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.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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