Doctor Who – “The Haunting of Thomas Brewster”

Thomas Brewster is haunted by the ghost of his drowned mother. But she is not the only apparition to disturb his dreams. Every few years, he is visited by a mysterious blue box…

Helped by his new assistant, the young Scots scientist Robert McIntosh, the Doctor struggles to unravel the twisted knot of temporal implausibilities which bind the TARDIS to Thomas Brewster. Meanwhile, lost in the stews of Victorian London, Nyssa must face a host of spectral creatures gathering in the fog…

Peter Davison is the Doctor in The Haunting of Thomas Brewster

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Cast
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
Leslie Ash (Mother)
Christian Coulson (Robert McIntosh)
John Pickard (Thomas Brewster)
Barry McCarthy(Creek)
Sid Mitchell (Pickens)
Trevor Cooper (Shanks)

Written By: Jonathan Morris
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Released: April 2008

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-haunting-of-thomas-brewster-273

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The Haunting of Thomas Brewster may best be described as “Oliver Twist meets the Bootstrap Paradox…or does it? A story about aliens ensuring their future comes to fruition by messing with the past embraces its audio roots with a wide cast of supporting characters straight out a Victorian Age, some very lovely sound work, a handful of quality performances, and one of the more memorable cliffhangers Big Finish has put together. The story doesn’t quite gel into a perfect mixture. However it gets more right than it gets wrong while introducing another original Big Finish companion whose turn here is a bit thin but holds plenty of future potential.

Thomas Brewster is an orphan. His mother drowned while he was very young. He was raised and educated by the church until “apprenticed” by his harsh schoolmaster to a small time criminal and his crew of street urchins who make a living removing anything valuable from the muck and marsh of the Thames. Life doesn’t appear to hold much for him. However, there are two constants that may yet provide him with a means to leave his life of hardship. One is a blue box that has appeared time and time again throughout his life. The other is his mother, whose ghostly apparition promises that they could be together again. All it would take is a few pieces of scientific equipment, which under her direction could build a device that would bring her back from the beyond. A device that is far too advanced for 19th century London…

Jonathan Morris has written a LOT for Big Finish. Name a range and odds are he’s contributed to it in some manner (most recently a story for the second Survivors Box Set, a haunting story called Cabin Fever about a quarantined Channel ferry). The Haunting of Thomas Brewster is Morris’ third story for the main range, following up Bloodtide and Flip-Flop. Both tales were entertaining and ambitious, although they also suffered from noticeable flaws. The Haunting of Thomas Brewster continues that trend as Morris turns in a story that could have been broadcast as a legitimate BBC radio drama. Via first-person narration, Brewster spends the first two episodes experiencing just how awful Victorian Era life was for the lower class, interacting several stock Dickensian characters along the way (who sadly suffer from thin characterization). The story opens up on a shell-shocked young man trying to come to grips with his mother’s passing while his relatives give various excuses on why they couldn’t possibly take him in. After his uncle forces Brewster to confront his mother’s corpse, they take him to the local church where a stern taskmaster raps his knuckles for getting the slightest lesson wrong. After years of this abuse, Brewster is handed to a riverman as an apprentice – a riverman who’s really a low-level crime boss who uses a group of young boys to poke through the muck and mud of the low-tide Thames for anything that’s fallen off of a trade vessel…or anything that could be picked from the pockets of someone who fell into the river and met an unfortunate end. Throughout this childhood however, Brewster is haunted by a ghostly apparition clad in all black – the ghost of his mother, begging her child for help to be freed from her undead state. It leads to a chilling moment to end the first episode. Brewster’s mother normally appears to Brewster at a distance, calling out for him to help her. He finally gets close to her as he’s paddling across the Thames and has a glimpse of what she looks like…

She had been in the water five days before they found her.

It’s such a simple line that lets the viewer use their own imagination to conjure up this specter’s horrible appearance. It’s one of my favorite cliffhangers Big Finish has pulled off so far, horrifying in its simplicity.

Thomas Brewster is played by John Pickard, best known for his work in the 1990’s BBC sitcom 2Point4 Children as well as numerous appearances on Hollyoaks. Brewster is the archetypical Dickens character and Pickard does a great job playing him as an imperfect being – he’s not ambitious, he’s not too bright, and he has no qualms breaking the law to get what he wants (including pickpocketing the TARDIS key from Nyssa at one point). When Pickard talks about Brewster’s devotion to his mother, it’s not the mother he knew but rather the mother he wants to know, and one does get a sense of just why Brewster is going to all these lengths to bring his mother back. Beyond that however, there’s really not much more to Thomas Brewster that we see during this story. He’s not charming enough to be the Artful Dodger, but not caustic enough to be Adric (which is probably a blessing considering an infamous upcoming story). Brewster makes an impact, but not enough of one that would normally last beyond a singular story…although, the very end of The Haunting of Thomas Brewster makes it clear that Brewster and the Doctor will meet again. Pickard’s turn as Brewster is enough to give me hope that future stories will flesh out this new companion and add a few more pieces of characterization.

On the other side of the coin, the Doctor and Nyssa are caught in a time breach that has drained the TARDIS of power. The presence of a ghostly apparition catches Nyssa’s ear as it sings Apples and Oranges, before its touch instantly sends Nyssa to London, 1867. A young man named Robert McIntosh is there to greet her and brings her to the Doctor, who has spent the better part of a year teaching science at the Royal Society while waiting for her timeline to catch up to his. Posing as a scientist has allowed the Doctor to gather the necessary equipment and materials to repair the TARDIS (although he had to grow a beard as the members of the Society dismissed him as being too young, and his assistant, McIntosh, has been too polite to even mention the blue box sitting in the corner of the Doctor’s office). While waiting for Nyssa, the Doctor has heard of several break-ins to nearby homes and shops. Nothing too valuable or expensive has been stolen, however the list of pilfered items are of a scientific bent. Soon, the Doctor and Nyssa cross paths with Thomas Brewster, who has been stealing these items as the behest of his mother’s ghost. Once activated however, the machine doesn’t bring forth Brewster’s mother. Instead, creatures of fog race through the breach (”A life form based upon suspended gas particles” says Nyssa, ”living pea soupers” cries Brewster) and suffocate anyone they touch.

It’s here that science fiction collides with Charles Dickens, blending together in a respectable and intriguing manner. The fog creatures hail from Earth’s future, but it’s a future that hasn’t yet been set in stone. In fact, the chances of the particular future where the fog creatures control the Earth coming to pass are incredibly small. In order to tilt the odds in their favor, the fog creatures drain the life energy of their future Earth, all the way down to the very rocks, to open up a time corridor to 1867, honing in on the latent physic abilities of Thomas Brewster. With his “mother’s” guidance, Brewster constructs a device to establish a time tunnel between 1867 and 2008. The existence of the fog creatures in Earth’s past will increase their temporal odds of also existing in 2008, helping to bring about their specific future. It’s a very unique mix of the Bootstrap Paradox (as seen in Under the Lake/Before the Flood) and quantum mechanics (all futures are possible, no matter how remote the possibility).

The time travel aspects might be a bit confusing, but not to the Doctor. One thing that stands out in The Haunting of Thomas Brewster is how comfortable the Doctor is with coming up with a solution (or several solutions) to the problem at hand. The Fifth Doctor is a Doctor who always seems to be blindsided by events, but instead of being over his head this time out the Doctor, as fitting for someone who is a TIME LORD, manages to work out, adapt, and change up his methods for fighting the fog creatures. The final method for helping Brewster defeat “his mother” once and for all to send the fog creatures back to a future where they will never exist feels legitimately earned instead of a deus ex machina or chrono ex machina. It helps that Peter Davison (along with Sarah Sutton) both dive into the script and don’t let go. The behind-the-scenes for this story stress how much fun the pair were having. Even with Nyssa’s role sometimes seeing her as the damsel in distress, Sutton gets a chance to play up his character’s scientific side, trying in vain to explain the situation to Brewster and McIntosh (”You had me until ‘Bootstrap’” McIntosh says after she tries to explain a Bootstrap Paradox to him) and having a nice moment where she relates how she coped with her father’s death vs. how Brewster is dealing with his mother’s passing. Davison however REALLY shines. Even when he violates Who canon by landing the TARDIS inside the console room of the TARDIS without any muss or fuss all he can say to Nyssa’s concerns of a time ram is ”Really? I thought it was neat”. There are flashes of anger as the Doctor yells at Brewster for letting the fog creatures back into the world at his mother’s behest and sheer disbelief as Brewster (twice!) steals the TARDIS. But for the most part this is a Time Lord doing what he does best – slowly unravelling the myriad strands of a Gordian Knot of timelines and pulling on the right ones, ensuring the TARDIS shows up where it needs to be in order to solidify the “real” timeline, and feeling a little bit proud of himself along the way.

