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Archive for July, 2009

Doctor Who: The Genocide Machine – Dalek Empire Part 1
Mike Tucker
Big Finish Audio Play #7
Starring: Sylvester McCoy & Sophie Aldred

And finally we come to the moment all Big Finish listeners have been waiting for: Daleks.

On a wet isolated planet the Doctor is returning a library book. Not just any library, but the Library of Kar-Charrat, one of the repository’s of the universe’s knowledge. Every book, from every planet, is here. The librarians have been working on a new storage method, the Wetworks, and numerous interested parties have been to discover its secrets: one race in particular is after it, the Daleks.

Last seen in the 1988 serial Remembrance of the Daleks, the Daleks have instilled fear in generations. My earliest memory of them is in Remembrance, and the horror I felt as they ascended the stairs towards the Doctor has stayed with me. Even now, their metallic cry “Exterminate!” sends shivers up my spine. Not bad for little pepper-pots from Skaro. Nevertheless as the television series continued from their first appearance in the 1963 serial The Daleks, these monsters became more crazed, less considered, until they were nothing more than simple killing machines. The Genocide Machine counters the histrionics of later seasons by making the Daleks devious, ruthless and patient creatures. When they kill here it is terrifying.

The plot of The Genocide Machine is a good one too. It twists and turns and the true villains are not necessarily who you think they are; it could almost have become a morality tale, but thankfully does not. There are a few minor quibbles – a joke that is drastically overplayed, and Ace’s double is badly acted, even if it is still Sophie Aldred playing it.

There were great ideas here too, and even better cliffhangers. The return of the Daleks was worth the wait and I am intrigued by the Part 1 in the title: the story here seems at an end, but the machinations of the Daleks is never over…

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Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy (2000)
Jacqueline Rayner
Big Finish Audio Play #6
Starring Colin Baker & Maggie Stables

The Doctor is investigating a mysterious energy reading when he stumbles into a lecture being given by Doctor Evelyn Smythe. Smythe is the source of the readings and she is vanishing from time. Travelling with the Doctor back to Tudor England to discover why they become embroiled in court politics and the chance of a very real revolution.

The story, by debut author Jacqueline Rayner, is a real triumph. She introduces a brand new companion, Evelyn Smythe, and gives Maggie Stables playing her such great one-liners and backchat with the Doctor that it is certain she has the best introduction of any character in the entire history of Doctor Who. Smythe and The Doctor truly come to life in this purely historical adventure: there are no monsters, just humans, making mistakes, trying to live and fighting to save their way of life.

The recreation of Tudor England is excellent, and the supporting cast of Anah Ruddin as the Queen and Nicholas Pegg as the Reverand Thomas relish their roles. There is genuine drama here, and it is good to see a companion for that is unafraid.

At times Rayner’s tale made me laugh out loud and what a joy to discover the humour of Doctor Who. With this tale Big Finish have secured my dedication to their range. A wonderfully meaty adventure with a companion I can’t wait to meet again. Also worth noting is the music which suitably enhances the production and is the first time in this range that I noticed it and thought, yes, that’s right. Big Finish, you done it again!

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Doctor Who: The Fearmonger (2000)
Jonathan Blum
Big Finish Audio Play #5
Starring: Sylvester McCoy & Sophie Aldred

Of all the proper introductions the Doctor has had in this Big Finish range, Sylvester McCoy’s is the best. He simply appears, already involved in the mystery, and we must play catch up. Great stuff.

The story is a corker too. An alien entity is stalking twenty-first century London, living off the fear it generates in others. When the Doctor arrives, the alien is living off the terror evoked by a right-wing political group. It is not the monster that is the true focus of Jonathan Blum’s tale, but rather the political machinations on earth: this is a story written before the fall of the Twin Towers, but some of its thought and attitude seems to reflect attitudes developed after that event.

This story feels very real, quite genuine (apart from the monster stuff) and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and the now-much less annoying Ace are involved in it in a very real way. There were some wonderful set pieces here: the kidnapping, the riot, and they all formed such an integrated plot; nothing felt tacked on.

