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Sequel Not As Good As Original

What:The Lost Stories: The Guardians of Prophecy (The Lost Stories audio dramas)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 26 July 2021
Rating:   7

That Johnny Byrne had submitted a sequel to his famous "The Keeper of Traken" script was well known. I think the reason it did not get made for TV, which would have been in the Davison period, was that John Nathan-Turner deemed it too expensive and difficult to produce. The Big Finish people managed to get a hold of two synopses of the story that Johnny Byrne wrote. Byrne died in 2008, and for some reason a copy of the full script was not available. The duty of turning these synopses into an audio story was given to Jonathan Morris, who does a serviceable job. There is a bit more humor in the final version than probably would have been in the original. Big Finish assigned the story to Colin Baker's Doctor, and Morris does well in giving Baker's Doctor a more confrontational attitude toward authority than we would likely have seen with Davison's Doctor. Ultimately, the story itself is mainly "The Mummy" set on another planet. There are a few remnants of "The Keeper of Traken," such as a ruling elite that "begs conference" with a computer system that maintains a protective shield of peace and harmony. The Melkur are back, several of them, and this time as themselves rather than The Master pretending to be one. My main complaint is the repetitious insistence that the Melkur and their leader, Malador, are sooooooo evil. They are pure, all-pervading evil. What does that actually mean? And is it convincing if, in the end, Malador is just another would-be galactic dictator who enjoys hurting people? The production of the story is very good, keeping intact the feel and sounds of mid-1980s Doctor Who.



Interesting

What:Ringpullworld (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 26 July 2021
Rating:   7

One of the more interesting Paul Magrs scripts. This one still has some of his usual bits of pointless whimsy, such as a universe in a can of beans, and indulgent use of his favorite word - benighted. Still, these do not interrupt the story too much. Since Magrs really likes the act of narration, the Companion Chronicles format works well here. The story gets relayed through dialogue and trading of narration between Turlough and Huxley, a being from a race of "novelizers" who latch onto people and then tell those people's stories. This idea allows Magrs to sneak in some philosophizing about the nature of narrative and the need for storytelling. Mark Strickson is also an excellent narrator. Some people might be put off by an ending without resolution, though ending this story in that way makes some degree of sense.



Sub Par

What:The Emerald Tiger (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 13 July 2021
Rating:   4

This ridiculous mess of a story pays homage to the episodic adventure stories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to Kipling, Rider Haggard, ER Burroughs, and the like. So, it's rollicking adventure all the way from one danger to another. Those who like that sort of thing will probably enjoy this one. The abundance of coincidence, the lack of coherent logic, and the silliness of many of its parts just did not work well for me.



Survivable

What:Survival (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 3 July 2021
Rating:   6

"Survival" was the final story in the regular run of Doctor Who. It has all the elements of the transformation that script editor Andrew Cartmell made to Doctor Who. The story is more fantasy than science fiction. It concentrates its narrative focus on the companion Ace more than on The Doctor. And it has just a bit historical kitsch, in this case in the form of Midge's transformation into a leather-clad, sunglass-wearing, 1950s style biker. Rona Munro's novelization of her script starts in Terrance Dicks fashion, being mostly a faithful and unimaginative transcription of the TV script, written for an audience about 12 years old. However, the narrative picks up about halfway in, with the writing level rising and the novelistic touches more apparent. Curiously, Munro leaves out the most memorable speeches from the TV broadcast. Perhaps these had been added by Cartmel and she felt no attachment to them. The novelization, then, is serviceable.



A sublime blustery adventure in Scotland

What:The Grey Man of the Mountain (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Tuesday 29 June 2021
Rating:   10

What awaits the TARDIS team in Ben MacDui?

I am so glad that Big Finish recently seem to have acquired a lovely new sect of superb female writers. Lizbeth myles delivers a cracker of a story here in The Grey Man of the Mountain. I am a sucker for all things snow and ice and mountains so this story had to be a purchase for me. I can easily say it didn't disappoint at all either. In fact this story highlights everything that I love about Big Finish.

