Doctor Who – “The War Doctor Volume 3: Agents of Chaos”

The War Doctor Volume 3 – Agents of Chaos begins with two stories that explore the ingenuity and sheer determination of the Daleks and the Time Lords’ desperate attempts to hold back the tide. And while most planets are keeping their heads down and trying in vain to avoid the crossfire, the third story showcases one of Doctor Who’s most essential alien races and their attempts to JOIN the Time War on either side. Most importantly tough, Agents of Chaos shows just how jaded and ruthless the War Doctor has become, incredibly close to going over the edge as the sacrifice of the innocent is rapidly becoming all too common for him.

Cast
John Hurt (The War Doctor)
Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra)
Neve McIntosh (Lara)
Honeysuckle Weeks (Heleyna)
Timothy Speyer (Kruger),
Helen Goldwyn (Professor Crane)
Gunnar Cauthery (Kavarin)
Matthew Cottle (Leith)
Dan Starkey (General Fesk/Sontarans)
Josh Bolt (Kalan)
Barnaby Edwards (Vassarian)
Andrew French (Muren)
Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Time Strategist/Daleks)

Written by:
The Shadow Vortext – David Llewleyyn
The Eternity Cage – Andrew Smith
Eye of Harmony – Ken Dorney

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Sound and Music: Howard Carter
Released: 6 October 2016

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-war-doctor-volume-03-agents-of-chaos-1382

Theme – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxdzcRQ45Fc

**

Cardinal Ollistra exploits the War Doctor’s affection for Earth to send him to East Berlin, 1961, on the trail of a Dalek agent. Lara Zannis has breached the planet’s quantum shield on a very special mission for the Dalek Time Strategist.

Caught between MI6 and the KGB, the War Doctor must first escape the Stasi before he can hope to stop Lara. Cold War scientists are about to make a breakthrough – the Daleks want control of the ‘Shadow Vortex’, and Agent Zannis can provide it.

The Shadow Vortex takes place in the divided city of Berlin in the early 1960’s. In most circumstances, this story would have been a perfect fit in any of the other Big Finish Doctor Who ranges (or even The Avengers range) as a solidly written, enjoyable-but-ultimately forgettable Cold War thriller. However, those pepperpot Daleks add a dash of the Time War to the story by sending one of their human agents, Lara Zannis, to Earth. The planet had been spared the ravages and destruction of the Time War thanks to a quantum shield erected around the planet by the Time Lords, but the Daleks plan to change all that. As the Doctor finds himself the “guest” of the notorious East German secret police known as the Stasi, Lara plans to radically chance both Earth’s history as well as the Doctor’s by giving an English nuclear project in West Berlin “stolen” “East German” “reactor” blueprints. Instead of providing the West with a powerful weapon or unlimited power, the blueprints create the Shadow Vortex, a portal that allows the Daleks to slip past the quantum shield and being their invasion of Earth nearly two hundred years early! And while mass destruction and extermination is always a priority to the Daleks, this time their plan has a different primary motivation – the death of the Doctor’s companions, to ensure they never cross paths with the Doctor and thus radically change not only the Doctor’s path but the path of the Daleks as well!

It’s a neat idea, though I wish they would have specifically mentioned Barbara and Ian in some capacity as they were the Doctor’s first companions and DID meet up with the First Doctor and Susan in the early 1960s. The Cold War setting does lead to a few neat moments, such as the Doctor managing to convince his captor to help him escape, the mention of Russia’s Torchwood equivalent which knows about the Daleks and send the local KGB agent to form an alliance with them, and the Dalek invasion of Berlin sounds as horrific as one might imagine. The acting is solid enough – Timothy Speyer, a well known and respect actor of the stage, brings depth to the Stasi officer Kruger, a man who serves his country while repressing the memories of child soldiers dying under his command during the final days of World War II. Neve McIntosh is best known to Doctor Who fans as Madame Vastra, lesbian, detective, Silurian, in that order. It’s good to hear her in a role outside of Vastra, and she does a fine job as Lara, Dalek time agent who is capable of giving the Doctor a run for his money. For most of The Shadow Vortex the Doctor is the one on defense, trying to escape from East Berlin as Lara tricks the leaders of the English nuclear project into helping her complete her mission.

The acting of the cast and writing by David Llewellyn is solid enough to make The Shadow Vortex enjoyable, but there’s nothing that really stands out about it. It doesn’t waste its premise as much as it does the bare minimum with it to tie the story into the greater Time War and leave John Hurt to do the heavy lifting. The solution to the closing of the Shadow Vortex is unique enough, standing out as something only the War Doctor would consider as an option as it threatens one of the fundamental rules of time travel. More importantly, it feels earned as it’s the only way to stop Lara and the Daleks from invading Earth and killing the Doctor’s companions, a high-stakes decision for a high-stakes problem.

Sontarans are the ultimate warriors – so they believe – and the Time War the ultimate conflict. Denied that glory by Skaro and Gallifrey alike, General Fesk of the Eighth Sontaran Battle Fleet employs a dangerous strategy to draw both sides to the planet Rovidia and prove his forces worthy…

Meanwhile, the War Doctor leads a rescue mission, aided by Rovidian street-urchin Kalan. Neither Daleks nor Time Lords expect the Sontarans to be so fearsome a foe, until they uncover the secret of the Eternity Cage.

I’ve always had a problem with the portrayal of the Sontarans in the revival series. Aside from The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, the Sontarans were more defined as well-meaning but bumbling buffoons as shown by Strax – a great character, but most certainly not a representative of the brutal and cunning Sontaran race that once invaded Gallifrey itself and gravely frightened no less than Sarah Jane Smith.

Thankfully, The Eternity Cage shows the Sontarans at their absolute “best.” The Sontarans consider themselves to be the finest military force in the entire universe. To be allowed to fight in the Time War, the conflict to end all conflicts, would be the highest and most glorious honor the Sontarans could possibly achieve. However the Daleks see the Sontarans as an inferior species and would not even consider an alliance with them, while the Time Lords believe the Sontarans couldn’t stand up to the Daleks in a fight. In an effort to prove them wrong, the Sontarans kidnap both Cardinal Ollistra and the Dalek Time Strategist. While the Doctor and a crack team of Time Lord commandos make an attempt to rescue the Cardinal with the assistance of a local guide who may or may not betray them, the two mortal enemies have a front row seat as the Sontarans demonstrate their might by wiping out an entire Dalek battle fleet. The Sontarans have a new weapon, something powerful enough to slice through the Dalek’s defenses with ease and something horrifying enough to give the Time Lords pause. And if neither side will ally with the Sontarans, than the Sontarans will simply declare war on them both.

The Eternity Cage does a great job of making the Sontarans great again. Much like the Eighth Doctor story The Sontaran Ordeal from Classic Doctors New Monsters Volume 1, the Sontarans are portrayed as cunning, tough, ruthless, honorable, pragmatic, and dedicated solely and utterly towards their goal of joining the Time War. Cost and sacrifice mean nothing to the Sontarans as long as the ends justify the means, and it shows as writer Andrew Smith (writer of several Big Finish stories involving the Sontarans) reveals the details of the Eternity Cage. Its very concept is enough to give Doctor Who fans a shudder, an absolutely horrible creation that gives the Sontarans their edge.

Dan Starkey once again voices the Sontarans in a Big Finish story. For General Fesk of the Eighth Battle fleet, the moral implications of the Eternity Cage mean nothing to him or the Sontarans. If it allows him to fight in the Time War, then the cost is worth the price. Starkey hits the right notes with a bombastic portrayal of a Sontaran leader, whose voice booms and carries the burden of both command and absolute obedience.

The Sontarans plan hinges around the kidnapping of the military leaders of both races – the Dalek Time Strategist and Cardinal Ollistra of the Gallifreyan High Council. The Dalek Time Strategist is, of course, voiced by Nicholas Briggs (as are all the other Daleks in the box set). Where most Dalek stories involved Daleks ordering other Daleks around in the same three voices, the Dalek Time Strategist has a very unique voice thanks to a good bit of reverb. The deep tonal quality of the Time Strategist’s voice gives him an aura of command that doesn’t resort to the stilted screaming that is a Dalek trademark. The creation of a centrally unified military command another example of how the Daleks are adapting to the Time War much faster than the Time Lords are. There are no schemes, betrayals, or backstabbing within the Dalek forces. The Time Strategist commands and the Daleks obey.

On the other side of the coin, Jacqueline Pierce’s performance allows listeners to observe the cracks beginning to form in Ollistra’s veneer. The last two box sets portrayed Ollistra as someone who was in control, always with a pragmatic plan and schemes within schemes, all to ensure that the Time Lords emerged victorious in the Time War even if it meant all the Daleks were destroyed and only one Time Lord was left standing, preferably her. This aura of confidence persists during Ollistra’s screen time in The Shadow Vortex, but come The Eternity Cage Ollistra finds herself discussing the Time War with the Dalek Time Strategist. It tells her where the Time War began – when the Time Lords “fired first” and tried to stop the creation of the Daleks in the Fourth Doctor serial Genesis of the Daleks. Faced with that information as well as being held hostage throughout both this story and The Eye of Harmony, Cardinal Ollistra finally comes face-to-face with the Time War and the damage its done both to the universe and to the lives of those who inhabit it, and the smooth, calm, scheming surface begins to wither and peel. Pierce does a wonderful job with this slow and well-earned realization that the immoral actions and desperate efforts of the Time Lords to win the Time War have done irreparable harm to the universe…and that it’s all been for nothing, as the Daleks are about to kick in Gallifrey’s back door.

In the aftermath of events on Rovidia, the Dalek Time Strategist is presented with a unique opportunity to strike a lethal blow to the heart of Gallifrey. A devastating power is set to be unleashed, and with agents in place ready to do the bidding of the Dalek Time Strategist, the future of the Time War could turn in an instant.

Trapped inside a critically-damaged Battle-TARDIS, hopelessly adrift in the Time Vortex, the War Doctor and his allies have a final desperate fight on their hands…

Eye of Harmony is all about big ideas boiling down to personal efforts and how one person, for better or for worse, can make all the difference. A traitor has taken Cardinal Ollistra hostage and hurled the Doctor out of a Battle TARDIS in mid-flight. The traitor has a long-standing grudge against not only Ollistra but all Time Lord, and the Daleks have promised her revenge. All she must do is make her way through to the room containing the TARDIS’ link to the Eye of Harmony, an exploding star trapped in a permanent state of decay whose boundless energy makes time travel possible. By the command of the Dalek Time Strategist, the traitor and a Dalek Time Assault Squad will do the unthinkable – use the Battle TARDIS’ link to the Eye of Harmony as a means to invade the heart of Gallifrey! Sowing death and destruction on the Time Lord homeworld is not among the Daleks’ plans however. Rather, their goal is something much bigger. The Daleks will ensure the erasure of the Time Lords from history by doing the unthinkable and allowing the Eye of Harmony to complete is collapse…

In my head, this is the moment where the Daleks begin their march towards victory in Time War. Writer Ken Bentley (director of numerous Big Finish audios) manages to balance the huge threat of the traitor Heleyna working feverishly to open a transmat portal to allow the Daleks access to the Eye of Harmony with the Doctor’s attempts to traverse the Battle TARDIS, as well as the traps she has laid, in order to stop her. Assisting the Doctor is Kalan, a refugee from the Dalek extermination of his planet who does his best to believe in the goodness of humanity even with the chips are down. Josh Bolt (The Be All and End All) does a fine job playing the hopeful but naïve Kalan, who nicknames the Doctor “Graybeard” and tries so desperately to act tough as he threatens Heleyna. Heleyna, aka Dalek Agent Prydon, is played by Honeysuckle Weeks, who aside from having an awesome name is best known for her role in the series Foyle’s War. Her character blames the High Council for the death of her grandfather who was killed during a campaign against the Daleks that Ollistra argued to undertake that eventually turned out to have no military worth or value. The Daleks take advantage of her grief and convince her to assist them in destroying the Eye of Harmony, ensuring Rassilon and Omega never develop the means to travel through time and thus preventing the development of Time Lord society. Without the Time Lords, there would have been no offensive and thus her grandfather would have lived. Of course, it’s a bluff (“HU-MAN WEAK-NESS. YOU CAN NE-VER LET GO OF YOUR PAST,” says the Dalek Time Strategist) and Heleyna breaks down as the Daleks invade Gallifrey. In some ways, the climax of The Eye of Harmony isn’t about the Daleks, but about Kalan trying to convince Heleyna that there’s still a chance for her to do some good even though she’s done something absolutely horrible. Weeks does a solid job, much like bolt, in getting across Heleyna’s grief, breakdown, and eventual redemption.

