Sunday, 15 May 2011

Complete Seventh Doctor Adventures (so far...)

The Sirens of Time: As an opening story this is probably a little too ambitious, especially since Big Finish were still finding their legs. I’m certain had they tried this story around the time of Zagreus when both the company and Nick Briggs had had much more practice at this sort of thing it would have been more dramatic and much more of an impact. It’s a nice idea to have three separate episodes with individual stories and then tie them all together in the final episode but everything feels oddly disjointed, that fourth episode is a long time coming and ending each episode on a cliffhanger that we don’t get to see resolved is frustrating and hard to move onto the next story. Saying that the story boasts some lovely ideas, some crude but still atmospheric audio landscapes and a good pace that never flags. Baker and Davison are surprise highlights whilst McCoy sounds oddly amateurish in places. It doesn’t help that the individual stories aren’t that interesting; episode two stands out and gives me hope that Big Finish will attempt more grand Historicals in the future. The final episode is okay but muted considering it is about 3 Doctors saving Gallifrey from invading conquerors. There is enough here to promise better things for the future but Nick Briggs will write and direct far better stories in the future: 5/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/01/sirens-of-time-written-and-directed-by.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/01-Doctor-Who-The-Sirens-of-Time

The Fearmonger: Welcome to the world of bombs, guns and politics join the Doctor and Ace for a New Adventures style thriller. Whatever problems the script might have had have only served to make it a tight piece of writing, the real joy of this story is how it keeps surprising you with its guts and its edgy storytelling. Sylvester McCoy gives one of his best ever Big Finish performances, suggesting layers to his character that we rarely see. From the arresting assassination opening, through several terrorist attacks to the disturbing riots of the last episode, the Fearmonger keeps you on your toes and never loses sight that although it is telling the story of an alien menace it has a very human point to make about tolerance and racism. Aside from the main plot the additional treats are manifold, the terrific dialogue, Alistair Lock’s filmic score, the astonishing Pearce/Roderick relationship, some lovely quiet moments between the Doctor and Ace, Paul Tanner being one of the more realistic turncoats… The Fearmonger was the first Big Finish story I listened to and it had me hooked. Aside from a few awkward moments this is an assured production and the best story so far: 8/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/01/fearmonger-written-by-jonathan-blum-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/05-Doctor-Who-The-Fearmonger

The Genocide Machine: There will be a Dalek story set in a jungle that deals with duplicates much later on in Big Finish’s run called Brotherhood of the Daleks and it is superior to The Genocide Machine in practically every way. The problems start with the script which undersells the threat and contains lots of obsolete ideas, poor characterisation of regulars and guest cast alike (I don’t know if anybody gets a character moment that isn’t a function of the plot) and some corny dialogue. Ignoring the good work they did in The Fearmonger McCoy and Aldred phone in two underwhelming performances and the guest cast fail to raise the game as well. Which leaves poor old Nick Briggs and the Daleks to give the proceedings a bit of zip which they try valiantly to do. You can admire the sound design and the horror of the Daleks for a while but without a plot to drive them and decent characters to care about you are fighting a losing battle. People praise The Genocide Machine to the detriment of The Apocalypse Element and whilst the second Dalek Empire story has its problems I find it by far a finer story. A hugely disappointing return trip for the Daleks: 3/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/genocide-machine-written-by-mike-tucker.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/07-Doctor-Who-The-Genocide-Machine

The Fires of Vulcan: A Scotsman and a redhead visit Pompeii and argue over the morality of their foreknowledge of the future, sound familiar? This is something very special indeed. So many areas of this story could have been fudged (McCoy could have phoned in his performance, Bonnie Langford could have over enthused, the script could have been too maudlin, the atmosphere too grim) but every aspect of this production is spot on from the cast to the director and the musical score. I have always loved Historicals and Steve Lyons produces a powerhouse of drama here, a cast of memorable characters and a emotion drive that runs through the story and makes pressing stop to go to sleep (grrr) very hard indeed! It’s clever, involving and dramatic and it never cheats the audience of the spectacle of Pompeii whilst telling quite an intimate story within it. Possibly the best performance Sylvester McCoy has ever given as the Doctor, it is a triumph for the seventh Doctor and a real highlight amongst the fluff of season 24: 10/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/03/fires-of-vulcan-written-by-steve-lyons.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/12-Doctor-Who-The-Fires-of-Vulcan

The Shadow of the Scourge: I am not really a huge fan of the New Adventures despite enjoying a great many of them because I don’t really like all of the grey areas they pushed the series into and yet I found Shadow of the Scourge to be a superb representation of them on audio. All of the NA staples are there; the Doctor is a powerful God-like being who doubts his decisions, we take a little trip into his mind, his companions are sarcastic and hard nuts, the monsters transcend reality and there is a healthy dose of angst and emotion. Gary Russell handles all of this with a masterly grasp, coaxing some terrific performances from his guest cast and capitalising on the drama and humour of the script. Cornell writes with wit and beauty and gives us lots to think about and takes a strong look at the central character of the Doctor and his part in the series. McCoy doesn’t disappoint and it becomes one of the highlights of his Doctor’s adventures. The Scourge make for an interesting if overly nasty monster and their realisation is excellent. Despite a few moments of overdone syrup, a finely judged side step into the world of the New Adventures: 8/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/03/shadow-of-scourge-written-by-paul.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/13-Doctor-Who-The-Shadow-of-the-Scourge

Dust Breeding: Surprisingly enjoyable despite a number of handicaps including two regulars who are phoning in their performances and suffering languid characterisation. Mike Tucker’s script is not a work of art and much of dialogue is barely serviceable but the story itself is a winner, pitting the Doctor against three different adversaries that come together in a very satisfying fashion. The appearance of the Master is the best kept secret post Earthshock and that fantastic cliff-hanger catapults us into the last two episodes with renewed vigour. The last episode is little more than a run-around but with ideas such as a sentient painting and a living planet joining forces and being defeated by a battered old man like Guthrie is irresistible. Russell’s direction is off in a few spots, the first cliff-hanger is appallingly melodramatic and staged and certain performances could definitely be brought down a notch or two. This a patchy story which does not inspire confidence in the continuing adventures of the seventh Doctor but does make for an interesting diversion: 6/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/04/dust-breeding-by-mike-tucker-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/21-Doctor-Who-Dust-Breeding

Colditz: Far better than its reputation would have you believe but this is still a major step down from Lyons’ masterful Fires of Vulcan. A mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, this is a story that has come in for a lot of unnecessary flak since its release that I'm not sure is entirely justified. There are some gaping flaws in Colditz but there is also so much that is good about this story; the excellent plot, the thoughtful dialogue (on the whole) and some unexpectedly powerful moments. It doesn't help when Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are the weakest performers in the play. He continues to overact, spitting out emotional speeches and rushing where he should really be driving home some valuable lessons. She over emphasises every line and shouts just to prove she is a girl with attitude and bullies her way through another story. I find it gets better as it goes along and the fascinating plotting outweighs the uneven production. Defeaning music and lazy direction wound the story but it is still worth it to meet Klein, one of the more interesting characters to walk free from a Big Finish story and well worth a return: 6/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/05/colditz-by-steve-lyons-and-directed-by.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/25-Doctor-Who-Colditz

The Rapture: I always admire writers for trying to experiment with Doctor Who so some mild applause for having the bravery to fuse Doctor Who and clubbing together. What a failure. The Rapture is a dreadful amalgam of tedious soap operatics, pop psychology and crass religious metaphors that features a cast of overwritten characters performed with hysterical ineptness. Doctor Who on holiday sounds like a great idea until you get down to the nitty gritty and this ultimately feels like an embarrassing fusion of Mile High (the exotic location, the drink and drugs), Eastenders (the exaggerated plotting, characterisation and dialogue) and Star Trek (analysing the villains indeed!). I feel for Joe Lidster because he would go on to write some of the most powerful audios and some fine Sarah Jane episodes but this really is a poor place to start. I took this audio on holiday to listen to and everybody kept wondering why I was scribbling away so furiously and sighing with such disdain. Moments of this story are as bad as it gets: 2/10 (this would rank lower but the score – which on its own would get 10/10 cuts through some of my despondence.)

