Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Guardian of the Solar System written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom is dead, her ashes strewn on the planet Kembel. But, in an old house in Ely, Sara Kingdom lives on… Now joined in the house by her confidante Robert, Sara recalls her travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor – and a particular adventure when the ship appeared to land inside a giant clock, where old men are caught in its workings… And behind this nightmare is an old enemy: Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System. Then and now, Sara's past is catching up with her. The cogs have come full circle…

SSS: How awful for Sara to meet up with two of the people that brought her life to a spectacular close, her brother Bret Vyon and her boss Mavic Chen. To know that the former will die at her hands and the latter would betray the Solar System and to be able to do nothing about it is a real test of her character. She can still see the look in her brother’s eyes when she killed him. It was such a long time ago but it is still raw. When Sara followed the Doctor and Steven into the laboratory knowing there was no way out for them, with every intention of killing them both and she couldn’t have predicted the way things panned out. Sara felt small and insignificant within the workings of the machine but it dwarfed the petty concerns of people. When she meets up with Bret in his past before she has killed him she has the awful realisation that she couldn’t save him, a sick feeling that all that she has done is set in stone. It didn’t take much for Chen to convince Sara of his good intentions because she so wanted to believe that the man she had always admired was working for Earth’s best interests. It didn’t matter that Sara was going to screw time over because she had her brother back and she was going to do everything in her power to save him. She realises in her decision to destroy the clock that with a sense of crushing inevitability she is responsible for setting up the events that lead to her brothers death, to her defection and (although she wouldn’t know this) her death. She feels like a fly trapped in amber, a cog in a machine of time and her wish is to break the cycle and be free of her responsibilities to the timeline.

Humble Husband: When Robert’s daughter got sick he would have done anything to save her…even ask the House to provide the cure which went against his beliefs as a rational man. He has to want it, to wish to spend the rest of his life with the ghost of Sara and the house would do the rest.

Hmm: Mavic Chen dispatched the whole Space Security Service after the Doctor when he stole the Time Destructor and Sara Kingdom was one of the agents that caught up with him. Sara always thought he was an extraordinary man with eyes as bright as his silver hair, twinkling like stars.
Being inside the intricate workings of a clock mechanism absolutely thrills the Doctor and he gets to admire the workmanship from an angle he has never had the opportunity to do in the past. Sara might say that the clock was magic but the Doctor would not allow that. Steven has a lot of patience with the Doctor (so did Peter Purves with the William Hartnell!) and had broken through that period that took the Doctor time to warm to you. They were now the closest of friends. The Doctor had never been one for sitting quietly – he was forever being caught and escaping as regular as clockwork!

Aggressive Astronaut: Steven knew how to handle and prompt the Doctor as they had travelled together a long time before they met Sara. She always thought he was tall and handsome, a pilot of the old kind where you needed nerves of steel and a great sense of humour.

Standout Performance: Jean Marsh once again delights and her chance to play Mavic Chen made me applaud her, she gets Kevin Stoney’s theatrical and oriental performance spot on.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I was trapped. I’ve always been trapped. Just a cog in the machine.’
‘The clock was reaching into my mind…’
‘I know Mavic Chen and my brother have escaped and that I’ll catch up with them later.’
‘So what’s it going to be…’

Great Ideas: This the last story that Robert is going to hear because after he had his wish granted and his daughter got better and grew up in the house and left him he has no wish to keep living this existence of hermitage. People wish terrible things within the house that can grant them at Ely. The TARDIS materialising in the workings of a giant clock – now that is a premise I can get excited about! Whilst difficult to get a sense of scale, the vast and intricate interlocking parts were larger than some of the rockets that Sara had flown in – it was a whole city made up of blocks larger than houses keeping perfect timing. Old men keep the machine going, frail and exhausted. They were smart and intelligent men put inside to wander the workings of the clock…and they taught the clock to feed. Mavic Chen’s usual act is a theatrical Mandarin wheeling through politics because it amused him not because he cared. The clock doesn’t just measure time, it dictated it. The great mechanism sat so heavily that it caused space-time to bend and worked as a counter weight to the great avenues through hyperspace. Sara can be explained away because she was a member of the SSS but the Doctor and Steven first met Mavic Chen and Bret Vyon a year from now on the planet Kembel and if they met now history would be rewritten. I love the philosophy that even though stories might not always be true they always have the ability to reveal truth to those who are listening. Chen is so convincing that even though she knows what his real goal turns out to be she gets a sense that despite being ruthless, pragmatic and vain he was working in Earth’s best interests. Sara realises with some horror (shared by the audience) that Mavic Chen had no choice but to side with the Daleks because she destroyed the clock and his hyperspace link. When the TARDIS lands and the Doctor waits in the console room wondering why he has been brought by Robert to Sara’s ghost and she panics at the thought of trying to get some answers from him.

Audio Landscape: Crackling fire, huge cogs turning and metal hitting metal – the workings of the clock make for a super audio landscape, its very interesting to hear a ticking clock in the house in Ely – a demonstration of the ticking clock from the outside of the workings, doors banging, a sudden breath, a cold biting wind, the screaming hinges of a closing door, the prisoners screaming as the flames leap up and destroy the clock, the alarm sounding.