I mentioned earlier that Agents of Chaos shows listeners just how jaded and burned out the War Doctor has become. Upon finishing this box set and listening to John Hurt once again turn in a great performance at the War Doctor, I believe I’ve determined just what makes this incarnation of the Doctor one that his future incarnations tried to forget and deny ever existed. It’s not that the War Doctor did horrible things. The methods and solutions he utilizes throughout the box set are brutal and extreme, but they’re along the lines of the same types of methods and solutions that other Doctors have used when they had absolutely no other choice. What’s missing from the War Doctor, especially in the performance Hurt gives us this time out, is any sense of…enjoyment. That’s a poor word choice, but there’s very little pure mirth, glee, or excitement in the Doctor’s voice. Even in the worst of situations, there has always been a sense of “well, isn’t this fun” within the Doctor. After everything the Time War has thrown at him, the Doctor has stopped doing the one thing that has always defined him.
He’s stopped caring.

I don’t mean how the Eighth Doctor broke down and gave up. It’s more along the lines of when Eleven tells Amy why he takes on companions – “Because I can’t see it anymore.” All the wonders of the universe and the Doctor has seen them all. It’s his companions who provide the eyes for him now, his moral balance and emotional center. Without a companion, there’s no one to share his adventures with. No one to tell him that he did what he had to do. No one to tell him what’s wrong, or that he’s becoming someone who he isn’t. Without a companion, the Doctor isn’t the Doctor. All the actions he’s taken during the Time War and there’s no one around to help him put it in perspective except for civilians caught up in the crossfire, his fellow Time Lords who beginning to believe the ends justify the means, and the Daleks who just believe in the end. The Doctor has saved the day time and time again, but after seeing so much death and destruction no matter what actions he takes, he’s become numb to the consequences and the damage left behind. He WANTS to care, but he’s incapable of doing so anymore. The end of Eye of Harmony finds Hurt despairing about Heleyna, Kalan, and everything that’s happened, saying that it’s just one more battle in the Time War that will soon be forgotten when the next campaign begins. And he’ll go on and keep doing what he’s doing by reflex, because that’s what the Doctor does even if he can’t feel it anymore. He’s become the one thing he swore he’d never become – a soldier.

The future incarnations don’t disavow the War Doctor because of what he’s done. They disavow him because he was incapable of caring anymore. My friend said it best when I proposed this theory to him…

That would explain why they were actually afraid of him in the Anniversary Special. You can’t predict the actions of someone with nothing to live for.

And that’s why the War Doctor so dangerous.

Cobi’s Synopsis – Three solid stories about the widening of the Time War, including one concerning the Sontarans’ efforts to join the conflict, help Agents of Chaos shows the effect of the Time War on the War Doctor and how he’s finally burning out and risking becoming numb to the destruction around him.

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Doctor Who – “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

The Doctor joins forces with a masked Superhero for an epic New York adventure!

With brain-swapping aliens poised to attack, the Doctor and Nardole link up with an investigative reporter and a mysterious figure known only as The Ghost…

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Return of Doctor Mysterio.

**

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Nardole – Matt Lucas
Grant – Justin Chatwin
Lucy – Charity Wakefield
Mr Brock – Tomiwa Edun
Dr Sim – Aleksandar Jovanovic
Young Grant – Logan Hoffman
Teen Grant – Daniel Lorente
Reporter – Sandra Teles
Operator – Tanroh Ishida
Soldier – Vaughn Johseph

Producer: Peter Bennett
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Original Broadcast: 25 December 2016

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9caU8yjJmk

**

After a year-long hiatus that I personally blame for everything that’s happened in 2016, Doctor Who makes its return to the airwaves with a light-hearted Christmas episode that has very little to do with the holiday season. The Return of Doctor Mysterio is a simple and straight-forward affair, a superhero stories riddled with Silver Age clichés involving aliens with a flimsy plan for world domination crossed with a sappy love story. It’s not the most memorable or top-flight episode. Instead, The Return of Doctor Mysterio serves as a light appetizer that sates the 12-month hunger in anticipation for the upcoming season.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, a young child named Grant has a chance Christmas Eve meeting on a rooftop with a strange alien. The alien, a strange being who Grant christens Doctor Mysterio, possesses a gemstone that utilizes the power of a distant star to grant whoever holds it their fondest wish. Upon accidentally swallowing the gemstone, the crystal bounds with Grant’s DNA, thus providing him with his greatest desire – the power to be a superhero!

In modern day New York, intrepid reporter Lucy Fletcher is digging into the background of Harmony Shoals, a seemingly benevolent multinational research corporation that hides a dark secret. Joined in her investigations by a mysterious man calling himself the Doctor, it appears that their attempts to uncover the truth will lead to their demise at the hands of Harmony Shoals’ true caretakers, an alien race with a diabolical scheme to take over the Earth! Only one person can assist Lucy and the Doctor to bring the aliens’ mad plan to a screeching halt – the super-powered vigilante known only as THE GHOST!


This is Steven Moffat’s seventh Doctor Who Christmas special, as well as the first original episode of the series to air in over a year (I’m not counting the restoration of The Power of the Daleks). It would be very easy for one to think “THIS is the episode it took a year to write? Man, Season 4 of Sherlock better be the television equivalent of Crime and Punishment.” The plot of The Return of Doctor Mysterio is right out of a comic book – boy gains superpowers, boy grows into man, man becomes hero, hero keeps secret identity from the love of his life, hero saves the world – with elements of Doctor Who spliced into provide just a little bit of meta awareness without going overboard. Moffat doesn’t dig too deep into his bag of tricks for this one. There aren’t any time travel motifs that require flowcharts to understand, nor are there any repeated mantras or everyday objects made creepy. The threatening aliens are the “split their own head open aliens” from The Husbands of River Song who call themselves the Shoal of the Winter Harmony. Their plan to take over the world…it’s original, though the more one thinks about it the more unlikely it becomes. Most of the aspects of the Ghost and Lucy Fletcher are lifted directly from Richard Donner’s film version of Superman, down to the rooftop interview and the hero, whose civilian persona is a part of the reporter’s everyday life, hiding his identity behind a pair of glasses. The dialogue is fast and pithy, the stakes are ridiculously high, and the climax all comes down to the Ghost/Grant doing something that would be absolutely eye-rolling in any other situation but absolutely perfect for this episode, even if the actual denouement is a bit too rushed and pat for my tastes.

Straight forward, clichéd, non-offensive…and it’s NOT a bad thing. Moffat isn’t trying to rewrite the comic book movie, he’s paying homage to it. The Return of Doctor Mysterio is light-hearted fun, which is a nice contrast to the ultra-heavy DC Universe movies that have come out in the past years. It also serves to poke fun at some of the comic book clichés, like the geeky guy pining for the girl for years on end also with juggling being a superhero while also being the nanny to an infant (“Some situations are just TOO stupid to be allowed go on!”).

After his turn as Goku in the cinematic disaster that was Dragonball Evolution, Justin Chatwin (who also starred in four season of Shameless) nails both the over-the-top earnest nature of the hero called the Ghost and the mild mannerisms of Grant Gordon, supernanny, bouncing effortlessly between the two with a low-key energy. Although the Nice Guy tropes seep in and make Gordon come off as a little creepy, which thankfully the Doctor calls him out on.


Grant: A couple of years after high school, I ran into her again. She even remembered me.

The Doctor: Oh, that was lucky.

Grant: And I was with my best friend at the time, and she couldn’t take her eyes off him.

The Doctor: Okay.

Grant: Love at first sight.

The Doctor: Right.

Grant: Then marriage, then a baby… and then he ran off with someone else.

The Doctor: Leaving, I suppose, the field open for you to move in…

Grant: Yeah.

The Doctor: …and care for the child she’d had by another man.

Grant: Yeah.

The Doctor: So she could keep working and possibly date other friends of yours.

Grant: Pretty much.

The Doctor: You tiger! Thank you.

Grant: Who are you thanking?

The Doctor: The universe. There’s somebody worse at this than me.

Fortunately the chemistry between Chatwin and Charity Wakefield as Lucy Fletcher helps balance that factor out. Wakefield plays the part of the intrepid reporter to a T – inquisitive, clever, daring, and failing to notice the biggest story in the city is staring her RIGHT in the face from behind a pair of glasses. But more importantly, Lucy introduces what just might be the most promising new character of the upcoming series…

I love the look on Capaldi’s face. It’s like the Doctor’s finally seen something he’s never seen before.

When it was revealed that Matt Lucas would be returning to the show as Nardole, the fans were…a little split. Aside from the fact that Nardole had his HEAD CUT OFF in The Husbands of River Song, to some Lucas is an acquired taste. Fortunately, Nardole turns out to be a strong counterpart to the Doctor as the pair engage in some perfectly-timed-for-Christmas panto back-and-forth dialogue and styling. He also gets a “companion” moment by being grabbed and put in peril by the rubber arm of an alien reaching through a door to grab him as well as getting a heroic moment when he saves the Doctor from Harmony Shoals by materializing the TARDIS around him.

After the final scene with the Doctor and River in The Husbands of River Song, it was great to see Peter Capaldi come out with a smile on his face in full-on Doctor mode. Capaldi just seems to be having a lot of fun with this episode as he engages in the standard Doctor clichés – showing up suddenly and acting like he owns the place, drawing strangers into his orbit by being both charming and infuriating, giving the bad guys one chance to run before he stops them, defending the Earth on Christmas, and calling people out on their stupidity when given the opportunity.


Moffat could have given fans a dour and brooding Doctor, one who spent the past twenty-four years with River Song before she died. Instead, we get a madly dashing Doctor whose best plan to stop a spaceship from crashing into New York City is to do something completely unexpected (“What’s Plan B?” “I don’t know, but it’s going to be a very big relief when I think of it!”). After everything with Clara, Me, and River Song, it really feels like the Doctor has managed to move on to a new chapter…which is weirdly Moffat’s final chapter.

