Big Finish Review: The Diary of River Song

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Introducing the character of River Song to Big Finish’s ranges, The Diary of River Song sees Alex Kingston resuming her role in four new episodes, surprise released by Big Finish this last Christmas Day following The Husbands of River Song. Will River translate well to audio? can Big Finish match the highs of their other ongoing series releases? read on!

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The Boundless Sea by Jenny T Colgan

River Song has had more than enough excitement for a while. Deciding the universe – and her husband – can look after themselves, she has immersed herself in early 20th century academia, absorbed in writing archaeological theses. But when a mysterious tomb is found in a dry, distant land, excitement comes looking for River. Can Professor Song stop any more members of the expedition from dying? What deadly secrets lie buried within the crypt? And will British Consul Bertie Potts prove to be a help, or a hindrance?

diary-of-river-big-finish-the-boundless-sea-300x300Acting as the set-up to the rest of the set, The Boundless Sea is an excellent opening chapter for River Song with Big Finish. Taking River right back to her archeologist roots, there’s something of the Indiana Jones and Mummy series’ here, River taken back to the golden “Howard Carter” age of archeology to investigate a mysterious tomb and possible death in it’s walls.

Alexander Vlahos stands out as the wonderful Bertie, River’s companion for the play, and the opening chapter is enthused with a sense of fun and energy, fixed with some heavy emotion when called for. It is perfect echo of the best aspects of the River Song character on television and, as fans of the genre, Jenny T Colgan has given us one of our favourite Big Finish hours of 2015.

I Went to a Marvellous Party by Justin Richards

River Song always enjoys a good party, even when she’s not entirely sure where or when the party is taking place. But the party she ends up at is one where not everything – or indeed everyone – is what it seems… Being River, it doesn’t take her too long to go exploring, and it doesn’t take her too long to get into trouble. The sort of trouble that involves manipulating other civilisations, exploitation, and of course murder. River is confident she can find the killer. But can she identify them before anyone else – or quite possibly everyone else – gets killed?

i-went-to-a-marvellous-partyOur second instalment, while not reaching the highs of the opening chapter, brings firm echoes of the River we saw at Christmas, a murder mystery at a very posh party attended by the decadent elites… and does River have a whole new husband?

The idea of a universal elite pulling strings like a galactic illuminati is one that has potential to be either incredible fun or provide quick and effective drama and their introduction is effective.

Big Finish have produced a number of plays along the murder mystery theme, as recently as You Are the Doctor and Other Stories, and while there is enjoyment here, the play seems to be a holding piece between the explosive opening and both the emotional Signs and the return of Paul McGann in the final instalment, foreshadowing both episodes with the promise of River’s “husband” arriving throughput.

Signs by James Goss

River Song is on the trail of the mysterious, planet-killing SporeShips. Nobody knows where they come from. Nobody knows why they are here. All they do know is that wherever the SporeShips appear, whole civilisations are reduced to mulch. But River has help. Her companion is a handsome time-travelling stranger, someone with specialist knowledge of the oddities and dangers the universe has to offer. For Mr Song has a connection to River’s future, and he would never want his wife to face those perils alone…

diary-of-river-big-finish-signs-300x300The third part of the boxset, Signs, is the standout, yet presents a very different type of story to anything else herein. Essentially a two-hander between Alex Kingston and Samuel West, Signs is a clever and emotional piece by Big Finish regular James Goss. River and her husband investigate the mystery of the SporeShips, River beset by illness and memory loss as we flash backward and forward.

An episode that requires concentration, Alex Kingston is at her absolute best here, coupled with an equally standout performance by Samuel West and there are distinct echoes of the closing moments of The Husbands of River Song here alongside, perhaps surprisingly, The Next Doctor and Heaven Sent.

The Rulers of the Universe by Matt Fitton

As shocking secrets are exposed, and a grand plan for the universe is revealed, River decides it’s time she took control of events once and for all. Out in deep space, a clandestine society faces off with an ancient and powerful alien force – but, for River, there’s an added complication. The Eighth Doctor has been caught in the middle, and she must make sure her future husband can arrive at his own destiny with all his memories – not to mention his lives – intact…

the-rulers-of-the-universeThe Rulers of the Universe sees Paul McGann and Alex Kingston together as River and the Eighth Doctor for our big “set finale”. Despite asking “how will they do it?” before the release, the answer is simple and effective and we get our first glimpses of the Eighth Doctor we saw during the events of The Night of the Doctor, Paul McGann having an instant chemistry with Alex Kingston, a fact that bodes well for their coming reunion in Doom Coalition 2.

With the stakes high, The Rulers of the Universe brings the set to a satisfying conclusion with Matt Fitton crafting an episode that’s possibly closest to the ongoing series in spirit, the resolution being straight out of Steven Moffat’s time bending playbook.

Concluding

The Dairy of River Song takes the best aspects of the River Song and uses them to their fullest effect here, many of the settings and themes complimenting not only The Husbands of River Song but both Series 8 and Series 9The Dairy of River Song tells a tale worthy of River and Alex Kingston effortlessly transfers her performance to the new medium, the character written as somewhat more sober than her more extravagant TV excesses. With strong performances from the supporting cast, Samuel West in particular standing out, The Dairy of River Song is an excellent start to the range and comes highly recommended… dare we say we enjoyed it more than The Husbands of River Song?