Musical Cues: These melancholic Sara Kingdom stories bring the absolute best out of Fox and Yason. They have the ability to take this exceptional material and make you feel something gaping and empty inside yourself as the story takes place with their music.

Isn’t it Odd: I don’t necessarily buy that it was Sara’s fault that Chen took created the Time Destructor to hold the universe at ransom – the destruction of the clock might have forced him to seek ulterior means of power but his all encompassing ego would have driven him to something of the sort eventually. Alternative means of conquering, yes – but the nutter that we meet in The Daleks’ Masterplan is clearly so much in love with his new allies that as soon as the idea occurred to him he must have been dazzled by the possibilities.

Standout Scene: In an awesome twist of Robert’s fate Sara grants his wish to let him stay and be part of the house, to know what the house was capable of and how far he could reach. I really thought that he was going to die but to swap places with Sara, to allow her the chance to breath fresh air and feel the wind on her face…it is an awesomely powerful exchange that really engaged my emotions given all the build up. The last scene literally took me breath away and the last line gave me goosebumps – so many possibilities (Sara could leave with the Doctor and have more adventures…but which one?) and so skilfully left for the audience to decide.

Result: Guardian of the Solar System is less of a story in its own right and more of a continuation of the previous two Sara Kingdom stories but as a conclusion to the trilogy it proves to be very satisfying. Simon Guerrier has struck on such a winner with his Sara arc and there really isn’t a weak moment in all three exceptional stories. The story of Robert lacing through all these memories links the trilogy and the format of the Dalek Masterplan makes the vignettes of stories feel as though they are the perfect length. What’s more he has managed to take an is she/isn’t she companion and turn Sara into the definitive article for me and adding a number of wonderful stories to what I already consider to be a Doctor Who masterpiece. None of these achievements are easy and Guerrier’s skill with both the first person narrative and running arcs should be applauded. Lisa Bowerman’s direction has never been better than in this remarkable trilogy, nothing is rushed and yet there are still moments of great tension and drama and some incredible shocks and the performances she coaxes from Jean Marsh and Niall McGregor are extraordinary. Somewhere in the depths of Doctor Who’s arsenal of storytelling lie three Sara Kingdom companion chronicles and they contain some of the finest drama, moments of poetry and philosophy and represent this crazy little series at its most meditative. Breathtakingly good imagery too: 10/10

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Patient Zero written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Patient Zero written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Finally, the Sixth Doctor challenges Charlotte Pollard to tell him the truth. Who is she really? What is she doing in the TARDIS? To discover the answers, the Doctor must travel back in time, beyond all known civilisations to the vast, mysterious Amethyst Viral Containment Station. But answers lie within the TARDIS too. Someone who has been there a long, long time... Meanwhile, the Daleks have travelled back in time on their own mission, to bring them the ultimate victory they crave. But it is a mission so complex and delicate that even they know they must beware the web of time...Who is Patient Zero? What has happened to Charley? And why have the legendary Viyrans been summoned?

Softer Six: The end is nigh for Sixie and Charley just as they had established themselves as the signature duo for Big Finish in the new regime. I understand that they couldn’t keep these secrets up forever and its rather wonderful that we don’t get too much of a good thing (ala the eighth Doctor and Charley going on and on and on…) and it does go to show that Briggsy and co do want to try new things on a regular basis. All these are good reasons to bring this relationship to an end but it still doesn’t make it any less upsetting because they have made such an engaging pair and the writers have managed to have some great fun with the concept of Doctor hopping. As usual the sixth Doctor adventures are where all the fun is at.

The gloves are off now and the Doctor wants to know exactly who Charlotte Pollard is and if that is even her name and he isn’t going to be nice about it! He recognises that Charley wanted Carmen’s time machine in The Raincloud Man for reasons other than the ones she stated. He’s vicious until he realises she isn’t faking her illness and suddenly he is full of concern for his new friend. The Doctor admits that over the years he has been searching for a cure for Charley he has been caught up in a few scrapes (you could happily insert stories like Davros in here). The Daleks cannot risk killing the Doctor because they know they meet him in future incarnations so instead massacre their way through the familiars to get his co-operation. Also they torture him for something of a giggle. The Doctor doesn’t have the strength to protect the station and it s secrets if it means losing Charley, he has been searching too long and hard to give up on her now. He hardly knows Charley at all and he’s certain that she has been hiding the truth about herself since they first met and yet he feels a connection with her. The Doctor has had a misspent life around operating systems and you soon develop a seventh sense! He thinks he is gambling on a certainty that the Daleks wont allow the station to explode – it is an insanely dangerous plan because if he is wrong they will all go up with it but he has often been known for his recklessness. He tells Charley (who is in fact Mila) that she can stay but she has to back peddle on the overdone flattery.