So, for all the praise, there are a few points where the story falters. The secondary characters, even for Dickens clichés, are thinly outlined and really don’t add anything beyond “oh yeah, this is a Dickens-esque character.” Even Brewster’s partner, who makes allusion to loving Brewster beyond a platonic nature, isn’t given much to work with before he dies at the hands of the fog creatures. The exception is Christian Coulson (a young Tom Riddle from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Robert McIntosh, the Doctor’s assistant for the better part of a year who is very put out when he finds out just who the Doctor is that he’s capable of time travel. McIntosh’s reaction is very sincere – anger and disappointment, revealing that once Nyssa is safe he’s done working for or travelling with the Doctor. It’s a nice change of pace from the “everyone forgives the Doctor” cliché that pops up all too often. Brewster’s mother also doesn’t get fleshed out beyond the closing line in the first episode. As the point woman for the fog creatures, it felt like she should have been more involved beyond coercing Brewster and threatening him when she doesn’t get her way quick enough.

The sound work is very well done, setting the stage of Victorian England through lapping water, distant church bells, and the chronic cough of its inhabitants. Where it gets a little weird is the music. There’s a musical motif that moves throughout the story, a decent little ditty that would be fine for use as a scene transition. However, it pops up quite often. Very often. And not in short snippets, but five-to-fifteen second intervals. It threatens to trip up the pacing of the story and risks smacking of padding out its runtime.

Thomas Brewster joins the ranks of Charlotte Pollard as an original Big Finish companion with The Haunting of Thomas Brewster, a fine story that mixes Victorian era motifs and time travel aspects. With some tweaking, it’s a script that would have fit perfectly on the small screen during Peter Davison’s run as the Fifth Doctor. It’s not a perfect audio, with clichéd secondary characters and an antagonist who suffers from being a bit of a blank slate, but the performances and plot more than make up for it. While it may not have been the perfect introduction for Mr. Brewster, it’s one that is intriguing enough for me to look forward to future releases featuring him as a companion.

Well, not ALL his future releases. I’m looking at you, The Boy Who Time Forgot…

Pros
+ Neat mix of the Bootstrap Paradox and quantum mechanics
+ Peter Davidson’s performance highlighting how good a Time Lord is with temporal dilemmas
+ Thomas Brewster has great potential as a character…

Cons
– …that isn’t quite utilized in this story.
– Central villain isn’t much of a threat
– Overuse of the musical motif.

Cobi’s SynopsisThe Haunting of Thomas Brewster introduces a potentially interesting new companion with a story that features Peter Davidson’s strong turn as a Time Lord trying to untangle a Bootstrap Paradox via quantum mechanics.

Next up – 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…

Colin Baker is the Doctor in…Assassin in the Limelight

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Doctor Who – “The Dark Husband”

 
 
“This whole wedding is like making a nuclear bomb with half the instructions missing!” 
 
A week-long respite from a prolonged and bloody war, the Festival of the Twin Moons of Tuin makes Glastonbury look like a church fete… or so the brochure says.  
 
The Doctor and Ace are looking for rest and recreation. Hex is looking for the beer tent. But eternal enemies the ginger-haired Ri and the coot-bald Ir are plotting to turn their Festival truce to their own advantage. Only the Dark Husband might stop the celebrations turning to horror… but who is the Dark Husband? And what terror awaits him on his wedding night? 
 
If anyone knows any just cause or impediment… speak now. The lives of billions depend on it. 
 
Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in The Dark Husband.  
 
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Cast 
 
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor) 
Sophie Aldred (Ace) 
Philip Olivier (Hex) 
Danny Webb (Ori) 
Andy B Newb (Irit) 
Benny Dawb (Tuin) 
Katarina Olsson & Sean Connolly (The Bards) 
 
Written by: David Quantick 
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs 
Released: March 2008 
 
Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-dark-husband-272%5B
 
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I really wanted to like The Dark Husband.  Sadly, even a few moments of attempted humor can’t cover the fact that this story is a disjointed mess suffering from lackluster performances and just being the worst thing of all…boring.  Simply boring.   
 
After a last minute escape from something that could only be described as an alien sneeze, complete with mucus and boogers, Hex wants a vacation and Ace is inclined to agree with him.  The Doctor’s suggestion?  The Festival of the Twin Moons of Tuin.  Dancing, drinking, more dancing, more drinking.  Sounds like a good time to the companions.  Except that Tuin is a graveyard, caught in the middle of ten thousand years of war between two alien races – the Ri and the Ir, each inhabiting one of Tuin’s moons.  The only time peace exists between them is during the Festival.  Ace and Hex are determined to do their best to enjoy the momentary break in hostilities, but the Doctor (as always) has a longer game in mind.  This war must end.  And there’s only one way to possibly bring the Ri and the Ir together in peaceful resolution – marriage.  Specifically, the Doctor’s… 
 
David Quantick is an incredibly prolific writer.  Since 1983, he’s written for magazines such as NME, penned biographies on figures such as Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor, contributed to programmes such as Brass Eye and Smack the Pony, and even worked alongside Armando Iannucci as a writer for  The Day Today and The Thick of It.  Quantick has also gone on record as being a huge Doctor Who fan, spoofing the show in 2013 on his BBC Radio 2 series The Blagger’s Guide To…  A chance encounter with Nicholas Briggs gave Quantick the opportunity to pitch several ideas to Big Finish, each involving the Seventh Doctor, and Briggs ended up soliciting the pitch that would eventually evolve into The Dark Husband, a story that was meant to be a lighter, more humorous story that would contrast the previous Seven/Ace/Hex release, the brooding Nocturne.   
 
With just a little editing, some polish, and a bit of enthusiasm on the part of the actors, The Dark Husband could very easily have been a stand-out story.   The Doctor “suggests,” with the aid of some convenient pamphlets found in the TARDIS, that the trio head to Tuin (almost immediately forgoing the Doctor’s pledge to ease up on his scheming during the events of Nocturne), and he spends the large majority of the story trying to broker peace between two warring races, getting a few jabs in at religion along the way, while also keeping his companions in the dark on how much he knows…and how much he doesn’t know, backfiring on him during the climax to episode two as he’s almost burned at the stake.  The truth behind the ten thousand years of war – who is behind it, why they’re behind it, and what it takes to stop the conflict – is an interesting concept, however this revelation isn’t expanded on very much, save for the fact that the tale of the origin of the Ir and Ri is told TWICE during the third episode, feeling more like padding than any sort of revelation.  In fact, there’s a good bit of repetition in The Dark Husband in the form of plot points and descriptions of rituals getting mentioned over and over again.  And there’s very little suspense or surprise at just who the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife are and what their impending nuptials entail for the remainder of their lives.  Clocking in at two hours, The Dark Husband easily could have lost 15 minutes from its run time and come off a stronger story for it, or better yet could have taken those 15 minutes and used them to provide firmer details and action to the plot’s key points and elements. 
 
The flaws with the script must have been apparent to the actors, as the performances of Sylvester McCoy, Sophe Aldred, and Philip Olivier feel flat and listless.  It’s easy to tell in the first five minutes of a Seventh Doctor story whether or not it’s going to be a good one based upon McCoy’s performance.  If it’s a quality script, McCoy will give it his all.  If it’s a poor script, he’ll just go through the motions.  With The Dark Husband, McCoy is definitely not doing much more with the dialogue than reading it directly from the script.  Considering the wordplay contained in Quantick’s script, McCoy could have had a field day with delivery and enunciation alone.  Instead, McCoy’s just tonally neutral with his delivery jumping all over the place.   On top of that, Sophie Aldred fails to show the fire or spark that defines Ace save for the climax of the second episode when she rushes to save the Doctor from being burned at the stake.  The sarcasm and teasing towards Hex is there, but even that feels half-hearted.  As for Hex, the normally sensitive and brave Scouse is instead a lout who only cares about getting his drink on and talks about his juvenile delinquent days with relish.  Philip Olivier has never portrayed Hex in such a manner in any of his previous stories, so the culture shock of him acting almost chav-like and being jealous towards Ace is just jarring.  I can’t blame Olivier for perhaps wanting to just wrap up the story and move on to the next one (The Magic Mousetrap) because the way Hex is written is simply rubbish.  Even when Ace and Hex are possessed and acting under the orders of somewhat else near the story’s end, attempts to sound as flat and listless zombies somehow comes off as flat and listless! 
 
On the other side, we get some performances that at least show a little bit of spark, but not for the reason you think.  The planet Tuin is played by Benny Dawb, the Er Irit is played by Andy B Newb, and the Ir Ori is played by Danny Webb…but Tuin and Irit are REALLY played by Danny Webb under some very silly pseudonyms.   Webb bounces back and forth between the cunning Ori, the bombastic Irit, and the egotistical Tuin, but does so incredibly quickly that there are times where he sounds almost out of breath with the sudden voice and accent changes!   The voices themselves are fine, but there’s really not much to write home about the characters other than…cunning, bombastic, egotistical.  The lack of any sort of long-term impact past the conclusion of this story may come from the fact that the script is written in a very straight forward manner in terms of dialogue.   The Doctor says something.  Ace says something.  Hex says something.  Irit says something.  Ori says something.  Repeat.  There’s very few, if any, moments where this pattern is broken, and that change solely depends on which characters are in which scenes.  Take one of them out, the pattern still continues, just without them in it.  As the director, Nicholas Briggs should have attempted to vary up the pattern somehow, or at least added a little more pop somehow. 
 
