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Botched Ending

What:Loving the Alien (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 17 January 2022
Rating:   6

This book is a sequel to Tucker & Perry's earlier 7th Doctor novel "Illegal Alien." It also rounds off a story arc begun in "Prime Time" and continued in "Heritage" about why The Doctor is acting weirdly around Ace. Most of the novel is a fairly good alternate realities thriller along the lines of "The Outer Limits." There were some annoying bits, such as the writers' repeatedly telling us how clever George Limb is. Our heroes really get beaten up - beaten, battered, bullied, and bombarded beyond anyone's realistic tolerance for pain and abuse. And then, a scene later, they are going along as if had not happened. Granted that occurs only sometimes, but the characters are definitely going to need more recovery time than they get. What does not work for me is the last 40 or so pages. The ending is a mess. There are too many things happening, and the writers resort to "dimension hopping, multiple universes, so we can throw in any weird thing we like" as a way to get themselves out of the tangle they've written. There are some loose ends as well, such as the Dumont-Smith couple. What happened to them? So, tight writing at the beginning gets undermined by sloppy writing at the end.



Cheeky

What:Grand Theft Cosmos (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 10 January 2022
Rating:   7

Here is a cheeky little art theft caper tale set in 1890s Sweden. The Doctor finds out that the official art purchaser for the King of Sweden is interested in the works of little-known Renaissance artist Tardelli. This bothers The Doctor because Tardelli is in fact an alien whose art works have a malicious influence on the people around them. So, he and Lucy set out to steal the Tardelli collection. But, this is not so easy when The Headhunter and her new sidekick Karen from the previous "season" of Doctor 8 adventures are also after Tardelli's artworks, or at least one of them. This is a lighthearted romp, enjoyable for sure.



Lack Luster Ending

What:The Shadow Heart (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 10 January 2022
Rating:   6

The Drashani trilogy was certainly more interesting than the Excelis trilogy, but still suffers from many of the same problems with a flat ending. This last part is humorous, more so than the previous two, and a typical Jonathan Morris time-tangle tale. Yet, try as he might to give this grandeur, Morris fails. Prince Kylo, far from being a powerful villain is instead a lonely old man living a hermit existence in a castle of his own making (how the hell did he do that?) and living off a diet of revenge fantasies and romance fantasies. The Wrath are now rather boring do-gooders gone wrong, misinterpreting their program so that they assume that their idea of justice is the one true idea of justice, and meeting fatal, totally unjust punishments for non-compliance, basically the death penalty for a parking violation. This is all somehow The Doctor's fault (again????!!!), even though it isn't. Plus, we get Vienna, the happy-go-lucky assassin for hire, whom we are somehow supposed to like because she's just a cheeky rogue and we should ignore all the pointless killing she does. The whole arc of Kylo's story just felt like a letdown to me. So, there is some clever playing around with time, some funny lines and characters, which help elevate the story a bit. It remains for me a disappointment, though.



Crocodile Rock

What:The Skull of Sobek (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 26 December 2021
Rating:   5

A Mark Platt either works or it doesn't. This one doesn't. I'm not sure what the goal was in this case, but it just was not achieved whatever it is. The Doctor and Lucie arrive on a planet that is just too perfect. To offset perfection, there is a monastery devoted to imperfection and disharmony, but only a little. This monastery, however, is a modern one, with tours and so forth. However, it has been shut down. It turns out that some warrior crocodiles from a distant planet have chosen this spot as the place to have their final battle, but, for some reason, the battle involves not the two crocs themselves, but their "champions," chosen by their most holy relic, The Skull of Sobek (Egyptian crocodile god - go figure). This skull has some sort of psychic properties that can make people see visions and turn into semi-crocodile warriors. How and why is anyone's guess. And that is where I have the big problems with this one. Things happen just because. The how and why, if addressed at all, get little thought.