First mention has to go to the superb sound design on this one. The feel of the Scottish Highland mountains is admirably supplied in a sublime soundscape and score. It evokes instant claustrophobia, which is really hard to get on audio but somehow Big Finish always manage these sort of sound scapes with consummate ease.

Then we have the unequivocal delight of hearing John Culshaw deliver his brilliant channelling of Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier. it is touching and brought a lump to my throat hearing John's remarkable rendition of Nick. John is just so good that it is truly like the Brig is back with us again for the duration of a frankly superb story.

Sylvester McCoy is Scottish too so its great to hear him as the Doctor in a Scottish setting too. And as ever he is aided no end by the remarkable talents of Sophie Aldred as Ace. Oh i could wax lyrical on just how awesome Ace is as a character and how well she and the Seventh Doctor work together. They really are a legendary double act and the more stories they do together for Big Finish the more I love and adore them.

I also love the wonderful character of Kirsty. She is fantastically portrayed by Lucy Goldie who gives her character a very lovable sense of warmth and maybe even slight naivety. But she takes a shine to Ace and its so great to hear them braving the elements together. Lizbeth's grasp of character is extraordinary in this story. every character is full on and beefy and well conceived. They truly pull you into the events of the story and make you feel bad for them when things start to go awry and amiss on the mountain.

The Grey Man of the Mountain is yet another in the pantheon of wickedly good seventh Doctor adventures. its nice to see him not in quite such a manipulative mood as in some other stories. In fact this story gives him something interesting to handle and Sylvester as ever is remarkable in the role.

This is definitely the kind of claustrophobic story I would love to hear more of from Big Finish. This is the kind of story I will easily find myself listening to again and again. It really is that good.



Intriguing Puzzle

What:Memory Lane (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 28 June 2021
Rating:   7

Memory Lane is another false reality story. This seems pretty clear pretty early. The question is really why this false reality exists. The resolution is interesting because it turns out not to be the kind of evil plot that we are used to. It's amusing in places, especially in the exchanges between C'rizz and Kim Kronostska. It's not a brilliant story, but certainly worth listening to.



Very Good Novelization

What:The Curse of Fenric (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 18 June 2021
Rating:   8

"The Curse of Fenric" is probably the highest regarded episode of the McCoy era of Doctor Who. It maintained a consistent atmosphere of anxiety, had an intriguing puzzle, and well developed characters. Ian Briggs' novelization of his script adds quite a bit to all of that. It is probably the best Doctor Who script novelization. Briggs writes this as a novel, and while he sticks pretty closely to the script in plot and much of the dialogue, he is not too bothered with making an exact match. Where using novelistic touches would strengthen the narrative, he uses them. The story itself is just on the edge of what we might consider "Doctor Who" to be. It is much more a Gothic horror story of insidious evil, ancient curses, and reanimated corpses than it is science fiction. It's more William Hope Hodgson than John Wyndham. The few science-fictional touches that are there are mostly just window dressing. Briggs adds some background chapters in different narrative styles to fill in some of the missing information from the TV shows. There is still a big, gaping hole to all of this, and that is how Ace is incapable of recognizing her beloved grandmother even if it is the grandmother from 40 years earlier. How Ace's backstory fits into the generational Viking curse never escapes the mist in which it is enshrouded. Also, Briggs adds a coda ending of what possibly happens to Ace years later, but it does not quite fit either the novel or Doctor Who continuity. Still, there is far more good than bad about this novelization.



Good Story in Baker Style

What:The Pyralis Effect (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 14 June 2021
Rating:   7

The Pyralis Effect has Romana II mostly on her own for the first half. The story itself would fit well in late 70s Doctor Who. The Doctor and Romana land on a seemingly abandoned space ship. Romana discovers an insane android and soon, she is embroiled in an experiment gone wrong scenario when the ship's crew accidentally open a gateway to a transdimensional prison, releasing the dangerour Pyralis. The story operates on two levels, one the put the Djinni back in the bottle level, and the other the who done it level. Sadly, time did not allow the story to go deeper into several areas that really should have been explored.