The Diary of River Song is available now from BigFinish.com.

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Big Finish Review: You Are the Doctor and Other Stories

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Synopsis

You Are the Doctor by John Dorney

YOU are the Doctor, a mysterious traveller in time and space. Will YOU succeed in foiling the ghastly plans of the horrible Porcians, the most inept invaders in all the cosmos? Or will you get yourself killed, over and over again?

Come Die With Me by Jamie Anderson

A spooky old house. A body in the library. A killer on the loose. The Doctor accepts the challenge laid down by the sinister Mr Norris: to solve a murder mystery that’s defeated 1,868 of the greatest intellects in the universe… and counting.

The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel by Christopher Cooper

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Ace to the most opulent casino hotel in the cosmos – a haunt of the rich, the famous and the unutterably corrupt. There’s a robbery in progress – but is the Doctor really in on the plan?

Dead to the World by Matthew Elliott

Tourist spaceship the Daedalus hangs suspended in space, all but three of its passengers having fallen victim to a bizarre infection. But if the Doctor saves those last survivors, he risks destroying the entire human race.

Review

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventures series from your childhood? or even the 1980s Find Your Fate/Make Your Own Adventure With the Doctor? We were big fans of both here at DWW Towers (that’s a place, honest) and remember many an idle day sat cheating at the Fighting Fantasy novels between bouts of Tintin and Target’s finest, Vault of the Vampire being our fondest memory of the range. So this months release from Big Finish comes at something of an advantage as their very own take on the genre, the format lending itself readily to CD/download.

The first story for the reasons above is our personal standout of this four story collection that sees Ace slowly (but not very surely) learning to pilot the TARDIS. Played with humour throughout, You Are the Doctor has something of a comicbook quality to it and with the “choose a path” format, has immediate longevity as you uncover all the possible outcomes. Tremendous fun and we can’t help hoping for a longer release using the same premise. Go on Big Finish, adapt Mission to Venus and Crisis in Space, you know you want to! That said, having killed the Seventh Doctor and Ace by plunging them down to a planet, we can’t help but feel guilty and that their blood is on our hands! And as for the continuity issues…

The second story of the collection also feels a treat as Jamie Anderson provides an excellent Agatha Christie pastiche with Come Die With Me. Ignoring the pun, Come Die With Me feels suitably Christiesque, complete with manor house and servants straight out of the murder fiction of the era. With the suitably enigmatic Mr Norris on hand, the listeners are kept guessing and re-guessing both the guests and situation throughout as with any truly great murder mystery. With Ace the next potential victim, there’s a real sense of danger here and the only “fault” that could possibly be highlighted with the episode is that the idea has the potential for a full episodic release.

Taking the darkest turn of the release, The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel sees Ace standing trial for crimes she (presumably) didn’t commit. Mixing a casino/hotel with uprising and a robbery attempt that fails miserably, the influences on the third episode are proudly on show. A strong outing from Christopher Cooper, he successfully manages to convey both a sense of a real and living world with all the cruelty and oppression it entails, and equally a sense of urgency at events, no small task in the short time provided. With some topical social commentary, it is again a shame the story was not given longer as a regular series release and we hope Cooper is given a crack of the bigger whip soon.

Finally, Dead to the World, sees Ace again landing where she didn’t intend, the spaceship Daedalus. Possibly the most traditional fare of the audio as an alien menace threatens Earth and with people dying of a mysterious and very nasty plague, Dead to the World is very much in the mould of the classic base under siege formula, all be it with a unique villain. The play mixes elements found throughout the entire four episodes, with humour at the nature of the threat mixing somewhat uncomfortably with darker material than that found in the opening two instalments, complete with added commentary on the nature of capitalism.

Overall, a very worthwhile release from Big Finish without a poor episode amongst the four. The unique You Are The Doctor was a personal highlight, but there is something for every fan of the McCoy era here. With humour, darkness and social commentary at varying levels through the differing episodes,  You Are The Doctor and Other Stories both reaffirms the best of McCoy and takes us in experimental new directions.

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Written By: John Dorney, Jamie Anderson, Christopher Cooper, Matthew Elliott
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Jon Culshaw (Keith/Guard/Chafal), Kim Wall (Chimbly), Nadine Marshall (Katrice/Kordel), Amrita Acharia (The Resurrectionist/Clerk), Juliet Cowan (Bryer/Adriana Beauvais), Oliver Dimsdale (Morecombe/Mervyn Garvey), George Potts (Ruben/Guard), Vinette Robinson (Cynthia Quince)

You are the Doctor and other Stories is available now from BigFinish.com and Amazon.

Big Finish Review: The War Doctor 1 – Only the Monstrous

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For a little while it seemed that Sir John Hurt’s War Doctor was destined to become almost a footnote in Doctor Who history, to be relegated to the status of a well-acted plot device. Paul McGann got a book range and his own Big Finish audios, and while Sir John got the excellent Engines of War, it seemed we’d hear little more of this unique incarnation… until today. With Big Finish planning four box-sets, spanning 12 episodes in all (a full series!), it seems we’ll have plenty of Time War shenanigans for some time to come. With expectations running high, can Big Finish bring us the Christmas present we’ve been hoping for? can they capture a war that many believe can’t truly be portrayed? or will we be saying “no more” once it’s all said and done? read on!