Edwardian Adventuress: Just when you think things cannot get any worse for Charley than having to live life on the run and lie through her teeth during every adventure now she has contracted a disease that leaves her incapacitated for a long time and has her body stolen! Poor Charley has spent years of her life in the zero room as the Doctor tries to work on her condition. He pops in every now and again to make sure she is alright but he still hasn’t managed to help her. Every time he gets close the virus outfoxes him. Mila recognises that there is something different about Charley and that is that the TARDIS doesn’t like her. Nick Briggs latches onto the idea that Charley is different from the other companions because the TARDIS wont protect her. It recognises her as a web of time deviant and rejects her presence which gives Mila the opportunity to latch onto her body. Who ever thought there would be so much mileage left in this character? She is far more interesting now than she has ever been before and the clever notions dealing with her defection to a different Doctor keep coming. Charley screaming in the distance as Mila feeds the Doctor a pack of lies about her so called secret past she has been keeping from him is devastating. Given that the Doctor is happy with this explanation and seems to be ready to head off for fresh adventures with her there is every chance that the real Charley will stuck watching his adventures with the fake Charley for a long time. Sometimes you have to wonder if she was better off dying on the R-101. Even Charley admits she has cheated death for far too long and now nobody knows that she even exists… to hear her say ‘Memoirs of an Edwardian Adventuress’ after all this time and everything that has happened broke my heart.

Disembodied Voice: The very idea of Mila is par for the course of the innovative and spectacular concepts in this Charley arc, a girl who has been trapped within the TARDIS since the days of the first Doctor and has been watching all the comings and goings ever since and not being able to reach out to anybody. The amount of time she has spent unable to communicate has driven her quite insane and now Charley has contracted the same illness that draws her out of physical reality she wants to use the opportunity to pour herself into Charley’s body and live a normal life as the Doctor’s companion. Its completely nuts, much like the singing Daleks in Brotherhood of the Daleks and the war concluding Top Trumps in The Raincloud Man and like both of those ideas it is utterly unique and rather brilliant. She’s the companion that has always been with him and he has never been aware of it. Mila hid away from the Daleks in one of their time machines and because they were so scared of the Doctor she wanted to go with him. She waited until they caught up with him in The Chase and sneaked into the TARDIS and she has been ever since. Mila’s ability to kill the Daleks with little more than a touch makes her a very scary prospect (especially how she talks to it with such a cute giggle!). The Daleks were experimenting on Mila with a virus that was supposed to change what you were, if you caught it your DNA would mutate into whoever you caught it from (I’m going boss eyed). They were experimenting with it because they wanted to use it to turn people into Daleks (mutants I hope) but the reaction to the virus was too violent. They kept experimenting on her and she knew they would be happy unless she had become a Dalek or was killed…and she ran away to escape either option. They were using Mila to test the virus on, they thought if she could pass on the disease and make copies of herself and survive it was a success and could be tested on Daleks. It worked but the when they tested it on themselves the Dalek test subject died and they were furious. They bombarded Mila with radiation again and again and again until finally she couldn’t even remember who she was and she phased into another dimension. When Charley realises that the Doctor has never seen her even though she has been by his side for so long you understand the real tragedy of the character. With Charley unprotected Mila uses her disease to switch places with her – Charley is becoming Mila and Mila is becoming Charley…that’s why she loves her because she is about to embrace her and take her life. The whole point of the station is to prevent the use of these viruses as a weapon, the Viyrans are coming to take them away and destroy them. Mila conceiving a story that the truth that Charley has been keeping from the Doctor is that she was a prisoner of the Daleks works for her because that is an honest account as far as Mila is concerned (and handily it makes sense of the Daleks recognising Charley in Brotherhood of the Daleks). She very cleverly uses the information she would have witnessed in The Daleks’ Masterplan and Power of the Daleks to weave together a sense of hero worship that she development during her imprisonment with the Daleks – how precisely would Charley know this information if she wasn’t a prisoner of the Daleks?

Standout Performance: It has to be India Fisher who has grown so much as an actress since she has been playing the part of Charley it is impossible to reconcile her with the squeaky voiced amateur of her first season. Since she hopped Doctor’s she has been given so much more to do and a darker, more conniving role to play and it has brought her performance right down to Earth. In Patient Zero she gets to play all manner of emotions but her real coup is when she takes on the role of Mila which is pretty much the same role she was playing back at the beginning of her tenure but with a more girly tone and a sly wink to the audience every now and again. The contrast to Charley is subtle and obvious. She even has to play one of the Viyrans!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He used to make me laugh! He made them all laugh, those girls. They all loved him but they left. Every single one of them. None of them stayed.’
‘How ironic…rescued by the Daleks.’
‘If in doubt shout. Never fails, does it?’
What’s going to happen to me?
‘Soon we will be able to start our work…’ – there is something haunting about the Daleks calling the deployment of genocidal viruses work.
‘Perhaps its best this way. Charlotte Pollard fading away to nothing…’
‘You know, I should be grateful that you never learn, shouldn’t I? Grateful that ultimately it always boils down to one simple move that outwits you, ties you in knots and destroys you. Its often a long time coming and the suffering along the way sickens me but sometimes what really hurts about you, you – the Daleks, the supreme beings is that you fly in the face of everything I hope for in the universe. Change, growth, learning, the ability of beings to eventually transcend their limitations. To become something better. And here you are, trapped in your rage to survive and exterminate. Believe me when I say its truly pitiful. Goodbye’ – one of the Doctor’s best ever speeches.