It’s the combination of repetitive delivery and bored actors that leads to The Dark Husband’s biggest flaw; the story isn’t funny.  The lackluster performances and predictable dialogue means that any attempts at humor fail to come off.   From Hex being given non-alcoholic beer (“there IS a war on”) to the Doctor’s exclamation (and McCoy’s pained delivery) of “There!  Will!  Be!  No!  Wedding!  Here!”  and Ace’s muttering of “this is another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into,” or even pushing the number one on the keypad of a stone robot to turn it off, the jokes fall flat and are quickly forgotten after a sigh or eye roll from the listener.   
 
It had been a year since Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Philip Olivier had been in the studio together for an audio.  It’s a damn shame that their return story had to be The Dark Husband.  A poor script with flat humor and repetitive concepts leads to bored actors and stilted performances.   In the end, The Dark Husband is an audio that can easily be skipped unless one is either a completionist or a masochist. 
 
Pros 
+ It’s not The Rapture or Dreamtime 
 
Cons 
– Lackluster performances 
– Humor that fails to deliver 
 
 
 
Cobi’s Synopsis – One of the poorest Big Finish releases in a while, The Dark Husband features bored actors delivering a repetitive script with poor jokes and missed opportunities. 
 
Next up – The Doctor struggles to unravel the twisted knot of temporal implausibilities which bind the TARDIS to Thomas Brewster… 
 
Peter Davison is the Doctor in…The Haunting of Thomas Brewster 

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Torchwood – “Moving Target”

Suzie Costello would never describe herself as a hero. Not even if she were the last woman on Earth. Turns out, she’s the second last woman on Earth, and that’ll just have to do.

With the Earth frozen in time, Suzie becomes locked in a battle to save the planet and the life of Alex, the last woman alive. Hunted by alien warriors, and, with every hour that doesn’t pass, the stakes are only getting higher.

Suzie Costello would never describe herself as a hero. But she would say she’s someone who always makes the right choices. Wouldn’t she? .

Indira Varma is Suzie Costello in Torchwood: Moving Target
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Cast
Indira Varma (Suzie Costello)
Naomi McDonald (Alex)
Nicholas Burns (The Referee)

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

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/moving-target-1392

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Torchwood: Moving Target is another quality release from Big Finish’s line of Torchwood audios, successfully combining suspense and action while also throwing in a few moments of levity.  There is a bit of a twist on the proceedings however as the story focuses on a character who could easily be considered one of the show’s villains, Torchwood Three team member Suzie Costello.  Where the story truly shines is how it presents Suzie as someone who is over her head but still determined to do her job and keep Earth safe from alien threats, and it pulls off this presentation well enough for the listener to forget just how pragmatic and devious Suzie really could be.

The 20th century is when everything changes, and Suzie Costello admits she isn’t ready to face the new day as she struggles with her alarm clock.  And the day continues to go downhill once she looks out the window to see that the entire world has come to a halt.  Cars are stopped on the highway, humans are frozen in mid-step, and even the raindrops hang motionless in mid-air.  There is some good news however, as Suzie can still interact with the world (for the most part) and there’s a young lady named Alex who is also unstuck in time.  While Alex is enjoying the opportunity to pull pranks on her unsuspecting co-workers and do a little “shopping,” Suzie is more concerned with getting in touch with the Hub and trying to make the world move again.  But first, there’s the matter of the forces behind this chronological event.  It seems that humanity is considered nothing more than pests to the greater universe, and the life of a single human being makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.  So, why not take advantage of the primitive, worthless Earthlings?  That’s exactly what a certain intergalactic safari company had in mind when they froze the Earth and picked Alex to be the quarry for a group alien hunters looking for an exciting hunt in a backwards land.  Sent on the run, can Suzie find a way to keep Alex alive from a never-ending stream of hunters?

There’s little doubt that Moving Target was influenced by books such as The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man, and The Hunger Games.  Guy Adams, who penned the season finale More Than This for Big Finish’s first series of Torchwood audios, utilizes some of the same concepts that made that story a success.  There’s a Torchwood operative, an alien menace, and a human being who had no idea of just how vast the universe truly until a drooling alien was screaming in their face.   Adams’ script moves at a brisk pace, introducing Alex before Suzie’s musing monologues about the nature of the frozen world, which include showing just how much she can interact with it, drag on too long.  Suzie’s inquisitive nature is balanced by Alex’s carefree demeanor to take full advantage of the situation she finds herself in, and just as the two establish their relationship, the Referee is introduced to explain the situation to the two woman.   The Committee (mentioned in one sentence to tie-in Moving Target to the series’ overall story arc and feeling a bit out of place) has declared human beings to be nothing more than pests or vermin to be exterminated.  Earth has been frozen to ensure that no temporal harm comes to the planet as Alex, chosen by an intergalactic safari company, is hunted through Cardiff by an alien hunter who relishes the chance to hunt an “exotic but mostly harmless” creature.  Suzie, by virtue of being around Torchwood’s temporal technology, is somehow immune to the safari company’s temporal manipulations, and she vows to protect Alex from the alien hunter…even as in the background, Alex has easily dispatched the unsuspecting hunter and stolen its weapon.  The Referee is giddy as the hunter’s death – this means Alex is a threat, and he can double the licensing fee for the next hunter.  And when Suzie runs over the next hunter with one of Torchwood’s SUV’s, that means the fee doubles yet again for the third hunter.  And so on.  And so on…

It’s damn near comical how easily the hunters are taken out by Suzie and Alex in a montage of quick scenes punctuated by the appropriate explosions and gunshots mixed with the dying screams of the alien hunters.  The hunters themselves are nothing more than bored, corpulent executives who want nothing more than an easy hunt that they could brag about, and apparently hunting Earthlings is the easiest hunt one can experience without a porter actually doing the shooting for them.  By the fourteenth hunter, they sound almost bored with the proceedings as they casually check the bodies for more ammunition.   These moments help to add a sense of levity of the proceedings, even though the presence of the Referee threatens to tip the scales a bit too far from “drama” to “panto.”    Played by Nicholas Burns (from the Channel 4 sitcom Nathan Barley), the Referee is a robot who ensure the rules of the hunt are fairly followed.  His disdain for humanity drips from nearly every word he says as he casually dismisses Suzie’s vows to save Alex, and I have to give Burns a bit of credit for taking the standard “alien finds humanity backwards” clichés and making them come alive (“Humanity is stupid for worshipping an imaginary being in the sky,” “Don’t talk to me about the sanctity of human life, I’ve spent the past ten seconds reading up on all your wars,” “Why are you protecting her?  Are you mating with her?  Disgusting habit, by the way”) by virtue of his delivery alone.  This constant style of deliver becomes repetitive and threatens to undo the sense of tension that runs throughout the story.

It’s a nice twist that the hunters themselves aren’t the true threat to Alex and Suzie, but rather it’s the never ending constant stream of hunters who are transmitted to Cardiff on a continual basis.  They might be cannon fodder, but they’re slowly wearing the pair of women down as they struggle to catch a few hours rest.    Veteran voice actor Naomi McDonald (whose credits include Dark Souls II and Alien: Isolation, a game I still haven’t beaten because after spending four hours hiding from ONE Xenomorph, seeing an entire nest in the reactor core made me say “game over, man”) does a fantastic job with Alex.  Alex is perfectly normal – admin job, steady boyfriend, best friend she both loves and hates – and listening her slowly go from freaked out target to badass hunter to weary soldier is something else and a showcase for McDonald’s vocal skills.  What do you do when you know something is going to try to kill you, and even if you stop it, something else is going to come for you?  And the person by your side, who swears they’ll find a way to fix it, can’t?  The initial excitement and eventual stress-induced breakdown over the course of Moving Target is one of the finest acting jobs in recent Big Finish history.    I eagerly hope that McDonald (who also starred in the Bernice Summerfield story The Tears of Isis) does some more work for Big Finish in the future.

Odds are that if you picked up Moving Target, you’re familiar with the character of Suzie Costello as played by Indira Varma.  Varma is known for her turns in Kama Sutra: A Love Story and Luther.  Most recently, she’s played Ellaria Sand on Game of Thrones.  If you forget who Ellaria Sand is because of that show’s enormous cast of characters, here’s a reminder.