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Beginning in somewhat overall quieter and more reflective terms that we might have expected, the first story in this four disc set, The Innocent, sees the War Doctor replacing two Time Lords on a suicide mission to strike against the Dalek fleet as they mass for a final assault on Gallifrey. Starting the audio with an action packed pre-credits sequence plays into the audiences expectation and the new War Doctor opening theme by Howard Carter meanwhile will either be adored or hated. With definite nods to the Paul McGann TV Movie (and the recent Damaged Goods release), the theme cuts a suitable militaristic and darker tone than we’re used to.

Seemingly killed in action however and given a full funeral (though in reality, injured on the planet Keska), we’re given the opportunity to get reacquainted with the War Doctor, hear his nightmares of the Time War and gain a deeper understanding of just what makes this unique incarnation tick.

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The Thousand Worlds is possibly the weakest story of this initial trilogy, occupying the unenviable middle position of the set. Building further on the War Doctor’s character as he returns to Keska, The Thousand Worlds is somewhat standard fare in terms of story, bridging the gap and building up the final episode, yet one with an excellent plot twist. Assigned to rescue the high-ranking Time Lord Seratrix, the War Doctor finds only betrayal and a deadly alliance as he returns to Keska. Beth Chalmers as the deliciously villainous Veklin is the highlight of this second instalment and the return of Rejoice, who fulfilled the companion role admirably in the previous adventure, was welcome.

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Can the Daleks be truly planning a peace? The War Doctor doesn’t think so in the final part of this opening trilogy, The Heart of the Battle. Would it be a spoiler to say that the Doctor is right and the Daleks aren’t really after peace? discovering a plot to destroy Gallifrey itself, not everybody will leave the episode alive. Fast paced and with an excellent resolution where just desserts are served, The Heart of the Battle continues and expands on the character studies developed throughout the set.

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John Hurt’s performance as The War Doctor is, as you would expect, sublime, with Hurt recapturing the role as if he’d played it a thousand times and adding new layers of development. Possibly even more maverick and rude than his appearance in The Day of the Doctor, this incarnation shows a manipulative side, an irritability and writer Nicholas Briggs has woven a suitably complex make-up to this near blank slate. Hurt is joined by Jacqueline Pearce as the manipulative Cardinal Ollistra, Pearce is, as always, great value and puts in a show stealing performance in every scene, the listener questioning her motivations and true nature throughout (there needs to be more of her!), the Time Lord’s war here portrayed as far more complex and morally ambiguous than many may have expected.

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Only the Monstrous ends up as something more of a character piece than the bombastic Hollywood action spectacle we might have expected, combining the best elements of Big Finish’s Gallifrey range with new series scope and grandeur. With stand-out performances from Sir John Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce, Only the Monstrous builds both on the mythos of the Time War and that of the War Doctor, which Big Finish make their own here. With strong nods to Time Lord political shenanigans and strong action sequences, Only the Monstrous is quite firmly the opening salvo of a much longer story, yet it bodes well for the rest of this series and the ongoing legend of the War Doctor.

The War Doctor 1 – Only the Monstrous is available now from BigFinish.com.

Big Finish Review: Jago, Litefoot & Strax – The Haunting

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Strax, the Sontaran butler to Victorian investigator Vastra and her wife Jenny, suffers a disorienting attack and mistakes Jago & Litefoot for Jenny and Vastra and moves into Litefoot’s home. Together, they are on the trail of a creature that is stealing brains, which may or may not be linked to a haunted house in London…

With the new-Who influx to Big Finish, including new adventures for the Tenth Doctor, The War Doctor, UNIT, River Song and more, it was always on the cards to see (part of) The Paternoster Gang sooner rather than later in audio form. With Jago & Litefoot already treading the gaslit streets of London however, the arena of Victorian supernatural shenanigans and infernal incidents would seem to be sewn up… so Big Finish take the logical step of crossing over Jago, Litefoot and new-Who in the two-part feature length The Haunting… and it’s quite brilliant.

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Searching for an alien power source, Strax finds himself coming across the home base of our intrepid investigators, the Red Tavern, almost immediately engaging in a bar fight! Jago & Litefoot meanwhile soon find themselves investigating a trail of corpses all with their brains removed. With a mysterious mansion, the centre of strange goings on for a century, the audio is something of two-halves, with an early traditional murder mystery giving way to the sci-fi action/horror of the second.

“Sublety is my watchword” – Strax

“Really?” – Ellie

“One of them” – Strax

“What are the others?” – Ellie

“Obliteration… destruction… devastation… annihilation… demolition… fragmentation…” – Strax

Any production featuring Strax is bound to be full of comedy moments and The Haunting doesn’t disappoint, Strax very much in-keeping with his on-screen characterisation as he struggles with the social complexities of the Victorian era, mistakes Ellie for a boy and Jago & Litefoot for Madame Vastra and Jenny (no, really!). The focus on the characters and their interactions masks something of a simple story, yet Justin Richards perhaps uses this to his advantage, the play being a perfect “hop on point” for listeners new to the range, presenting more of a science-fiction orientated plot, certainly in the second half, as opposed to the more macabre and supernatural goings-on of the main Jago & Litefoot range.

