by killing off important characters, just to remind us that The Daleks are a real threat. Tamsin learns that The Monk has led her astray. The Monk is portrayed as a grown-up child, not fully understanding his emotions, wanting to do good but unable to overcome his selfishness, unable to accept when he's done wrong. The story works on the whole. For me, there is a sense that this is rehashing "The Daleks' Invasion of Earth," only making the plan and the stakes bigger. Thus, there are not many surprises about where this story is going.



Kitsch

What:The Scapegoat (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 7 March 2022
Rating:   4

Although the writer of The Scapegoat is Pat Mills, the whole thing felt to me like it was Paul Magrs. It has all of Magrs' obsessions and tricks in it. It is located in a favorite historical period for lovers of the camp and kitschy - Nazi occupied Paris in this case. It doubles down on this feeling by centering on the theatre district in Montmartre. It has huge amounts of overacting. Emotional and potentially tragic scenes get undercut by wink-wink, nod-nod types of humor. There are some funny moments sprinkled throughout, but I did not find them strong enough to make up for the deficiencies in plot and conception.



Best of the Doom Coalition Sets

What:Doom Coalition 3 (Doom Coalition audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 7 March 2022
Rating:   8

Doom Coalition 3 makes up for much of the disappointment I had with the first and second installments of the series. It starts building a coherent story out the threads begun earlier. Surprisingly, the first part does not seem to have that relationship until we get to part 2. Absent Friends is almost a one-off. Doctor 8, Liv, and Helen arrive in late 1990s England where people are receiving phone calls from dead loved ones through new mobile phones given out to the community to get them on board with a new cell phone tower. It seems a strange and pointlessly cruel plan for a villain. There is a huge surprise when we discover what is really going on. The story allows Liv and Helen to face some personal demons. All in all, it is a very low key story. It does, however, get the Doctor onto a new problem, a clock built in the 1500s that is much more than an ordinary clock. In The Eighth Piece, the TARDIS crew split into three time zones to track down the pieces of this clock. River Song turns up. What has she to do with it? At least she has a psychic wimple to prevent The Doctor from learning who she is. The pace picks up significantly as we are introduced to a new rogue Time Lord villain - The Clocksmith. Part 3, The Doomsday Chronometer, is the best of this box set. It's a direct continuation from The Eighth Piece, and follows through nicely at all that is implied therein. The final part, The Crucible of Souls, is the big reveal, when we find out who is behind all these time shenanigans and what it's all about. The whole set is quite satisfying, with some problematic bits, such as the living puzzle box aliens and that the universe seems filled to the brim with rogue Time Lords. The standout performance of the series is John Hefernan as The Nine.



In love with this

What:Torchwood: Outbreak (Torchwood audio dramas)
By:Jack Pawlus, -, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 26 February 2022
Rating:   10

I absolutely love this audio drama. Ive listened to a lot of big finish releases and this has to be my favourite. I never write reviews but i just really wanted to write this down. It honestly just feels like a continuation of the show, and idk how to phrase it other than its the most
torchwood-y, torchwood audiodrama i've listened to so far.
I very much do reccommend :)



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