For those of you who aren’t familiar or need a quick refresher, Suzie was one of the members of Torchwood Three that Gwen encounters during the events of the premiere episode, Everything Changes.   The events of that story revolved around an alien artifact called the Resurrection Gauntlet, a metal glove that could bring the dead back to life for a few moments.  Hyped up as one of the team’s core members in the promotional materials, it’s revealed that Suzie had actually been committing a series murders in an attempt to study the glove and make the resurrection of the dead permanent.  When confronted by Gwen and Jack, Suzie chooses to commit suicide, with her remains stored deep in the Hub and the Resurrection Gauntlet locked away.  Initially a somewhat tragic figure, the events of the first season episode They Keep Killing Suzie shows a much more sinister side to the character.  A series of murders by a colleague of Suzie’s lead to the Torchwood team using the Resurrection Gauntlet to bring her back to life in an effort to learn more about the killer.  It turns out that Suzie had actually programmed her colleague using the amnesia drug Retcon to commit the murders if they hadn’t received the drug in over three months, which would have meant Suzie was dead and needed to be brought back to life.   Using Gwen as a source of life-energy, Suzie kills her father and reveals that by sucking the life-energy out of Gwen, she can overcome the temporary effects of the gauntlet and become basically immortal.  It’s only when the glove is destroy that Suzie finally dies for the final time, though not before pleading with the team to let her live, stating that Jack couldn’t kill her because she was all that was left of Gwen.

Cold.  Selfish.  Strong-willed.  Pitiless.  Why on Earth would anyone want to listen to a story with a character like Suzie Costello as the protagonist?   Yvonne Hartman from One Rule wasn’t exactly a hero, but she more of a well-intentioned extremist whereas Suzie was manipulative and looked out for no one but herself.  In a series already pull of flawed anti-heroes, making Suzie sympathetic in any capacity would be a monumental task.  Working from Adams’ script however, Varma goes back to how Suzie was during the first part of Everything Changes.  She’s proud to be a member of Torchwood Three, but still lacking in self-confidence.  She throws herself into reading the rulebook trying to find a loophole to allow Alex to live, only to get frustrated and lash out at Alex when she realizes she may not be able to solve this problem.  The ruthless streak is still there, especially in the way Suzie easily dispatches some of the alien hunters.   Where credit is due is with how Varma manages to portray Suzie as someone who might just be a good person who got caught up in a bad situation.  Anyone familiar with the events of Everything Changes and They Keep Killing Suzie might still have that nagging feeling regarding the darkness just below Suzie’s surface.  But it’s very to forget about her personality as Varma portrays her as someone who is stubborn, brave, and willing to learn about her charge as a person.  In any other situation, in any other story, Suzie would be a hero, and it might lead listeners to wonder if there was truly more to her, with the potential of future stories to…

…then Suzie finds out why Alex was specifically chosen for the hunt and what exactly she must do to end the constant assault against her.

There’s no build-up, no hand-wringing, no soul-searching.  Suzie realizes was has to be done and simply does it.   It caught me completely off-guard, especially when I looked down at my iPhone and realized there were only two minutes left to the story!  It’s a sudden shock (or a slow realization to the more savvy) as Suzie watches the world start up again, proceeds to call Jack, and tells him she’ll explain everything as her voice fades into the sound of rain falling.

To be “adult and edgy,” a story doesn’t need large amounts of blood and/or sex.  Characters making difficult choices on the basis of morality can be the pivot point for the most though-provoking of tales.   The Big Finish Torchwood series has walked that line very well, giving listeners characters making tough choices or being helpless as someone else does something immoral.  Heck, the only sex in the entire series (so far) comes from Uncanny Valley and even that was…sort of…tasteful?   Moving Target succeeds as a well-written chase story with fraught moments of tension, but where it really works is how it handles the character of Suzie Costello, one of the show’s most memorable villains.  She’s not twirling her monocle or actively working against her colleagues.  She’s just looking out for herself and her interests, which is her own survival.  Just because a character is likeable or means well doesn’t automatically put them on the side of the angels.  And if they are on the side of the angels, it doesn’t take much for that halo to get tilted sideways, and redemption from those actions isn’t always possible or even wanted.   Moving Target could have made Suzie a character who was only caught in one bad moment which started her down the slippery slope, however Guy Adams instead shows that under the thin veneer of humanity, no matter how noble or trustworthy, could lie a tar pit that spells doom for the unwary.

Pros
+ Great performances by Indira Varma and Naomi McDonald
+ A twist on the “being hunted” genre
+ A surprisingly sudden and dark ending
+ Doesn’t attempt to redeem or justify Suzie’s future actions

Cons
– Nicholas Burns’ comedic acting threatens to undo the mounting tension
– The Committee’s involvement felt thrown in

Cobi’s SynopsisMoving Target uses one of Torchwood’s key antagonists to show that just because someone is capable of heroic deeds, it doesn’t make them a hero, taking the listener along for the ride as Indira Varma and Naomic McDonald turn in great performances as humans being hunted for sport through a Cardiff frozen in time.

Next up – 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….

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

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Doctor Who – “The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume 1”

The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume 1 is a triumph for Big Finish as their first official release for a post-revival Doctor. Eight years after their last official story, David Tennant and Catherine Tate portray the same chemistry that made the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble one of the all-time great Doctor/companion pairing and give fans both old and new another taste of their singular magic.

X X X X X

Cast
David Tennant (The Doctor)
Catherine Tate (Donna Noble)

Technophobia
Niky Wardley (Bex)
Rachael Stirling(Jill Meadows)
Chook Sibtain (Brian)
Rory Keenan (Kevin)
Jot Davies (Lukas)

Time Reaver
Alex Lowe (Soren)
Sabrina Bartlett (Cora)
Terry Molloy (Rone)
John Banks(Gully)
Dan Starkey (Dorn)

Death and the Queen
Blake Ritson (Rudolph)
Alice Krige, (Queen Mum)
Beth Chalmers (Hortense),
Alan Cox (Death)

Written by:
Technophobia – Matt Fitton
Time Reaver – Jenny T Colgan
Death and the Queen – James Goss

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Released: May 2016

Trailer – http://tinyurl.com/ztagyaf

X X X X X

When the Doctor and Donna visit London’s Technology Museum for a glimpse into the future, things don’t go to plan.

The most brilliant IT brain in the country can’t use her computer. More worrying, the exhibits are attacking the visitors, while outside, people seem to be losing control of the technology that runs their lives.

Is it all down to simple human stupidity, or is something more sinister going on?

Beneath the streets, the Koggnossenti are waiting. For all of London to fall prey to technophobia…

Matt Fitton, one of my favorite Big Finish writers, kicks the box set off with Technophobia, a story that evokes memories of the 1970’s BBC childrens serial The Changes. The Doctor and Donna take a trip just a few years into Donna’s future for a quick peek at the Smartphone Revolution. CEO Jill Meadows is doing the press rounds for the release of her company’s latest tablet, complete with a voice-activated assistance program, but she’s having problems remember how to use the technology. It’s not just Meadows however. The rest of London soon finds themselves forgetting the fundamentals of modern technology – not just sending e-mails and calling on the phone, but failing to read words from a teleprompter and even seeing the Underground’s escalators as magical staircases whose metal teeth will eat any who step upon them. The more one knows about modern technology, the more this affliction affects them. For Donna Noble, fresh out of the mid 00’s, she can withstand the devolution of understanding better than most. But what about a Time Lord from a technically advanced race?

It would have been easy for the machines to be the cause of the phobias gripping London, but Fitton goes the other way. An alien species is preparing to take over the Earth. Not by conquest or warfare, but by offering to take care of a human race that has forgotten everything they ever knew about technology, including concepts such as language and fire. It’s a neat twist on how to take over a planet as well as a way for Fitton to spin a story like this without falling into the cliched “TECHNOLOGY IS EVIL” trap. There is still discussion about how technology, by way of making communication easier, is taking away more and more of humanity’s free time, but it’s not hitting the listener over the head like a sledgehammer or crashing anvil. The story also contains a few moments where Donna, only ten or fifteen years removed from the story’s level of technology, is caught unawares and confused (”A Justin Beiber movie in 3-D? Isn’t that kind of…wrong?”)

Technophobia is a great story to open the box set with because it perfectly encapsulates the Tenth Doctor era. There’s the constant use of the sonic screwdriver for nearly every purpose, the Doctor offering the bad guys (the Koggnossenti, a perfectly forgettable one-shot alien race) a chance to walk away without consequence, and the turning of their own weapons against them in a very clever moment (how could an alien race utilize a high-tech hyperdimensional transmat ship without mishap if they’re forgetting how to use it during take-off?), and a proto-companion in the form of company temp Bex as played by Niki Wardley. To Big Finish fans, Wardley is best known as companion Tamsin Drew from the Eight Doctor Adventures while to television fans she was the best friend of chav Lauren Cooper from The Catherine Tate Show. Without any surprise, Wardley and Cooper bounce off each other so well during their time together, but Wardley also shines during her moments opposite David Tennant, as she covers the twin concepts of “the companion being clever” and “the companion stating the Doctor is being clever” with Tennant gleefully returning her volleys. Rachael Sterling (of ITV’s Tipping the Velvet and The Bletchley Circle) also shines as Jill Meadows, as her collapse from “technical genius” to “can’t even draw a simple circuit” is harrowing to listen to, and this is before the loss of her language skills causes her to suffer an emotional breakdown.