1001 Nights Entertainments

What:1001 Nights (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 26 December 2021
Rating:   8

This one is a good example of to mix genres in Doctor Who. The structure is Arabian fantasy with full out plagiarizing of the 1001 Nights tales as we have come to know them. The structure of a frame tale to contain separate adventures that have a thematic link to the frame tale works well. It is hard to say much without giving away too many secrets. In total, it is quite entertaining, though highly improbable.



Counter Doctor Who

What:Heritage (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 21 December 2021
Rating:   7

With "Heritage," Dale Smith tries to write Doctor Who as Literature, with a capital L. The novel is counter Doctor Who, choosing "counter" over "anti" because the writer is clearly not against Doctor Who, but rather has chosen to write a narrative against type. Here we get Doctor 7 and Ace both running against type in a way. In a normal Doctor 7 and Ace story, if it runs according to the TV series, The Doctor and Ace would arrive somewhere with The Doctor already planning how to save the world, bringing an eager Ace along for the ride without telling her what the plan is. She will just have to find out on her own and thus grow up a little. In this novel, The Doctor has been dragging around Ace for a while, but has no plan greater than just to look around and visit old friends. He's depressed, silent, and morose. He constantly insists that he cannot and should not get involved, and if it looks like he's going to get involved, then he should just turn around and leave for the next scheduled visit. Ace in this one is still a sort of stereotypical teenager, except here, instead of pleading with the "parent" - "Pleeease tell me what's going on" and making a big, emotional scene, she is a bundle of internalized anger, constantly grumbling and second-guessing herself in the belief that maybe she is being pushed out and forced to learn to deal with problems on her own. Thus, she spends almost all the novel claiming that this Doctor is not the "real" Doctor, and that if he's not going to save the world, then she is, maybe, perhaps not, no, definitely she is. Smith writes the novel mostly as a sequence of internal monologues. We are looking in on the conversations characters have with themselves, in their own heads. The plot for the novel reminds me of the alternative westerns of the 1980s and 1990s, in which everyone hates everyone else, the landscape is all dust and heat, and buried secrets drive everyone to be scared and self-loathing. The plot, as such, has The Doctor bring Ace to the planet Heritage, where he wants to visit his friends the Heyworths. Heritage town is a former mining town, now barely getting along, with a strong "we don't like strangers" vibe. They keep getting told that the Heyworths moved. The Doctor wants to go, even though he strongly suspects the locals are not telling him the truth about the Heyworths, and Ace senses that there's something wrong, definitely a monster vibe going on, and she must set it right. Smith then sets out to undermine numerous Doctor Who tropes: the monsters are not what you think they are, the Doctor does not resolve conflicts through the force of his actions but through the force of his stare, the problem is limited to this one little town and threatens neither this world nor the universe, and so on. The one trope remaining is the mad scientist villain. Smith should get credit for trying something different, even if he does not quite pull it off.



Definitely Ice Warriors

What:Cold Vengeance (Tenth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 December 2021
Rating:   7

Cold Vengeance is an Ice Warriors story. Pretty much, that tells one all one needs to know. Doctor 10 and Rose land on a cold storage facility the size of a moon. Ice Warriors have awoken, vowing revenge. The base is under siege. The one-hour time limitation for the story means that motives and development are sacrificed for pace. There is the urge to keep the story going fast at all costs. We also get two false endings, just to keep the tension ratcheted high for the duration. Doctor 10 and Rose are a good pairing, as usual. This one would have easily fit as a middle-of-the-season episode on TV.



