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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 :)



Disappointing

What:Atom Bomb Blues (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 22 February 2022
Rating:   6

The final book in the BBC Past Doctor range ends the series on a dull note. Former TV series script editor Andrew Cartmel introduces some ideas with potential, but also introduces too many elements that are just nonsense and leaves too many threads hanging. The book starts with Doctor 7 and Ace posing as British scientists working on the Manhattan Project trying to stop... Well, there's problem number one. We don't ever quite know what they are trying to stop, mainly because Doctor 7 never tells Ace, or never gives her an honest answer. Cartmel writes Doctor 7 as too manipulative, too secretive. He has a plan, and the novel starts when that plan is well under way. Yet, we never really know exactly what that plan is. He also writes Ace as far too much the petulant teenager for my liking. The Doctor continuously hints that they are stopping some plot to disrupt the Manhattan Project, but there is no clear idea of what that plot might be or who is in it. As if realizing this problem, Cartmel manages to drag out a villain in the last 30 pages, a Japanese-American dullard in a zoot suit who wants to destroy the universe because doing so will somehow mean that Japan will win World War II in all possible alternate universes. Cartmel also indulges his taste for turn-of-the-century supernaturalist fiction, making it seem that mathematical equations in one universe are the equivalent of magical incantations in another. There is plenty of 1940s B-movie spy stuff, with tommy-gun weilding henchmen in zoot suits, an Oriental femme fatale, an idiotic military security official, and secret plans sent by encoded jazz records. The biggest problem for me is that by the end, there are too many questions unanswered. How does The Doctor know about this plot against the Manhattan Project in a parallel universe? How does he get himself and Ace into this parallel universe and hide the fact from Ace? How does he just happen to know friendly Apache natives and a visiting alien in a flying saucer in a parallel universe? What happened to the scientist who gets a crush on Ace? Those are just some starting questions. So, the novel reads in a way that suggests that Cartmel had many crazy ideas, threw them all into the novel, and did not put much effort into sorting them all out. It is as if the crazy ideas themselves were enough.



Nice Try

What:Wirrn Dawn (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 February 2022
Rating:   7

One of the patterns of Big Finish with Doctor 8 is to try to rehabilitate monsters from the past, to make them no longer monsters. Wirrn Dawn exemplifies this. The Doctor and Lucie get caught up in a war between humans and the Wirrn. They crash land on a planet with three human survivors of the battle, surrounded by Wirrn. However, one of the humans has memories of what his grandfather told him about surviving by cooperating to an extent with the Wirrn rather than fighting against them. There is much dialogue from the Doctor about how life works and that survival is the basic drive, so one should not put too much stock into notions of good and evil where survival is at stake. The ending seems a bit too magical for me. An awful lot of force fitting the plot to get us there made it less than effective for me.



Spirit of the Times

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Poison of the Daleks / Operation: Hellfire (Third Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 February 2022
Rating:   7

For this set of Third Doctor adventures, the Big Finish crew are keeping with the idea of the spirit of the times, of recreating Doctor Who 1972-3. The pattern of having one UNIT story and one other world story continues, with modification. They mix it up this time by having the other world be the Earth's past, namely Britain in World War II, and by taking UNIT to outer space. The first story is Poison of the Daleks, which conflates the UNIT and other world adventures by taking The Brigadier and Benton off Earth. The story itself follows the environmental concerns so important to 1970s Doctor Who. UNIT have been called in to look at a new government project that supposedly cleans the air of pollution. The Doctor doesn't believe it for a moment. We find out that somehow the Daleks are part of this project. It is a typical Doctor 3 Dalek story in that the Daleks are more an indirect than direct threat to Earth. The major rationale is to get The Brigadier (expertly played by John Culshaw) and Benton onto an alien planet so we can see how they really work together as military experts, each in his own way. The next story is Operation: Hellfire, in which the Time Lords send Doctor 3 and Jo on a mission to recover a powerful artifact that has somehow made its way to Earth in the 1940s. So, Big Finish has created the Doctor Who historical that Doctor 3 never had. This Time Lord mission is a pretext for a World War II secret agents story with spies, covert operations, British traitors working for the Third Reich and a bit of supernaturalism on top of it. It's fun, though not deep.