The Fearmonger is a new high for Big Finish productions.

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Doctor Who: The Land of the Dead (2000)
Stephen Cole
Big Finish Audio Play #4
Starring: Peter Davison & Sarah Sutton

Landing in Alaska, the Fifth Doctor and his companion Nyssa, are attacked by an unusual creature. Fleeing it they arrive at an unusual house where they are greeting by a man who represents billionaire Shaun Brett – this is not a home, but a shrine to a dead father, only an ancient evil is being awoken as its land is destroyed.

Immediately we have a story that could never have been made in the television days of Doctor Who. The budget could not have allowed for filming in the Arctic Circle, nor of the building of all the different rooms that are in this shrine, each of which is being modelled by artist Monica Lewis with different natural elements. Lewis, deftly played by Lucy Campbell, will play a significant role in helping defeat the Permians, creatures that have existed on earth longer than man.

This is the first appearance of Nyssa in the range, and I always enjoyed this native of Traken. Sarah Sutton’s reprisal of her famous character is just as fun as she was in the show. She plays off Peter Davison’s Doctor will panache.

This is another strong story from Big Finish, with perhaps only the repetition of the cliff-hangers marring its fun: the Doctor is threatened, the Doctor is threatened… we know he won’t die, so why not threaten someone who might? The production values are again of a high standard: we can feel that Alaskan wind, the chill, and in one particularly brilliant set piece, we feel we are in the water with the Doctor, Monica Lewis and a Permian monster hunting them.

These stories may just be science fiction, but the Big Finish range is proving admirably brilliant. I look forward to my ten mile walks just to have the chance to listen to another: what higher praise can a series get?

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Doctor Who: Whispers of Terror (1999)
Justin Richards
Big Finish Audio Play #3
Starring Colin Baker & Nicola Bryant

The third monthly Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish has a setting perfect for audio: a sound monster is lurking in the Museum of Aural Antiquities; but what has it do with the political speeches of Visteen Krane about to be broadcast over that planet’s national broadcast system?

Colin Baker is perhaps the Doctor I know least. He had such a curtailed run as the Doctor on BBC (1984 -1986) and made only eleven stories that his appearance in the Big Finish range allows the fan a chance to learn more about this incarnation of the Doctor, and his companions. On the basis of this story, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is an absolute joy. His relationship with Peri, played by Nicola Bryant, is refreshing and adult.

Writer Justin Richards has used to the confines of the audio-medium to his advantage, and Big Finish respond to the challenge. Though his story is a little slight: a creature simply wants to escape: the mood absolutely drips menace. In a place where any sound could be the monster, every little noise become suspicious. There was also a great twist near the end, something I should have heard coming but didn’t, and that for me, marks this out as a great story. It is again, a marked improvement for Big Finish who seem to be adapting and growing in skill with each story.

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Doctor Who: Phantasmagoria (1999)
Mark Gatiss
Big Finish Audio Play #2
Starring: Peter Davison, Mark Strickson

The second of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio plays and the first to focus on just one Doctor, in this instance Peter Davison’s Fifth.

It is London, 1702, and people are vanishing at the Diablo Club after losing at cards to Sir Nikolas Valentine. The Doctor, ever sensitive to danger, begins to investigate. The recreation of the Diablo and eighteenth century London is simply quite wonderful; the enclosed setting immediately provides atmosphere, a black menace. The performances are, for the most part, up to the task. If there is a criticism it is that everything here is perhaps a little too obvious: Valentine is quite clearly the sneering villain, it is clear who will die. But perhaps that is the point, for by making such things obvious one can sit back and listen to the adventure, to the mood, to the sense of place, and enjoy a romp of a story being well told.

To the uninitiated listener, those for whom Doctor Who is only a casual fling, this audio adventure is easily enjoyable. It is not overloaded with jargon, and its moves along at such a pace and with such obvious fun that sometimes you can even forget you’re listening to science-fiction.

Phantasmagoria is written by Mark Gatiss, a well-known member of The League of Gentlemen, and an outstanding writer. His love for Doctor Who shines through in what is a marked improvement from The Sirens of Time.

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