Fun Times in Paris

What:Muse of Fire (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 December 2021
Rating:   7

This is a nice surprise - a Paul Magrs script that does not use the word "benighted" even once. While this script does have much of the Magrs whimsicality about it, he manages to keep the story fairly under control. This time out, Magrs has decided to rehabilitate the image of his own alternate Time Lord, Iris Wildthyme. The setting is 1920s Paris, at the height of modernist revolution in the arts, when nearly every important European and American artist lived in or around Paris. Iris seems to be involved in a scheme to rewrite history by removing famous artists from Paris when they are supposed to be there. Of course, The Doctor cannot stand a time meddler who is not himself, so vows to "defeat" her. By the beginning of Part 3, the audience should be clued into what The Doctor is not clued into. There is some fun to be had taking the mickey out of modernism. The story is fairly entertaining without being too taxing on the listener's credulity.



Needed to Be Longer

What:Brave New Town (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 December 2021
Rating:   7

Brave New Town has an interesting idea to work with. In this series, Big Finish seem to have taken Doctor Who back to the days where there is a mystery to solve, and the answer is not quite what the audience might think. I like my Doctor Who this way for the most part. What drags down Brave New Town is the length restriction, which forces a very quick ending that leaves behind too many questions.



Max Warp at Full Rev

What:Max Warp (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 December 2021
Rating:   7

I have to say that I really dislike the new mashup Doctor Who theme for this series. I much prefer the previous Doctor 8 theme. That aside, Max Warp is a fun ride, a parody of Top Gear as it was in the early 2000s. Much of this will be lost on subsequent generations who do not know who is being parodied and are perhaps unaware of Top Gear, which was a much bigger program in audience share when this episode was written than it is now. Graeme Garden is excellent as the overbearing lead presenter.



The Main Concept Needs Work

What:Dead London (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 13 December 2021
Rating:   6

Dead London has an interesting mystery to begin with, as The Doctor and Lucie get separated by time. The explanation for all this at the end does not make all that much sense. The problem is that if all this is a mental landscape, that the characters are in another character's mind, then how is it a physical manifestation as well? How come the transported humans have to remain in this landscape while The Doctor and Lucie can just escape? How did the TARDIS get in here in the first place? There are plenty more unanswered questions.



Strange Story

What:Citadel of Dreams (Telos novellas)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 6 December 2021
Rating:   7

The Telos novellas were pitched as a way to take Doctor Who into areas that were not allowable in the ordinary publishing media. David Stone's contribution, the second in the series, really takes this idea and runs with it. Those expecting a standard Doctor Who adventure will be alarmed by what is in this book. In essence, Stone has written a story almost entirely using internal monologue, nearly stream of consciousness, from the perspective of one character, mostly. There are some bits in which we get Ace's thoughts. Thus, because they are not the central point of view, The Doctor and Ace only occasionally appear, and do not become important until late in the story. They also appear as otherworldly beings, distant and aloof. The story itself involves the decay of a city that seems to be a mishmash of different versions of itself in time. The story jumps back and forth across two "zones," with occasional dips into other ones. Thus, it is all quite a bit confusing at first, before gradually coalescing. It is a valiant, though flawed, effort in writing Doctor Who differently.



Peri Gets a Boyfriend

What:Blood on Santa's Claw (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 29 November 2021
Rating:   7

This is a Christmas story somewhat closer to New Who tone and style than Classic Who. We start kind of in medias res, with Peri having picked up a boyfriend. The Doctor is not too keen on the lad, and who can blame him? Joe is rather a timid and uninteresting guy, not at all the type who deserves Peri. So, the story goes rather domestic, with questions of how this trio is going to work out. The first story has them visit a planetoid in which majority religions get to dominate other religions. However, "religion" now qualifies as belief in almost anything, and so here we get the Shakespeare worshipers lording it over the Wind in the Willows worshipers. It's somewhat daft. Next, the TARDIS crew are investigating an outfit that creates robot designer children. Again, we start in the middle, with events that happened before not dramatized but merely referred to. As part of the investigation, Peri gets to experience life with children, which rather gets her maternal instincts into high gear. The third story finds the crew arriving at what seems to be a perpetual Christmas party. However, things are not what they seem. To avoid spoilers, I won't describe story four, but suffice to say that all four are neatly rolled into one. Writer Nev Fountain seems prone to insert humor when pathos is required. The whole thing, like the New Who Christmas specials, is entertaining without being too taxing.