Great Ideas: It’s the return of the Viyrans who made an ambiguous introduction in the one part adventure that tagged along with The Minds Eye (to my memory the only time a one parter impressed me less than the main release) but they are given a far better introduction here. They are spoken about in hushed voices and it Fratalin is told it would be wise to evacuate before they arrive and sterilise with their usual efficiency. There is a wonderful cut to Charley in the Zero Room and we discover it is years later and the Doctor has been trying to figure out a cure for her illness – you expect there to be a reset at some point but it never comes which really shocked me. In that time the Doctor has probably been having loads of adventures, if you were the sort to go all timey wimey he might have had his adventures with Flip in that time, whilst still working on a cure for Charley. The fact that it is handled so matter of factly is what makes it so effective – to the Doctor this is just a couple of years but for Charley this way longer than she has even been travelling with the two Doctors put together. The Daleks are very reluctant to damage any part of the station (unless they have to) so the Doctor simply has to know why. The very idea of Daleks asking to have the door opened for them rather than blasting their way through feels so discordant I almost did the ‘human female has escaped self destruct…’ from Death to the Daleks! If one of Fratalin’s familiars are killed he can feel it. The Daleks are there to retrieve patient zero which is a great mystery to be solved if ever I heard one! A ‘mass conjoining’ of familiars? Sounds disgusting! Patient Zero is the origin of the infection and in this case it is Mila. The station contains the biggest stockpile of viruses in the universe and if the Daleks get hold it they will make life intolerable for every living creature in existence (see Lucie Miller in the EDA range). The Viyrans were charged with the duty of taking all captured viruses and destroying them in the heart of Amathustra, Amethyst’s sun. The Daleks on the other hand want to dematerialise the station and all the viruses away. The Doctor sets the Dalek engines to explode and they have to focus all their attention on keeping the explosion inactive leaving the Doctor enough time to escape. The viruses the Daleks discovered where scattered through time and space…which means they must have been released at some point. The Doctor has to destroy the station via the Daleks time engines because that has already been written – the viruses were released and so he has to do it. He is the cause. It becomes a race against time with the Doctor trying to cause an explosion so devastating that it will destroy everything and the Daleks wanted to cause an explosion that will allow the viruses to spread. Their defeat is their victory. Charley/Mila knocks the Doctor unconscious so he isn’t taken from her in the explosion he plans to cause.

Audio Landscape: Charley fading in and out of existence, the TARDIS console going nuts, the awesome Dalek time machine sound effect (I love that!), is this the first time we have had a motorised hum when the Daleks move around like they do in the TV series, Dalek heartbeat, a lovely (and pleasingly brief) montage of the various Doctors talking, alarm, ugh – the sound of a Dalek being glooped and drowned by one of the familiars, the familiars screaming and melting away to nothing, extermination blasts, the Viyran horn sounding as their ship approaches, the clumping footsteps of the Viyrans and their electric humming, I love the assimilation of language the Viyrans use, the TARDIS grinding, fizzing and popping, the Daleks shooting the console, Daleks versus Viyrans in some action packed scenes.

Musical Cues: Howard Carters music is always something a bit a special. Towards the end of episode one where the Doctor is being executed as a saboteur there are strings and an organ playing that make it feel as though this really could be the end. The music gears up to new heights when Charley mentions Mila’s name towards the end of episode two and then punches you in the gut over and over as the Daleks step up their attack at the climax to part three. There are several set pieces in the last episode where the music is so bombastic and exciting it could have come from a summer blockbuster being played by a full orchestra – go and listen to the score during the climactic final act. It is superb.

Isn’t it Odd: Some people might criticise this amount of complication in the plot but I love it. As long as it ideas that are well thought through, imaginative and for a purpose I am more than happy. Perhaps this story does lack a sense of aesthetics (flowery sensual dialogue) but that’s not what this is all about.

Standout Scene: When you realise the full horror of what has happened to Mila as a prisoner of the Daleks and that is followed up with the full horror of what is happening to Charley now…who said that the third episode was always the weakest? I love the way Mila’s voice slowly melts into Charley’s and India Fisher’s subtle shift perfectly matches the devious character that has been established. The thought of poor tortured Charley existing as a disembodied presence in the TARDIS is yet another cruel punishment for her many infringements to the Web of Time. Make sure you listen out for the scene after the closing credits – Charley is in a bad place and its going to take some work on the Doctor’s part to undo it.

Notes: The viruses catapulted into space at the end of this story are gathered by the Dalek controller and put to devastating use in Lucie Miller. Their plan to create a plague planet to shuttle through space and wipe out entire worlds brings the EDAs to a spectacular close. Well worth seeking out although make sure you take a hanky.

Result: Dramatic, complex and very exciting, Patient Zero is another scorching Sixie/Charley tale that starts to round off their adventures with some real aplomb. Nick Briggs knows how to spin a Dalek yarn but inspired by the insane shenanigans of this incredible arc he has plucked a number of very clever ideas from the situation and created a frightening and unique character in Mila and found new ways to torture Charley. There is a boldness to the presentation that I really like, it is pacy and exhilarating (with an inspired musical score) and forces you to keep listening whilst the intelligence of the writing keeps you thinking. Things are definitely coming to head with Charley and somehow I can’t see her getting a happy ending but her continual bad luck is proving to be ever more stimulating. The Viyrans finally make a decent appearance and go head to head with the Daleks in some punchy scenes and the fact that the result of this adventure leads to an even more hellish time for the eighth Doctor (it seems he and Charley are still linked) in the future means that regardless of how good this is it is also essential backstory for Lucie Miller/To The Death. You would think two Dalek stories so close would be a cause to complain but both Brotherhood of the Daleks and Patient Zero find interesting new things to say about them and after all this time that is no mean feat. Electrifying and it has left me desperate to hear the rest of this trilogy now the Doctor has left with an imposter: 9/10

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Raincloud Man written by Eddie Robson and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Having just defeated the Krotons, the Doctor is treating Charley to a hearty English breakfast, when an intriguing mystery suddenly presents itself. And to solve it, they must plunge back into the criminal underbelly of Manchester, where an old friend is up to her neck in alien trouble. But what seemed like a mere mystery ends up being a life or death struggle at the centre of an interplanetary war in which the stakes are so high, the Doctor or Charley must gamble and lose their identity. And throughout, the lone figure of the Raincloud Man may hold the key to success or failure.