Brain Worm

What:Something Inside (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 26 May 2021
Rating:   6

Big, gaping holes in plausibility. So, Doctor and crew arrive inside a prison for former soldiers with augmented psychic powers. Having served their purpose, the psychs are simply rounded up and stuck inside "The Cube" because they now pose a supposed threat to society. Interesting enough idea. Added to this, The Cube is run by two people - Rawden, the man who "made" the psychs, and his pet torturer Mr. Twyst. If you thought that the allegory of those names is more obvious than the presence of air, you would not be wrong. Rawden is a very worried man because something inside The Cube is killing off the psychs, and he doesn't know what it is. If something is killing the psychs and it isn't him, he wants to know. Here are a few of the gaping holes. First, this prison is run by just two, that's right, two people. Where is the staff? The Cube has levels, so certainly should house more than just the four psychs we run across. Where are the canteen and toilet facilities? We are led to believe that Rawden made the psychs, but he is technological ignoramus, so how did he do it? The Brain Worm that eats people's minds and leaves gaping holes in The Doctor's memories seems to have taken a few bites out of the plot of this.



Decent Far Edge of the Universe Story

What:White Ghosts (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 17 May 2021
Rating:   7

"White Ghosts" has many elements that we know well from the long history of Doctor Who. Doctor 4 and Leela find themselves way way out where even the TARDIS has trouble navigating. There, a scientific station studying a strange planetoid is more than just a scientific study. There are shades of "Planet of Evil" here. Tied to the plot is an environmentalist message and an interesting way to revisit The Doctor's ethics. It doesn't break new ground, and does get dragged by a few bits of preposterousness, but overall "White Ghosts" is pretty entertaining.



Makes a Bit More Sense

What:Ghost Light (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 15 May 2021
Rating:   7

"Ghost Light" the TV serial suffered from two major problems: 1) That it was a 4-part idea stuffed into a 3-part serial, and 2) Marc Platt's method of never revealing significant information directly. Thus, on TV, "Ghost Light" came across as a mulligan stew of ideas and set pieces with few apparent connections. Platt's novelization of his script provides much of the missing information and a few missing scenes that help give the story some sense of design. Platt has mainly tried to write an allegory of evolution set in a Victorian haunted mansion that is more like a madhouse. There are many juicy ideas and clever bits. It still does not quite come together, and large holes remain. Just how is Josiah Samuel Smith able to hypnotize or otherwise take over the minds of the people in this house, and do so almost effortlessly? Why is Smith so obsessed with the idea that Control is evil? Why does Control start evolving, and why now? What kind of superbeing is Light that sets about cataloguing all life, yet is unaware of and refuses to acknowledge that evolution is a rule of life? So many questions remain unanswered.



Fills Some Gaps

What:Battlefield (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 7 May 2021
Rating:   7

The second Doctor Who script from Ben Aaronovitch was a disappointment after the well designed "Remembrance of the Daleks." In rough outline, "Battlefield" is quite similar. It has two contending alien factions (in this case from a parallel universe) that should not be on Earth fighting a battle on Earth to capture an object of great power. It also has The Doctor as somehow guardian or otherwise responsible for this artifact. Unfortunately, the formula was not as effective the second time. One reason is that the motives of the factions, and who is on whose side, are not always clear. This had been a problem in "Remembrance," but becomes a major problem in "Battlefield." More importantly, the background is not as carefully worked out, creating huge gaps in the plot, leaving the viewer wondering just why things are happening in the way they are happening. Plus, the issue on which the plot hangs, that of world-destroying power (nuclear weapons) being carelessly managed for the personal gain of the powerful, arrives late in this script; whereas, the issue in "Remembrance" of racism is clear throughout. The biggest problem, though, is the attempt to recreate the King Arthur legends in Doctor Who terms. While it had been long a fan wet-dream to have The Doctor as Merlin, when it came to actually making that connection, it came across as artificial, forced, and too tiresomely obvious to bother with.