X X X X X

Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn’t want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach.

The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonisingly.

The Time Reaver.

Time Reaver takes place on Calibris, a planet where the entire culture revolves around transpiration. It’s not only an intergalactic transit hub with high-speed trains and worm-holes for transport, (Donna describes it as King’s Cross Station on a massive scale) it’s also a place where parts for any sort of vehicle can be found, procured, or jury-rigged…even parts for a Type 40 TARDIS. The Doctor drops the TARDIS off for some much needed repairs, but soon discovers that the normally lawless and wild planet is slowly being tamed by the bureaucratic aliens known as the Vacintians. There is an ulterior motive to the Vacintians’ presence however. A shipment of weapon was stolen from their home planet, and they are desperately trying to recover them. Once the Doctor discovers the horrible nature of the weapons, he forces himself into the investigation. Whether or not the Vacintians want his help or not, the Doctor will recover the weapons and ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hand. Or tentacles.

Jenny T Colgan, writer of The Boundless Sea from the River Song box set, gives us a dark story set on a fantastic alien world. Big Finish’s sound team does its best work with Time Reaver, with the noise of a bustling transit hub always hovering in the background, whether it’s a concourse or a seedy hole-in-the-wall, allowing the listener to easily picture the hectic and crowded nature of Calibris. There are wormholes, points that instantly take a passenger from Point A to Point B, and then there are “worm-holes,” which the Doctor suggests not eating before taking a trip on. The secondary characters are the denizens one would expect to find on a world such as this – the sleazy crime lord Gully, who has his tentacles in everything, played by veteran BBC and Big Finish actor John Banks. Gully is a fine villain, the kind who’s kind until it’s time to twist the knife or shoot somebody, and easily loses his cool the moment things don’t go his way. Dan Starkey (the Sontaran butler Strax from the television series) has a supporting role as Gully’s right-hand man. He does well for the brief period of time he’s involved in the story, but I couldn’t help but wish he had an expanded part. On the other side, Terry Molloy (aka Davros from the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctor eras as well as numerous Big Finish productions as both Davros and various other characters) is the head of the Vacintians, Rone, who attempts to both stonewall and grudgingly assist the Doctor. His hesitance is traced to the fact that it was his daughter Cora (Sabrina Bartlett from DaVinci’s Demons and the Twelfth Doctor episode Robot of Sherwood) is the one who stole the weapons and is trying to sell them. What’s great about both performances is that neither of the pair are acting out or spite or evil, but acting out of a hope for something better, Rone to bring his daughter back home and Cora out of youthful naivety. It turns out the Vacintians’ home planet is dying, and the race was using the weapons in an attempt to lengthen their final days, while Cora wanted to give the rest of the universe the same experiences.

However, the method of choice is a time modulation device so horrific, any race or civilization that invented it immediately banned it. The Time Reaver is a device that extends the sensation of a moment, making an instant into seconds, seconds into minutes, and minutes into hours. Sounds good on paper. But imagine using the device to ensure the good vibrations of a party and starving to death because the few minutes it would take you to grab a sandwich would be nearly two weeks to your body. Or that by attaching a Time Reaver to a bomb, anyone caught in the explosion would feel the burning of their skin, the air being ripped out of their lungs, and the eternal heat for years before finally dying. It’s the type of weapon I wouldn’t be surprise the Time Lords or Daleks would have used during the Time War, and the Doctor forcing his way into the investigation makes perfect sense for that conflict’s final survivor. Sadly, the race for the Time Reavers boils down to a repetition of “give me the guns,” “I won’t give you the guns,” “give me the guns,” “I won’t give you the guns,” repeated and acted out over and over again in different variations that takes up a good portion of the story’s back end. The method the Doctor uses to get rid of the Time Reavers however is a jaw-dropping moment that reminded me of Heaven Sent and helped kick the story back into gear all the way to the ending. And while Time Reaver (and indeed, all of the stories in this set) are stand-alone stories, this one features two callbacks to the TV series – a character telling Donna Noble that there is something on her back (in this case a bomb), and the Doctor, once everything has settled down, suggesting that the pair’s next journey should be to a nice, relaxing library…

X X X X X

Donna Noble has never been lucky in love.

So when, one day, her Prince does come, she is thrilled to have the wedding of all weddings to look forward to. Though the Doctor isn’t holding his breath for an invitation. And her future mother-in-law is certainly not amused.

But on the big day itself, Donna finds her castle under siege from the darkest of forces, marching at the head of a skeleton army.

When it looks like even the Doctor can’t save the day, what will Queen Donna do to save her people from Death itself?

Sure, a second Donna Noble wedding. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about the fact that the Doctor has never even heard of the country of Goratania, a country that proudly proclaims that it’s had 500 years of peace? Or that Prince Rudolph asked Donna to marry him after a whirlwind courtship? Let’s talk about how the Queen Mother loathes Donna and wishes her son would have found someone better? And there’s a dark cloud hanging over Goratania. Literally. And it’s demanding its price be paid. The Prince and Queen Mother are perfectly calm at sending their soldiers out to die, as long as the wedding goes through, immediately followed by the coronation of Rudolph as king. To Donna, it’s all a big squiggly. To the Doctor, it sounds like someone should have read the fine print that rests at the bottom of Goratania’s flag…

James Goss closes out the the first volume with a story that mixes a hint of horror with some flat out comedy. Even though Death is a central character to this story, Death and the Queen is one of the funniest Big Finish stories I’ve ever heard. The horrific moment comes when the soldiers of Goratania sacrifice themselves in an attempt to stop the dark cloud, but beyond that this story focuses on Donna’s determination to have her fairy tale wedding and the Doctor banging his head against the wall trying to figure out just what’s so special about Goratania, a small country with a language that not even HE can read!

The comedy comes from the interactions between characters – the Queen Mother (played by Alice Krige, the Borg Queen from Star Trek as well as numerous other movies including Chariots of Fire who absolutely detests Donna, the mama’s boy Prince who continually tries to convince Donna that he loves her and that his mother loves her and she just needs to “give Mum a chance” and how everything he’s done is for Goratania. The way Blake Ritson plays it, the listener is wondering the entire time whether or not he does love Donna, as sometime it’s obvious he’s not while other times there is just the slightest chance that he might be telling the truth. Beth Chalmers, a Big Finish veteran, plays the handmaiden Hortense who also bounces off Donna/Tate very well, as well as also serving as the sounding board to the Doctor during his moments of being incredibly clever. Alan Cox is Death, the demanding figure who wants what was his. The truth behind Death’s actual identity is very well done (the Doctor says at one point “nice to meet you Death, we just keep missing each other) and the reason for 500 years of peace is also a nice revelation. The standout moment comes during Donna’s (wedding) dance with Death, with Donna’s plan to deal with him having to be heard to believed. But it’s definitely quintessential Donna Noble.

If you’re a long-time Big Finish fan, you probably bought this box set the day it went on pre-order. If you weren’t a Big Finish fan, or had never even heard of Big Finish, you may have picked up this box set solely because you were a fan of David Tennant, or more specifically (maybe) a fan of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, or even more specifically (definitely) a fan of the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble. Well, as I mentioned earlier, all of the great and grand things about this Doctor/companion pairing are on display in this box set. From the very beginning of Technophobia, the hyperactivity of the Tenth Doctor and the “I am barely putting up with you, sunshine” attitude of Donna Noble are at the forefront, immediately quashed down by Bex inquiring if the two of them are…together (”No.” “Of course not.”). Just hearing the two together, how easily they play off each other and off of other characters, the quiet “not quite insults” they make about each other, the Doctor not wanting Donna to leave him to get married but understanding why she wants to even as she keeps trying to tell him she doesn’t WANT to get married, Donna trusting in the Doctor (“I have a plan and it involves the Doctor showing up halfway through to fix the rest.”) and the Doctor trusting in Donna after taking care of the cache of Time Reavers, Donna oohing and awing over a train driver with muscles or insisting on wearing a wenching dress so the Doctor could take her to the Planet of the Boys (which the Doctor insists is NOT a real place)…I could honestly go on and on and on, but if you’ve made it this far you can hopefully hear my complete and utter joy in these words. Nicholas Briggs said in Vortex magazine that the toughest part of putting the box set together was getting Tennant and Tate in the studio at the same time as they were so busy. Recording them separately was NEVER an option. Just hearing them together once again…and that theme music, complete with opening sound effect…goose bumps. These aren’t Big Finish scripts with the Tenth Doctor randomly slotted in because Tennant was available. Technophobia, Time Reaver, Death and the Queen…these ARE Tenth Doctor stories

The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume 1 are three-stand alone stories. There’s no story arc as in Dark Eyes or the two War Doctor releases, and there’s no mention or callback to Rose Tyler’s appearances during Donna’s season or the events of Turn Left. These three stories could easily be slotted in anywhere between The Fires of Pompeii and Silence in the Library as televised episodes and nothing would have changed. There’s nothing weird, different, or experimental about these stories. They’re exactly what fans hoped for – more enjoyable stories starring two beloved characters from the show’s history, and Big Finish, Catherine Tate, and David Tennant more than deliver. Top marks.