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/rapture-written-by-joe-lidster-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/36-Doctor-Who-The-Rapture

Bang Bang a Boom!: Comedy is such a delicate beast. If it’s done well it can be the most incredible experience since laughing is one of life’s great pleasures. When it is cocked up to the level of Bang Bang a Boom it is excruciating to endure and this story highlights all of the problems that detractors accuse of season 24. So thumbs up for pulling that of authentically. A good comedy needs a good cast and the oddest thing about Bang Bang a Boom is that this is a really good cast…so why don’t any of them have any chemistry? The characters they are being asked to play are one dimensional, idiotic, charmless and pretty much bearable. The script continually throws away opportunities to tell a witty Agatha Christie story and the direction feels totally out of hand as if everyone got a bit merry and decided to send it up as much as they can. I’m not one of those people who think Doctor Who should avoid comedy but this is a step too far into parody and farce and coming from the same writers that gave us The One Doctor it is inexcusable. At least Gareth Roberts knew what to avoid when writing Unicorn and the Wasp. A few points for some clever twists in the last episode: 3/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/bang-bang-boom-written-by-clayton.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/39-Doctor-Who-Bang-Bang-A-Boom

The Dark Flame: Another disappointing McCoy story which is starting to become the norm with Big Finish. Trevor Baxendale is the hardest of all Doctor Who writers to pin down, he is always gearing for a traditional Doctor Who story but sometimes he can spin a yarn as effective and engaging as The Deadstone Memorial and Prisoner of the Daleks and other times his work lacks any subtlety or menace at all like Coldheart and The Dark Flame. Every twist is signposted and every character is shoehorned into a stereotype that plays out with grinding inevitability. The ideas aren’t half bad but they need a far more engaging plot than this to bring out their juices. Lisa Bowerman manages to salvage some dignity and oddly Sophie Aldred gives her best performance for years but they are let down by an agonisingly awful turn by Sylvester McCoy who is so out of synch with the script it’s a wonder he didn’t add his bits after all the other actors went home. I’m bored of being this harsh on 7th Doctor stories, can we have a good one soon please: 4/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/dark-flame-written-by-trevor-baxendale.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/42-Doctor-Who-The-Dark-Flame

Project: Lazarus: There are lots of fantastic ideas squeezed into a story that doesn’t have the breathing space to handle them all adequately. As such Project: Lazarus feels incomplete and would have worked much better as a duel four part release much like The Reaping/Gathering. However a lot of the individual elements of this story are very good, especially the gripping continuation of Evelyn’s hurt which began in Pirates. The Forge is a treasurable concept and it works far better here than it ever did as Torchwood because Scott and Wright really drive home the horrifying idea of the Doctor as a lab rat. Colin Baker impresses in two very different roles, throwing away his trademark arrogance in the last two episodes to explore anger like never before and Sylvester McCoy gives his best performance in an age, beautifully capturing the lonely wandering seventh Doctor. Certain dramatic moments really make this worth listening to but it feels like a watered down version of the even darker, more involving tale we should have had. An extra point because the ideas are so strong: 7/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-lazarus-by-cavan-scott-and-mark.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/45-Doctor-Who-Project--Lazarus

Flip-Flop: The last in a sequence of empirical stories that stretches the format of a Doctor Who narrative to its very limits. The joy of Flip Flop is not in its characters or direction (both of which are perfectly adequate), it’s all of the little details that go into making a diametric story like this work. Whilst I can think of far more entertaining audios I cannot imagine one that I had more fun jotting down the details to make sure they all slotted into place so beautifully. As such this probably doesn’t function all that well as a Doctor Who story, one that satisfactorily answers all of the questions that it poses but as an exercise in plotting and narration I can’t imagine this being more enjoyable. It’s a lovely trip back into season 24 with the Doctor and Mel both at the top of their game and it introduces a great villainous race in the Slithergees. It has some good jokes scattered about too. All in all it feels definitively different but in a very good way. Really you could just keep listening to this story over and over and over, it really is great value for money: 8/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/flip-flop-written-by-jonathan-morris.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/46-Doctor-Who-Flip-Flop

Master: Far better than I remember, Master is a theatrical piece that plays games with its characters in deliciously cruel ways. In some ways Lidster has toned down his penchant for melodrama by setting this story in a claustrophobic location with only a handful of carefully defined characters but in others he has refined it and juggles about some powerful ideas about fate, perception, the nature of evil and the motive to murder very effectively. Geoffrey Beevers is given ample opportunity to prove his worth and he is aided superbly by Sylvester McCoy who finally knocks me over with a powerful performance, at times it is hard to work out who is the villain and who is the hero which compliments the audacious twist at the heart of the story. My only real complaint is that after her dramatic reveal at the end of part three Death turns out to be as ridiculous and exaggerated as you would expect and weighs down the last episode with an uneven tone. For most of its running time however Master is a very effective haunted house story and one, which envelops you in its stifling atmosphere of insanity. And how scary does McCoy look on the cover: 8/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/09/master-written-by-joseph-lidster-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/49-Doctor-Who-Master

The Harvest: With the arrival of Hex the seventh Doctor and Ace go from being hopelessly dated to bang up to date. This is an impressively dramatic production which achieves the near impossible (for me) by making the Cybermen interesting. The first episode shown entirely from hex’s point of view has a nice Unearthly Child vibe to it and whilst the first half is atmospheric it is distressingly short of incident. The second half picks up the pace considerably and gives the seventh Doctor (and McCoy) his best role for an age. My biggest complaint is that Matthias is supremely annoying and perhaps conversion would have been for the best. Scouse babe Philip Olivier gives and impressive debut performance and makes sure the story has some real emotional beats. The Harvest continues the run of confident, atmospheric stories: 8/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/10/harvest-written-by-dan-abnett-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/58-Doctor-Who-The-Harvest

Dreamtime: Perhaps somebody could explain this story to me because I’ve just finished listening to it and I don’t have a clue. I honestly don’t mind a touch of mysticism but it needs to be tethered to an engaging narrative of which Dreamtime has neither. Either this is an experiment gone horribly wrong or I am completely the wrong audience for this sort of mystical mumbo jumbo but I found this story never generated an ounce of tension or interest, it was far too busy up there on its philosophical cloud to entertain me. Easily the least digestible thing that Simon Forward has written (and he had a pop at Russian literature in the EDAs) and one of Gary Russell’s most ineffectually directed stories, with nary a memorable performance or set piece. Dreamtime is aptly named, since I felt I had slipped into a coma throughout: 1/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/dreamtime-written-by-simon-forward-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/67-Doctor-Who-Dreamtime

Unregenerate!: Unregenerate! is cluttered full of far too many ideas, all of which are pretty good but are competing for attention in a confused narrative. A shame because episode one is the finest we have had for a while, its well paced, intriguing and once again features a Melanie Bush that kicks ass. As soon as we head off to the Institute things derail, the plot comes in massive gulps of information intersped with lots of running around pointlessly. Sylvester McCoy gives the worst performance of any Doctor in this story and I defy anybody to try and defend his gonzo characterisation. The idea of planting TARDISes into people is great but it’s a shame we have to wait so long to get to it leaving little time to explore the idea. Extra points for the coolest cabbie in town: 6/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/unregenerate-written-by-david-mcintee.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/70-Doctor-Who-Unregenerate

LIVE 34: Phenomenally good, the boldest departure from the norm since The Natural History of Fear and just as gripping. There is a real urgency to the live broadcasts with on the spot terrorist attacks, disturbing discoveries and political depositions and as someone who rarely listens to the news this really captured my imagination. Censorship, propaganda, terrorism and politics all come under the microscope in an intelligent, hard-hitting way. The regulars all get the chance to shine and the guests cast is the best assembled for quite some time. You wouldn’t want every story to be like this but it makes for a chilling, inspired one off: 10/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/live-34-written-by-james-parsons-andrew.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/74-Doctor-Who-Live-34