Too Many Ideas

What:The Beast of Orlok (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 21 February 2022
Rating:   6

The Beast of Orlok is meant to be a full on Gothic Horror story, and so Barnaby Edwards has put just about every famous Gothic Horror story into it - Frankenstein, The Werewolf, The Golem, just to name a few. He sets it in the 1700s in the Black Forest, just to make sure we get the point. The problem is that there is too much, so that in trying to cover everything, the story has to race along from point A to point B with no intervening information about how one got there. The gaps are maddening. Plus, Edwards just cannot take the Gothic Horror ambience seriously, so that Lucie is constantly undercutting it with her "northern charm." So, many interesting ideas do not come together.



Should Have Been More

What:Out of Time (Out of Time audio dramas)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 6 February 2022
Rating:   7

Getting the generally regarded favorite Doctor of Old Who and the generally regarded favorite Doctor of New Who together to go after the Daleks? What could possibly go wrong? I think that Matt Fitton never really got farther than that. So, we get a typical Daleks seize the base story, with two Doctors trying to outwit them. There is some interesting interaction between our Doctors, with the technically younger Doctor giving the "voice of wisdom" advice to the older Doctor - don't travel alone. The two Doctors are great as usual. It is just that I would have liked them to be in a more original kind of story.



Desperate Measures

What:Hothouse (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 6 February 2022
Rating:   7

"Hothouse" finds The Doctor and Lucie trying to repair their relationship. The Doctor still cannot remember Lucie all that well, while Lucie is desperate to show that she is worthy of his trust. She wants to go back to the old times when they were best buds crashing the best parties in the universe. The story takes place on Earth, some time in Lucie's near future. The planet is hot, everything is drying up. The population is too big. Governments are collapsing. Into this mess steps a former rock musician turned environmental activist who has a radical plan for healing the Earth. The story tries to play the "he's not evil, just misguided" card, but there is a bit too much ruthlessness in our villain to make that believable. What sort of CEO of a charitable organization wanders around the place carrying guns? The main problem with this story is that it does not go anywhere we have not already been.



Mark Bonnar Shines

What:Dark Universe (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 6 February 2022
Rating:   7

Finally, we get a script that shows what The Eleven is really about. Dark Universe is another of the Doctor 7 has a plan stories. This time, it has been 20 or so years since the Doctor separated from Ace. She's a professor now, running a major ecological non-profit, and she's really not happy with The Doctor. However, The Doctor recruits her to help out with one of his devious plans. This time, The Doctor wants to trap The Eleven, and uses Ace to get close to The Eleven. Said Mr. Eleven is after an ancient Time Lord weapon that would release total disaster on the universe, and The Doctor wants him to have it. However, The Doctor's plan goes awry, because The Eleven is crazier even than The Doctor could have imagined. The story has basically a two-part structure. In part 1, The Doctor has a plan and we hear him try to outwit The Eleven. In part 2, The Eleven has "won" and taken The Doctor as a prisoner to amuse him while he sets about wreaking chaos across the Universe. Part 2 very much feels like a redo (or a foredo if we follow Doctor universe chronology) of "Last of the Timelords." The star of this show is Mark Bonnar. He gets large space in which to deliver a truly terrifying performance.



I Have an Idea...

What:Orbis (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 6 February 2022
Rating:   6

So, we get a new "season" started for the 8th Doctor adventures. Someone had an idea: Let's have The Doctor forget Lucie so that they can start again as if new. It's not the most brilliant problem one could come up with. Somehow, then, the Sisters of Karn from the last episode managed to whisk away The Doctor from certain death to a mostly sea-based planet that no one has really heard of, and kept his TARDIS as a memorial or something like that for themselves. The Headhunter has somehow, we don't learn how, managed to wangle the TARDIS away from the Sisters, and pilot it well enough to track down Lucie at home in Blackpool and shoot her with time bullets (time-released death), so the Headhunter can use Lucie to persuade The Doctor to do something, but we are not sure what. The wrinkle is that when they arrive at Orbis, The Doctor has been there for hundreds of years, and become the protector saint of the squidlike beings who live there. He has lost much of his memory, and does not recognize Lucie at all. Time for Lucie to go emotional (when is there not a time for Lucie to go emotional?). The episode leaves so many unanswered questions, mostly regarding the causes for events, that it would be too much of a burden to enumerate them all. It does have its amusing bits.