Softer Six: I love the way that the sixth Doctor and Charley have their own separate plots in this tale, they get to be completely independent of each other and prove what they are made of but come together to pooling their information and push the plot forward. They are a superb team – its exactly the sort of thing the New Adventures were going for but they completely fudged the idea by having the Doctor treat his companions as employees rather than friends and sending them out on missions. With Sixie and Charley it is a perfectly natural arrangement and as a result they make a peerless pair. On top of that we have had the Doctor accumulating a wealth of inconsistent evidence regarding Charley whilst growing very fond of her at the same time. Now the buck stops and he wants answers. When the Doctor detects another emergency situation that needs fixing he declares that they have to go right away…once they’ve finished breakfast. He refuses to believe for one second that Charley might be a murderer and dismisses Menzies claims. Considering his garish clothes and theatrical nature it surprises me how well the sixth Doctor fits into this world of seedy gambling establishments and the criminal underworld. ‘I’ll see your genius and I’ll raise you a super genius…maybe we should have a genius-off!’ – by the end of this story Menzies has definitely gotten used to having the Doctor around and is even praising him to the high heavens. Only the Doctor would have the balls to admit that he could stop a centuries long war in an evening. When he learns that Charley is planning to give Carmen her time machine so she can go back in time and stop any of this from ever taking place he is appalled at her lack of subtlety and thought that she knew better. He can see that Charley is very well aware of the web of time and he knows for a fact that she isn’t stupid…and he doesn’t believe her objections. He wants to truth.

Edwardian Adventuress: ‘You don’t seem to realise how much the timeline hates you being here. If it was a cat it would be hissing at you right now’ I still find it astonishing how interesting Charley is now that she has been severed from the eighth Doctor and forced to fend for herself and literally lie her way through her relationship with the sixth Doctor. Certainly she never had this kind of edge to her character before and she hasn’t been had an arc this involving since her first two seasons. Had Nick Briggs and cohorts not decided to make the bold step of transferring her from one Doctor to another Charley Pollard would probably be remembered as the companion that jumped the shark early on and never went away. Because of this exceptionally strong final run of stories she not only goes out on high but leaves the audience desperately wanting more – an astonishing feat considering her longevity. Clearly the Doctor and Charley have been having some exciting adventures of late since she threatens to fall asleep in her full English (with extra black pudding – yum!). I love a girl with a hearty appetite! Kelsa finds it difficult to look at Charley, he is extremely sensitive about deviations in the time continuum and is shockingly specific in his assessment that Charley has met the Doctor in his future. There is a sense of desperation when her secret comes out that I love and suddenly Charley isn’t keeping this secret alone and she cannot control other peoples mouths. The idea that Miss Pollard could kill a man is preposterous but the fact that she is this anxious about the Doctor finding out the truth about her was enough to make me doubt her for a little while and that really surprised me. I genuinely thought for half an episode that Charley might kill in order to protect herself. What was it I said about her being more interesting than ever? When DI Menzies arrests her for his murder I wondered how on Earth she was going to talk her way out of this one. A handy car crash leaves Menzies unconscious and Charley in the impossible situation of choosing to help her and surrender to injustice or to dash off and live life on the run. Given that this story has a habit of taking the more interesting route she takes the latter option. The only thing I like even more than Charley the murderer is Charley the wanted criminal on the run! She fiendishly catches a lift on the boat by pretending that she knows Carmen. Frighteningly charley has to play for her memories with the Doctor in order to get his knowledge of the TARDIS back…and if she loses all of her wonderful times with him will be lost. And worse…the knowledge of temporal instability could be used as a weapon. Charley knows that the Doctor doesn’t lose his time travel knowledge because he has it when they meet in the future but she doesn’t realise that the Tabbalac tells the Doctor that he has sensed this empathically…

DI Awesome: It doesn’t come as an incredible surprise that DI Menzies was rushed back for another appearance since her character not only kicked some serious ass, shares some terrific chemistry with Sixie but she helped to kick off this resurgence in top quality Big Finish by pairing off Colin Baker with India Fisher. She told the Doctor to steer clear of Manchester and upon sighting the pair of them again she almost scuttles away in horror! After her experiences with the Doctor word got around on the streets that she was able to help out alien travellers and trapped visitors to the planet contact her and she did her part to keep her aid low key. You ask for men and they send you clots and numpties. She has quite a good grasp on the idea of temporal interference and wonders if the Doctor investigating the pound from the future might lead to a trail that the perpetrator is him! When the Doctor outright fails to prove that Carmen is from the future Menzies lets her go and piles on the sarcasm and accuses him of being a stalker! She refuses to apologise to Charley for suspecting her of murder because that is her job after all. She utters the words that I desperately wanted to hear and asks the Doctor if she can go with him. Her life is too complicated back home and she is hoping that travelling with him will be a better kind of complicated. Unfortunately his twisted relationship with Charley means this is the wrong time for now but they both look forward to a point in the future where they can enjoy some time together.