Amateurish

What:Relative Dementias (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 23 November 2021
Rating:   5

This novel reads like a piece of fan fiction. The writer has pulled out a few formula plot bits typical of Doctor Who and added some timey-wimey to make it seem clever. The plot involves Doctor 7 and Ace going to retrieve some of The Doctor's mail on Earth. He gets a card from a UNIT scientific advisor who seems to be a replacement Liz Shaw about some strange goings on at an Alzheimer's clinic in Scotland. So, they head to Dumfries, where indeed strange things are happening at Graystairs. The plot then proceeds through Ace getting chased in a spaceship, getting chased on an island, and getting chased in the forest. After all this running around, she and the reader are little wiser about what is going on than they were before all the running around happened. We also get over-emotional Ace, who is alternately petulant and mad at The Doctor, then his most loyal supporter. Ace is not the only character who goes through these oppositional mood swings that happen when the plot seems to be slowing down, thus giving it an artificial kick start. Additionally, there is one heck of a lot of sneaking in and out of Graystairs, the most unguarded base for alien incursion there has ever been. Really, the book seems to have been written on the A.E. van Vogt plan of jamming in some plot twist every 2000 words and never mind if the twist makes little sense. And, to top it all off, we get a whole new set of UNIT characters with no mention of any of the old ones. But these UNIT characters are soppy and emotional, which is what Michalowski seems to think is needed for "realism." Therefore, the reader is awarded with a long diatribe against The Doctor along the old saw that whenever he shows up, people die, so therefore it must all be his fault. It is sort of like blaming the ambulance crew, because after all when they show up people often die. It amazes me that so few can see how ridiculous this blame The Doctor thinking really is. So, ultimately, the novel is just not competently written.



Fits Right Back In

What:The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller: Volume One (Miscellaneous audio dramas)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 15 November 2021
Rating:   7

Big Finish brought back Lucie Miller, but since she's dead, they had to create stories that fit within the already finished series. So, we get four stories that occur right after the end of Human Resources. There is a general story arc, important only in story 1 and story 4. In other respects, each of these is a standalone episode, each having a different writer. Story 1 is The Dalek Trap by Nicholas Briggs. This one finds some Daleks, a couple of lost space travellers, The Doctor and Lucie, trapped just inside the event horizon of a black hole, slowly losing their memories and coming under the influence of "The Darkness." This all has something to do with something The Doctor did long ago. The story is mostly a Lucie story, re-establishing the character and justifying her as a worthy companion. Story 2 is The Revolution Game. It's a mixture of Roller Ball and Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest." This is the story meant to be both fun and serious. Story 3 is the least effective in my view. The House on the Edge of Chaos is a kind of haunted house in outer space, with extreme Downton Abbey overtones. Story 4 brings it back together. Island of the Fendahl returns us to "Image of the Fendahl," sort of. Alan Barnes has decided to write it as a full-on no hiding it pastiche of "The Wicker Man." Are there any islands off the coast of the main British isle that still contain an obnoxious inbred populace devoted to sacrificial pagan rituals? If so, why does the British government not do something about it? The story does close the circuit on the series. This collection does what it says on the box - it gives us adventures of Lucie Miller. Those who love Lucie Miller will probably love this collection. I find that the one-hour format for stories can still be quite limiting in terms of characterization and thematic development.