Night Thoughts: Night Thoughts is one or two drafts away from being a very good story. I love stories that show the consequences of terrible acts in the past and Edward Young devises a suitably nasty tale of deliberate euthanasia and suicide haunting a number of scientists for over a decade. Gary Russell provides some fine atmospherics and if you listen to some scenes in the dark you will be scrabbling for the light switch. Also the Doctor, Ace and Hex are seen to work as an effective unit and all three get some nice material. So what goes wrong? The scripting is occasionally stilted with far too much descriptive dialogue and the story offers as many questions
as it does answers and fails to give a definitive conclusion and explanation to the story we have listened to. This feels like a genuine Cartmel script edited season 27 story; atmospheric, contemporary, ever horrific but with some serious structural and scripting problems. A flawed excursion into real life horrors but with plenty to enjoy all the same: 7/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/night-thoughts-written-by-edward-young.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/79-Doctor-Who-Night-Thoughts

The Settling: The second priceless historical in a row, Simon Guerrier takes a much more personal approach to the subject matter by pushing the inexperienced Hex right into the heart of battle and seeing how he copes. It’s a fantastic vehicle for Philip Olivier who really gets the chance to sink his teeth into some meaty, dramatic material and question Hex’s place in the TARDIS. Guerrier writes deftly for the Doctor and Ace too, giving the former a wonderfully sweet subplot and the latter the uncomfortable position of helping her friend through lessons that she has already learnt. Gary Russell’s direction is superb, bringing the fight to life with brutal honesty and Clive Mantle deserves a huge round of applause for his unforgettable turn as Oliver Cromwell. Uncomfortable to listen to in parts but with an authentic atmosphere and engaging characters, this is a historical adventure that will be remembered for some time: 9/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/settling-written-by-simon-guerrier-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/82-Doctor-Who-The-Settling

Red: What struck me straight away was how clear and crisp Stewart Sheargold’s storytelling is, his premise of crushing violent impulses actually causing homicide coming straight to the fore and explored through some genuinely disturbing set pieces. There is no pretence that this is going to be an action adventure, Red is set in a gripping, Orwellian environment that has plenty to say about the violence that is hidden in all of us. Imagine if this story had been broadcast during season 24? I love it when Big Finish play about with different styles, ones which weren’t attempted on the TV and The Fires of Vulcan and Red offer a very different peek at what could have been. Gary Russell’s direction is astonishingly good, never shying away from the horror of being consumed by the urge to murder. He makes this a gripping, uncomfortable experience and creates a fascinating environment for the story to take place in. We have hadn’t had such an incredible run in the main range for quite some time - The Kingmaker, The Settling, The Nowhere Place and now Red…Gary Russell is certainly going out with a bang. One of the most adult and disturbing audios: 9/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/red-written-by-stewart-sheargold-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/85-Doctor-Who-Red

No Man’s Land: No Man’s Land contains many elements that are very good but it doesn’t quite come together as it should. The first episode is very good indeed and drags you kicking and screaming into the psychological horrors of the First World War but then the story runs on the spot for two episodes with only the murder of a particularly unlikable character enlivening things. The last episode takes another upswing in quality with an unexpected revelation about the massacre in the church and the truth behind Brooke’s terrifying mental improvisation coming to light. I remember an episode of the New Avengers that dealt with this sort of mental conditioning in war with far more aplomb, creating an independent army of psychotic soldiers through a rogue commander and as much as this piece tries to stick to its guns and make the situation as realistic as possible I felt it could do with a little bit of that melodrama to spice it up a bit. The performances are extremely strong and Sylvester McCoy and Michael Cochrane butt heads with real style but I did find the music and sound effects a little scarce in places. Interesting but only intermittently required listening: 6/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/no-mans-land-written-by-martin-day-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/89-Doctor-Who-No-Mans-Land

Nocturne: Average, unfortunately. Nocturne has the feeling of an unfinished production – the script feels like it needs another few drafts to iron out the repetitive nature of the plot and dullness of the characterisation but what I was really shocked about was John Ainsworth’s direction which is usually top notch but lacks any kind of sparkle. For a story that should exploit the audio medium to the nth degree its remarkably quiet and unengaging. There were a few bright areas – the regulars are mostly written for very well and Sylvester McCoy grows ever more confident on audio and Philip Olivier really can’t do much wrong in my book (as an actor, not a looker!). I feel that I am being far too unkind on a story that doesn’t really get anything too wrong but on the flip side it really doesn’t distinguish itself very much either. After Circular Time’s unforgettable kick start into a new era it is a shame that we should plummet into blander territory quite so quickly: 5/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/nocturne-written-by-dan-abnett-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/92-Doctor-Who-Nocturne

Valhalla: For two episodes this is one seriously creepy audio! The termite sound effects clacking away in my ears made me want to shake the insects out of my head and the rising sense of panic amongst the colonists as the termites tear through the population is similarly uncomfortable. Once we get to hear what they are saying the story becomes great entertainment with the workers sounding wonderfully like a group of lads on a stag weekend! This is such an odd story I really don’t know how to judge it; it has a simple linear narrative which holds few surprises but with lots of peppy dialogue and some lovely performances. I found the events unfolding thoroughly engaging because the direction was so strong and energetic and it features my favourite characterisation yet of the seventh Doctor and a fantastically quirky and appealing performance from Sylvester McCoy. A terrific little piece of whimsy with an captivating new alien race I personally would love to see again. Weird and pretty wonderful: 8/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/05/valhalla-written-by-marc-platt-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/96-Doctor-Who-Valhalla

Frozen Time: What do you want from your audio adventures? That’s what Frozen Time made me ponder whilst I was shipped to the Antarctic for a run-around with the Ice Warriors. If you enjoy character dramas or literate pieces look elsewhere but if you come to audio looking for a story that feels like a genuine soundtrack of a missing story then this is the story for you. I don’t want to sound like I’m sniping because sometimes I am precisely in the mood for a traditional monster fest with lots of accusations, action and annihilation but in all honesty I have the BBC missing story soundtracks to fulfil that end of the spectrum. With its chilly location, officious characters and hissy monsters Frozen Time has leapt straight from season five into your ears. On the positive front the sound effects are extraordinary, the music is memorable and these are short punchy episodes – as an audio experience it is a terrifically authentic sounding story. But given the inconsistent quality of the last ten stories and lack of a knockout tale I need more than a clichéd slice of traditional Who at the moment to keep me interested: 6/10

Full Review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/05/frozen-time-written-by-nick-briggs-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/98-Doctor-Who-Frozen-Time

The Dark Husband: Can you imagine listening to anything more tiresome than a pair of stock Doctor Who species being forced to reconcile their differences through a wedding that has a list of tiresome comic customs attached to it? I’m not sure what the writer and script editor were thinking when they were putting The Dark Husband together but if it was supposed to be a witty farce it has lost its sense of humour somewhere in its realisation and the resulting tale is a car crash of hideously embarrassing moments. Move over Lakertyans, push off Trogs, stand aside Dulcians…we have a new winner for the most tedious alien race in Doctor Who. The Ri and the Ir aren’t even bad enough to annoy me - they are just insipid, tasteless caricatures and their ridiculously bland approach to marriage and war and well everything left me desperately wanting to the turn the story off each time an episode ended, But I knew if I did that I would never put it back on again. Any story that even suggests the seventh Doctor being chained to a lamppost in his boxer shorts is an affront to humanity and every copy must be tracked down and destroyed. Sylvester McCoy gives potentially his worst ever turn as the Doctor (I’m not sure if this was worse than his ‘Dorotheeeee! Mcshaaaaaannee! Hacccceeeee!’ delights from The Rapture but its pretty close), Sophie Aldred gets to shout a lot which is as stomach churning as ever and when these two have frequently let us down in the past we can usually we can rely on Philip Olivier to salvage something. But even Hex is badly characterised (as the ultimate happy slapping bling boy - what was Quantick thinking) and even Olivier surrenders to the appalling tone of the script and delivers an awkward performance. I would have thought it an impossibility but Big Finish have delivered a seventh Doctor story that is even worse than The Rapture and Dreamtime. Without merit: 0.5/10 (I lied, half a point for a nice score in places)

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/06/dark-husband-written-by-david-quantick.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/106-Doctor-Who-The-Dark-Husband