“Get out of the way, human scum!” – Strax

Trevor Baxter, Christopher Benjamin, Dan Starkey and Lisa Bowerman are all on sparkling form, Starkey slipping almost seamlessly into the established Jago & Litefoot set-up and developing a hilarious chemistry with the regulars. Carolyn Seymour as Mrs Multravers brings an understated and chilling menace to the role and Stephen Critchlow guests as Marvo the Magician. With Inspector Quick having heard of Madame Vastra, the ending is left open for a full crossover between Jago & Litefoot and The Paternoster Gang in the near future, which, on this form, could be a genuine treat.

A riotously funny entry in the Jago & Litefoot range, The Haunting successfully bridges the classic and new series’ inside the unique framework of Jago & Litefoot and bodes well for future releases featuring elements of the ongoing series. A perfect mix of action, humour, mystery and suspense, The Haunting is a true triumph and possibly the most enjoyable Big Finish release of 2015. And listen out for the fate of a poor parrot in possibly our favourite moment of the play!

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Dan Starkey (Strax), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie), Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), Stephen Critchlow (Marvo) and Carolyn Seymour (Mrs Multravers). Other parts played by the cast.

Jago, Litefoot & Strax – The Haunting is available now from BigFinish.com and from Amazon.

Review: Suburban Hell, Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventure 4.05

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Somewhere in a suburb of North London, there’s a crisis. More than a crisis, a positive disaster: Belinda and Ralph are expecting four for supper, and there’s no Marie Rose sauce for the Prawns Marie Rose. All in all, the evening couldn’t possibly get any worse… Until the doorbell rings, bringing the Doctor and Leela to the dinner party. They’ve got a crisis, too – temporal ruckage has sent the TARDIS to another time zone entirely. Meaning they might have to endure a whole evening in Belinda’s company. But the Doctor and Leela aren’t the only uninvited guests tonight. There’s a strange fog falling, out in the road. And in that fog: savage blue-skinned monsters, with dinner party plans of their own. Because it’s not Prawns Marie Rose on their menu – it’s people!

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Suburban Hell by Alan Barnes is the 5th release in the 4th series of Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish. It was released in May, 2015.

After being such a mixed bag of offerings throughout the first three series’ of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor range, the series has recently seemed to find it’s footing and a consistency, recent releases hitting the note in terms of tone and performance. After the impressive Death Match last month, can Alan Barnes keep the trend going and equal his other release this month Last of the Cybermen? no, he betters it.

While Last of the Cybermen was excellently plotted with magical performances from our leads, Colin Baker and Frazer Hines standing out in particular, we felt the play was let down somewhat with a sense of over-familiarity, that we’d walked a similar path with the Cybermen all too often. Not so here, the concept and execution refreshingly new. While we like to see the audios staying within the bounds of the realities of the era (lower your weapons rads vs. trads veterans) there is a danger of straying into complacency and the realms of deja vu.

Bringing a nightmarish dinner party to life, Barnes’ tale is benefited by the perfect Doctor for the role, the premise having “written for Tom Baker” all over it and it’s difficult to see it working in this way with any other Doctor. The icon is having a ball here, you can visualise the eyes bulging – all teeth and curls as he’s gifted some riotously funny material, stealing the show as only Baker can, while ensuring the drama never suffers. This is vintage Tom, offsetting the ever increasing threat with humour.

The rest of the cast is excellent, Annette Badland (Aliens of London, Boom Town) standing out as Thelma and Katy Wix’s Belinda is suitably monstrous in her role as hostess, both served well by the script as once again is Leela, her scene with Penny and her husband a highlight. While the play stays strong throughout, the ending unfortunately lets it down, feeling at odds with the rest of the audio and something that unduly effects what came before.

That said, Suburban Hell is a fantastic entry in this very strong fourth series of Tom Baker audios. A genuine rib-tickler with a dark underbelly that shines it’s most with a Tom at his sparkling best. Excellently cast and scripted, the series has found a fine footing and the play comes highly recommended as we head into the anticipated The Cloisters of Terror next month and the return of Emily Shaw. Suburban Hell is one of the highlights of the Fourth Doctor at Big Finish.

Suburban hell is available now from BigFinish.com or via Amazon.

Review: Last of the Cybermen, Big Finish Main Series 199

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It’s been ten years since the final assault on Telos, the last act of the Great Cyber War. Thanks to the Glittergun, humanity prevailed – and the half-machine Cybermen were utterly obliterated. Out on the furthest fringes of the galaxy, however, they left their mark – in the form of a giant Cyber-head, hundreds of feet high. A monument? A memorial? A tomb? The Doctor, the Cybermen’s most indefatigable adversary, sets out to investigate… but he fails to return to his TARDIS. Leaving the Ship, his two companions – brave Highlander Jamie MacCrimmon, and super-intelligent Zoe Heriot – find a stranger in the Doctor’s place. A stranger in a coat of many colours, who insists that he’s the Doctor – transposed in time and space with one of his former selves… But why here? Why now? Has the universe really seen the last of the Cybermen..?