Standout Performance: Both Aidan J David and Simon Sherlock gives wonderfully dry performances as creatures that inadvertently affect the world around them. The stars of this story are three main stars, Colin Baker, India Fisher and Martha Cope who dig deep and find some very interesting places for their characters to go. Independently they are great characters and beautifully performed but when you stick them together you have some of the best scenes Big Finish have provided.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I spent the last hour learning how to do Sudo-koos!’
‘You can’t just hope he gets a whack on the head and forgets all about you. This is too big for you to handle…’ – they are already throwing out ideas of how the Doctor could forget Charley so that he can meet her again for the first time in Storm Warning.
‘Brooks has plans for his Raincloud Man…’
‘I’ve seen City of God! They’ve got it tough enough without your Raincloud hanging over them!’
‘Because the alternative would be to stop fighting and then they would have to work out what they were going to do instead’ – I love that line because it could be applied to so many conflicts.
‘We have no history. We have no culture. We have no names.’
‘So…where do we go from here, Charley?’

Great Ideas: Eddie Robson seems to have been inspired by the Web of Time infringement of the Sixie/Charley relationship and writes his most imaginative script yet which is bursting at the seams with inspired ideas. A pound coin from the future – someone’s idea of a joke or evidence of time travellers in our midst? Not the sort of gossip rag news the Doctor would normally believe in but this time he is rattled because he recognises the coin as one minted for the Olympics. As it has come from ten years in the future he is a little bit concerned at what else they might have been up to, they might be there to weaken the Earth for attack. Kelsa who can sense disturbance in the space time continuum was woken up when the TARDIS arrived. The Tabbalac are an aggressive bunch of aliens, hard to deceive and very good at reading body language. The coin was left as a tip by a lady who had it in her possession when she arrived via a boat moored at Salford Quays. The Doctor thinks she is abusing time travel in order to defraud gambling establishments. When Robson reveals the luxury yacht to be a spacecraft warping off to Rio de Janeiro I could have kissed him – I simply had no idea where this story was going next and that is a great feeling.
It is a casino that hops from place to place, from planet to planet, instantaneously and whether it goes its always night which means its always full. On Lish’s planet difference people affect the world in different ways and he causes bad luck, that’s why they call him The Raincloud Man. All the weird murders that have taken place, people crashing into mirrors, that has all been his bad luck affecting them. This is an elegant explanation for the random events of the first two episodes. His condition is getting worse and worse and his and luck keeps spilling out and infecting people. The stakes on these gambling tables are abstract ones – your past or your future, your skills or your passion, your emotions or your life. If the house has something you want and you can’t get it any other way people are willing to gamble with their lives and that is a truly haunting idea. Some people gamble away their memories and live on the boat now because they’ve forgotten their old lives. Lish was brought in to influence the customers if they got too lucky but now Brooks is selling him and giving him to the Cyrox who want to put him down in the Tabbalac homeworld and let his condition run riot and destroy the place. The Cyrox were created by the rulers of the Tabbalac as a reaction to the their aggression – they were allowed to live in peace on their planet but if they set out to conquer another world they would be instantly confronted by the Cyrox. The chances of winning in a conflict between the two traces is always even but there are always more of the Cyrox than there are of the Tabbalac. When it comes to high stakes on the gaming tables the Doctor bets the TARDIS and his knowledge of how to operate it against the Tabbalac war itself – if he loses the war will get a million times worse and if he wins the war will be over. Brilliantly the final high stakes game isn’t roulette or poker…but Top Trumps! The one thing that the Tabbalac want even more than the TARDIS and its operating knowledge is Charley’s memories of travelling with the Doctor.

Audio Landscape: A bustling café, rustling a newspaper, rattling keys, phones ringing, bustle and chatter in the police station, ring tones, cars growling on streets, a car crashing, police siren, heavy rain, the warp engines on the boat warming up and engaging, the casino ambiance, the crabs table, roulette and the excited chatter around the tables, a fire fight in the casino, seagulls screaming in the air, containing an explosion and releasing it under controlled conditions, electric fires crackling.

Musical Cues: I love the comedy trumpet when the Doctor faces a Tabbalac at the end of episode one.

Isn’t it Odd: I really like how the people who have complained about the sixth Doctor being a little dense to not pick up the wealth of clues as to Charley’s true identity. Of course he has…and in this story he acts as if he believes her entirely and as soon as her back is turned he airs his real thoughts to us.

Standout Scene: So many to choose from but I love the final set piece of Charley and the Tabbalac playing Top Trumps for the outcome of the war and the Doctors knowledge of time travel. Its wonderfully silly and very tense at the same time. Oh and the final scene which we have been waiting for for a little while and tragically might spell the end of Charley’s travels with the sixth Doctor.