The Death Collectors: A note to all future writers of audio drama. Lots of growling aliens, breathy villains, screaming, explosions and shouting does not make good drama if you doesn’t have an engaging narrative to hang it on. Without it all you have is noise. Which is pretty much what The Death Collectors is. A whole lot of noise. Its a shame because the first few minutes suggest something far more atmospheric and intellectual and a thoughtful performance from McCoy is wasted (although he does lose it in the last episode when he starts bellowing for the sake of melodrama). Sheargold’s Red threw a scary idea at you and developed it through its strong characters but in The Death Collectors the writer has a ton of inexplicable events take place to a loosely sketched cast and then has the Doctor explain what was going on at the conclusion. I don’t mind a good twist that changes my perception of a story but I don’t like to have to have the entire plotline spelt out for me because the writer has forgotten to do so as the story progresses. What bugs me even more is that the ideas are intelligent and commendably dark but their potential is lost in the deafening execution and the vacant narrative. Now excuse me I’ve just popped two solubles into water and I’m off for a little lie down. Approach with painkillers: 4/10

Spiders Shadow: A piquant little corrupted time loop with a great performance from Sylvester McCoy, it comes as no great shock that once again the one part sweetener overshadows the main release. I was reminded of Mission of the Viyrans with all the crazy audio trickery but Sheargold ensures there is a masterful reason for his scattered jigsaw pieces of plotting coming at the listener in all directions. The limited running time means that we can never get too close to these characters or understand the planetary situation in any depth and its quite a shame because the hints that we do get sound far more interesting than those in The Death Collectors. Ken Bentley’s direction is assured here and you can see the master craftsman starting to develop his art: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/06/death-collectors-written-by-stewart.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/109-Doctor-Who-The-Death-Collectors

Kingdom of Silver: Frozen Time, The Dark Husband, The Death Collectors and now Kingdom of Silver…that’s four below average to terrible McCoy releases in a row. I’m starting to wonder if the McCoy renaissance isn’t because his stories become especially good (although naturally I will reserve judgement on that until I listen to them) but because his Doctor finally starts yielding some consistent quality! The last story I would suggest needed a sequel would be Sword of Orion (still hard to beat for sheer dullness) and Kingdom of Silver is infected with that stories drabness and lack of humour but also adds a tediously generic Doctor Who planet into the mix as well. This is Ken Bentley’s sophomore directional effort and it isn’t any more impressive than his debut, quiet and ineffective in the first two episodes before unleashing a torrent of noise and actors shouting in the last. I have heard some of his later McCoy efforts and I know he becomes one of Big Finish’s standout directors but these are faltering first steps. Spare Parts worked so well because Marc Platt managed to create a believable family and showed us their horror as one of them was converted but none of the characters in this story register so it is hard to give a damn if they do all get converted. I’m not the biggest fan of the Cybermen so perhaps I’m not the best person to appreciate this story but as usual they seem to be include because rather than to add anything to the races mythology. Kingdom of Silver plunders the Troughton era for its material and there is nothing original of note: 3/10

Keepsake: We’ve had a three parter and a one parter that have been directly related before (The Wishing Beast) but this is the first time a writer has thought to take characters from one story and give them more depth in the one part coda. Its probably the best approach yet although I do find it disheartening that once again a lot of the best material has been saved for 25% of the release to the detriment of the other 75% Telling the story from the point of view of Sara was a wise move because it really allowed us to understand their insignificant lives as tools for a war that should never have taken place. The final twist is heart wrenching and it’s almost enough to make me want to go back and listen to Kingdom of Silver again to re-evaluate the relationship between these two characters: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/kingdom-of-silver-written-by-james.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/112-Doctor-Who-Kingdom-of-Silver

Forty Five: Lost Gods: A story about destiny, False Gods kicks off this anthology in imaginative style. Those expecting a Curse of the Mummy style horror story will be disappointed but I rather enjoyed this piquant little drama that sees the Doctor taking the stance that the Time Lords used to take with him. I’m not even sure that we needed the Howard Carter involvement although it does add a little history to the proceedings and Ace and Hex are almost entirely redundant within this tale. However it is Sylvester McCoy who surprises most by unleashing the sort of anger he is usually condemned for but for once getting it exactly right. The twist in the middle of the tale gives the whole story a new atmosphere and the conclusion wraps things up nicely. Nicely done: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/forty-five-lost-gods-written-by-mark.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/115-Doctor-Who-Forty-Five

Order of Simplicity: The weakest anthology instalment yet? It’s a close call between this, the opening episode of Demons Lodge and 100 Days of the Doctor. I do feel that if they are going to release these anthologies they need to think up a good reason to tell each story but where Order of Simplicity is concerned the motive baffles me. Its stuffed full of clichés (technophobes, zombies), lacks any memorable dialogue, fails to generate remotely interesting characters and has a really lousy idea at its heart. Ace and Hex are once again simply present rather than doing anything engaging and the Doctor does little buy get hysterical and we all know how good Sylvester McCoy is at pulling insanity off. It fails as both science fiction and horror and should be listened to only if you are in the mood for formulaic nonsense that will send you to sleep: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/order-of-simplicity-written-by-nick.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/115-Doctor-Who-Forty-Five

Casualties of War: Casualties of War is less a story in its own right and more of coda to Ace’s heartbreak in Curse of Fenric and a prologue to Hex’s nightmares to come in Project: Destiny. Saying that it is more focussed and sharper than either of the first two stories, featuring guest characters it is easy to warm to a pleasing return of The Forge. Its nice to see Sophie Aldred being given the sort of material that brings out the best in here (she’s as good here as she was in Ghost Light) and I literally cannot wait until Hex is let in on the truth about his mother. A sweet script by Michalowski and a lovely turn by Beth Chalmers as the Forge devilish Forge operative: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/casualties-of-war-written-by-mark.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/115-Doctor-Who-Forty-Five

The Word Lord: Steven Hall marks himself out as an immediate audio talent by grasping hold of his limited running time and kicking off The Word Lord with an immediately arresting opening and a plot which dashes off and leaves the audience panting to catch up. Like …ish this is a clever piece of storytelling that uses language skilfully and proves that you don’t need lots of noise to make a thrilling audio but some clever ideas and imagination. Nobody No One is a truly malevolent creation and insidiously uses our own language against us and the Doctor has to really think through his strategy against such a strong opponent. Top marks for ending this anthology on such a dramatic high and leaving plenty of opportunities for a rematch, I for one cannot wait to listen to A Death in the Family now. Magnificent: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/word-lord-written-by-steven-hall-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/115-Doctor-Who-Forty-Five

The Magic Mousetrap: With hints of literature and poetry, dark games and an atmosphere of playful menace, The Magic Mousetrap is a blissfully unusual seventh Doctor adventure which reminded me of my personal favourite of his televised stories - Ghost Light. We open with the mystery of the amnesiac Doctor which is playfully answered and brings Hex and Ace into the story in a manipulating fashion before the tale turns its attention on its star returning villain whose appearance is built up with considerable menace and excitement. Once he is unleashed from his cupboard the Toymaker proves to be more sinister than ever, taking the delight and sport out of games and cutting straight to the murder (and enjoying his players fear as he does so). It’s a story that manages to be surreal without losing its grip on reality and to twist the nature of everyday games to give them a threatening angle. The last episode is absolutely chilling with Toymaker free and murdering his way through his jailers and the Doctor desperately trying to outthink a malevolent omniscient being. This is the best McCoy story since The Settling thanks to Matthew Sweet’s love of the grotesque and Ken Bentley’s extraordinary direction that keeps things fun and frightening. Top class mischievously intelligent audio drama: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/magic-mousetrap-written-by-matthew.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/120-Doctor-Who-The-Magic-Mousetrap

Enemy of the Daleks: Its so refreshing to listen to stories like Enemy of the Daleks, an action adventure tale with no pretence to do anything but deliver an exciting adrenalin rush which it manages brilliantly. It reminds me of Terry Nation’s work at its best and I mean that as a massive compliment, full of danger and a frightening view of the universe plagued with Daleks. They feel like a deadly, implacable, unstoppable force and their attack on the facility in the second episode screams with energy and sees them at their intimidating best. And yet Bishop trumps that by creating a race that is even more devastating than the Daleks and impossibly manages to make the most destructive force in the universe victims without diminishing them one jot. Putting Ace and Hex in such extreme circumstances was a stroke of genius because it brings out the best in both of them by highlighting the horrors of this fight from the point of view of soldier and a nurse. I cannot believe that this is the second knockout seventh Doctor audio in a row, it is giving me incredible hope that the trilogy format is going to completely revolutionise the most disappointing (to this point) audio Doctor. David Bishop should be credited for providing the sort of fast paced, engaging thrill ride that Doctor Who needs to offer its audience every now and again to get the blood pumping and remind us of the reason we fell in love with this show in the first place: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/enemy-of-daleks-written-by-david-bishop.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/121-Doctor-Who-Enemy-of-the-Daleks