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Last of the Cybermen by Alan Barnes is Big Finish main series release 199.

Following on from last months excellent The Defectors and continuing the “locum Doctors” trilogy, Last of the Cybermen has an impressive start to build upon. With a semi-familiar pairing of the Sixth Doctor and Jamie, with Zoe and the Cybermen to boot, can this month’s audio continue the trend? Yes and no.

While The Defectors stood out for it’s new pairing of Sylvester McCoy and Katy Manning, bringing with them a new dynamic as the morally ambiguous Seventh Doctor took the place of the right-on Third, Last of the Cybermen is saddled with the problem of over-familiarity. There is no clash of eras here and Colin Baker slips almost faultlessly into the Troughton role, his partnership with Jamie already explored both with Big Finish and on television in the Two Doctors and the history of the Cyber-race, like the Daleks, has been explored extensively across many mediums.

In the far future, not long after Zoe’s own time, the Second Doctor and his companions arrive on a mysterious planet that houses a strange monument to the Cybermen. Going out alone to investigate, the Doctor returns wearing a different face… and the outcome of the Cyberwars may be at stake. With a Tomb style group of archeologists, a very human (and Lancastrian) Cyberman and a distrustful Jamie, Last of the Cybermen is both familiar and new in equal measure.

With the presence of the Cyber-Planner and hypercubes, there’s enough classic series references that made it to the new series to keep both old and modern fans entertained, the play being a prequel of sorts to Revenge of the Cybermen and a companion piece to Tomb of the Cybermen and to a lesser degree Nightmare in Silver. This one is steeped in Cyber-lore, giving us the Cybermen equivalent of “the final end” and some echoes of the previous Legend of the Cybermen, but it is with Tomb that the play is truly at home, both in terms of scenario and the protagonists. Not playing to the “locum” concept as well as The DefectorsLast of the Cybermen feels like an amalgamation of the Troughton and Baker eras far more than simply landing a later Doctor in an earlier era which worked so well last month.

Colin Baker, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury work well together, much as with Manning and McCoy the leads have an instant chemistry, the play having a few light-hearted moments for Jamie in particular, in what is another strong script from the veteran Alan Barnes (The Girl Who Never WasGods and Monsters). Jamie and his new Doctor develop something of an argumentative relationship which entertains throughout and there’s a sweet moment toward the end when we find out what Jamie’s thoughts on his future fate exactly are.

While Last of the Cybermen may not be the most original of tales in Big Finish’s canon, the play feeling over-familiar throughout, the script is strong and buoyed by the performances of the three leads, Baker and Hines in particular seeming to be having a whale of a time and given both strong and memorable material. With plenty of Cyber-lore to keep the continuity buffs on their toes, Last of the Cybermen manages to pull of the difficult second part of the locum trilogy and deliver and entertaining Cybermen tale. Plus Jamie’s in it, so what’s not to love!

Last of the Cybermen is available now from Big Finish or via the Amazon link below.

Review: Jago & Litefoot, Series 9

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Four brand new stories featuring the investigators of infernal incidents, in one box set. The Flying Frenchman – Jago and Litefoot embark on a cruise. It’s supposed to be a relaxing break, but what terrors lurk in the mysterious fog? The Devil’s Dicemen – Arriving at Monte Carlo, Jago is keen to try his luck at the famous casino. But if he’s not careful he could lose a lot more than just money. Island of Death – Arriving at a beautiful island, Jago and Litefoot discover evidence of a missing expedition. Can they discover what happened to the ship’s crew before it happens to them? Return of the Nightmare – There is a murderer loose aboard the ship. If they can solve the mystery of the strange fog and return to London, will that make matters better, or far worse?

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Outer Boxart for Series 9 of Jago and Litefoot

By jingo, it’s that time again.. Big Finish treat us to four more adventures from the ever lovable wordsmith and impresario Henry Gordon Jago and his erstwhile companion and friend, the learned Professor George Litefoot, investigators of infernal incidents!

After nine series’ of any franchise, there is always the danger that tiredness may set in as writers and viewers or listeners come to have seen everything that there is to offer.. which is why it’s pleasing that Big Finish have tried to keep Jago & Litefoot fresh by removing them from their usual stomping grounds and send them off to strange (and infernal) foreign shores.

The references and inspiration can at times seem a little too blatant, H. Rider Haggard and The Flying Dutchman for example, yet this is part and parcel of Doctor Who throughout the history of the show and Jago & Litefoot thankfully fails to descend into parody or cheap knock-of of the original source material.

The Flying Frenchman from Jonathan Morris is an intriguing tale set aboard the steamship Fata Morgana, trouble following our heroes even at sea! With a mysterious fog descending and strange vessels looming, Jago & Litefoot are confronted by their own parallels. The story sets up the series nicely, spending significant time fleshing out the ship’s passengers and crew before hinting at things to come in the closing moments. It is unfortunate that due to the narrative scenario Ellie and Quick are out of the picture for most of the series, offset perhaps by the refreshing change of pace and location.