Math Lesson

What:The Algebra of Ice (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 31 January 2022
Rating:   7

"The Algebra of Ice" is a great title, but sadly not a great novel. The novel perpetually feels like it is just about to take off, but never really does leave the ground. The story, such as it is, goes like this. The Doctor and Ace are watching some events in time rewind and reshape, then smooth out. The investigation to the cause leads them to a bizarre crop circle in 21st-century England. The crop circle is not a circle, but rather sets of incomplete shapes; plus, it's made of ice that apparently takes a very long time (weeks? months?) to melt. The TARDIS lets The Doctor know that a young mathematician named Ethan Amberglass is somehow part of the problem. It seems that the crop patterns are attempts by a race (unnamed throughout the book) from another universe of pure mathematics, who have used up almost all the energy in their universe fighting off entropy so they can live forever, and are now trying to break through into this universe to do the same here. Helping them is a sociopathic rich guy named Brett and another mathematician he knew from University named Unwin. Brett somehow (we never know how) has Unwin completely under his control. Oh, and UNIT have been called in to look into the crop pattern, and they bring the Brigadier out of retirement to help them out. Also, there is a pathetic publisher of an online magazine about conspiracy stuff, named Molecross, who constantly tags along and annoys everyone. The main problem with this book is how underwhelming it all is. There are many very interesting ideas that just click along before fizzling out. We are constantly reminded that the stakes are high, that the UNIVERSE is at stake, yet no one really acts as if it is, and the aliens are repeatedly rather easily frustrated in their efforts to break through. Rose is not very good in giving his villains motivations. Brett is just a sociopath, and that seems to be all we need to know. The aliens just want eternal life. UNIT and the Brigadier are completely wasted in this book. They do practically nothing and get about 10% at most of the pages. Several key aspects of the book are left unexplained. How did Brett meet these aliens? Why is he so keen on helping them? How do these aliens from another universe know about The Doctor? How is it that Brett can so easily overpower everyone when it is just him? What is the connection of the aliens' attempted incursions and the time anomalies apart from providing a convenient moment to move the plot along late in the novel? So, great title, interesting ideas, flawed conception - that sums my impression of this novel.



Jago & Litefoot meet Jekyll and Hyde

What:The Beast of Kravenos (The Fourth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 25 January 2022
Rating:   7

It's back to 19th-century London, and The Doctor, Romana, and K-9 are on the case with the help of Jago and Litefoot. Our intrepid Victorian investigators are as entertaining as always. The story itself suits the setting - a mysterious thief is making off with things from locked rooms, and a beast is out there ferociously killing people. Are they connected? And what have they to do with Jago's Theatre? In general, this one is light and entertaining, following the formula of 19th-century popular fiction and injecting just a bit of Doctor Who business.



Very Theatrical

What:Theatre of War (Big Finish novel adaptations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 25 January 2022
Rating:   7

Justin Richards adapted his own novel for audio drama. He took some liberties with the plot, though in the essentials this is the same story. It is still complex compared with the standard Big Finish production, with more characters and settings, and more moving parts to the plot. The story itself involves Doctor 7, Ace, and Bennie at a mysterious archaeological dig that turns out to be a hologramatic theatre, except that the holograms are real enough to affect people and the theatre turns out to be more than just a theatre. There is, of course, a corrupt space empire involved. Plus, we get to meet the devious Braxiatel. This is a big story, grand scale space opera stuff. That means that there are a few plot holes so that the story can keep the scope, just a few bits of plot by convenience at the end.