Things end. That’s all. Everything ends. And it’s always sad. But everything begins again too, and that’s always happy. Be happy. I’ll look after everything else.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio is just that – the return of the Doctor to our televisions, with a light-hearted, low-stakes, and just plain fun episode. Nothing heavy, nothing draining, just a madman, his box. In short, everything Doctor Who can and should be, but with the added bonus of a superhero saving New York City.

Random Thoughts
– The scene where the Ghost takes his mask off and Charity keeps missing the fact that it’s really Grant made me chuckle.
– The Doctor is on the roof of Grant’s New York apartment building to fix the time distortions caused by the events The Angels Take Manhattan.
– Lucy Fletcher’s maiden name? Lucy Lombard. Lois Lane anyone?
– I appreciated how Brock suggests the reporters at the press conference throw their questions to “Miss Shuster and Ms. Siegel.” Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are known as the creators of Superman.
– Oh, and the Harmony Shoals building, with the big globe on top? Come on, it’s The Daily Planet!
– Hey look, it’s UNIT! And one of them dies almost immediately!

Cobi’s Synopsis – The Silver Age shines through as The Return of Doctor Mysterio pays homage to comic books with a light-hearted episode bursting with superhero clichés and thrilling heroics.

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Doctor Who – “Doom Coalition 3”

Doom Coalition 3 follows the same path as its predecessor but with much stronger footing. The Doctor, with Liv and Helen by his side, finds himself engaged in a dastardly plan that extends across both time and space, forcing the TARDIS crew to work together while scattered across different historical eras with allies such as a notorious English statesman, the queen of a mechanical alien race, and a gun-wielding nun. Slowly raising the stakes throughout the four stories, the box set gives listeners the added bonus of four distinct and memorable endings, one of which should go down in history as one of Big Finish’s best.

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka)
Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair)
Alex Kingston (River Song)
Jeremy Clyde (George)
Ian Puleston-Davies (Angus Selwyn)
Richard Hope (Phillip Cook/Kal)
Anna Acton (Kate Drury)
John Shrapnel (Thomas Cromwell)
Kasia Koleczek (Apolena)
Glen McCready(Solvers/Abbot)
Emma D’Inverno (Rosalia)
Tim McMullan (Octavian)
Janie Dee(Risolva)
Robert Bathurst (Padrac)
John Heffernan (The Imposter)
Nicholas Woodeson (The Clocksmith)

Written by
Absent Friends – John Dorney
The Eighth Piece – Matt Fitton
The Doomsday Chronomter – Matt Fitton
The Crucible of Souls – John Dorney

Directed by: Ken Bentley
Sound: Benji Clifford
Music: Jamie Robertson

Released: 22 September 2016

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/doom-coalition-3-1223

Earth. The late 20th century. Across the world, the mobile phone is gaining popularity as more and more people decide to join the digital age. But for the residents of a sleepy English town sitting in the shade of a new transmission mast, that ubiquity has a troubling cost.

When the TARDIS veers off-course, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in the middle of a mystery.

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. And sometimes the future does as well.

Absent Friends is easily reminiscent of Beachhead, the opening story for Doom Coalition 2. Both are low-key episodes that slowly and carefully set the stage for the box set’s larger story arc. In the late 1990’s, a small English town has been protesting the presence of a new transmission mast that has been planted right outside the village limits. In an attempt to appease the villagers, the global conglomerate Supervill has given each of them a mobile phone for them to use, free of charge, in order to learn the benefits of the new technology. While the phones allow for a new level of freedom and communication for their users, the villagers soon learn about the perils of unsolicited calls – calls from the past, coming from friends and relatives who have passed on to the next life. Unaware of their impending fate, all they want is to have a conversation with their loved ones. Is this simply the past giving the citizens of the village an opportunity to say goodbye and gain closure? Of course not. The Doctor knows there’s no such thing as ghosts…

But even Liv, hailing from the far future, gets a phone call from her father who died suddenly from an undiscovered disease. What follows is your standard episode of Who that deals with the “supernatural” as the Doctor sets out to prove that (obviously) the telecommunications company that (maliciously) set up the transmission mast has a (dastardly) plan to take over the world. Writer John Dorney turns these potential clichés on their ear however with a CEO “villain” who gleefully chews the scenery and by having the source of the calls from the past/future having very little to do with the obvious, leaving the Doctor…not quite wrong, but not quite right either. The true reason for the mobile calls is where the larger plot for Doom Coalition 3 kicks in.

While the Doctor and Liv are dealing with the phone calls, Helen is on the train to London to see how the city has changed/will change in the decades to come. Upon seeing her old apartment building from the 1960’s, Helen is surprised to see a relative of hers is still living there…and makes the mistake of trying to talking to him to find out what happened to her family during the 30+ years that she was “gone.” What follows is a very well written example of why the Doctor continually stresses that time travelers should never check into their own lives. With Absent Friends, Dorney gives listeners a story that conjures up memories of the Ninth Doctor televised episode Father’s Day as Helen deals with the effect her absence has/would have upon her family, while at the same time Liv tries to come to grips with the opportunity to tell her Dad to seek medical treatment before he’s struck down. Hattie Morahan gets some solid character development for Helen as she slowly realizes the ramifications one person can have on history. It’s a portrayal that carries over throughout the rest of the box set as Helen is very careful to tread lightly when dealing with history. Which is sort of ironic considering who she ends up paired with in the next episode. We also get some more background on Liv as Nicola Walker helps us dive into Liv’s relationship with her father and how difficult it is to be so far away from him, especially now that he’s gone. At the previous Doom Coalition box sets, both Liv and Helen were sometimes pushed to the side for the sake of the plot, and I’m very happy to say that this story sets the pattern that this will NOT be the case this time out!

Absent Friends works as both a stand-alone episode and as the kick-off point for Doom Coalition 3. Having discovered the truth of the mobile calls, the Doctor places it in the safest place known to man (the Lost Property Office of the London Underground) before heading off in the TARDIS to track down its source. However, it’s not before listeners get a great cliffhanger as, of all things, the phone on the TARDIS door rings and the Doctor swears he will not, will not, WILL NOT pick it up…

*click*

“Hello?”

15th Century Prague: in the castle dungeons, a prisoner raves about the end of the world. Outside, Liv Chenka seeks out the workshop of a strange Clockmaker to see what he is creating.

England, 1538: Lord Thomas Cromwell finds his duties interrupted by otherworldly forces – clockwork soldiers, an unusual nun, and a mysterious scholar calling himself ‘the Doctor’. Perhaps the truth can be extracted in the torture chamber of London’s Bloody Tower?

Rome, 2016: Helen Sinclair has an appointment with an enigmatic Professor, whose greatest work is almost complete. Only the Eighth Piece is missing…

The Eighth Piece may be seen as the first episode of a two-part story. Seeking to find out more about the Doomsday Chronometer and how it ties into the past, present, and future of Earth, the Doctor splits up the TARDIS crew among three time periods to seek out more about the mysterious clock. While the Doctor heads to Tudor England and crosses paths with the infamous Thomas Cromwell, Liv finds herself in 15th century Prague seeking out the laboratory of a mysterious clockmaker. Helen pulls the “easy” task of landing in contemporary Italy where a professor has painstakingly assembled all the pieces of a fantastical timepiece. All he’s missing is one final component. But there’s someone else interested in that component – a nun with a gun, a vortex manipulator, and a little bit of familiarity with Helen, Liv, and the Doctor…

Matt Fitton weaves three timelines together almost effortlessly with nary a hint of confusion. What one character does affects the adventures the other characters are having, and vice versa (and versa vice?). The Clocksmith, a renegade Time Lord, is intent on putting together the titular Doomsday Chronometer with the aid of the Solvers, a race of clockwork aliens who acts as the Clocksmith’s muscle. Liv and Helen both have run-ins with the Clocksmith in their respective time periods, but it’s a mysterious prisoner in 21st century Rome named Octavian that shows there’s much more to the Chronometer than it appears.

Paul McGann has been on top of his game throughout Doom Coalition with energy and passion. The Eighth Doctor is far from subtle and prefers improvisation to scheming and planning and it shows as he bluntly explains to Cromwell what he’s after and how important it is. I could listen to McGann and Cromwell, played by John Shrapnel, go back and forth all day, King and Country vs. the Whole of Time and Space, with neither side wanting to give in. Nicholas Woodeson also deserves a shout-out as the Clocksmith, who doesn’t see himself as a villain so much as an artist, charming and dedicated to his craft. The Doomsday Chronometer is nothing more than his ultimate masterpiece. Anyone who gets in his way…well, they will make wonderful raw materials for his sculptures.

By the time The Eighth Piece is discovered, Liv is at the mercy of the clockmaker, Helen is trying to wrap her mind around the appearance of a gun-wielding Sister, and the Doctor has been told by the Clocksmith that escaping from the Tower of London is impossible. Because according to history, this evening is the date a man called the Doctor is executed…

While River Song takes Helen on an archaeological expedition like no other, the Doctor finds himself enlisted by an alien Queen to save her people.

Trapped and alone, Liv stares death in the face as she meets the enemy who’s been dogging the TARDIS travellers’ footsteps throughout Earth’s history.

The Doomsday Chronometer has been protected for five centuries: secret cults and societies jealously guarding its mystery. But what is their real purpose? The Doctor is about to discover the truth…

The Doomsday Chronometer concludes the story of the Clocksmith by pulling on all the threads and bringing all the players together. Liv stands before the Clocksmith, ready to be encased in molten metal as one of his creations, as Helen is pulled through history by one Melody Malone to claim as many pieces of the timepiece as possible before a fanatical cult dedicated to the end of time can. The Doctor and Sister Resolver, the queen of the clockwork Solvers, attempt to free her people from the grips of the renegade Time Lord. All of them, along with the prisoner Octavian, are moving towards the same goal – to stop the Clocksmith and prevent the Doomsday Chronometer from being assembled.

One of the things I’ve always like about Big Finish is they do their best to keep the complex understandable instead of dumbing it down. They trust their listeners to follow along and work their way through the plot along with the characters. Desperate to complete his masterpiece, the Clocksmith travels back and forth along his own timeline, in many ways dooming himself to failure even before he begins (in a subtle call back to Helen’s consequences in Absent Friends)]. I admit, I was surprised and a little bummed at the way the Clocksmith meets his fate. It’s satisfying, but it felt like he was being built up as a secondary Big Bad along the lines of Caleera from The Sonomancer. To go out how he did was disappointing, if appropriate on a karmic level.

I’m wary to type up much more about The Doomsday Chronometer because of its cliffhanger ending. It turns out the Doomsday Chronometer isn’t an ultimate weapon at all. Rather, it’s THE timepiece that will count down to the destruction of the universe. The end of time itself seems to be moving forward at an incredibly rapid rate to approach the modern day. The Doctor, with Melody Malone at his side, races off in the Clocksmith’s advanced TARDIS in an attempt to reach the end of time before it reaches them, leaving Helen, Liv, and his own TARDIS behind…

The date has been set.

The trap has been sprung.

A life has been taken and a maniac is on the loose.

With the TARDIS crew separated and in terrible trouble, will today be the day the bad guys win?