Having survived the devilish fog (we’re sure that won’t be a spoiler to listeners!), our intrepid investigators make shore in Monaco and are faced with a very different kind of devilishness – Satanism and the selling of souls. The Devil’s Diceman is very much Jago’s adventure, his talents key in the resolution to this mysterious affair that centres around a series of disappearances at a high (the highest) stakes casino. Spooky and with plenty of twists, this second episode is a highlight.

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Island of Death is the highlight of the series.

Simon Barnard and Paul Morris give us our third tale of the set, Island of Death. Again beset by fog, the Fata Morgana arrives on a mysterious island, complete with a tribe and lost expedition. Influenced by the likes of Doctor Moreau and She, Island of Death is our personal pick of the set and atypical of Victorian adventure of the era (we’re big fans!). A charming and light piece that is possibly only letdown by the lack of originality in concept, particularly as The Defectors is released the same month… just how many mysterious islands are there in the world!? Otherwise, Island of Death is the highlight of the series.

Justin Richards returns for his second story of Series 9 (also writing The Devil’s Diceman), with the finale The Nightmare Returns, a tale that ties up the running loose ends throughout the set. With gruesome murders, stolen idols and an ancient demon, this is vintage Jago & Litefoot, complete again with Ellie and Inspector Quick. The Nightmare Returns brings Series 9 to a satisfactory Lovecraftian conclusion, yet is possibly the lesser of Justin’s two contributions to the set.

Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are, as ever, excellent, having fun with the variety on offer (and some brilliant accents) while David Warner guest starring as Dr. Luke Betterman in The Devil’s Diceman is a scene stealer, DWW is delighted to know he is scheduled to return in the landmark Series 10. Besides our regulars and Warner, the series is excellently cast by a wide variety of skilled actors, bringing the locales to life with a wide range of voices and accents, perfectly supplemented by the quality direction that has become the norm from Lisa Bowerman, plus some impressive sound design, particularly on Island of Death.

Big Finish have produced a fine set of new adventures for Jago & Litefoot, refreshed somewhat by taking our intrepid duo out of the smog and into exotic parts unknown and a definite improvement on Series 8. The scripts are top notch, peppered with atypical wit and humour, coupled with the sense of fun and enjoyment that has always run throughout the Jago & Litefoot series. With Benjamin and Baxter on cracking form and the rest of the cast rising to the occasion, Series 9 is a hearty recommendation and an essential purchase for fans of the series and newcomers alike. Corks!

Review: The Defectors

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Jo Grant is shocked to find most of her colleagues are missing. Then she discovers that the Doctor has inexplicably changed. But there’s no time to worry about it, as she and her misplaced Time Lord friend are whisked to the mysterious Delphin Isle on a matter of national security. There, they encounter a disturbingly odd form of local hospitality and learn of a highly classified incident that took place during the Cold War. Why exactly have they been brought here? And what is the truth concerning the bodies in the harbour and the vast project being undertaken beneath a cloak of secrecy?

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The Defectors is number 198 in Big Finish’s main Doctor Who series.

Kicking off a new trilogy of unique stories for Big Finish, The Defectors from Nick Briggs is the first of the so-called “locum Doctors” trilogy, whereby a different Doctor is placed into an era from the past. Future releases will see Peter Davison substituting for William Hartnell and Colin Baker for Patrick Troughton, but our first instalment kicks off with the interesting scenario of the morally diverse seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy entering the realm of that most just of Doctors, Jon Pertwee.

The locum Doctors concept is one of those ideas that will work spectacularly well or be a disaster… luckily it’s most certainly the former. A Third Doctor story is a very particular thing, like with Troughton and in someway Tom Baker, there are certain tropes that the listener comes to expect if the play is to have an air of authenticity.. and The Defectors has it in abundance. From Cold War references to secret projects, from UNIT to mysteries covered in “national security,” it’s Saturday tea-time in 1972 all over again… with a McCoy twist!

After Mike Yates is called away to London, a suspicious Jo Grant finds herself confronted by a strange little man claiming to be the Doctor, both soon whisked away to the mysterious Delphin island and military facility by an equally mysterious officer. The facility and island, designed to house top level defectors, throws up more questions than it does answers as our leads are confronted by blue skinned people, rotten boats in the harbour and an unaging population.

Sylvester McCoy is in fine mettle as the Doctor, seemingly enjoying the change of tone and casting, developing an instantaneous chemistry with Katy Manning as Jo, with the relationship between the two being excellently scripted by Nick Briggs. Jo in particularly gets some quality material here, Manning rising to the occasion as she deals with both a new Doctor and being thrust right into the action. While Mike Yates meanwhile may potentially be underused in the story, it fits with the era itself and the necessity for the downgrading of UNIT through the absence of John Levene and the great loss of Nicholas Courtney.

Indeed, Briggs has once again hit the nail on the head spectacularly, penning an authentic sounding and scripted Third Doctor tale, all be it influenced in some measure by B-movies such as It Came From Outer Space as much as the era itself. Yet the writer manages to successfully retain Seven’s individuality, not merely making him a Pertwee substitute as could have been the danger, our scheming and darker McCoy present and correct.