Decent Ideas, but Too Short

What:Black Thursday / Power Game (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 2 November 2021
Rating:   7

Here we have one of the 2 for 1 series, 2 stories in 1 package. The stories are very Kamelion focused, and so what happens is not too surprising. The first story, "Black Thursday" is a historical set in a Welsh coal mining town in 1902. Involvement in a mining accident causes the emotions of a recent widow to overwhelm Kamelion's programming. The TARDIS crew must track him down before he does serious damage. This tone of Kamelion being a liability carries into story 2, a science-fiction romp in which an alien is using a fake television game show to recruit unwilling humans to her dirty work. The TARDIS crew have gone off in 1980s Liverpool to track down Kamelion, who has wandered off. Is there a relationship to this TV game show? Again, the story is entertaining, though it gets a little too far-fetched toward the end. Both stories, to my mind, would probably have been better as 4-parters.



Solid Ending

What:Human Resources: Part 2 (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 2 November 2021
Rating:   8

Part 2 of "Human Resources" finds our heroes now out to face the Cybermen. It follows the pattern of Cybermen stories, conquer and convert. So, while this is going on, we still have the resolution of the Lucie story to work out. Why was she so interesting to our recruiter for the aliens? Why did the Time Lords take her out of time? Just how involved is the Head Hunter in all this? The details are nicely worked out. The main story is just a little predictable, once it becomes a Cyberman story. Still, the totality of "Human Resources" makes for good Doctor Who.



Well Done

What:Human Resources: Part 1 (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 2 November 2021
Rating:   8

As the season finale, "Human Resources" works very well. Big Finish has brought Paul McGann back to playing The Doctor as The Doctor, without so much of the ennui and anguish that was typical of the Charlie and C'rizz days. In part 1, Lucie gets taken back to the job was interviewing for when she was snatched out of time. However, something is not quite right about the setup. The Doctor extracts a promise from the High Council of Gallifrey to fix his TARDIS and in return, he will track her down. It turns out, she was a pawn in the constant rangling between the High Council and the CIA. But, is there more to it than that? Of course there is. Part 1 works very well as the setup for Part 2.



The Doctor on a Diet

What:The Beautiful People (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 1 November 2021
Rating:   7

"The Beautiful People" would have sat very well in Doctor Who 1979. It's slightly satirical, joke-filled, and not too taxing on the brain cells. That said, the story plays out fairly well, following the logic of an evil genius who takes dieting to the extreme. Lala Ward is a very good reader, keeping the pace going and not overdoing the impressions. Fans of the Graham Williams / Douglas Adams variety of Doctor Who will like this one.



A mystery in the bloodline

What:Tomb Ship (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:Jared Star, Portsmouth, United States
Date:Wednesday 27 October 2021
Rating:   8

This episode didn't enamor me as much as I thought it would at first, but it takes up until the ending for the listener to fully appreciate this one. This is an adventure, through and through!

This Indiana Jones-styled adventure in space did not disappoint when the final credits rolled, but it did take a bit of work to get there. I couldn't tell some of the characters apart and the audio mixing had a few issues, but those are minor on the whole. The biggest issue this story faced was the fact that it was too visual. Not only with the setting, but the whole idea of tomb-styled booby traps doesn't work the best in audio. On paper it's great, and the scriptwriters did their best with it, but it slowed down the pace a little too much during some places. However, as you get further along into the story, you realize that you are there less for the traps, and more for the twists. Said twists aren't on a "World Enough & Time" level, but they infused an interesting bit of drama that I was keen to hear play out.

The biggest draw for this episode is the ending. It took me until the final 10 minutes to realize that all I had listened to beforehand was buildup. The climax of the story was expertly acted, The sound design was immaculate, and the music was phenomenal. It had an intensity to it that too few monthly stories attempt. Like I said at the beginning, this is an adventure, through and through. As the cast grew and shrank, motives learned, and loved ones lost, you really get a sense of how much had happened in the past 2 hours. Other audios may feel like standstills or like not much happens (looking at you, "Scavenger"), but this story kept moving and everything culminated into a stellar ending!

Side note: For context, there is a character in this episode that was originally introduced in the previous story "Moonflesh." It's not critical to know who she is, but that is where she is from. This is technically her trilogy, though, she doesn't appear until very late into the story.



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