Spoilers…

The Crucible of Souls is the climax of Doom Coalition 3 and it’s a HELL of a story to go out on. John Dorney pens the final chapter as the Doctor and Melody Malone (aka River Song) discover that temporal refugees fleeing from the end of time are being hunted down one-by-one while Helen and Liv finds themselves on Gallifrey, landing in the deepest parts of the Archives. A collection of forbidden weapons and lore, the Archives are overseen by one of the Doctor’s oldest friends who is very keen to figure out just how the two humans gained access…or rather, WHO helped them gain accesses…

Again, I treading carefully because the last thing I want to do is spoil anything because the cliffhanger of The Doomsday Chronometer rolls wonderfully right into the events of The Crucible of Souls. With this story, a whole bunch of questions are answered, primarily “What the hell IS the Doom Coalition?” Along with “What is their grand plan?” And “Where does the insane Time Lord the Eleven fit into all of this, especially since Mark Bonnar isn’t in this box set?” It all comes together from three different angles into a finale with some horrifying concepts (imagine a weapon that can force a Time Lord to burn through all their regenerations in a few seconds before killing them permanently) and a cliffhanger that truly places the Doctor and his companions in an impossible situation, one that had even this long time fan wondering “how are they going to get out of THIS one?!?” It also added a new insult to my vocabulary. ”You have the face of a constipated Sontaran.”

The promotional materials for Doom Coalition 2 prominently featured River Song even though she only appeared in the finale of that box set. In Doom Coalition 3 River is a vital part of three stories, and continues the trend of Big Finish taking a beloved television character (the Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble, Strax) and translating them perfectly to audio. With a box set of her own under the belt, Alex Kingston plays the archaeologist just as she did on television – sly, cocky, quick thinking, and just a little big smug. If you didn’t care for River on television (and I’ve admitted in the past that I wasn’t a big fan of the character) Kingston’s performance has a chance to win you over, especially since Dorney firmly puts River at the Doctor’s side. There’s no “they’re only talking over the intercom” or “River just slips behind the Doctor’s back when he enters the room.” Sister Melody Malone, complete with psychic wimple to make her look a bit like Rita Heyworth, is alongside the Doctor. There are the little hints that listeners will either find infuriating or charming such as Melody/River knowing how to fly the TARDIS and the one time drop of “spoilers.” Beyond that, putting River and the Doctor in the same room really drives home just how good the chemistry is between Kingston and McGann as they play off each other with ease. Walker and Morahan also have their moments, as their plot lines seen “normal” humans caught up in Time Lord shenanigans where both Liv and Helen manage to hold their own.

Doom Coalition 3 wraps up with one hell of a cliffhanger, the perfect ending to a collection four superb stories. Even without Mark Bonnar’s Eleven as the central villain, the box set showcases the TARDIS crew and River Song with some strong character moments and memorable secondary characters. With the fourth and final box set being released in early 2017, Doom Coalition 3 is a strong lead-in for what’s sure to be a slam-bang finale to Eight’s fight against the Eleven.

Cobi’s Synopsis – Four top-end stories, each with their own unique endings including one that just might be an instant classic, make Doom Coalition 3 a strong showing for all involved as the titular alliance stands revealed and their diabolic plan is laid bare for all to see.

Posted in Big Finish Review, Classic Doctor Who, River Song | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torchwood – “Made You Look”

“It stalks you. It whispers. It wants you to turn around. It wants you to look. But if you do… If you see it…”

Talmouth is a lonely seaside town. No-one has heard from it for days. No-one who goes in comes out. Something has happened to Talmouth. Has it been taken over by aliens? Or is it something far, far worse?

Gwen Cooper’s come to Talmouth to find out. What’s happened has to be seen to be believed. But by the time you’ve seen it, you’re already dead.

Eve Myles is Gwen Cooper in Torchwood: Made You Look

X X X X X

Cast
Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper)
Matthew Gravelle (Darkness)
Marilyn Le Conte (Mrs Rhodes)
Ross Ford (James)

Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Produced by: James Goss
Script edited by: Steve Tribe
Released: 2 August 2016

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/made-you-look-1394

X X X X X

Torchwood: Made You Look closes out the second season of Big Finish’s Torchwood range with an atmospheric story set in an empty village. When Made You Look hits, it hits with a creepy apprehension filled opening act. When it misses, it stumbles, spending too much time wandering about towards an inconclusive ending without ratcheting up the tension in any significant manner.

English seaside resort towns usually look abandoned during the off-season. But to Gwen Cooper, there’s more to the empty streets and shops of Talmouth that meets the eye. Three days ago, the citizens of Talmouth began to disappear into thin air. When Gwen arrives on the morning train, the only inhabitants left are Ms. Rhodes, the blind owner of a local inn; James, a homeless bloke; and a charming sounding individual who makes fleeting appearances in the corner of one’s eye. A brief flicker the first time. A sudden appearance that makes one turn their head the second time. The third time’s the charm however, as the eyes are ripped from the victim’s sockets and their bodies dissolved, the last thing they see the true form of Darkness…

Made You Look is Guy Adams’ third contribution to the Torchwood range, following up on the season one closer More Than This and season two standout Moving Target. More Than This did a great job showing how a normal civilian would react once caught up on the chaos that is a day in the life of a Torchwood Three operative while Moving Target run on maximum tension and the barest of breathers as the characters ran for their lives. Made You Look attempts to combine the elements of those stories as the investigation of the abandoned town turns into an desperate attempt to escape to the nearby train station while harried by a villain who can’t be seen. Instead of weaving the two elements together however, Adams’ script instead puts them back-to-back. The first half of Made You Look is a gripping affair as Gwen arrives at the town of Talmouth. Aside from the lack of people, everything is perfectly normal. The lights are on, the shops are open, and dinners are sitting on kitchen sideboards getting cold. The only clue that something is wrong are the ravings of a homeless beach bum (James, played by Ross Ford who voice the alien Saviour in Broken) about a man that will kill him should he lay eyes upon him. This man is a…alien? Force of nature? It’s never quite described…who calls himself Darkness to give its low intelligence prey something to identify it by. Darkness is played by Matthew Gravelle who featured in several of the non-Big Finish Torchwood audios. Gravelle attempts to go for the charming villain type, one whose condescension of humanity is hidden underneath feigned niceties. His constant taunts of Eve attempt to quantify him and identify him, to “place him in a box,” have a nice ring to them, and his pure glee at devouring James’ body once the beach bum sees him for the third and final time makes the horrifying slurping and cracking noises that much worse. Gravelle’s performance however walks the fine line between “charmingly evil” and “ridiculously pantomime.” There’s a sense of menace at first that eventually becomes too gleeful and too “hiding behind a smile.” And there’s never truly a sense of what Darkness really is given by Adams’ script. Is he an alien? Some creature from the see? A powerful psychic energy? Darkness can move incredibly fast, kill people by his very appearance, control automobiles to drive Gwen and Ms. Rhodes off of the promenade, mess with people’s perception of space and distance to make a fifteen minute walk to the train station take over half a day, cause seagulls animals to attack the pair, and imitate Gwen’s loved ones in an attempt to convince her to open her eyes and sacrifice herself lest they lay their eyes on him…this is one powerful villain, an antagonist who could give even the Doctor a moment’s pause. But after his initial introduction and part in James’ demise, Darkness isn’t a threat aside from throwing cars at Eve and Ms. Rhodes to force them onto the
beach. He’s more of an annoyance than anything else.

The bulk of Made You Look’s second half is spent with Eve and Ms. Rhodes (Marilyn Le Conte) travelling up the beach, attempting to reach Talmouth’s train station in an attempt to get Rhodes to safety. A longtime local inn owner, Rhodes’ survival against the Darkness has come from the fact that she’s blind. Beyond that piece of information however, Ms. Rhodes is nothing more than a lodestone around Gwen’s neck for the back half of the story, giving Gwen something to do, someone to save from Darkness as opposed to actually solving the mystery. It’s a good ten-to-fifteen minutes of the pair walking up the beach, complaining about the fog, complaining about the distance, stating that it can’t be THAT far, Rhodes complaining about her hip, Gwen encouraging her to come along and it isn’t far now, Rhodes wondering just how effective Gwen is at stopping alien threats (meta-comment for Torchwood as a whole?), Darkness taunting them, and repeat. Ok, maybe it’s not exactly that cut-and-dried, but it is definitely during the beach walk that Made You Look grinds to halt and doesn’t really recover. Darkness tries to screw with Gwen by making her believe her husband Rhys is going to come looking for her and in order to save him, she has to open her eyes to look upon Darkness and sacrifice herself, only for Rhodes to scream Rhys isn’t real because as a blind person she knows the difference between a voice and a voice with the body. In the end, he’s defeated because Gwen and Ms. Rhodes refuse to look at him and “give him anything else to eat,” leaving him howling on the promenade like a toddler throwing a tantrum…but Gwen mentions that they’ll lock Darkness in a box to get rid of him. If you can’t see him or look at him, HOW are you going to lock him up?

On one hand, Eve Myles is fine as Gwen – the curious agent poking her nose into a mystery and determined to stop the bad guy at all costs and doing whatever she can to save whomever she can. On the other hand…she’s fine as Gwen. There’s nothing that stands out to her performance with Made You Look. It’s a solo Gwen story…and that’s a bummer as the Big Finish range had yet to give us THE Gwen story. Jack Harkness has Uncanny Valley. Ianto Jones has Fall to Earth. Hell, Suzie Costello who only appeared in a handful of televised episodes had Moving Target. While Forgotten Lives, More Than This, and now Made You Look are fine stories, none of them hit the level of “classic” or “standout” that the other Torchwood characters have gotten.

This story has no mention of the Committee (which I’m going to guess will play a huge part in the upcoming Torchwood: Outbreak), decent performances, solid sound work (it’s Big Finish and Blair Mowat/Steve Foxon, so you know the sounds of waves lapping on the shore, screaming seagulls, and even footsteps on the rocky sand are going to be top notch), and a few tense moments. If this had been a television story, the keyword would have been “filler.” Made You Look isn’t a bad story. Made You Look isn’t a good story. Made You Look is _A_ story, and its flaws are only magnified when compared to the other stories in the Torchwood range.

Random Thoughts
– There’s definitely a Silent Hill vibe in the first half of the story minus the faceless nurses and packs of screaming babies
– After recording More Than This in 2015, Eve Myles sent out a tweet stating “Thank You. Massive Goodbye. GC.” I’m imagining Big Finish saying “hey that’s cool Eve, thanks for coming in for these two stories, don’t mind us we’re just going to sit here working on this four-part story with John and Gareth…if you see any of the script pages lying around, please return them to us. Take your time holding on to them, of course…”
– I realized about halfway through writing this review that I had been typing “Eva Marie” instead of “Eve Myles…”

Cobi’s SynopsisMade You Look’s first half holds up thanks to a tense atmosphere, but the second half falters under closer observation due to a meandering plot thread and a weak conclusion.

Next up – With the city sealed off and murderous mobs raging through the streets, Torchwood has to save something even more important than the human race…

John Barrowman is Jack Harkness, Eve Myles is Gwen Cooper, Gareth David-Lloyd is Ianto Jones, Kai Owen is Rhys Williams, and Tom Price is Andy Davidson in…Torchwood: Outbreak

Posted in Big Finish Review, Torchwood | Tagged | Leave a comment

Doctor Who – “Classic Doctors, New Monsters Vol 1”

Classic Doctors, New Monsters – Volume 1 is another jewel in Big Finish’s crown. Take four “classic” Doctors, add three “revival” monsters and one “rebooted” alien enemy, throw in a dash of quality supporting parts and solid scripts, and let bake for four hours. The end result is a series of stories where the strengths easily outshine the weaknesses to give fans of both the classic series and the revival series a box set well worth listening to.