Result: A gorgeous Eddie Robson script that does some great things with the Sixie/Charley arc and tells a blissfully imaginative and exciting story at the same time. What I really love about The Raincloud Man is that it doesn’t try and overwhelm you with its production values (even though Nicholas Briggs’ direction is as faultless as ever) but instead impresses with its intelligent plotting (the way all the apparently random elements dovetail together is first-class), fun ideas and the extremely engaging three way relationship between Charley, Sixie and Menzies (all three parings are superbly handled). The idea of the Raincloud Man is inspired and it is dealt with in a number of engaging ways, exploiting greed, inciting war and causing inexplicable murders that get blamed on innocent Edwardian Adventuresses. Brilliant entertainment and packed full of memorable moments, The Raincloud Man proves (once again) how delightful this pairing of Doctor and companion is and their adventures continue to be the highlight of the main range. The Big Finish equivalent of having a night of fantastic sex and finishing it off with a fry up – pure pleasure with a rewarding finish: 9/10

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Paradise of Death written by Barry Letts and directed by Phil Clarke

What’s it about: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart asks the Doctor to investigate a new theme park called Space World. Together with Sarah Jane Smith and Jeremy Fitzoliver, they take in the incongruous exhibits, including virtual reality and even live alien creatures.

The Mighty Nose: Forget Zagreus, it is The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space which are the last hurrahs for Pertwee’s Doctor and it is a tragic shame that he passed away when he did because given his interest in audio drama he would have been the first to sign up for some top notch Big Finish adventures. Naturally he sounds older but this is still the third Doctor through and through, charmingly arrogant, brilliantly rude and a man of action in every way! Pertwee’s feels right at home on audio and after a touch of overdone melodrama (‘You mean to say you’re interviewing me!’) in the first scene he settles down and sounds very natural. He thinks back wistfully about the events of The Time Monster which shows how badly he needs a regeneration! He’s appalled to learn that Sarah Jane is interviewing him – he can’t possibly have his secrets splashed all over the tabloids! He appears to be as dead as a Sunday joint when he plummets from 200 feet but there isn’t a single bone broken in his body. He only just manages to wake up in time from his own autopsy! When he lost his old teacher he thought that his father had died. When confronted with a Gargon he swears he hasn’t seen teeth that size since the last Tyrannosaurus he met…at least he doesn’t have to wait long to meet another! The Doctor tries to subdue the terrifying beast with the old Venusian Lullaby (roughing translated ‘Close your eyes my darling…or three of them at least!’) but the Gargon isn’t as partial as Aggedor. The Doctor has to take on his challenger with nothing but a rolling pin (whereas his competitor has a broadsword!). He can see very little advantage in his opponent attempting to taunt him and if he dies he wants to die as himself!

Lovely Lis: As we know from experience the divine Elisabeth Sladen doesn’t sound as if she has aged a day since she left and slips back into her season eleven role with consummate ease. Sarah considers herself the best investigative journalist in the business and her editor pauses for comic effect. It says something about their short relationship that Sarah is as devastated as she is at the thought of the Doctor plunging to his death from a rooftop. Its great to visit Sarah’s place of work that we were denied in the series and her attempts to write up a tribute to the Doctor are a sweet but futile attempt to honour his name. The first rule of experienced journalism is to get your expenses sorted out first! Sarah gets her first trip into space and she is taunted by Tragan with sexual threats and torture, I’m surprised she took to this game so enthusiastically! Poor Sarah chooses a particularly violent VR to experience and recoils in horror as she executes a political criminal. She is furious with the Doctor that because of his instructions Waldo dies alone – she firmly believes that nobody should die alone.

Chap With Wings: You can count on Nicholas Courtney to bring a wonderful sense of continuity to any story in any era – he links together the different eras of Doctor Who with his consistently charming performance. Sometimes the Doctor thinks that the Brigadier has a very shaky grasp of the special theory of relativity! There’s a chance for the Brigadier to show off his military experience towards the end of the story (although he has to go into battle with drippy Jeremy!).

Geeky Photographer: When Sarah insists on a photographer Clarinda sends Jeremy with the message that she is not to laugh! Poor Richard Pearce has been saddled with the worst reputation since these audio plays came out for playing the wettest, geekiest most irritatingly earnest character we have ever seen or heard in Doctor Who. I can’t say they don’t have a point but I kind of like the guy anyway…unlike characters like Adric he knows he’s a bit rubbish and tries his best regardless. He’s the sort of person you want to punch on the conk to shut him up but then can’t help giving a hug once he has burst into tears. He’s the only person who can say ‘Yar! Absolutely whizzo wicked!’ without a hint of irony. Generally whenever he asks to do anything he gets the response ‘Oh Jeremy!’ He can’t go wandering around the universe like Diddle Diddle Dumpling, can he?

Standout Performance: The delicious voices of Harold Innocent and Peter Miles make for a wonderful pair of villains!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Could you perhaps tell us how you managed to persuade it to come to Hampstead Heath?’