The Angel of Scutari: Incredible performances and a masterful handling Hex see Paul Sutton return to form in superb style. His script for The Angel of Scutari is bold, packed with detail and not for those who are looking for a jolly old romp because it can be talky at times. But the important thing is that the dialogue means something, studying the war in some depth and getting under the skin of some awesome historical figures. It’s a story that expects an intelligent audience, needs you to keep up with its developments and cope with a non linear narrative. If that describes you then you will be rewarded with a driven narrative and some compelling performances, particularly by Hugh Bonneville, Jeany Spark and a star turn by Philip Olivier. Its engaging stuff for sure and if falls short of the last two tales that is only because they were of such high quality but ending on such a dramatic high it leaves you wanting more adventures with the 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex. I cannot remember that ever happening before so bravo to Matthew Sweet, David Bishop and Paul Sutton for this incredible trilogy: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/angel-of-scutari-written-by-paul-sutton.html
Buy it from Big Finish: http://www.bigfinish.com/122-Doctor-Who-The-Angel-of-Scutari

A Thousand Tiny Wings: A Thousand Tiny Wings is one of my all time favourite Big Finish adventures. Such a simple, evocative, intelligent, beautifully characterised script from Andy Lane complimented by Lisa Bowerman’s atmospheric and disquieting direction that rings every nuance and moment of tension for what it is worth. Whilst you are soaking up all the intellectual discussion between the Doctor and Klein, taking in the ambience of the Kenyan jungle and enjoying the complex characterisation of the guest cast there is the terrifying approach of the Mau Mau keeping everybody on edge and the discovery of an alien creature to solve. As I said in my audio landscape section at times it is the silence that impresses the most because we are waiting on tenterhooks for the Mau Mau to make their move and slightest twig snapping or footstep can be very frightening. Practically every line of dialogue is a gem and the story develops in exciting and unusual ways with the cover and title for once offering hints rather than spelling out the answers. At the heart of this splendid tale you have two towering performances from Sylvester McCoy (whose Doctor has taken off since Briggs took over) and Tracey Childs and their fractious, nascent dynamic makes for an engrossing new partnership. Absolutely top notch, this is the kind of Doctor Who Big Finish can revel in and the New Series couldn’t even touch: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/12/thousand-tiny-wings-written-by-andy.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/130-Doctor-Who-A-Thousand-Tiny-Wings

Klein’s Story: A compelling story that cleverly rips the ending away from Colditz and introduces us to a world under Nazi rule before using a Doctor that should never have existed to put it all right again. For so many reasons it is an exciting piece; to delve more deeply into Klein’s obsession with time travel, to explain who we originally met her, to meet an alternative eighth Doctor and the fact that this one part story is used to enhance the trilogy of tales rather than feeling like a tacked on bit of nonsense. The script is of a very high standard and has clearly been thought through well and the first time I heard Paul McGann’s voice at the end of that telephone I almost pissed my pants with pleasure! The sad truth is I could have happily have turned this story into the three parter because there was so much more to explore but what’s great is that even at just half an hour the story never feels rushed or underdeveloped. Its easily my favourite one parter and continues this runs sterling quality: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/12/kleins-story-written-by-john-ainsworth.html

Survival of the Fittest: Completely different from the opening story of this trilogy (and a bit) of adventures but just as assured, Survival of the Fittest is a weird and wonderful foray into an alien culture that is brought to life with some skill. It reminds me of The Web Planet not only because of the unusual focus on an exotic alien race but also because it tells a traditional Doctor Who story in a very unconventional way suggesting a colonists versus natives tale and then twisting into a story of greed and genocide. Its worth mentioning here just how superb Sylvester McCoy has been in the last few years of Big Finish adventures and this trilogy sees him at his peak. Survival of the Fittest is a story that allows us to experience him at his best; desperately sweet with the Vrill, locking horns with Klein and trying to save as many lives as possible. Four episodes and this might have outstayed its welcome but at three it is fast paced and exciting and there is even a juicy cliffhanger ending that should be all the excuse you need to dive into the next story. Its our one chance to see Klein as a travelling companion rather than an enemy and it works so well its agonising to think that their adventures are almost over already. They make such a gripping, antagonistic pair the distinctive dialogue trips naturally from their tongues and the final face off before she steals the TARDIS is a fantastic moment. Unlike anything else and hugely enjoyable: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/12/survival-of-fittest-written-by-jonathan.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/131-Doctor-Who-Survival-of-the-Fittest

The Architects of History: There are a wealth of goodies to discover in The Architects of History and it is something of a miracle that after the quality of the previous adventures in this trilogy that this concluding blockbuster doesn’t disappoint. Steve Lyons has always been a dependable Big Finish writer (The Fires of Vulcan and The Son of the Dragon are two of my favourites) and his obsession with temporal shenanigans dovetails into this arc to create a fascinating ‘what if’ tale and then play with the audiences expectations with some surprising results. Klein manipulates herself into a position of power and learns to the true dangers of playing about with time. An alternative Doctor manages to pull strings within this timeline without even existing to see if it pans out as he planned. An enemy from the books makes a bold appearance in the audios and achieves where so many other Doctor Who monsters have failed, to destroy the Earth. We meet an ex companion of a non existent Doctor. Our seventh Doctor gets to bark orders like a mad Nazi commander. There is just so much to enjoy in this adventure which is also bursting at the seams with action and excitement to balance the intelligent dialogue. Considering where this adventures leaves Klein I sincerely hope that they pick up her character in the upcoming UNIT box set the seventh Doctor is going to have because there is clearly a whole new spin on the character to enjoy. I found this a very satisfying audio and when my head wasn’t spinning with the heady ideas I was engrossed in the action and spurred on by great cliffhangers. This is another accomplished audio from a fantastic year – let John Ainsworth script edit again because he clearly has the knack for it: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/12/architects-of-history-written-by-steve.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/132-Doctor-Who-The-Architects-of-History

Robophobia: Nicholas Briggs is a clever bastard and no mistake. For a while now I have been questioning the importance of bringing back so many old monsters at the expense of providing us with any new ones and this latest drama – Robophobia – seemed to be another pointless return of an old foe. But in exactly the same way The Feast of Axos reversed the roles of the villains and the heroes it takes the elements you would expect to trick you into thinking it will a replica of the Tom Baker story and then turns the whole situation on its head with gleeful surprise. I really like that, using audiences expectations against them. What’s more this is a story that keeps you guessing throughout and that is rare thing too. The plot is quite thin but you are slowly inched in the right direction with teasing hints and it pleases me to say that the 7th Doctor, grand orchestrator of all plots, is on board to direct the story. Sylvester McCoy is superb in this tale, one of his strongest ever performances as the Doctor and Nicola Walker makes a great foil – if McCoy was this good all the time I would be clamouring for more stories with him. The combination of Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson continues to produce magic (the score in particular is again very memorable) although my one complaint would be that the story wasn’t quite as claustrophobic as I would have hoped. But I’ll happily skip over the lack of a stifling atmosphere (especially when there are plenty of exciting bits as the story progresses) for the surprising, thoughtful tone this tale adopts when I was expecting nothing but clichés. The best release since Axos: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/robophobia-written-and-directed-by.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/149-Doctor-Who-Robophobia