Marc Platt's novelization of the script goes a long way to fixing some of the most troublesome problems of the script. Most importantly, many of the missing explanations that would have made the TV version less of a muddied mess are in the novel. Thus, the reader finally understands that clearly the Arthur-related characters come from a parallel universe in which there is a strange mix of technology and magic, that Morgaine's magic is not as effective in our dimension than in hers, that Excalibur is more than just a sword, how the future Doctor/Merlin may have escaped being frozen by Morgaine, and more. It also explains why The Doctor is so interested in names, such as Winifred and Ancelyn. Still, Platt loves revealing things obscurely (a trait common in his scripts for Big Finish audios), and so the reader gets information through point of view of such things as the TARDIS and the sword, or through what appear to be throwaway bits of dialogue.

In the end, "Battlefield" as a novel is still a flawed story, but is much more enjoyable and sensible than the TV original.



Odd

What:Time Works (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 4 May 2021
Rating:   7

Time Works is an odd little item from Steve Lyons. It has an interesting premise of the Doctor and companions stuck in a time between times, as in The Space Museum, and then one getting separated from the others back in the normal course of events. The mystery is what makes this society tick. Everyone is obsessed with time and being useful, and their entire vocabulary is fitted around clock metaphors. They fear The Clockwork Men, whom they never see, though they see the effects. It's a world where nothing fits quite right - a medieval society with bits of technology from later eras, seemingly random excisions of people from time, and so on. The payoff at the end drags this one down a bit. Not only is it disappointing that it's just a mad computer running everything, but also there are too many gaps in the how and why. I kept thinking of the obvious questions to put to the computer that the Doctor never states: What do you mean by "completion"? What is the goal of the project? How will you know when you're done? I think that drama is not Lyons' best medium, as his novels are so much more thought through than the dramas.



Mike Remembers

What:The Magician's Oath (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 4 May 2021
Rating:   7

Here we have Mike Yates, much older and wiser, but still lonely, turning in an item of interest to UNIT, a playing card, and telling the silent clerk there about how he came by the card. This is a very UNIT story. It's set entirely in London and based on an unknown effect that is instantly freezing people to death. All of this apparently centers on a street magician who can influence Jo and knows far too much than he should about Mike. The story itself has an interesting buildup, but dissolves into destroy the monster. Richard Franklin does a great impression of both Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney. It makes an enjoyable listen.



So Much Promise Falls Flat

What:The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 24 April 2021
Rating:   5

Stephen Wyatt's previous Doctor Who, "Paradise Towers," shares much in common with this one. Both start from very interesting premises. Both incorporate strange resettings of character tropes. Both build a mystery through an intriguing two thirds of the story. And both fail when the big reveal finally happens. Here, Doctor 7 and Ace get visited by an advertising satellite, space junk mail, promoting the Psychic Circus, the "Greatest Show in the Galaxy." Of course, nothing is as it seems. Beings from around the Galaxy are invited to perform in the circus to compete from some unnamed great prize. This leads to a number of bizarre types of people heading to the circus. The circus, though, is turned into some kind of weird killing enterprise to appease some unknown power. The problematic ending drags this story down for me. It's a rabbit-out-of-hat sort of ending in which the Doctor just seems to "know" what is going on and how to fix without much preparation for the reader on how he knows. Also, the reveal does not make much sense. Wyatt has tried in his novelization to correct some of this, with many broad hints about how the Doctor is seeing clues that others miss and that maybe he had an idea about it all from the moment the junk mailer entered the TARDIS. These touches really do not fix enough of the problems to make the ending any more sensible or satisfying than it originally was.



Very Good Job of Recapturing 1971

What:The Doll of Death (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 18 April 2021
Rating:   8

"The Doll of Death" is both one of the better Companion Chronicles outings and one of Marc Platt's better scripts. It is still Platt's usual twisted reality sort of story, but the twists makes sense and follow a logic. Basically, The Doctor, Jo, The Brigadier, and Benton get involved with a device that bridges the gap between this universe and a universe that runs in backward time. It would have fit very well in 1971-2 Doctor Who. Katy Manning does an excellent job of voicing various characters. All in all, this was a very satisfying listen.