Traditional in the base under siege sense and government conspiracy sense, The Defectors is a fast-paced, strongly scripted and unique affair that leaves the listener wanting to hear more from McCoy and Manning. With the Sixth Doctor ready to meet Jamie, Zoe and the Cybermen next month, the next audio will possibly lose some of The Defectors originality with those taking part having already appeared together previously a number of years ago, yet we’re sure that just as here it will be another fine release from the continually impressive Big Finish.

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Richard Franklin (Captain Yates), Neil Roberts (Captain Cornelius), Barnaby Edwards (Commander Wingford), David Graham (Shedgerton), Rachel Bavidge (Europan Leader), Jez Fielder(Europan)

The Defectors is available now from BigFinish.com

Review: Death Match

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The Death-Match is under new management. The Hunt Master’s Champion has been installed. All regular players are welcomed back to the Pursuit Lounge to observe the contest in luxurious surroundings. Privacy is assured. For this reason we ask our elite guests to abide by the strict security protocols. Please note, the house has no limits. In the Gallery, your combatants can be observed on the orbiting Quarry Station. A purpose-built environment filled with deadly traps and hidden dangers. Prizes are offered for every kill, with bonuses for rogue elements. Only an elite hunter can survive the End-Game. Do you have a worthy champion? Kill or be killed: the only rule of the Death-Match…

Death Match is release 4.04 in the ongoing Fourth Doctor Adventures series.

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Following on from the cliffhanger that ended Requiem for the Rocket Men, Death Match is the latest offering from writer Matt Fitton (Black and White, Afterlife, Signs and Wonders), the fourth in what has already been an excellent series of Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish.

Having failed in his plan to use the Rocket Men to his ends, The Master has set himself up on Quarry Station where he rules over gladiatorial style combat with the imprisoned Leela as his champion.. this being The Master of course, it’s to the death! With the premise echoing the likes of Battle Royale and the very current Hunger Games, there is a danger that the play may stray into unoriginal territory, but Death Match is closer in feel to the likes of Blake’s 7 than anything else.

Again focusing on the relationship between the Doctor and the Master, Death Match brings us something of a deeper experience than the action orientated Requiem for the Rocket Men, the relationship here full of banter and jibes, nearer Delgado than the possibly more continuity correct Pratt. It is this interplay where, like with so many Master stories, the audio and Geoffrey Beevers sparkles, given meaty dialogue for both men to work with.

Alongside the Master, writer Matt Fitton captures the unique Fourth Doctor well, not allowing the character to descend into parody or become over the top and Tom is in his full stride here, hitting his scenes with Beavers with typical Baker gusto. K9 too is given some gems, talking to himself and adding genuine personality as John Leeson relishes the opportunity.

Leela meanwhile continues her audio development alongside the character of Marshall, the Rocket Man with whom she’s decided to begin a new life. No longer considering herself the pupil but rather the master (no pun intended), Leela sees herself somewhat as having taken Marshall under her own wing much as the Doctor has taught her. Given the inevitable future of Gallifrey and Andred, there is something on an inevitability over the fate of Marshall which possibly takes a little suspense from proceedings. Actress Louise Jameson meanwhile continues to impress in the role as she adds new depths to the Sevateem warrior, the final scene being a standout moment for the character.

While most of the death matches themselves are somewhat lacking, understandable given the limitations and more pressing material possibly on offer, the play is otherwise tightly plotted and cracks along at a fair pace, the listener barely noticing the two episodes are considerably longer than the norm. The added length is welcome in a series where extra time would often be a benefit and we certainly hoe that some longer Fourth Doctor audios, besides the specials, may be on offer in the future.

Another excellent entry into the Big Finish canon from the accomplished Matt Fritton, Death Match is one of the highlights of the fourth season of Tom Baker audios. Both gripping and excellently scripted, this fast paced audio adds something new to the crowded Master arena.

Written By: Matt Fitton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), John Leeson (K9), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Susan Brown (Kastrella), Andy Secombe (Vargrave)

Death Match is available now from BigFinish.com

Big Finish Review: Dark Eyes 3

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“Molly O’Sullivan? Hello you.”

In his quest for universal domination, the Master plans to exploit the terrifying Infinite Warriors of the mysterious Eminence. The Doctor’s friend, Molly, is key to that plan’s execution, and now, aided by corrupted genius Sally Armstrong, the Master is close to success. Paranoid and perplexed after his recent experience, the Doctor skirts the fringes of the fifty-year conflict between humanity and the Infinite Armies. Wary of changing the course of history, he fears that to fight the Eminence would be to do the Daleks’ bidding. But when Time Lord CIA agent Narvin provides the impetus for the Doctor to act, Liv Chenka joins him in a desperate race to save their friend and stop the Master. As the Doctor goes head to head with his oldest and deadliest rival, this war is about to get very personal indeed…

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The Dark Eyes series has suffered from one major problem: it isn’t what a lot of fans feel it should be.