I Said Morbius Didn't Amount To Much

What:Vengeance of Morbius (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 23 January 2022
Rating:   7

"The Vengeance of Morbius" is a title whose promise is not really kept. After "Sisters of the Flame," Zorodnix has managed to resurrect Morbius, who now has robbed the Time Lords of their power from the Eye of Harmony. Morbius has waged a ten-year reign of terror, conquering many star systems. We are told all this rather than actually getting to witness it. Everything seems to be going Morbius' way; however, the genetic process that brought him back to life is not stable. He needs to extract Time Lord "essence" or something like that, to stay alive, and the one Time Lord he possesses is running out of essence. So, after the main characters from "Sisters of the Flame" are brought together, in a way, it comes time for the mano a mano showdown between The Doctor and the weakened Morbius. The whole just seems to me to be a waste of many opportunities for complexity and development and subtlety. Why, for instance, is Haspira so keen to have The Doctor killed? I kept waiting to find out that during her time spying on Zorodnix for the Sisterhood, Haspira secretly became a devotee of Morbius, effectively a double-agent. That would have been interesting. Otherwise, her eagerness is unmotivated. We are still left with the mystery of what makes Morbius so powerful. The story clips along at a nice pace. I just wish there were more to it.



All Set-up

What:Sisters of the Flame (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 23 January 2022
Rating:   7

"Sisters of the Flame" is definitely a part one. It is designed to place all the pieces for the next episode. Basically, another mad genius, this time an economic one rather than a medical one, has set about to try to recreate the Time Lord dictator Morbius. The Time Lords are terrified, the Sisterhood of Karn are terrified, and all want The Doctor out of existence. I am not sure why everyone is so terrified about this, since, as far as I can gather, there is nothing especially frightening about Morbius, the has-been dictator with no particular super powers. The Doctor even articulates this point. If the Time Lords know who is trying to resurrect Morbius, why do they not just stop him? Most of this story concentrates on Lucie, who is very like Ace in her Northern way - all emotion, yelling at any problem that comes her way. She is, though, absolutely dedicated to The Doctor. There is no real resolution at the end, just the preparation for the arrival of Morbius.



More Paul Magrs Kitsch

What:The Zygon Who Fell to Earth (Eighth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 23 January 2022
Rating:   6

Paul Magrs loves his retro kitsch. This time, it's the 1980s. Doctor 8 and Lucie Miller find themselves once more bothering Lucie's Aunty Pat, who is none-too-pleased to see them. Pat has marries a Zygon who has decided to keep his human form and be "human." However, his semi-incompetent former underlings want him back so they can do more Zygon stuff. It's moderately amusing, but Magrs strives to hard to make more of it than is actually there.



Very Interesting

What:The War Master: Rage of the Time Lords (The War Master audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 23 January 2022
Rating:   8

This edition of The War Master pits The Master against Doctor 8 in the last two episodes. Therefore, it is no spoiler to say that The Doctor gets his memory wiped (yet again) so that continuity can be preserved. What we get in this series is two very different halves. The Master seems to be on the hunt for beings with extraordinary abilities that he can use as weapons or as templates for weapons in the Time War. Parts 1 and 2 show The Master at work collecting such specimens. Parts 3 and 4 show what The Master is actually doing with them. The first two parts are historical, taking place in 1940s England and 1890s United States. In "The Survivor," The Master poses as a country priest so that he can convince a young woman working as a Land Girl who has extraordinary mental powers that she must go with him. We see how The Master undermines the social structure and turns people against each other. In "The Coney Island Chameleon," The Master is doing something of the same, trying to corrupt the strong-man owner of a freak show to give up his star attraction, an orphaned alien who can change her skin to blend with her surroundings. This one has a delicious surprise twist at the end that I won't give away. It makes this my favorite episode of this set. These two stories are surprisingly low-key, filled with intimate moments and concentrated on personal relationships. The next two parts are entirely different matters, full-on high-tech, high-paranoia science fiction. The Master has built for himself a secret laboratory from the ruins of a hospital, and employs experts to help in the project of extracting the genetic secrets of all the specimens he has collected so he can create the ultimate bio-weapon. But, of course, this is The Master, so we know he is planning to double-cross the Time Lords and use the weapon for his own purposes. These two parts lack the intimacy and subtlety of the first two parts. The whole highlights The Master. It's his show, and we see him, for once, really get the better of The Doctor, even if, in the end The Master does not get the outcome he wants. The whole set is quite entertaining and hangs together well.



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.



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