A Mess

What:Silver Nemesis (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 8 April 2021
Rating:   2

Interestingly, "Silver Nemesis" has a plot similar to the one in "Remembrance of the Daleks" from earlier in this season. The Doctor has gone back to Earth to make sure that he properly deals with a superweapon he left behind, only now one of his oldest enemies is out to get it. But, whereas "Remembrance" has some tight parallel plotting, a central theme to keep the story on track, and background that makes most of it make sense, "Nemesis" is all strands and loose ends. How does De Flores know about Nemesis? How do the Cybermen know about Lady Peinforte? How does Lady Peinforte know how to make a magic potion that will transport her in time? How can such a concoction be so precise? In "Remembrance," every scene advances the story in some way. There are bits in "Nemesis" that are just silly. For instance, the mention that gold dust affects Cybermen's chest units in "Revenge of the Cybermen" now becomes the idea that by merely coming into contact with gold in any form will instantly kill Cybermen. The gold dust idea makes at least a bit of sense, but lodging a gold coin in a Cyberman's chest unit? In "Nemesis," there are too many throw-away scenes, such as the encounter with the skinheads and the ride in the rich American's car. In his novelization of his own TV script, Kevin Clarke does little to correct any of these errors. "Silver Nemesis" was a very weak story in broadcast, and it remains a weak story in novelization.



Back to China, Way Back

What:The Emperor of Eternity (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 6 April 2021
Rating:   7

This time around, it's a historical for Doctor 2, Victoria, and Jamie. They travel to the time of the first Emperor of China. It's a time of state brutality and court intrigue. Nigel Robinson has kept his story pitched at the level of Doctor Who 1966, with a fairly straightforward moral sensibility of clear good guys and clear bad guys. The simplicity of the perspective drags it down a bit for me.



Anti-Genesis Of The Daleks

What:The War Master: Anti-Genesis (The War Master audios)
By:Ian Cotterill, Chipping Norton, United Kingdom
Date:Saturday 3 April 2021
Rating:   8

WARNING! THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

I recently finished listening to 'The War Master: Anti-Genesis' and I have to say, I thought it was a really good story, brilliantly twisting the events of 'Genesis Of The Daleks', as the Master murders Davros and usurps his position as the Daleks' creator. Derek Jacobi really shines as the Master here, as does Mark Gatiss' 'Unbound' incarnation, who gets recruited by the Dalek Time Strategist to put the timelines back on track. There are also some great guest characters, such as Franchi Webb who plays the tragic Time Lord soldier, Lamarius, and Seán Carlsen makes a great return as CIA coordinator Narvin.

If I have one slight criticism, I'm not sure the events on depicted on Skaro quite tallies with the chain of events established in the 2006 series 'I, Davros'. But then, since the whole premise of this story is history being distorted, I think I can live with any continuity inconsistencies.I also thought the 'Unbound' Master's escape at the end felt a bit rushed and confused, but I do like that the possibility of his returning in future audios has been left open.

All in all, this is probably my favourite 'Time War' story done by Big Finish, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has yet to listen to it.



Time Lords Splendiferous in Covid Crisis

What:Time Lord Victorious: All Flesh is Grass (Miscellaneous original novels)
By:Earle DL Foster, Invercargill, New Zealand
Date:Monday 29 March 2021
Rating:   10

I've finally managed to thoroughly read a published sample of the concept created during the dreaded Covid invasion, when the new series was unfortunately placed in undetermined temporary hiatus. And Mr Ball (to paraphrase one of the primary side characters in the story) wholeheartedly agrees with me on the assumption that Ms. McCormack has delivered a top-notch Multi-Doctor versus the Daleks encounter during the fan-created legendary era of the Dark Times -- and sometimes each other.



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