What makes me the most excited about this box set? Volume 1. Meaning there just might be more stories in our future…

Cobi’s Synopsis – Big Finish, David Tennant, Catherine Tate, three solid stories, and the sensation of hearing the Tenth Doctor’s theme again make The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Volume 1 a worthwhile purchase for any fan of Doctor Who and an almost mandatory one for fans of Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor.

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Torchwood – “Ghost Mission”

Sergeant Andy Davidson has always wanted to join Torchwood. And now he finally gets his chance.

Under the strict observation of his Torchwood Assessor, Andy sets out to prove he’s got what it takes. When a chemical spill turns out to have serious consequences, when monsters roam the Bay, and when an ancient entity awakes, Andy decides he could do with a helping hand. The problem is his Torchwood Assessor doesn’t have any hands.

Norton Folgate is a ghost.

Tom Price is Andy Davidson in Torchwood: Ghost Mission.

X X X X X

Cast
Tom Price (Sergeant Andy Davidson)
Samuel Barnett (Norton Folgate)
David Warner (OAP)
Lisa Bowerman (Quite Anxious Shopper)
Laura Doddington andAaron Neil (The Graces)

Written by: James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Produced by: James Goss
Script edited by: Steve Tribe

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/ghost-mission-1391

X X X X X

Torchwood: Ghost Mission is a hell of a lot of fun. A veteran Big Finish writer, a top notch script with a tight plot and some memorable moments, a beloved secondary character from the television series, an engaging counterpart, and a twist ending with a heartwarming finale moment all weave together to give listeners yet another Torchwood audio that earns high marks.

Andy Davidson had always been a by-the-book officer for the Cardiff police department obeying the orders of his higher-ups and focusing on following procedure over gaining attention and favor. Except when it came to Gwen Cooper, his ex-partner and one-time crush. If she needed help with regards to the activities of Torchwood Three, then he would do whatever he could to provide it provided it didn’t clash with his duties and responsibilities. While he enjoyed being a policeman, deep down inside Andy wanted to taste a little bit of the excitement and sense of responsibility that Gwen enjoyed as a member of Torchwood. Today, Andy will get his chance, as an assessor from Torchwood has arrived to follow him around over the course of his daily duties and see if he’s up to snuff. Over the next 24 hours, Andy will have to decide which is stranger – dealing with an alien goo that dissolves everything it touches, or the fact that his assessor is a ghost from the 1950’s…

James Goss has done it all. He’s scripted and directed several well received plays, ran the BBC’s Doctor Who website in the early 2000’s (the dark times before the broadcast of Rose), penned several novels and audiobooks for Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Being Human, helped to produce the Dark Shadows and The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield ranges for Big Finish, and has written for numerous other ranges including Doctor Who, Dark Shadows, Blake’s 7, and Iris Wildthyme. Goss also penned several Torchwood audios for the BBC before Big Finish obtained the license. With his extensive pedigree and experience, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that’s Ghost Mission is yet another solid effort from Big Finish. But this story goes above and beyond. To me, it ranks up there with Fall to Earth as the cream of the crop for the Torchwood range. Goss’ script expands on the character of Andy Davidson by putting him smack dab in the middle of yet another situation caused by the Cardiff Rift, but this time he’s the one on point. With a ghostly assessor staring over his shoulder, Andy must figure out how an overturned lorry containing a mysterious green goo that instantly dissolves anyone it comes in contact with ties into a warehouse fill with empty coffins, a hulking brute hell bent on killing him, and an abandoned church filled to the brim with ghosts all tie together. Ghost Mission manages to tie all these concepts together not only in a way that makes logical sense, but in a way that keeps the listener engaged the entire time. Even as Andy takes control of a crowd gathered around the crash scene, a poor citizen touches the goo and melts in front of everyone in a scene that somehow comes off as both horrifying and darkly hilarious. The warehouse sees Andy trying to deal with a monster that threatens to kill him by locking himself in a coffin, and his ensuing panic as he realizes there’s no way out. From there, it’s some brilliant police work from Andy that leads him to an abandoned church containing a horde of angry ghosts desperate to possess his body and the final piece of the puzzle lying in a basement crypt. Ghost Mission easily balances comedy, brutal action, moments of tension, and some genuinely creepy moments, such as Andy panicking as he runs out of air inside the coffin and a host of ghost who communicate via the lyrics to “Amazing Grace.”

What really helps to elevate the story is the instant chemistry between the two leads – Tom Price as Andy Davidson and Samuel Barnett as Norton Folgate, Torchwood assessor. The pair immediately click from the moment Norton interrupts Andy as he goes to talk to a pretty woman in the coffee shop. As a hologram “ghost” from the 1950’s, Norton can observe and judge Andy without being able to interfere and risk changing history in any way, shape, or form. Norton isn’t a just passive observer however. He’s also the sounding board for Andy as the policeman works out a problem while providing advice and words of reassurance during times of extreme stress. Samuel Barnett (Renfield from Penny Dreadful and the lead character in the upcoming Dirk Gently series) plays the assessor in a way that can only be described as “Sassy Gay Friend,” with a mix of camp, sophistication, and humor, including such lines as “well bend me over like it’s V-E Day.” Barnett plays off of Price so well that I would love to see/hear them in a future production of damn near anything. Of course, there is ONE thing…if Norton is there to assess Andy, why is he being so helpful? It leads to the twist ending, which ties back into the overall story arc of the Torchwood audios by featuring a cameo by none other than DAVID WARNER!

On the other side, Tom Price is eager to prove himself, but not at the expense of putting any life at risk other than his own…although a few times, he does encourage Norton to help him out so as not to put his OWN life at risk! Price is just fantastic as both a competent cop and someone who realizes just how over his head he is as the layers of the mysterious goo keep getting peeled back. Andy is good at what he does, but comes to grips with his limitations as the story progresses. What really impressed me is how well Price portrayed being a policeman, and how there are actual detective work and sleuthing that went along with how the story unfolded. Andy’s moments of “oh yeah, I’m brilliant” are a nice counterpoint to the “oh god oh god I’m going to die” scenes. It grounds the character as just another guy and not some super Torchwood agent (as much as Torchwood agents were ever portrayed as competent on the television series) and makes the very last scene, which ties back into the opening scene in the coffee shop, heartwarming moment.

Ghost Mission is another great Torchwood audio from Big Finish. An engaging plot mixes with the instant chemistry between the two leads, an unlikely hero and a temporal fish out of water, which provides some snappy dialogue and memorable moments. While the twist might be lost on those who haven’t listened to the other Torchwood audios, it is definitely worth the pickup for anyone who has heard any of the previous audios and are in the mood for one of the best releases the range has to offer.

Random Thoughts
– Andy talking to the hulking brute like a drunk Valley girl wandering Cardiff at 3 am, apparently an actual technique used by the local PD
– The choir of ghosts speaking in “Amazing Grace” lyrics is one of the most beautiful and haunting moments I’ve ever heard in a Big Finish audiobooks
– Andy dropping X-Files references vs. Norton quoting The Quatermass Experiment

Cobi’s Synopsis – Top-notch chemistry between the two leads combines with a great script and several memorable moments in Ghost Mission, providing Sergeant Andy Davdison a much deserved day in the limelight as he tries to prove himself worthy of joining Torchwood.

Next up – Suzie Costello would never describe herself as a hero. But she would say she’s someone who always makes the right choices…

Indira Varma is Suzie Costello in…Torchwood: Moving Target

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Doctor Who – “The Condemned”

“Dr John Smith – you’re under arrest. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court…”

Manchester, 2008. The TARDIS lands inside a run-down tower block, beside a dead body – which leads to some awkward questions when the Doctor is found there by the police. Made the prime suspect, how can the Doctor prove to the no-nonsense DI Patricia Menzies that this is not the open-and-shut case it seems, and that she’s actually investigating the death of an alien?

Higher up in Ackley House, a girl named Maxine watches the Doctor being taken away in a squad car. Someone wants her to find out what happened in that room, and isn’t going to be happy if she doesn’t come up with the goods. But she’s got hold of someone who knows – someone very important to the Doctor.

A deadly conspiracy is at work – one whose effects will be felt far beyond the walls of Ackley House…

Colin Baker is the Doctor in The Condemned.