X X X X X

2015: When sightseers Joel and Gabby Finch encounter a strange man in Edwardian cricketing garb in the Sistine Chapel, their honeymoon suddenly takes a terrifying turn.

1511: Michelangelo is commissioned to create some very special sculptures by a mysterious sect. But as he carves, angels seem to emerge fully-formed from the rock. Almost as if they are alive…

From Michelangelo’s workshop to the catacombs of Rome, the Fifth Doctor must keep his wits about him and his eyes wide open as he confronts the Weeping Angels…

Peter Davison is the Doctor in Fallen Angels.

X X X X X

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Sacha Dhawan (Joel Finch)
Diane Morgan (Gabby Finch)
Matthew Kelly (Michelangelo)
Joe Jameson (Piero)
Dan Starkey (Priest)
Barnaby Edwards (Jacopo)

Written by: Phil Mulryne
Directed by: Barnaby Edwards

X X X X X

As perhaps the best known and most popular villains introduced in the revival series of Doctor Who, it’s no surprise that the Weeping Angels were chosen as the opening act for this box set. While I appreciate the attempt to draw in new listens by placing the Angels front and center, part of me wondered just how Big Finish was going to pull off portraying motionless, lifeless, and most of all silent statues without resorting to the audio cliché of one of the victims saying something akin to “the statue is coming closer! Closer! Closer! Aaaaargh!”

Credit should go to Phil Mulryne (who penned The Oncoming Storm and A Thing of Guile for Big Finish) and the sound crew for coming up with a way to “show” the Weeping Angels on audio – a sharp sound effect that represents their instant movement and sudden stops. Think of the “surprise” noise from Metal Gear Solid and you’re not too far off. The use of this specific sound effect not only alerts the listener to the attack of the Angels but gives their imagination an instant to fill in the visuals. The characters still describe the movements of the Angels, but they’re regulated more towards moments such as “they’re blocking all the exits” or “where did the second Angel come from” and “they’re coming up the scaffolding behind you,” exclamations that go hand-in-hand with the sharp sound effect.

Eons ago, a group of three Weeping Angels were trapped on Earth and found themselves buried in the ground – ground that eventually hardened around them to become a block of high-quality marble. In the early sixteenth century, a group of workers mining the quarry come close to carving out one of the Weeping Angels, who manages to free itself just as a priest from Rome is visiting the quarry. The Angel puts the priest under its control and convinces him to form a new holy order – the Order of the Three Angels. By using local sculptors to carve the Angels free from their eternal prison, these priests serve the Angels, placing them throughout the Vatican and feeding them the young and those with great potential in return for an eternal reward. The disappearance of the talented is what draws the Fifth Doctor to 1511 Rome, as during a visit to the Sistine Chapel in 2016 he’s shocked to learn that the grand ceiling fresco was never finished as Michelangelo disappeared in before completing it…

Fallen Angels is best described as a “historical story with some timey-wimey effects,” right down to a play on the “time isn’t a linear progression” quote from Blink. The Fifth Doctor was the best Doctor for a story such as this. That incarnation always struck me as the one who always appreciated history as an art form, enjoying the small and beautiful things that make life worth living. Peter Davison is having a lot of fun with this story, showing off his Who fanboy side with a gleeful, dashing performance as the Doctor runs about the catacombs of Vatican City, trying to discover who is behind the presence of the Weeping Angels in Rome and doing whatever he can to put history back on its proper course by saving Michelangelo and his rich future from being the Angels’ next three-course dinner. Matthew Kelly plays the talented and temperamental artist, someone who’s incredibly gifted and absolutely knows it. He doesn’t suffer any criticism of his art – it will be done when it’s done and not a moment too soon! Kelly, much like Davison, is having a lot of fun with his part, channeling Brian Blessed a wee bit in an over-the-top manner that not only showcases the brilliance of the artist, but his fear as the thought that his entire future could be wiped out with but a touch…and think of the generations robbed of his brilliance! Dan Starkey plays the priest as a standard Who villain who thinks only of himself and the thought of a potential reward from his masters, walking around with a smug grin and no idea of what’s truly in store for him.

The “companions” of Fallen Angels are a newly married couple sent from 2016 back to 1511 by the Weeping Angels – history buff Joel Finch (Sacha Dhawan, who played Warris Hussein in An Adventure in Space and Time) and his wife, physics teacher Gabby Finch (Diane Morgan). The pair are there to ask the Doctor the right questions, pitch in with a bit of comic relief (an argument between Joel and the Doctor about which of them invented the sandwich), and provide one of the underlying plotlines for the story’s runtime – can the Doctor get them back to their own time once the course of history has been set back on the proper rails? As I said, there are a few “timey wimey” aspects to this story involving time loops and who met who at what time in history that ensure the couple will never return to 2016. On one hand, the Doctor’s explanation as to WHY he can’t just take the couple home is one that I dearly wish had been used in The Angels Take Manhattan to explain why the Eleventh Doctor couldn’t have just bopped over to New Jersey, gone across the Hudson River, and bring Rory back to the TARDIS. On the other hand…the ease at which the married couple accepts their fate AND the jovial manner at which the Doctor says “that’s the spirit” is a bit off putting. It’s too close to the “everyone’s been through a horrible trauma but they’re all laughing when it’s over” ending that dragged down Embrace the Darkness.

Still, Fallen Angels manages to pull off the difficult task of putting the Weeping Angels on audio in a respectable, believable manner and is a solid choice to kick off the first volume of Classic Doctors, New Monsters.

X X X X X

The Sixth Doctor is no stranger to courtroom drama, but faces a very different challenge when he prepares to defend a most unusual Judoon.

After an environmental clearance mission goes wrong, Captain Kybo of the Nineteenth Judoon Interplantary Force is stranded in Victorian England, bound in chains, an exhibit in a circus show. But he has allies: Eliza Jenkins – known to audiences as ‘Thomasina Thumb’ – and the larger-than-life ‘clown’ in the colourful coat.

Uncovering a trail of injustice and corruption, the Doctor and Kybo soon find themselves on trial for their lives…

Colin Baker is the Sixth Doctor in Judoon in Chains.

X X X X X

Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Nicholas Briggs (Captain Kybo/Commander)
Kiruna Stamell (Eliza Jenkins)
Trevor Cooper (Jonathan Jaggers Esq/Mr Preddle)
Tony Millan (Justice Burrows/Jonty)
Sabina Franklyn (President Beel/Aetius/Herculania)
Nicholas Pegg (Meretricious Gedge/Billy)
Barnaby Edwards (Judoon Computer)

Written by: Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
Directed by: Barnaby Edwards

X X X X X

Part The Elephant Man, part Flowers for Algernon, and part …and Justice For All, Judoon in Chains features the rhinoceros-headed Judoon, first introduced in Smith and Jones as a mercenary police force (“intergalactic thugs,” to quote the Tenth Doctor) that enforces intergalactic law as handed down by the Shadow Proclamation. Brilliant in a fight but lacking in intelligence (they follow the letter of the law in all matters, be it universal laws regarding genocide or village codes regarding jaywalking), the Judoon will often hire themselves out as rent-a-cops or security guards for other alien races and private organizations. On one such job, Captain Kybo of the 19th Judoon Interplanetary Force steals a Judoon scout ship and does the unthinkable by going AWOL. Crashing in Victorian-era England, Kybo finds himself standing accused in an English courtroom. The prosecution? Kybo’s commander. For the defense? The Sixth Doctor, who is no stranger to being on trial…

Judoon in Chains is penned by the writing team of Simon Barnard and Paul Morris, best known for several stories for the Jago & Litefoot range as well as the Last Sixth Doctor Adventure story The End of the Line. If I had to choose one story in this box set as being the “best,” it would easily be Judoon in Chains, hands down. Barnard and Morris take a different path with Judoon in Chains than I expected. Instead of the Doctor having to stop the Judoon from blasting a planet to rubble for some minor violation of the law, the story instead focuses on the evolution of Kybo (voiced by Nicholas Briggs, who also voices the Commander of the Judoon who is putting Kybo on trail) as his militaristic mind is slowly opened to the ideas of poetry, literature, and art thanks to an alien influence. The story cuts back and forth between two separate times and settings, moving from the Doctor defending Kybo against the Commander’s accusations to an English sideshow where the Judoon and the Doctor are both imprisoned and trotted out as attractions (imagine the Sixth Doctor’s indignation at being considered a clown while also being “forced” to perform as one while he bides his time to make his and Kybo’s escape…for once, the Sixth Doctor CHOOSES to endure such embarrassment and indignation!) as the Doctor and the circus’ strongwoman Eliza Jenkins (played by Kiruna Stamell of All the Small Things and Cast Offs) slowly bring Kybo out of his shell by introducing him to books such as Moby Dick and the poetry of Robert Burns. Kybo’s artistic development and how the Commander attempts to understand is never gets boring or dull as Barnard and Morris keep the audience invested. Briggs does a great job as the maturing Kybo, while Colin Baker absolutely nails a Doctor who not only nurtures the opening of a closed mind, but rails against the very idea of executing a sentient being solely for exploring its potential. It turns out that there’s more to the story than meets the eye, of course, and that the Earth trial is just the Doctor’s way of setting up the Judoon to deal with the true villains of the story as Barnard and Morris spin a moral about extinction and development of unspoiled natural areas. THIS is where the Judoon’s dedication to the law comes in, and the climax of the story is very satisfying with both the villain’s just desserts and Kybo’s final fate.

Judoon in Chains also features what I consider to be one of the funniest moments in the history of Big Finish. The Judoon had invaded the circus looking for Kybo, only for the Doctor to convince them that they’re not following the rules! To hear the Judoon brute squad buy tickets, come through the entrance, work their way through the queues, and enter a hall of mirrors looking for their AWOL comrade is amusing enough. To hear the same squad come stampeding out of the hall of mirrors, bellowing to head straight for the exit to lawfully leave the premises, might just make the listener laugh out of loud. I know I did. All three times I rewound the scene to listen to it again.

X X X X X

In the far future, humanity has a remedy for everything. Whatever the problem, Pharma Corps has the answer and a designer disease tailored to every human’s blood-type. Zanzibar Hashtag has no need to be sad, scared, stressed, or depressed ever again.

That is, until vicious aliens arrive on her space station intent on opening its Vault. What will it mean for the human race if the Sycorax take control of what’s inside?

And when the Seventh Doctor arrives on the scene, can he convince Zanzibar to care about her life long enough to help him?

Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in Harvest of the Sycorax.