For those who remember, To the Death, the climax of the Eighth Doctor Adventures series, ended with a rather amazing set of tragedies, and the Doctor swearing to do something to change that. From there we went into the first Dark Eyes set, where the Doctor…changes his clothes and gets a haircut. There’s no real follow-up to what he said, and what he said felt very much like a lead-up to the events of the Time War, so we had all had quite a bit of anticipation. We knew we wouldn’t get the war itself, obviously, but just the lead-up to it would have been nice!

But no. Instead we got the haircut, the new clothes, and a new companion. Dark Eyes 2 was more of the same, bringing us the new Master, as well as the return of Liv Chenka, a med-tech who had appeared in a Seventh Doctor audio. That story climaxed with the Master somehow kidnapping the Doctor’s companion and, with an additional companion of his own, setting out to do what he does.

Now we’re on the third set, and the Dark Eyes concept, while solid, is getting a bit stale. This was by no means a bad set of stories, but it was certainly the weakest of the series so far.

Of the four stories presented here, the first is easily the most entertaining while the third is probably the best. The first, The Death of Hope, features many elements of a western and is very much a “Doctor-lite” story. In it, the Master, his companion Sally, and their kidnap victim Molly, show up at a human colony that is trying to survive against the Eminence and their Infinite Warriors. The Master has a dark and sinister plan, of course, but implementing it requires that he saves the colony; that he becomes, in his special way, the hero.

I quite liked that touch, and the framing narrative of the Doctor and Narvin watching all this unfold worked out quite well. It also did a good job of laying out the stakes for us so we’d have some understanding of the Eminence and what they’re up to, as well as laying the groundwork for the rest of the Master’s efforts.

Sadly, the second story, The Reviled, didn’t quite churn along as interestingly. It wasn’t bad, and it was a bit dull. It also didn’t help that the alien species on the planet where the story took place had voices that were similar enough to that of the Eminence that I had occasional trouble telling who was who. Also, a note to Big Finish and everyone who works with actors, if you’re going to hire a “name” actor like Sacha Dhawan (previously seen playing Warris Hussien in An Adventure in Space and Time), don’t hide them under so much make up (or in this case, modulate their voice so much), that we can’t tell who they are. It reminds me of the Transformers franchise, where Hugo Weaving played Megatron, though not so you’d notice.

But then we hit Masterplan, which was quite a bit better. In this one we have the Doctor and the Master trapped together in a locked room for quite a good part of the story, and that’s an excellent thing. Macqueen and McGann really work quite well together as a pairing, and I was very pleased with the result of their efforts; so much so that I was annoyed when we kept revisiting what was happening with Sally and Liv.

The set rounds out with Rule of the Eminence, and this story was…ok. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit of a “shrug” story, and it leads to the real problem with this box set and with the Eminence in general: they just aren’t that interesting of an adversary.

Oh, sure, it’s nice to have a break from the Daleks (very nice), but there are so many other, far more interesting villains out there. The Eminence is a gaseous lifeform that basically causes people to turn into zombies that it can control. Eh. How is this fundamentally different from the Cybermen turning people into cyborgs under their control? Or the Daleks turning people into Daleks?

There is nothing especially threatening about the Eminence. There also isn’t much terribly threatening or interesting about the Daleks and Cybermen, but at least with them we have something of a legacy, and we’ve seen them on the TV. The same cannot be said for the Eminence. We’ve seen (heard) them with the Fourth Doctor, the Sixth Doctor and now the Eighth, and they just aren’t working. Big Finish needs to either retire them or rework them, because as it is, my reaction to them tends to be, “Oh. Those guys.” Thank goodness it sounds like Dark Eyes 4 will feature the Sontarans.

Now. Can I recommend this set? Well, first, you don’t have to listen to the previous two, but it does help quite a bit. It’s also good background to listen to the Fourth and Sixth audios that featured the Eminence. I will say that the first and third stories really do make for some great listening, and since you have to buy the set to have those two, I suppose that I can recommend it. But not with any real enthusiasm.

I do understand that the plans are to retire the Dark Eyes line after the next set. I’m quite ok with that. And I very much hope that whatever comes after it is either a real follow-up to the events of To the Death or a return of the Eighth Doctor to the main range. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to find out what happened with Mary, for example (I didn’t really care for her stories, but I hate loose ends), and it would be nice to have more than just one or two appearances by Eight each year.

In the meantime, I think it’s time to queue up some of the old Lucie Miller stories, and remember what once was.

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Written By: Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Ruth Bradley (Molly O’Sullivan), Alex Macqueen (The Master), Natalie Burt (Dr Sally Armstrong), David Sibley (The Eminence), Sean Carlsen (Narvin)

1: The Death of Hope
Georgie Fuller (Hope Gardner), Geoffrey Breton (Leo Gardner)

2: The Reviled
Sacha Dhawan (Jaldam), Sarah Mowat (Gajeeda), Laura Riseborough (Sharma)

3: Masterplan
David Sibley (Professor Markus Schriver), John Banks (Captain/Lieutenant)

4: Rule of the Eminence
Jonathan Forbes (Walter Vincent), Beth Chalmers (Casey Carraway), Georgia Moffett (Engineer Tallow)

Dark Eyes 3 is available now from BigFinish.com or via the Amazon link below.