The Doomsday Quatrain: No wonder Big Finish released The House of Blue Fire on the same day – perhaps they were hoping that everybody would give The Doomsday Quatrain a miss. I’m fairly certain there is a gripping story to be told about the Doctor meeting Nostradamus but this most definitely is not it and given that this is the only attempt we are likely to get it is a massive missed opportunity. I have been feeling for a while now that there needs to be a shake up in the main range because there hasn’t been anything truly original or attention grabbing for some time and I am getting the same feeling I did when Gary Russell had been in control for a long time that perhaps the current line up have given everything they can creatively and bled all the interest that they will out of Doctor Who. I would love to be proven wrong but Robophobia excepted there hasn’t been anything to shout home about (Industrial Evolution, The Heroes of Sontar, Kiss of Death and Rat Trap were all deeply flawed in one way or another) all year. As for The Doomsday Quatrain; banal storytelling that unfolds in the pedestrian of ways, forgettable characterisation that gives the guest actors no chance to shine, a generic Doctor, boring villains and a morality angle that goes nowhere because there is too much running about and shouting to be done in place of intelligent discussion. Its not the worst Big Finish has been because it is competently made but this range needs to be aiming a little higher than mediocre if they are going to keep going for another 150 releases. For me all the quality is in the spin off material at the moment, especially the Companion Chronicles: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/09/doomsday-quatrain-written-by-emma-beeby.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/151-Doctor-Who-The-Doomsday-Quatrain

The House of Blue Fire: A great minimalist opening in an atmospheric location, thank goodness somebody has remembered that you don’t need to put things on an operatic scale each month to make a good audio drama. Morris is the master of things that go bump in the night and as such he writes a story in a creepy location with plenty of opportunities for things to jump out at the audience. He has chosen some interesting phobias to examine and they are a gift to the director who gets to bring those fears to life. Speaking of Ken Bentley, he came on the scene with a wealth of terrifically directed stories under his belt a few years back but his work in the last year has felt tired as Big Finish have used him more and more. This is his best direction for an age, stripping away all of the empty bluster of the last handful of stories he brought to life and focussing purely on creating a disturbing tone. Once the story hinges in a new direction after episode twos cliffhanger the script plays intelligent games with the idea of a mental force that is attracted to fear. My one complaint would be that the final confrontation between good and evil isn’t as epic as I would have hoped but it does allows Sylvester McCoy to gnash his teeth in a very effective way (for those in the know that is called a miracle). It definitely starts better than it ends but taken as a whole The House of Blue Fire held my attention throughout and had many standout moments on the way. The score is fantastic too: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/09/house-of-blue-fire-written-by-mark.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/152-Doctor-Who-House-of-Blue-Fire

Protect and Survive: What would happen if the Berlin Wall hadn’t fallen? What a phenomenal first episode. When it comes to creating a vivid setting and telling a drama through a handful of well defined characters, writers could do well to listen to the first instalment of Protect and Survive to see how it should be done. The tension builds exponentially until we reach one of the most chilling cliffhangers Big Finish have ever presented. The first half of this story will discomfortingly take you back to the hard edged politics of the eighties and the oppressive fear of a nuclear attack and features some of the most disturbing scenes Doctor Who has ever delivered. Its almost a shame when the science fiction element leaks into the story but then I guess this is Doctor Who and not an apocalyptic drama series. Episode three sees Jonathan Morris at his timey wimey best having the seventh Doctor pluck at the threads of time to make sure the revelations spilled in the previous episode make sense. The way it all slots into place is beautifully. I feel that Morris manages to out Moffat the TV series’ current show runner with his devastatingly complex storylines but he actually manages to go one better by presenting a fascinating puzzle that assembles into a beautifully structured narrative without the plot holes, out of character actions and unanswered questions that plagued series six of NuWho. Its only in the last episode where this story feels wanting because it has come so far from the where the story started and feels far more traditional with its Gods versus humans conflict and time loop shenanigans. Fortunately Morris has one more surprise up his sleeve at the climax to keep your appetite whetted for next months adventure. Overall Protect and Survive is excellent and sees the writer, director and actors all at their very best but the second half never quite captures the intensity of the first episode which could be isolated as a horrifying piece of drama in its own right. Things continue to progress very engagingly for the seventh Doctor, this is a smart story which is entirely built around one of his cleverest traps: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/protect-and-survive-written-by-jonathan.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/protect-and-survive-330

Black and White: A scatterbrained approach to telling a story within a story within a story, Black and White stutters because it is constrained by the arc that surrounds it. You’ve got an introductory episode that has nothing to do with the main narrative but instead has to deal with the baggage that came with the cliffhanger to the previous story. Then a second episode where our heroes are torn apart temporally but instead of allowing them to interact with the Beowulf plotline it is much more interested in flashbacks and the tension between the two new sets of companions. Its not until almost halfway through the story that the actual narrative kicks in, which must surely be a record. The last time a trilogy was afforded the luxury of a companion chronicle to bridge the gap between stories it saw the writers take the opportunity to fill in a lot of the arc material so that the three stories could stand alone whilst still being part of an trilogy. Much of episode one and two I feel should have been told in Project: Nirvana so Matt Fitton had the opportunity to flesh out his Beowulf storyline to its fullest extent. Frankly this tale takes an awful long time to figure what it is all about and where it is going and I’m not entirely sure that it ever does. Saying that, Lysandra makes a real impact and Hex and Sally provide a fun and flirtatious double act which just leaves Ace as the only disappointment – acting for all the world like a kid that finds out she might not be the favourite after all. As for Garundel, he’s snappily written but disastrously played by Stuart Milligan who comes across as far more irritating than he ought. There are about five stories going on here at once (a character tale that sees four of the Doctors companions joining forces, a temporal puzzle featuring Beowulf, the camp as Christmas adventures of Garundel, the Doctor nurturing the birth and education of a second TARDIS and an over arching tale of one of the Elder Gods manipulating everybody’s timelines) and I felt as if I was being pulled in too many directions at once. Once again the cliffhanger whets the appetite for next months release but the overall story is a bit of a schizophrenic mess where none of the threads are given the appropriate time to breathe: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/black-and-white-written-by-matt-fitton.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/black-and-white-331

Gods and Monsters: Written by Mike Maddox (aided strongly by Alan Barnes), set in a fantasy realm where anything goes and tying together a mass of threads stretching back into the misty dawn of televised Who…there is more than a touch of Legend of the Cybermen about Gods and Monsters. This doesn’t quite have the subversive creativity of that finale but it is still an innovative and titanic conclusion. What is especially impressive about this climactic story is how tightly plotted this arc feels and yet when you listen to the extras it is revealed to have been pretty much made up as it went along with the writers grasping at elements of the previous stories to drag them all into one cumulative saga. You would honestly think this was all planned from the outset. I actually preferred the dovetailing of various narratives and the plot surprises to the identity of the villain of the piece – bringing Fenric back is exciting in a very fannish way but once you are over the fact the truth of the matter is that John Standing doesn't bring a great deal of menace to the part and the Haemovores worked far better on the television than a groaning background presence here. Saying that they pull off a massive coup in the last episode when the possessive powers of Fenric creates a chilling villain in Philip Olivier’s Hex. Its during these powerful moments that you remember what an effective opponent this particular Elder God was. Its when focusing on the Doctor, Ace and Hex guys that Gods and Monsters really comes alive and I’m pleased to say that they all get real moments to shine. This is hugely complicated, utterly inimical to any fresh listeners but regardless manages to build the entire McCoy era (televised and on audio) into an impressive house of cards with Gods and Monsters right at the summit and gives a companion the unforgettable exit they deserve. I had a few problems with this but if you keep your wits about you and it proves to be a rewarding experience: 8/10 (an extra point for the last handful of scenes)

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/gods-and-monsters-written-by-mike.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/gods-and-monsters-332 