X X X X X

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor
Nisha Nayar (Zanzibar)
Jonathan Firth(Cadwallader)
Rebecca Callard (Shadrak)
Giles Watling (The Sycorax Chief)
Alex Deacon (Eshak)

Written by: James Goss
Directed by: Barnaby Edwards

X X X X X

The Christmas Invasion saw the introduction of the Sycorax, a slave-holding race that couches its advanced technology in terms of “withcraft” and “curses” Their particular hat is the ability to manipulate the blood of another species once they’ve obtained a sample, such as putting Earth’s population of A+ blood types to sleep and threatening to kill them all unless half of the human population was handed over to them for servitude. The plot of Harvest of the Sycorax falls along the same lines. The Sycrorax have invaded a facility owned by the medical company known as Pharma Corps. Inside this facility is a vault that contains a sample of blood from every human being in the galaxy. Originally intended to ensure the smooth undertaking of medical procedures, the vault and its contents are now a sword hanging over the heads of all of humanity as the Sycorax plan nothing more than the total enslavement of the entire race…

Giles Watling (brother to Deborah Watling, aka Victoria Waterfield, companion to the Second Doctor) plays the leader of the Sycrorax with the right amount of arrogance for his species’ superiority and disdain for any and all things human. While James Goss’ script gives listeners a deeper insight into the society of the Sycrorax by taking the characters inside one of their spaceships, visiting their living quarters and one of their “churches” along the way, the Sycroax are not the main focus of the story. Instead, Goss (who has penned some of my recent favorites, specifically Fall to Earth and Ghost Mission from the Torchwood range and Death and the Queen from the Tenth Doctor Adventures) focuses on a future society where humans wear a computer on their wrist that monitors their emotional level and administers the appropriate medication to maintain a neutral and balanced state. Stressed out? Anti-stressor. Fear? Relaxer. Depression? Upper. The Seventh Doctor calls this “one of humanity’s most self-absorbed periods” as humanity not only dulls their emotional and biological responses, but choose their mates based upon social compatibility and not out of mutual attraction and interests. This cold calculation even extends to the marketplace. What’s the harm in handing over billions of human lives in return for TRILLIONS of credits?

Considering how smart technology and the applications that go along with it have become intertwined with our daily lives…Fitbits, Pokemon GO, Apple Watches…Harvest of the Sycorax is the right story at the right time. But it’s not a lecturing morality tale that Goss lays out before us. Instead, the message is in the story, as two characters who would never match up through an app talk about giving dating a whirl, humans drugged not to feel fear or anxiety are easily murdered by the Sycorax instead of fleeing when given a chance, a corporate suit gives a emotionless yet heartfelt logic behind selling out humanity, and even a Time Lord falls under the sway of blood control. Sylvester McCoy is the perfect Doctor for Harvest of the Sycorax, if only because in his prime this story would have been a great chance for him to show off his physical chops. His stance on being controlled by the Sycorax isn’t fear and panic so much as being annoyed (“stop doing that,” McCoy shouts at his leg) and slightly bemused, as well as having to fight a duel to the death armed with only his umbrella. For the non-humorous parts, it’s top-notch Seventh Doctor, somehow above it all even as he threatens the Sycorax, while being willing to call out the corporate suit for the evil that he’s done and encouraging the story’s one-shot companion to explore her new emotions.

For a good bit of the audio’s runtime, McCoy takes a back seat to allow the team of Cadwallder and Zanzibar to carry the plot. The suit, Cadwallder, is played by Jonathan Firth, brother of Oscar award-winning actor Colin Firth, and the drug-induced state of un-emotion is perfectly conveyed in his performance. Emotions, mentally or biological, only get in the way of profit and business, and in order to ensure the continued productivity of Pharma Corps encourages others to simply take their meds and go about their day. On the other side, Nasha Niyar (Elaine “The Pain” Boyak from The Story of Tracy Beaker as well as the female programmer from Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways) plays Zanzibar as someone slowly waking up from her emotional hibernation, a kindred spirit to Captain Kybo from Judoon in Chains. It takes place over time, with Niyar reacting and not OVERREACTING in her performance as she takes in fear at the Sycorax, wonder at experiencing alien architecture, horrific beauty at ceiling a holy statue of the Sycorax made out of the skulls of their enemies, and apprehension at the Doctor’s plan to defeat the Sycorax once and for all (which is classic Seventh Doctor scheming).

I personally enjoyed the very end to Harvest of the Sycorax as Seven simply leaves Zanzibar in the facility to contact the authorities and take care of the mess. No muss, no fuss, just “close your eyes” and the sound of a departing TARDIS. This is a weary Seventh Doctor, with the events of the television movie fast approaching. He simply topples empires and moves on to the next injustice.

X X X X X

An instant of the Time War brings centuries of conflict to the planet Drakkis, and the Eighth Doctor is there to witness the terrible results.

A Sontaran fleet, desperate to join the epic conflict, follows in its wake to take advantage of the fallout. But when Commander Jask is beamed down to the ravaged surface, there is more to his arrival than first appears.

Soon, an unlikely champion joins forces with the Time Lord to fight for the future of her world, and together they must face the Sontaran Ordeal…

Paul McGann is the Doctor in The Sontaran Ordeal.

X X X X X

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
Josette Simon (Sarana Teel)
Dan Starkey (Jask)
Christopher Ryan (General Stenk/Flitch)
Sean Connolly (Tag Menkin/Ensign Stipe)

Written by: Andrew Smith

X X X X X

To some people, labeling the Sontarans as a “new” monster is a bit off-putting, as the Sontarans have been around since the Third Doctor’s run in the early 1970’s! On one hand, the Sontarans as portrayed in The Sontaran Ordeal as the modern day Sontarans who are desperate to somehow break the temporal lock surrounding the Time War so they could somehow take part in the greatest conflict that the universe has known/will know/once knew. On the other hand, the Sontarans in the new series are more identified with Strax, the assistant to Madame Vastra who once served as a nurse for the Sontaran armies and is seen more as a bumbling bit of comic relief as opposed to the a member of a race that no less than the Doctor calls “the finest soldiers in the galaxy.”

I’m willing to put that aside, especially since the Sontarans are my favorite Doctor Who villains and The Sontaran Ordeal treats them with respect. Andrew Smith (known for writing the episode Full Circle) wrote a script called The First Sontarans with the intent of the story being produced for what would have been the Sixth Doctor’s second season (“Season 23”). Of course, the series was put on hiatus at the time and came back a year-and-a-half later with the Trial of a Timelord story arc. Smith’s script was eventually picked up by Big Finish for their Lost Stories range, a range that takes some of the unproduced/unpublished Who scripts from 1963 to 1989 and turns them into fully-fleshed out audios. The First Sontarans is hands down the finest of these Lost Stories, providing an “official” origin for the Sontarans much in the way as Spare Parts provided an “official” origin story for the Cybermen.

The Sontaran Ordeal would have felt right at home as a “classic” Doctor story if it wasn’t for the influence of the Time War. Despite the pleas of the Eighth Doctor, the Time Lords and Daleks rage a battle in the skies over the planet Drakkis. In their eyes, the engagement is over in a matter of minutes. However the temporal energies released during the battle doom the planet’s inhabitants to millennia of constant warfare and strife. In the wake of this conflict, a Sontaran battle fleet arrives, seeking glory for its leader General Stenk by conquering the planet, claiming a piece of the Time War in the process. The Doctor won’t allow the ravages of the Time War to spread any further, but there’s a complication – the Sontaran exile Jask, banished from the fleet for failing to capture one of Drakkis’ city. Is Jask seeking to redeem himself by conquering Drakkis on his own? Is he seeking atonement by defending a delegate seeking to bring peace between two warring city-states? Or is he seeking his own personal glory by delivering to General Stenk the one thing that would ensure the Sontarans personal entry into the Time War – the Doctor’s TARDIS…

The Sontaran Ordeal puts the Sontarans front and center. Words such as “honor” and “glory” are batted around with no hint of sarcasm or humor. These are Sontarans who take conflict seriously, be it one-on-one combat or the engagement of an entire battle fleet. The battle lines here are drawn between General Stenk (Christopher Ryan, who portrayed General Staal in The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky as well as starring in a little known sitcom called The Young Ones as Mike Thecoolperson) who sees conquest as a path to personal glory no matter what the risk to the soldiers and officers serving underneath him. On the other side of the conflict is Jask, played by Dan Starkey, aka Strax from the Doctor Who television series. He’s still a Sontaran, and the script plays up that just because he’s on the side of the angels doesn’t mean he’s necessarily one of the “good guys.” He’s still a Sontaran, born and bred for war, and has no problem threatening the Doctor and Sarana to get his way. But where Stenk believes in warfare for his own personal edification, Jask is a believer in warfare for a purpose. Stenk would send ten thousand Sontarans to die solely because it would look good on a battle report. Jask would send ten thousand Sontarans to die only if the end result benefited the glorious Sontaran Empire. It’s the use of an assassin that convinces Jask to ally with the Doctor, as the very act is “cowardly” and shows that Stenk is only concerned about himself, not the soldiers underneath him. The Sontaran Ordeal is very much not a pro-war story by any means. What it does however is redefine (or define what it means for the first time again) what it means to be a Sontaran – honor, duty, and sacrifice for the greater of the Empire…no matter the enemies standing in their way.

On the other other side stands the Eighth Doctor and Sarana Teel, portrayed by Josette Simon who is known to science fiction fans as Dayna Mellanby from Blake’s 7. Sarana is a delegate between two city-states who is trying to convey a peace treaty, one that would end centuries of conflict. She’s not making the trip across Drakkis’ blasted landscape for glory or honor, but for the sake of her two children growing up in a world without war. Sarana is strong and determined, but also inexperienced with battle as Jask gets the drop on her as well as panicking when confronted with her likely demise. Simon plays her as someone more worried about her children more than any concept of legacy, and goes along with the Doctor on the off-chance that he could somehow reverse the effects of the Time War upon her planet and make it into a paradise once again.

Much as the Seventh Doctor’s story showed him nearly the end of that particular regeneration, The Sontaran Ordeal shows a Doctor slowly and enivetably sliding towards his involvement in the Time War whether he likes it or not. Paul McGann plays a reactive Doctor, one who pleads and begs for the Time Lords to choose somewhere else, anywhere else, for their brief conflict, and sets about doing his best to pick up the pieces once the walls come crashing down on Drakkis. There’s a weariness to McGann’s performance. He’s sick of everything that’s happening, but he’s still clinging to his ideals. Do no harm, be kind, keep people safe. But every battle, every survivor, brings him closer to that moment where he steps over the edge and becomes the War Doctor. The Eighth Doctor leaps at the chance to save lives – not just the lives of the citizens of Drakkis who would die in a shooting war with the Sontarans, but the lives of tens of thousands of Sontarans as well who are being put into harm’s way thanks to Stenk’s actions. The Sontarans may go on to fight and die elsewhere another day, but that day won’t be today if the Doctor can help. It makes the ending that much more jarring. As Drakkis celebrates the return of peace, the Doctor offers to help…only for Sarana to tell him to go. He’s a Time Lord. The Time Lords are responsible for the state of Drakkis. And because of the temporal energies released during the brief fight in the atmosphere, Drakkis will ALWAYS know conflict. Sarana’s sons won’t be spared war, and if there’s one message Sarana will pass along to them, it’s this. ”Never trust a Time Lord.”

The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky is my favorite Tenth Doctor serial, even though it’s not the “best” story. Likewise, The Sontaran Ordeal isn’t the “best” story in the Classic Doctors, New Monsters box set but it’s my favorite. I’m an Eight fanboy, I’m a Sontaran fanboy, and this story portrays both of them as they should be portrayed – one of them weary at the destruction around them, and one relishing the chance to jump in and take advantage of the destruction of the greater glory of the Sontaran Empire. The final scene may be leading into the upcoming Time War series coming out in late 2017, and if that’s the case The Sontaran Ordeal would make a fine prequel to help set the stage for it.