X X X X X

Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charlotte Pollard)
Anna Hope (D.I. Patricia Menzies)
Will Ash (Sam)
Sara De Freitas (Maxine)
Lennox Greaves (Dr Joseph Aldrich)
James George (Slater)
Diana Morrison (Antonia Bailey/Jane)
Stephen Aintree (D.C.I. Turnbull/Goon/Police Officer/Guy in Gym)
Steve Hansell (P.C. Blackstock/Police Officer/Guy in Gym)

Written by: Eddie Robson
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Released: February 2008

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/the-condemned-271

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The Condemned could have been the moment Big Finish jumped the shark. By taking an established character with strong ties to one Doctor and pairing her up with another Doctor, the company was taking a huge risk that the new partnership wouldn’t work and long-time listeners would tune out of their stories. However, the team-up provided a breath of fresh air to both characters. Their first adventure would see the Sixth Doctor and Charlotte Pollard slowly feel each other out as they find themselves caught up in a mystery involving a dead body, a salty DI, aliens hiding out on Earth, and a crumbling tower block that seems more alive than the desperate individuals living inside.
Although her efforts to stop the Cybermen had led her to be marooned on a dead planet in the distant future, Charlotte Pollard never lost hope that someone, anyone, would come rescue her. And when the familiar blue police box materialized in front of her, her hope was rewarded. Until she met the Doctor. A curly-haired man in a blue coat, this Doctor was immediately suspicious of the stranger who seemed to be hiding something. That mystery is soon swept to the side by another one – the discovery of a dead body in a locked apartment inside a decaying apartment building. The Doctor soon finds himself as the number one suspect in the eyes of DI Patricia Menzies, while Charlotte finds herself held captive by one of the tower’s residents. There are a few people who want to talk to Charley – one who wants to know what happened to the murder victim, and one who wants nothing more than for Charley to help him escape the high rise’s dark, lightless basement…

2007 was a time of transition for Big Finish. The year began with Blood of the Daleks as Paul McGann began his stand-alone range of one-hour adventures patterned on the revival series of Doctor Who, and it ended with long-time companion and Big Finish original Erimem leaving the Fifth Doctor in The Bride of Peladon. Both Doctors would go on to find new companions in due course (Eight meeting up with Lucie Miller and Five meeting Amy during the Key 2 Time story arc as well as one Thomas Brewster further down the line). It could have been easy for Big Finish to play it safe and continue their standard output, mixing classic Doctor/companion teams as well as newcomers to the TARDIS. The company chose however to try something unique – to take an existing Doctor and pair them with an existing companion of ANOTHER Doctor. Companions meeting other Doctor isn’t a new concept to Doctor Who, but normally the companion has experienced the regeneration of the Doctor first-hand or has the Doctor on hand to explain how he can have two faces in two place at once.

The Condemned would see the idea of a companion meeting a different Doctor take a different path. At the conclusion of The Girl Who Never Was, Charlotte Pollard believed the Doctor was dead at the hands of the Cybermen, while the Doctor believed that Charlotte had left him in Singapore and was moving on with her life. When the TARDIS appears in response to her distress signal, Charley rushes inside expecting to find her dashing, romantic Byronic Doctor. Instead, she’s taken aback by a control room she doesn’t recognize and a Doctor she’s only seen in pictures. It’s a great opening twist from veteran Big Finish writer Eddie Robson that’s taken to the next level by both Colin Baker and India Fisher. On one hand, there’s the Sixth Doctor, who had just seen Evelyn Smythe leave the TARDIS (after the events of the forthcoming Industrial Evolution) and finds himself sliding into the old habits of being a little prickly, a little smug, and a little paranoid. On the other hand, there’s Charley who knows that the Eighth Doctor never mentioned meeting her in a previous incarnation, and understands the dangers of revealing information about someone’s future to them. What listeners get is a great opening scene that serves to confirm that this. Instead of the over-his-head adventurer and his willing partner in crime, this pairing consists of a companion with a secret and a Doctor who doesn’t suffer fools lightly.

Charley, a veteran time traveler, has to act like she’s brand new to the idea, “amazed” that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, whereas the Doctor is bewildered at how casually Charley reacted to the presence of a blue police box appearing in front of her. From the very beginning, the chemistry between Charley and the Sixth Doctor is radically different from that between Charley and the Eighth Doctor, and make no mistake the chemistry is there. It continues throughout The Condemned’s runtime as Charley (Charley Smith, or Charlotte Smith as she mixes up the two) keeps changing her story, making the Doctor more and more suspicious of her, which causes him to confront her at the end of the story. Once again, Charlotte thinks quickly and blurts out why her story is so strange and she can’t remember her own name – amnesia.

(As an Eighth Doctor fan, I had to pause the serial because I busted out in laughter for a good thirty seconds)

But the central mystery of The Condemned takes precedence over the Strange Case of Charlotte Pollard. After arriving in a locked apartment with a dead body, the Doctor can’t possibly understand why the local police would arrest him and consider him the primary suspect rather than let him assist them in the investigation! This is a post-Evelyn Sixth Doctor, so Colin Baker allows a little bit of his more cynical and acerbic nature shine through. He doesn’t see Charley as a possible threat so much as she is a riddle to be solved, but he still pokes and prods at her story during their scenes together (which are actually few and between in his story). The bigger problem however is the murder victim and how it ties into an unknowing spouse, a mysterious doctor, and a potential alien invasion. Baker plays up the Doctor’s inquisitive and deductive side in The Condemned, allowing the police to fill in the blanks he provides while he focuses on the much larger picture. In the end, it comes down to nothing more than simple monetary gain. Hearing Baker stress the word “greed” is a noteworthy moment in and of itself.

India Fisher has played Charlotte Pollard for years by this point and her performance is just as solid as a long time Big Finish listener would expect. Whereas she’s cagey and a bit flustered while trying to both reveal and keep information from the Sixth Doctor, her bold and brave personality, honed from her travels with the Eighth Doctor, is front and center during this story. Normally, new companions tend to find themselves in distress. It takes a bit of time for them to acclimate to the hazards of travelling with the Doctor and usually they find themselves needing to be rescued. In Charley’s case, she picks up right where The Girl Who Never Was ended in terms of characterization, that of an “Edwardian Adventuress” vs “Damsel in Distress.” She actually spends a good bit of The Condemned’s runtime as a prisoner, being held against her will on behalf of a third party who also wants to know what exactly happened to the murder victim. Instead of sitting around however, Charley does everything she can to escape, trying to convince her captor to let her go as well as physically trying to pick the lock on the apartment door. But there’s also her altruistic side as she spends a good bit of time on the phone talking to a young man who finds himself trapped in the basement, alone in the dark, and desperate for someone, anyone, to come and rescue him. It’s a very tense scene as Charley manages to make it to the basement, only to find out that the darkness is absolute, almost as if all light is being eaten, and instead of pushing on she turns and flees. It’s a moment that humanizes Charley, showing that she still has fears even after travelling with the Doctor after all this time. I also like the fact that Charley doesn’t bringing any emotional baggage with her from her time with the Eighth Doctor, a man who she had fallen deeply in love with in a platonic sense and parted with on not-so-great terms. As a time-traveler, she seems willing to let the past be the past and instead focus on the future. It also doesn’t bog down listeners who have not heard any Eighth Doctor serials, keeping the focus simple instead of swamping them with continuity.

As for the story itself, The Condemned holds up very well for the first three episodes. A man has been murdered, but there’s much more to him that meets the eye, including a wife who had no idea why he was in that tower block and a doctor for whom the victim is one of just many exotic patients. This portion of the plot is standard science fiction fare – aliens walk the streets of Manchester, either as refugees hiding out or as businessmen looking to make their fortunes on this backwater planet. The alien portion adds a bit of interest to the proceedings, with one alien looking to conquer the Earth through…evil architecture. Indeed, the alien in question possesses a weapon that can break a sentient being’s physical structure and merge them with a building, giving them complete control over everything inside; they can lock doors, cut off phone lines, flood a room with natural gas, and so forth. On one hand, it’s a neat idea. On the other hand…evil architecture is a very hard sell for a villain to make, and the final act turns into a series of threats, double-crossed, and resolutions where the main villain get their comeuppance, but his accomplices and other savory types get relatively happy endings, including the character who kept Charley hostage as well as the murder’s accomplice.

Even though the concept of an invasion of sentient buildings to conquer the Earth is a bit far-fetched, the scenes set inside the possessed tower block itself are handled incredibly well. One could make the case that the title The Condemned could apply to both the old and decrepit apartment building as well as its inhabitants, common people who have hit rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn. There’s a sense of desperation in the air from the moment the Doctor and Charley step out of the TARDIS, thanks to Robson’s dialogue and the sound work from David Darlington. The inhabitants of the block are desperate enough to jump at any chance to make a buck even if means keeping an innocent woman locked up. Darlington works with both sound and lack of sound to create the atmosphere of the crumbling building, with slight echoes and a lack of ambient music creating a sense that these rooms and corridors are empty or filled with the barest of furnishings. When sound is utilized, it serves to enhance the scene. A creaking door adds a sense of tension to an escape attempt, while a ringing cell phone causes a moment of surprise. Outside the tower block, the sounds of a car chase through the streets of Manchester and the towel-snapping sounds of a male locker room also stand out.