Persuasion: That was…boring. It has been a long time since I was last this indifferent about a Big Finish release because even the weakest of the latest batch of main range adventures have been entertaining despite their flaws (Eldrad Must Die!). Given the previous Klein trilogy and UNIT: Dominion, I came to Persuasion expecting something very juicy indeed and instead was greeted by a lacklustre tale that felt like a desperately confused first draft. There was no point where the narrative managed to perk my interest because I always felt disconnected from the (lack of) action. There was an awful lot of chatter between the under developed cast but I never felt the situation was being adequately explained or dramaticised and because of the unusual plotting techniques (dumping us in the tale after the important events have happened and excising moments of genuine jeopardy) it never gained any kind of momentum or thrust. For the most part it felt like a bunch of strangers standing around nattering about prosaic things and the resulting story that emerges in episode four is just a watered down version of Protect and Survive. The Doctor suffers from Sylvester McCoy’s weakest performance in an age (did he receive the script late?), Klein fails to engage because she is being shoehorned into the role of an enquiring companion rather than the intelligent foe of old and what they were thinking with Will Arrowsmith bewilders me because he emerges as a copy and paste Jeremy Fitzoliver with all the irritating quirks that come with it. The cover promised a fresh, dynamic team but the story promotes a regular cast that fails to inspire any confidence. I also took issue with the idea that seventh Doctor thinks he has to conquer all the evil in the universe because he doesn’t feel as though his future incarnations will have the stomach to adopt his methods. He’s still in the nursery compared to what is to come, and what his predecessors would be capable of. After a fairly disappointing fifth Doctor trilogy (the excellent Prisoners of Fate aside), I was expecting big things from the return of Tracey Childs to the main range but her consistently enthralling performance was the only strength I could detect in this otherwise limp and open ended tale. I think even if this was your first Big Finish and you hadn’t been privy to all the wonderful things they have been doing with the seventh Doctor of late this would still come as a major disappointment, and if this inconclusive tale was the point that your subscription ended you might not be tempted back. Persuasion showed signs of basic competence but nothing more; there was nothing inspiring, original or remarkable on offer. It pains me to see more insubstantial storytelling filling up the anniversary year, after an unsatisfactory mini season on TV I was rather relying on Big Finish to pick up the slack. This is a two hour chapter one of this trilogy, and it doesn’t inspire me to seek out the rest: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/persuasion-written-by-jonathan-barnes.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/persuasion-713

Starlight Robbery: As much as some the details bugged me (more Sontarans in a comic setting, Stuart Milligan’s shrill choice of voice for Garundel), the first episode of Starlight Robbery is jolly good fun, taking place as it does in an auction for the device that was so sacrosanct in the first adventure of this trilogy. There’s a lightness of touch to the events that makes this story much more easier to enjoy than its predecessor. Garundel is much more tolerable in this adventure than he was in Black and White because he is not pitched at quite such a ridiculous level and this time around he is the star of the show and there aren’t a ton of other characters and ideas vying for your attention. Milligan is clearly having a great time playing the intergalactic wrangler and that energy infects the rest of the cast and they all pitch up their performances to match it. For a heist story it doesn’t quite have the twists and turns that you might expect from the genre (Grand Theft Cosmos was much more surprising in that respect, what I was looking for was the constantly subverting narrative of something like Situation Vacant) but it sure gets the tone and the pace spot on. It basically does exactly what it says on the tin; it is a peppy adventure through space with the seventh Doctor, Klein (who is given much more to work with here), Will Arrowsmith (still irritating but showing glimmers of potential) and the Sontarans. With Matt Fitton scripting there is plenty of witty, memorable dialogue and to his acclaim he is treating the Sontarans credibly, it is just the humorous tone of the story means that they are rather swept up in the comical tide. Ultimately this was never going to top what I still consider to be the ultimate Doctor Who auction story, Alien Bodies, which took the very simple idea and turned it into a portmanteau of oddball characters, hyper imaginative concepts and stunning world building (in the same breath The Name of the Doctor loses points for stealing most of its best ideas for this novel too). Starlight Robbery is an enjoyable Doctor Who story that diverts for its running time and provides a good ride. Just don’t expect to remember much of it afterwards, this is ultimately pretty disposable stuff (Garundel even admits as much at the climax) with an ending that rips of Frontier in Space and sees Big Finish leaping on the continuity bandwagon again (can you guess who the menace in the next story is?). Worth checking out : 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/starlight-robbery-written-by-matt.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/starlight-robbery-714

Daleks Among Us: It is very difficult to make a story that features Tracey Childs as Klein and Terry Molloy as Davros an unsatisfying experience but Daleks Among Us has a damn good stab at it anyway. The story seems to be built on the undramatic concept of whether there are Daleks among us or not, a ramshackle premise since I was hoping that it wouldn’t be the case given how much they have been worn-out on audio. Fans brought to Big Finish from exposure to the new series would be completely at sea; this story relies on you knowing Klein’s backstory, Davros’ backstory and the backstory of the rest of this arc. I was confused at times (more because this was often a tangle of exposition rather than a decently dramatised play) I have all that information at my fingertips. The story is overlong, each episode bloated out of all proportion and I can’t deny I was looking at my watch before the end of each installment. You can usually rely on any Doctor Who story to be built on reasonably solid ideas but Daleks Among Us lacks even that groundwork, with illogical concepts destabilising the story from the off. Tracey Childs is trying her damdest to make this material count for something but given that the writer is systematically damaging the characters origins beyond repair she is fighting a losing battle. As for Sylvester McCoy? I have always considered him the weakest performing Doctor and whilst he has enjoyed some consistent success in the past couple of years he has plunged back into an unpersuasive phase in 2013. He sounds utterly lost in Daleks Among Us, like he is reading the script for the first time and if you compare the interplay between him and Molloy to that of Baker and Molloy in The Curse of Davros, their lack of chemistry is obvious. Is this story supposed to be about Davros and the Daleks or about the Doctor and Klein? I don’t think it knows, and the two stories make very uncomfortable bedfellows. If this was an attempt to replicate (hoho) the success of Brotherhood of the Daleks then it is an abject failiure; that was an expertly plotted piece of Russian doll storytelling, this is just a confused, untidy, unsatisfying bewilderment. Ken Bentley doesn’t have a hope in hell of salvaging this script and it feels like he doesn’t bother. Like 2012, thank goodness there is a second story released in September. What the second Klein trilogy proves is that sometimes things that work are best left alone, as so many movie makers have learnt when bombing in the box office with dreadful sequels. The first set of Klein adventures were an unqualified success but that didn’t automatically prove that the next lot would be similarly good, as this latest trilogy has exemplified. Daleks Among Us continues the general feeling of hopelessness that has infected the main range of late. Once the only range and a source of excitement, it has become possibly the most disposable of the Big Finish series with only the occasional Doctor/companion combinations (such as Colin and Bonnie earlier in the year and Davison/Sutton/Fielding/Waterhouse next year) proving appetite whetting. Here’s hoping that jettisoning the trilogy format for the next three releases will pump a bit of life back into this ailing range, an especially unfortunate experience in the anniversary year. A complete re-think is in order, especially concerning the Daleks. I would give them a rest for many a year if this is best that can be done with them. Could you tell that I wasn’t keen on Daleks Among Us? It’s an ill thought through climax to an ill thought through trilogy that takes one of the most strikingly original Big Finish characters and ruins her. Abominable: 2/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/daleks-among-us-written-by-alan-barnes.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/daleks-among-us-715


Revenge of the Swarm written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

Result: You might think that a sequel to The Invisible Enemy, hardly the most celebrated of Doctor Who stories, smacks of desperation on Big Finish's part. They have systematically been working through practically every story in 70s Who and providing an alternative take on pretty much every threat that the Doctor faced in that period. A cynical marketing ploy or a genuinely innovative procedure? Perhaps a little of both...but where does Revenge of the Swarm fall? Taking place in the misbegotten seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex arc (which technically ended in A Death in the Family and then again in Gods & Monsters and yet somehow rolls onwards inexorably), this half baked reunion between the Doctor and Swarm plays out in a disturbingly similar approach to their first get-together. To the point where at times it feels like a copy and paste job. Morris is an excellent writer and he runs with the idea of the nucleus of the swarm in some imaginative directions but even he cannot leap the hurdles inherent in this arc; a Doctor who sounds unprepared (that's down to McCoy's rushed performance), an assistant who is sexually taking advantage of a corrupted personality and a male companion who should have left ages ago. When all three of your regulars are sabotaging the story you are trying to tell (through no fault of your own) it almost seems a little unfair. When the first ten minutes of this story is catching up the audience with what they have missed out on, explaining away the adventure this story is inspired by and dragged down by the domestic arrangements of the TARDIS crew you have some serious problems. Not only that but this one struggles to find comic or dramatic moments within its scenario because they often fight one another, both the funny and the serious moments being dreadfully overplayed. The only other time Jonathan Morris has provided a script that has struggled before was also an incomprehensible sequel (Hothouse). Whilst that is a fantastic track record given how prolific a writer he is, it stresses that he should be allowed to let his original mind run free rather than being hampered with a shopping list of unwieldy ingredients. This is meekly entertaining but completely throwaway and after a brief resurgence in quality with Breaking Bubbles the main range feels like it is coasting on past glories again. Personally, I prefer The Invisible Enemy. It might be over ambitious, but at least it is ambitious: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/revenge-of-swarm-written-by-jonathan.html