X X X X X

Cobi’s Synopsis – Four solid stories, four topflight Doctors, and three new and one rebooted sets of villains all add up to make Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 1 an easily recommended pick up that will delight four kinds of fans – classic series fans, new series fans, audio fans, and Big Finish fans.

Posted in Big Finish Review, Classic Doctor Who, Revival Doctor Who | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torchwood – “Broken”

Whenever Ianto Jones has a tough day at work, he has somewhere he can hide. And, for Ianto Jones, it’s always a tough day at work.

His girlfriend is dead, his colleagues don’t trust him, and his boss… his boss is something else. With no friends in the world, and his life in danger every day, is it any wonder that at night, Ianto Jones goes to the pub?

Ianto’s local becomes somewhere where he feels safe. Safe from his demons, safe from his life, safe from Torchwood. Until one evening, Captain Jack Harkness walks into a bar….

Gareth David-Lloyd is Ianto Jones and John Barrowman is Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood: Broken.

X X X X X

Cast
Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones),
John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness)
Melanie Walters (Mandy Aibiston)
Eiry Thomas (Glenda)
Ross Ford (The Saviour)

Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Producer: James Goss
Script editor: Steve Tribe
Released: July 2016

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/broken-1393

X X X X X

The Scream movies is one of my favorite horror films series , and the current MTV television series based on the movies is my wife and I’s current “watch the night it airs” show.

Both versions of Scream look into something I’ve always found fascinating about slasher flicks that’s very rarely touched upon, and that’s how the life of the “Final Girl” is affected by being one of the survivors of the killer’s/killers’ murderous rampage after the final credits roll. The movies show how Syndey Prescott slowly removed herself from the world by working on a woman’s help line from her remote cabin, isolating herself from her friends in an effort to keep them safe as well. The television series, now in its second season, is showing how the surviving teenagers are coping with their survival. One of them runs a podcast dedicated to examining the murders while trying to figure out the how’s and why’s. The “main” survivor meanwhile is trying to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including bad dreams, hallucinations, and a variety of triggers that cause her to have an episode. Of course, there’s a major difference between PTSD from being in a horror film and real causes PTSD brought about by severe and intense situations, however the first one allows me to escape from reality for a few hours, a reality that seems to be trying really hard as of late to give America a severe case of PTSD by the time 2016 is all said and done.

Torchwood: Broken takes the character of Ianto Jones and examines how he’s coping with some of the more extreme events he’s had to deal with during his time with the organization, specifically how his time around Captain Jack Harkness has changed his view of the world. In the hands of a writer perfectly suited for the subject matter, Broken fills in a lot of characterization gaps for Ianto while also giving us a bit of a peek into how and why Jack and Ianto ended up as a couple.

Canary Wharf. His girlfriend converted into a Cyberman who went on a rampage throughout the Hub, killing two civilians in the process. Almost being carved up and eaten by Welsh cannibals. Ianto Jones is a mess, however he has a tough time trying to explain how he feels to his boss, one Jack Harkness, the man who killed his girlfriend and someone who would rather dash about in a cavalier manner than try to understand what Ianto is going through. Luckily, there’s a place where Ianto can to forget about life for a while – his local pub. Its owner also serves as its main barmaid, and Mandy Aibiston is well trained in lending a friendly ear. As Ianto gradually opens up to Mandy and his feelings of hatred towards Jack Harkness, Mandy is willing to go one step beyond in helping Ianto. If Cardiff can’t give Ianto the support he needs, why not begin again somewhere else? Somewhere far away from Torchwood and Jack Harkness, someplace Ianto would never have to worry about seeing him again…

Broken is hands down the darkest, bleakest, and most honest of the Big Finish Torchwood releases so far, and I mean that in a good way. It took me a little bit, and I’m ready to admit it after this story and Torchwood: One Rule. I enjoy Joseph Lidster’s writing, and I no longer cringe when I see his name associated with a Big Finish release. I believe it’s because Lidster’s darker and more gritty (and a bit depressing) style of writing fit into the Torchwood and Dark Shadows ranges better than it does into Doctor Who. Broken is a story that doesn’t pull any punches. Ianto Jones is messed up, and who can blame him? His girlfriend Lisa died during the Battle of Canary Wharf while being converted into a Cyberman (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). He found her body and tried to reverse the conversion, only for Lisa’s Cyberman half to take over and murder a doctor and a pizza delivery girl in an effort to once again be with Ianto (Cyberwoman). And he found himself at the mercy of Welsh cannibals who nearly killed him and Tosh (Countrycide). Ianto hasn’t been trained as a field agent, and as such doesn’t have the same means and capabilities as someone like Tosh to deal with the stressful events that happen to Torchwood every single day. Add to it that his teammates don’t trust him (pot, it’s kettle, phone for you) and it’s no wonder he can’t cope, and why he finds solace in the bottom of a pint glass. Lidster pulls from the Torchwood TV series, directly referencing the events of Cyberwoman and Countrycide as Ianto has nightmares over Lisa’s final death as the hands of Jack Harkness and is nearly driven to suicide at the memory of the knives of the cannibals that won’t leave his head. Lidster’s script, the direction of Scott Handcock, and the sound editing provided by Steve Foxon all come together in a cacophony of screams, knives being sharpened, Weevils being mercilessly beaten, and Jack being tortured to set a very brutal and bleak canvas, mixed in with the quiet scenes of dialogue between Ianto and the barmaid Mandy. Broken is by no means an easy story to listen to, however I mean that in a good sort of way and not in the Nekromanteia sort of way. Even the mandatory “there MUST be an alien menace” storyline ties into the rest of the audio, Mandy’s repeated suggestions to Ianto to “begin again somewhere else,” and the mythology of the Rift, as well as providing a momentary respite from the more down-to-earth interactions between Ianto and Mandy.

Broken is Ianto’s story. Gareth David-Lloyd turns in a performance that rivals and maybe exceeds the one he gave in Torchwood: Fall to Earth. In that story, Ianto was looking to prove himself to the rest of Torchwood. Here, Ianto is simply trying to find himself, an immensely more difficult task. From his childhood, to Canary Wharf, to Cardiff, even to the fine suits he always wears while making the team’s coffee, Ianto’s whole life has been trying to prove his worth to others. When asked to prove his own worth to himself, he has no answers. David-Lloyd’s turn sees Ianto slowly break down more and more over the course of Broken, finding no help from his teammates even as his psyche becomes more and more fragile. His interactions with Jack are more outlets for his emotions than any attempts to seek help, interactions which make Ianto’s hatred towards Jack more palpable as the story rolls on. While people have called Jack out on his actions before, Ianto is furious with him which is nice to hear from a listener’s point of view (I hate characters who always seem to avoid major consequences). When Ianto’s promise of someday leaving Jack to die comes true near the end of the story, it doesn’t come off as a surprise, a shock, or even a “Lidster Twist.” It’s the natural progression of his storyline, a moment that hits the listener square in the jaw and demands their attention. And there’s no big “a-ha” moment of realization for Ianto that causes him to go back and save Jack from his final fate. It’s a quiet moment that caught me a bit off guard, which is how David-Lloyd plays it – a slow burn of an idea that simply comes to a boil and makes Ianto realize “my God, what have I done?”

With Ianto taking center stage, Jack Harkness is set off to the side. Ianto interacts with Jack to go on a few missions, but the primary interaction with Jack comes in the story’s second half as Jack comes to the pub investigating a series of locals who have gone missing. John Barrowman’s performance here is ALMOST over-the-top, barely under the proverbial redline as Harkness cracks jokes and acts larger than life. In a serious story, Jack is the one who provides the moments of levity with his boisterous ego, flirtatious nature, and comments such as “Why are we fighting? Did I miss the safeword?” Barrowman as Harkness validates Ianto’s hatred of him through his actions and words, with his ease at dismissing Ianto’s emotional crisis and threatening to Retcon the barmaid because Ianto let slip Jack was his boss. The ease with which Jack forgives Ianto is a bit sudden, but it’s explainable as centuries of being immortal have led Jack to know when to forgive and when not to forget.

Rounding out the main cast is Melanie Walters as the owner of the local pub, Mandy Aibiston. She’s your typical barmaid, willing to lend an ear in return for the purchase of a pint of bitter, and Walters excels in the part as she gently pulls Ianto’s story out of him. Is the sympathy true or feigned? One has to wonder when Mandy rushes to Ianto’s flat to stop him from overdosing on pills after his incident in the Welsh countryside, as well as when she tears into Jack about how he doesn’t give a whit for Ianto and he’d be better off somewhere else. In true Torchwood fashion, there’s something TOO good about Mandy, and it’s her charm and kindness that make her casual revelation of the truth to Jack all the more shocking. Her final fate also caught me off guard, especially for a Joseph Lidster story, however it’s a nice capstone on the proceedings.

Gareth David-Lloyd has been at the heart of my two favorite Torchwood releases – Fall to Earth and now Broken. Joseph Lidster gives David-Lloyd plenty of emotional pathos to work with and the result is a brutal, honest look at just how difficult it can be to cope with all that Torchwood Three handles, especially when one’s boss is in denial. If you’re a fan of Torchwood in any capacity this one’s a definite pick-up, and if you just like stories I’d recommend giving this one a look as well.

Random Thoughts
– It’s funny that this story is meant to bridge the events of Cyberwoman, one of the show’s poorest episodes, and Countrycide, one of its best.
– Props to Ianto in one scene for showing that sometimes good old fashioned detective work can trump all the electronic bells and whistles.
– So…after a full audio of hating on Jack and rescuing him at the last minute, the Ianto/Jack relationship begins in the story’s final 60 seconds when Jack asks Ianto what he can do for him, Ianto asks for a kiss, and it turns into a “one night of hard shagging and it’s back to normal.” Yeah, it’s Torchwood, I’ll allow it!
– This is the first Big Finish Torchwood story not to mention the Committee in any way.

Cobi’s Synopsis – Emotionally dark and brutally honest, Torchwood: Broken is among the finest of the Big Finish revival with a superb turn from Gareth David-Lloyd.

Next up “It stalks you. It whispers. It wants you to turn around. It wants you to look. But if you do… If you see it…”

Eve Myles is Gwen Cooper in…Torchwood: Made You Look.

Posted in Big Finish Review, Torchwood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doctor Who – “Assassin in the Limelight”

Ford’s Theatre, Washington. Friday, 14th April, 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The place, the date and the event which made history. Or did it? Someone has been tampering with time, muddying the waters of history for his own purposes. Time itself is out of joint and the chief culprit is the enigmatic Doctor Knox.

Somehow the Doctor and Evelyn must put history back on track before the future dissolves into chaos. But Knox, it turns out, may be the least of their worries…

Colin Baker is the Doctor in Assassin in the Limelight.

X X X X X

Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Maggie Stables (Dr Evelyn Smythe)
Leslie Phillips (Dr Robert Knox)
Lysette Anthony (Clara Harris)
Eric Loren (John Parker)
Madeleine Potter (Lizzie Williams)
Alan Marriott (Henry Clay Ford)
Paul Dubois (John Wilkes Booth)
Mikey O’Connor (Thomas Eckert)

Written By: Robert Ross
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Released: May 2008

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/assassin-in-the-limelight-274

X X X X X

Assassin in the Limelight takes one of history’s most well-known moments and attempts to turn it on its ear. The story gives us well-rounded secondary characters with some great interactions, a plot where the loose ends are all neatly tied up, and a few moments where the Sixth Doctor gets to show off his superb intellect and dedication to stopping injustice. One big flaw stops this story from being a top-notch release. The central villain is well written, but he’s TOO well written as the author tries to instantly turn him into a Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes.