The supporting cast does their job and does their job well, but none of the secondary characters really break out beyond their characterization as “angry building” and “police chief that plays by the rules.” There is one exception however and it’s a pretty big one. The role of Detective Inspector Patricia Menzies is played by Anna Hope, best known as the cat-nurse Hame from New Earth and Gridlock. Cynical, salty, and with an answer to every single one of the Doctor’s disarming comments, Manzies is a rarity in Doctor Who – a competent female authority figure who knows her job and is willing to let the Doctor do his, but is also willing to tell the Doctor to stand aside and let her do HER job. While she can’t quite wrap her head around aliens and time travelers, Manzies knows a crime has been committed, someone has to be held accountable to it, and it’s her responsibility to bring that someone to justice. Hope does a great job bringing the weary Manchester detective to life, with Manzies proving memorable enough to appear in two future audios where she once again encounters the Doctor.

I approached The Condemned with some hesitancy. As a huge fan of the Eight/Charley dynamic (C’rizz? Who’s that?), I was concerned that this new pairing would fail due to a lack of chemistry, or even worse retread the same ground in terms of stories and characterization. Shame on me for not having faith in Big Finish, further shame on me for not having faith in India Fisher, and the most horrible and soul rending shame for not having faith in Colin Baker. The Condemned isn’t a perfect story, however it’s a pretty damn good one thanks to its atmosphere and the presence of DI Manzies. Most importantly, it serves as a great jumping off point for Charley and the Sixth Doctor as each one brings something to the dynamic – Charley’s experience with time travel vs. the Doctor wondering what she’s hiding and letting his curiosity get the better of him by allowing her to travel with him. If you’re looking to jump into Big Finish, The Condemned is a great place to begin. All you need to know is this. Charley’s met the Doctor before, just not THIS Doctor…

Pros
+ The Six/Charley (Baker/Fisher) dynamic
+ Great atmosphere through use of sound
+ Detective Inspector Menzies

Cons
– A weak plan to take over the Earth from the central villain
– Some of the antagonists get undeserved “happy” endings.

Cobi’s SynopsisThe Condemned creates a desperate atmosphere that helps to overcome the standard plot and off-putting “take over the world” scheme, but it’s the initial meeting of Charlotte Pollard and the Sixth Doctor that rightfully takes center stage.

Next up – If anyone knows any just cause or impediment… speak now. The lives of billions depend on it…

Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in…The Dark Husband

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Torchwood – “Zone 10”

They call it “Pulse” – a radio signal which has puzzled the world for 40 years. But now Toshiko Sato has solved it.

She’s uncovered a message which leads her to Russia, and into an uneasy alliance with the KVI – the Russian equivalent of Torchwood. Toshiko needs to get into Zone 10 – a frozen wasteland which officially doesn’t exist.

An intergalactic war was once fought in Zone 10. And it turns out there’s a survivor.

Naoko Mori is Toshiko Sato in…Torchwood: Zone 10

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Cast
Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato)
Krystian Godlewski (Maxim Ivanov)
Ella Garland (Anna Volokova)
Geoffrey Breton (FSB Agent)

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Produced by: James Goss
Script edited by: Steve Tribe

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/zone-10-1390

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Torchwood: Zone 10 focuses on Toshiko Sato, otherwise known as Tosh, as Naoko Mori slips easily back into the role. Built around an intriguing real life concept, the story provides some much needed information on the Committee to push that story arc forward while also serving as a neat story with some unique temporal mechanics and solid characterization for Torchwood Three’s technical genius.

The Pulse. A radio signal that has been broadcasting for nearly 40 years. No one has been able to crack the transmission – code breakers, mathematicians, military intelligence officers, all had been stumped by the steady tone of the signal. Until Toshiko Sato manages to decrypt the mysterious signal and discover two shocking truths. The Pulse is directing its listeners to an isolated area of Russia, a winter wasteland known only as Zone 10. And its message is addressed directly to none other than Tosh herself…

Zone 10 writer David Llewellyn continues to advance the Committee storyline that runs throughout Big Finish’s Torchwood releases, much as he did in his two stories in the first series, The Committee and Uncanny Valley. He begins with an intriguing concept – numbers stations. Numbers stations were shortwave radio stations used during the Cold War by intelligence agencies to broadcast instructions to their agents throughout the world. These messages often took the form of random series of numbers or short phrases that would be deciphered by the agents using a one-time pad or computer program. Even with the end of the Cold War several of these stations continue to broadcast on a loop. Perhaps the most famous of these stations emanates from Russia known officially as UVB-76 and unofficially as “The Buzzer” for the steady buzzing tone it broadcasts at 25 beats per minute, 24 hours a day, with the occasional interruption by a female voice. With the mystery of the Pulse serving as the story’s central pillar, Llewellyn builds the plot around it by taking a Russian espionage story and combines it with the inception and consequences of a temporal loop. The Russian side of things has its moments. It does have the standard cliches of an experienced agent (Maxim Ivanov, which is a great name for a Soviet/Russian spy) who talks about the “good old days” of the Soviet Union and may or may not have a secret motive that works at cross purposes with Tosh. Luckily, actor Krystian Godlewski imbues the role of Ivanov with an easy-going and disarming charm that helps to enhance his internal conflict when the time comes to betray Tosh. Portraying an agent of KVI, Russian’s counterpart to Torchwood, Godlewski gives his performance a good bit of heart and there’s never a point where the listener really loathes or hates Ivanov as they understand and perhaps even sympathize with him. Godlewski gives a very good turn in his first audio performance, which is a little funny as he’s best known for being the CGI stand-in for Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy!

The timey-wimey aspects (and I don’t know if I should thank or curse Blink for introducing that phrase into the modern science-fiction lexicon) are a side-effect of the Committee. Much like Torchwood, KVI was responsible for bringing the Committee to Earth. Hoping to capitalize on the group’s advanced technology, the KVI soon found themselves under the thumb of the Committee and chose to strike back in what Ivanov called “the shortest war in Earth history. 32 minutes.” Zone 10 was a demonstration by the Committee as they used a temporal bomb to lock the entire area in to a stable time loop. Anyone going into Zone 10 is stuck inside, never aging, their supplies regenerating, never going hungry or thirsty. Trapped inside Zone 10, Tosh and Ivanov soon find the source of the Pulse – an old 1960’s Soviet space capsule containing the first female cosmonaut and the first woman in space who was plucked out of orbit by the committee, both to send a message to the KVI that no one is beyond their reach…and to send a message to Torchwood 40 years later. Voice actor Ella Garland plays cosmonaut Anna Volokova, space pioneer whose moment of glory was cut short. Being a woman out of time is something Tosh can empathize with, and the last third of the audio focuses on Tosh doing her best to ensure Anna has her opportunity to escape Zone 10 and live her full life one again. Garland portrays Volokova as tired, someone who can’t believe that her moment of rescue might just be her last moment on Earth. Her anger is laced with a weariness, the kind that only 40 years in a Russian winter could draw out, and knowing that all she’s known is dead and gone, both family and country, makes her decision during the climax and final fate all the more bittersweet.

Of course, this audio is all about Tosh. Big Finish has done a great job shining the spotlight on Gwen and Ianto, and Zone 10 continues that winning streak. Naoko Mori hasn’t portrayed Tosh since 2008, but she effortlessly slides right back into the character of the lonely genius. Mori is simply fantastic in the part. Removed from the rest of Torchwood Three, Tosh shows much more confidence as well as her scientific bent. Spending her spare time trying to crack a 40 year old radio signal is something that Tosh would try to do. And it’s not a sense of recklessness and need for approval, like that which framed Ianto’s actions in Fall To Earth, but a genuine scientific interest and need to solve the puzzle. And that scientific interest is what saves the day during the final third of the story, with a callback to Tosh’s creation of the Time Bubble that surrounds the Hub as well as figuring out how to use both the time loop and Volokova’s capsule in an attempt to save their lives. There’s also a nice moment where Tosh shoots one of the agents trying to stop her and Ivanov and she tries to comes to grips with the fact that she just killed a man. Mori puts a good deal of grief and pathos into the scene, further humanizing and differentiating Tosh from the other members of Torchwood Three.

Whereas The Victorian Age was a fun melodramatic and comedic romp, Zone 10 is much more intense, a claustrophobic affair even though it’s set on the wide open Russian wilderness. It furthers the story of the Committee while also adding some great characterization to a core member of Torchwood. Combining three greats portrayals and unnerving temporal happenings, Zone 10 does great credit to the character of Tosh and easily recommended to both Torchwood fans and science-fiction fans.

Random Thoughts
– I couldn’t help but notice that the KVI building was set up above a pizza place, which brought back memories of Gwen’s efforts to infiltrate the Hub by dressing up as a pizza delivery girl during Torchwood’s very first episode!

Cobi’s Synopsis – A tight and claustrophobic affair, Zone 10 combines the Committee, number stations, a lost and forgotten cosmonaut, and Naoko Mori bring Tosh to life once again with a fantastic performance.

Next up – Sergeant Andy Davidson has always wanted to join Torchwood. And now he finally gets his chance…

Tom Price is Sergeant Andy Davidson in…Torchwood: Ghost Mission.

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