Mask of Tragedy written by James Goss and written by Ken Bentley

Result: Big Finish just don't know when to let it go, do they? Hex brought a spell of success for a handful of trilogies so rather than bring his character to a natural end they resurrect him in a new guise (after killing him off in the most hysterical fashion) and have this perverted story arc hinder what might have been some very decent stories (well, not Revenge of the Swarm). Without the impediment of the Hector arc running through it like a stick of rock, this might have scored higher. Mask of Tragedy starts out as a rather jolly affair, perfectly entertaining for the most part without ever being enthralling. I expected much more from James Goss but that is only because he has set the bar for himself extremely high (The Last Post, In Living Memory) and I was hoping that dipping his toes in the main range for the first time would be the jewel in the crown this year, just as John Dorney's The Forth Wall managed a few years back. The dialogue is perky, the pacing excellent and there was an element of wit that made it very easy to swallow down. It is a perfectly serviceable Doctor Who story that has all the predictable elements in place (history, aliens, a villain). Somewhere along the line though it all devolves into a chorus (hoho) of hysterical noise, trying to deafen the audience and posing as drama. What really spoils things, though, are the regulars. I'm bored rigid of this line up and not even a writer of James Goss' eminence can find anything new to say about them. Ace seems to have devolved back into a child, Hector is Hex for all they mention otherwise and the Seventh Doctor has nothing fresh to do with these companions. Everything has been said about this line up that is going to be said and continuing it just because they were once popular has the adverse effect of poisoning their run. I haven't been this fatigued by companions since the endless eighth Doctor and Charley saga. McCoy needs somebody new to bounce off (Sally would have been ideal). This is very much in the same vein of Starlight Robbery in the ill-fated second Klein trilogy, a bout of frippery before things get very serious indeed. It's nowhere near as successful and let's prey that Signs and Wonders doesn't turn out like Daleks Among Us. You wouldn't think a story of plague victims and encroaching Spartans could be spun as light entertainment...and if I'm honest I'm not sure it should have been. In Mask of Tragedy science fiction encroaches on history and murders any lasting impact, which is a shame because there are some lovely conceits that are rooted in real history (such as the Doctor being Aristophanes sponsor, a genuine figure in his life). This wasn't appalling but there were times when I wanted to shut myself in a dark room and make all the screaming go away: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/mask-of-tragedy-written-by-james-goss.html

Signs and Wonders written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

Result: Signs and Wonders was moving along attention-grabbingly enough until...you guessed it...the regulars turned up. Then a moody drama becomes a melodramatic slug fest, drowning in angst and soap operatics and dodgy performances. I said the same thing about The Crimson Horror last year, this would have worked much better without the TARDIS showing up at all. The scene where Hector bangs his head against a brick wall trying to explain to Ace that there is a Hex shaped hole in him that she cannot fill it with her idea of who he is mortifyingly embarrassing, as Hollyoaks as I hope Doctor Who ever gets. That is until the bitch fight between Ace and Sally in episode two. This melodrama feels so tired, this bunch have been having similar rows over different things for years now. Just get rid of them. The story itself settles down to be a mash up of The Fearmonger (creating a psychic stir with propaganda), The Rapture (a prophet spreading his message through music), Project Destiny (a hysterical apocalypse in a major British city), Afterlife (picking up many of the themes from that story) and Gods and Monsters (the Elder Gods), not exactly where I would look for inspiration given those are some of those are the weakest of the McCoy audio adventures. Ken Bentley tries to direct with flair but there's no denying that we have seen all this before. Ultimately this was another noisy affair trying to be as epic as possible, the sort of thing that the main range churns out every other month now. It seems to be a result of the trilogies that each one feels the need to climax on as ambitious a story in scope, if not imagination. It means we get a great big and somewhat empty New Series finale every three releases. I would like for a trilogy to buck the trend and climax on something small and intimate. Like Mask of Tragedy, this probably would have worked better condensed into a 45 minute episode with all the flabby bits cut away. It wouldn't disguise the paucity of original ideas but it would be a much more digestible piece. I thought the Klein trilogy last year was ill-judged but the Hector trilogy has been even worse, not only poorly thought through but coming off as a poor repeat of everything we have already heard. Why force a character to stick around only to have them exit the range again only not as effectively? Why not take this opportunity to write out Ace, a character that has outlived her usefulness to a factor of ten. A bothersome end to a futile trilogy: 4/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/signs-and-wonders-written-by-matt.html

The Defectors written and directed by Nick Briggs

Result: Davison taking part in a Hartnell adventure and Colin being paired up with Hines and Padbury again are two ideas that excite me but I cannot say I have ever given much thought to the duo of McCoy and Manning or that it is one that particularly lights up my world now I have heard the story. It is an middling pairing in a middling tale, a love letter to the Pertwee era that ticks all the right boxes ('What sort of base? Or let me guess...a top secret one!') but lacks three important elements (Pertwee himself, the Brigadier and the Master) and the warmth of camaraderie that powered the top drawer early seventies adventures. The Defectors is perfectly entertaining without ever threatening to become anything more than workmanlike. You could slip it into the player and kill a few hours but I can't imagine you ever doing so again (which is not something I would say about some of the other main range stories of late that I would love to experience again, especially The Widows Assassin and The Entropy Plague). I've just finished listening to it and I can't really recall much of the story because so much of it was filler material. The truth of the matter is there is about enough substance to adequately fill a 45 minute fourth or eighth Doctor adventure (and it would still be quite a light piece at that length) and the slack is taken up with lots of creeping about and empty banter. Nick Briggs is such a busy man, contributing to so many ranges as a director, actor, sound designer and writer that I think some of his talent is being spread a little thinly. Once upon a time he wrote Creatures of Beauty. Years later he wrote The Defectors. The difference in quality between the two is conspicuous. McCoy's perky performance aside (and it always comes as a pleasing surprise to me when he is the most enjoyable feature of a story), this is disposable stuff. There is nothing here that justifies the 'Locum Doctors' format and that is a bad way to kick start things: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-defectors-written-and-directed-by.html

We Are the Daleks written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

Result: 'It is our new paradigm! To extend our influence through economic power! The power of free market!' Remember when I said that Jonathan Morris had written the type of giddy and creatively fertile Dalek tale that Douglas Adams might have concocted in The Curse of Davros? Well he's done it again in We Are the Daleks, possibly even moreso because this has a very intelligent point to make about the worst aspects of humanity and uses humour as skilful weapon to get that point across. Human greed, or rather capitalism can be both our salvation and our downfall depending on how far we let it dominate our lives and the Daleks exploit that need to have more to gain a foothold on Earth and have their wicked way. The terrifying truth that Jonny Morris has uncovered is that if you strip away our humanity and focus on our capitalist nature ('the favoured elite rules and the rest of the inhabitants become a slave labour force'), we arethe Daleks. Elitist attitudes, computer games exploding on the market, worker strikes and a vision of chrome and glass...somehow Morris manages to out eighties the Doctor Who of the period and offer a peak into a world where ruthless capitalist ideals thrived, both as a dream and a nightmare. If I'm making this sound too dry then comfort yourself in the knowledge that We Are the Daleks also flaunts the gloriously offbeat premise of a computer game that is directly plugged into the Dalek War that has taken Great Britain by storm. In fact I think I would have preferred it if the story had taken a less entertaining and more scathing approach to it's psychological exploration of our baser instincts but there's no denying that the swift action and bouncy dialogue provide a rollicking good time. We Are the Daleks kicks off a new trilogy with great verve, it's wildly entertaining but like the best Doctor Who stories it also has something to say. It's a delight to have Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford back together again too, both the Doctor and Mel get a strong role in this unusual and quirky story. Score one for the main range: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/we-are-daleks-written-by-jonathan.html

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