Washington, DC, 14 April 1865. Lee has surrendered at Appomattox, and the city has turned out for the savior of the Union, General Ulysses S Grant. With Grant in high demand, Ford’s Theatre is desperate to have him attend one of their productions. The only celebrity they can land however is President Abraham Lincoln. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn know that they will be witness to a momentous event in American history and do their best not to interfere. As par for the course with the Doctor, there are a few wrinkles. A veteran playwright named Oscar Wilde is in residence at Ford’s Theatre, but in 1865 the real Wilde was little more than a burgeoning teenager raising hell in England. The Doctor suspects he knows who is portraying Wilde and why; a former foe with access to a TARDIS of their very own. But it pales in comparison to a more pressing matter. Later that evening, John Wilkes Booth will assassinate the President as he sits in a private box watching the play. So what does it mean for history when Booth dies of arsenic poisoning a few hours before his date with destiny?

Assassin in the Limelight is the third and final story noted entertainment historian Robert Ross will turn in for Big Finish. All three of Ross’ stories are steeped in history, from the Burke and Hare murders in Medicinal Purposes to a love letter to British dance hall entertainment with Pier Pressure. Both stories are dragged down by major flaws. In the case of Medicinal Purposes, it’s the Sixth Doctor gleefully looking forward to meeting a pair of violent graverobbers, while Pier Pressure takes a wide and meandering path as the story slowly flows towards its climax. Looking past those flaws however, the urban sprawl of 1820’s Edinburgh and the seaside charm of 1930’s Sussex come to life in the listener’s mind as Ross’ dialogue and descriptions paint a vivid audio landscape, complete with secondary characters who stay with the listener long after the story is over. Assassin in the Limelight is a marked improvement over Medicinal Purposes and Pier Pressure as the Sixth Doctor acts like his normal self and the story moves along at a rapid pace (showing how Barnaby Edwards has grown as a director in the process). Listeners are introduced to a jubilant Washington DC, long at the front lines of the American Civil War and now bursting with emotions at the end of the war as most citizens cheer the success of the Union while others curse the downfall of the Confederacy. It’s not President Abraham Lincoln who is the hero of the day, but rather General U.S. Grant, a true patriot compared to the tyrant Lincoln who suspended habeas corpus and was only saved from electoral defeat by the capture of Atlanta. Army officers and actors swagger around with pride at the victory, even if they never saw the front lines once during the conflict. Young women stand on the arms of these men, some sneaking about with upstanding Colonels and some cavorting with rapscallion actors. But the show must still go on, which means Henry Clay Ford must take steps to ensure Ford’s Theatre is packed for tonight’s showing of Our American Cousin, starring the famous actor John Wilkes Booth.

Ross simply is fantastic with establishing the traits of the secondary characters. From the well-meaning but money focused theatre treasurer Henry Clay Ford (Alan Marriott) to the cocky and self-assured actor John Wilkes Booth (Paul Dubois) to the pragmatic and corrupt cop John Parker (Eric Loren, aka Dalek Sec, aka the Penis Dalek from Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks) to Thomas Eckert, an Army officer stationed in the White House (Mikey O’Connor) and the scheming young woman who hopes to use his position to catapult her social standing Lizzie Williams (Madeline Potter), Ross’ script does a superb job of weaving the myriad plotlines together. The actors and actresses help with this task by turning in performances that ensure their characters are more than just one-note players. The stand-out is Lysette Anthony, a veteran actress of stage and screens small and big (and known to me as the insanely hot woman in the 1980’s music video for Bryan Adams’ hit “Run To You”). She portrays Clara Harris, a Senator’s daughter whose life would be ruined by the evening’s events. A bright young proper 1860’s woman, Harris would be the chief witness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln while her then fiancée and future husband Major Rathbone would be stabbed by Booth several times during the murderer’s escape. Neither one of them would recover from the constant public scrutiny, severe mental trauma, and physical reminders of that evening, leading to Rathbone fatally shoot Clara in December of 1883. Anthony gives us a prim and proper socialite who has her airs about her (at one point telling Lizzie ”I’m the daughter of a Senator, you’re a daughter of the gutter.”) while seeing actors, specifically Mister Booth, as ”degenerate, filthy-minded libertines.” There’s a sense of remorse around Clara due to Anthony’s turn. The listener knows that her future will turn undeniably tragic and her dismissal of those around her makes her final fate a bit more heartbreaking.

For his third Big Finish script, Ross brings back characters from his two previous stories. The aliens from Pier Pressure, the Indo, make their return. As a malevolent race that feeds on suffering, the American Civil War was akin to ringing the dinner bell to them as they swirled around Washington DC and Northern Virginia, possessing their victims to enjoy the misery and agony of battle and forcing the hand of their puppets in an effort to further gorge themselves. The second character hails from Medicinal Purposes, one Doctor Robert Knox. Having obtained an advanced TARDIS from a shady second-hand dealer, Knox spent the runtime of Medicinal Purposes charging alien businessmen for the right to view the suffering brought to Edinburgh via a nasty little plague – a plague that the Sixth Doctor allowed to infect Knox at the end of the story. Having somehow found the means to stave off the effects of the plague, Knox’s current plan is simple. Change history by allowing certain historical figures to live, or to impersonate them in different eras, and make money off the lecture tours. The Doctor, of course, finds this incredibly vulgar. But there’s much, much more to Knox’s plan than meets the proverbial eye…

It’s a very well written plan, one that ties all three of Ross’ stories together. Leslie Phillips is absolutely great as Knox. The man has made a career out of playing all kinds of roles, from smooth-talker to lecherous suitor to Sorting Hat. Knox’s charm and arrogance simply oozes through the speakers. His true plan is one that brings everything to a boil – the Indo, the plague, the advanced TARDIS, and just why he’s hanging about in 1865 pretending to be Oscar Wilde. Knox easily runs rings around the secondary characters, smooth, oily, and witty when he needs to be and coldly calculating when he doesn’t. Only Evelyn and the Doctor see through him, and even when all is said and done with Assassin in the Limelight Knox has one final card to play…

If this story had been, say, the sixth or seventh story to feature Doctor Robert Knox, Assassin in the Limelight would have been an instant classic (tm Captain Charisma). Phillips’ charisma and chemistry with Maggie Stables and Colin Baker is top-notch as they play off each other, human from the future, annoyed Time Lord, not-putting-up-with-either-of-them historian. The problem with this particular story is that for being only Knox’s second appearance, he’s TOO well written and TOO good at playing the long game. His plan is very complex and convoluted, relying on the Doctor and the other characters to make certain choices and engage in specific actions and calling it right down to the letter. With the way Knox is written during Assassin in the Limelight, it’s akin to the Riddler’s first appearance being one where he manages to momentarily stump Batman before the Caped Crusader puts him in jail. But during the Riddler’s second appearance, he’s figured out that Batman is really Bruce Wayne, there are things called Lazarus Pits that can ensure healing and longevity, and that Thomas “Hush” Elliott, Bruce’s childhood friend, holds a major grudge against him, and together the Riddler and Hush can bring down Batman once and for all. The jump in both skill, talent, and ingenuity just smacks of Knox being one of “those” characters, one where the author absolutely falls in love with them and makes sure he’s amazing, awesome, and even in defeat still manages to win. If there had more appearances for Knox between Medicinal Purposes and Assassin in the Limelight, then I could buy the natural evolution of the character and how much of a threat he is towards the Doctor (who is written, again having only met Knox once before, as instantly recognizing that Knox is the one masquerading as Oscar Wilde and easily shrugging him off at the end of the story in a way that smacks of “Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll see him again each and every week, always in more sexy and exciting ways.” It can’t help but remind one of Nimrod, another Big Finish villain that in the course of two stories became so amazing and awesome that it totally ruined what could have been a potentially interesting villain.

It’s always a bittersweet joy to hear Colin Baker and Maggie Stables together as the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. The duo comprises an amazing team as both actors and characters. The Doctor takes the long view, realizing time itself might be thrown off-kilter should Abraham Lincoln live, while Evelyn is more worried about what will happen to poor Clara Harris in the immediate future to the point where she wants Lincoln to live just to save Clara from her life of heartache. Of course, this is before Evelyn realizes just how foolish she is, a conclusion she comes to all on her own. Stables always played Evelyn as someone who sees the forest for the trees and how individuals are affected by their role in the larger picture of history while willing to admit when she was wrong, but also as someone who will stand their ground and argue with the Doctor about how things will go. This goes for both drama and for comedy, including an amusing scene where the Doctor and Evelyn snipe back and forth while Knox patiently waits for them in the background. As for Baker, the script for Assassin in the Limelight, with the exception of his easy dismissal of Knox, gives Six the characterization he should have held during Medicinal Purposes. His focus is more on ensuring the Web of Time is kept intact, no matter how much Evelyn asks otherwise, but his ego is more concerned with deducing just what it is Knox is up to. Six puts up with people asking if he’s part of the show or shilling for the theatre, thanks to his wardrobe, with the resigned acceptance that only he could pull off. When Knox’s true plan is revealed, the Doctor is caught in its wake, and must make a grand sacrifice to ensure that Evelyn and the Web of Time is kept safe…

…until he shoots the plan completely to hell in the course of one brilliant scene inside Knox’s advanced TARDIS.

It’s Six being Big Finish Six, and it’s really well done, with Six brushing off how long it really took him to work his way out of the trap once Evelyn points out he had a few more gray hairs than when he first stepped inside.

After the low point of Medicinal Purposes and the slog that was Pier Pressure, Assassin in the Limelight is a return to the high quality of the Six/Evelyn run, with only three more stories to come. The plot ties together neatly (if a little too quickly insuch a pat matter), the character shine through, the Doctor is as brilliant as he always is, Evelyn is the companion who keeps him grounded, and the Indo and Robert Knox make solid villains. The only drawback is that Knox is TOO good of a villain and TOO much of a match for the Doctor in only his second (and final) appearance, and it comes off as a case of the author trying too hard to push their pet character. Still, Assassin in the Limelight is a solid tale and well worth a listen.

Random Thoughts
– Knox, as Wilde, runs down Booth as a poor actor. Booth was one of the most renowned thespians of his time…
– The dialogue is worth paying attention to, as Evelyn herself gets caught up in the moment and make a double entendre regarding being smacked with Tommy Truncheon.
– I was a little confused at Evelyn’s proclamation that the survival of Abraham Lincoln would be a harsh blow to the advancement of civil rights in America, but then I glance over at CNN regarding another police shooting and wonder if it would have made things any worse…
– I liked the grey hair moment. Just how long DID it take the Doctor to work out an escape plan?
– I also liked Six’s unspoken jealously at Knox’s TARDIS, complete with elevator and voice controls.
– Stay tuned after the closing music for a final scene that’s completely predictable.

Cobi’s Synopsis – A top-notch play with great secondary characters, enjoyable dialogue, and a complex but workable evil plan make Assassin in the Limelight a story whose only blemish is a villain whose written to be the Doctor’s equal without having earned the credibility first.

Next up – When the Doctor arrives on a sky station above Antikon, a single accident has already set in motion a chain of events that will mean the death of every living thing…

Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in…The Death Collectors.

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