Great Ideas: Lets not beat around the bush…Space World sounds great! I am 31 and I would love to visit a tourist attraction that offers monsters from outer space, gladiators and virtual reality! You can scoff but I think you would too. A man has been savaged by a six foot sabre toothed Rottweiler or at least that is what the evidence looks like! The virtual reality scenes are the perfect chance to show the possibilities of telling Doctor Who on audio; they are very sophisticatedly produced soundscapes. If the Parakon organisation really can beam experiences into people’s minds then they have the power to control the world. The idea that they can take control of your mind and force words out of your mind to make it look as if you are jumping off a roof of your own free will is positively terrifying. Nothing would be beyond their grasp. Parakon is offering proposal that will be of benefit to the Earth; a valuable new export market for a new product, cheap imports of every kind, the benefit of advanced technologies which can offer a life of luxury and ease to people. The murderous virtual reality experiences are the most popular in the catalogue. The horror of what has happened to the civilian refugees, being led into gas chamber and then ground up for fertiliser for the world along is horrible and there is some intelligent discussion about why such horrific records have been kept throughout history.

Audio Landscape: What an astonishing number of demands the script and the sound technicians do a fantastic job in bringing this story to life. Kicking over a trashcan, a UFO landing, alien monsters savagely attacking, a murmuring audience, a horrid sluggy creature burbling, camera clicking, I love the electronic crackle as the VR devices start working, people laughing and splashing in the sea, birdsong, the whistling wind of a vertiginous rooftop sequence, police sirens, the baying of the great British public bent on pleasuring themselves (oo-er!), kids screaming and whooping and enjoying themselves, typing, tannoy, pouring drinks, Bessie growling along the road, there is a fantastic new version of the TARDIS landing, opening the TARDIS doors, explosions and rubble falling, crackling fire, a girl giggling and playing with Jeremy, creatures screaming in a forest, shooting creatures in the jungle, flying through the air, water dripping, police car, the immense wings of the bats, the terrifying roar of the Gargon, crackling fire, a screaming crowd, a tribal war being fought, a growling truck, public speaker system, the jeering crowd, the burbling alien frog.

Isn’t it Odd: What a shame they went with the eighties title music rather than perfectly acceptable (and far more atmospheric) seventies score. This story seems to be set in between The Time Warrior and Invasion of the Dinosaurs which is impossible because there was no gap in those stories – they came back from the Middle Ages straight into the dinosaur terrorism. Its best we just tuck that continuity error the carpet and enjoy the story. Now I know where Nick Briggs gets his inspiration for the ominous ‘Coming soon from Big Finish…’ – just listen to the way the announcer says ‘The Paradise of Death!’ as though he is straining with fear! Barry Letts pretty much follows his template for Planet of the Spiders with an attention grabbing first episode followed by a rush of excitement and then quite a bit of talk on an alien planet.

Notes: Its lovely to see some old faces turning up to celebrate the Pertwee era. Peter Miles appeared in Dr Who and the Silurians, Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Genesis of the Daleks and Maurice Denham as the President (The Twin Dilemma).

Eleven Defence: The received wisdom of the Pertwee era will tell you that it got worse as it went along. Poppycock. I am a huge defender of season eleven and think that whilst the stories aren’t hugely original in themselves each one is an impressive yarn with plenty of excitement and colour. The only story that falls below par for me is The Monster of Peladon but that has its plus points and every season has a lesser story in it somewhere and that is the only story I wont add my little mini review of here…

The Time Warrior: How wonderful is it to see the 3rd Doctor enjoying a historical adventure? This is another sparkling story from the undervalued season eleven which flaunts an effervescent script with gorgeous lines for every character and a great cast brining them all to life. Its one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who stories thanks to Robert Holmes insistence on keeping everything so lively and bubbly and he writes Sarah into the Sarah with awesome proficiency giving her a feisty, independent attitude from the start. Have the Sontarans been more precisely written for since The Time Warrior? Definitely not, there have been the odd moments of glory but Holmes manages to paint a picture of an entire race with pin sharp accuracy and only one example. The Time Warrior destroys the lie that the Pertwee era got worse as it went along: 9/10

Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Another slated story that is shot down thanks to the strength of its special effects and its manifold of treats ignored. It is a ridiculously ambitious premise that is sold completely by the strength of the performances. I secretly worship the dinos and if they do ever release this on DVD (not last please) with enhanced CGI effects I hope we can still watch the magnificent originals! Lets see, five things to love about Invasion of the Dinosaurs; Elisabeth Sladen’s winning performance, the wealth of superb location work, the chance for UNIT to shine again, the Doctor on the run and some deeper than usual bad guys. Paddy Russell’s direction is pacy, visually appealing and kind to the actors and Pertwee gives his best performance of the last season under her guidance. Only episode four slows down the story and honestly, if you are going to criticise a show for its dodgy special effects why are you a fan of Doctor Who? Despite a few minor complaints I have always found this story extremely engaging and re-visiting today I haven’t changed my opinion at all: 9/10

Death to the Daleks: Another season eleven corker that comes in for a lot of criticism but I really enjoy it. At four parts this story has a fantastic pace and there’s always half a dozen things to overcome keeping it exciting. The new look Daleks are pretty snazzy, they look as though they have been assembled rather than plastic BBC props. Its nothing but a stack of really groovy set pieces but each of them work and Michael Briant keeps the story visually arresting throughout. Nowhere near as tired and worn out as people will lead you to believe, this is an inventive and snazzy little piece with plenty of atmosphere: 8/10

Planet of the Spiders: Often unfairly criticised for a couple of dodgy effects, Planet of the Spiders is a fine celebration of the Pertwee era and a memorable tale for the main man to go out on. Stacked up against some dodgy CSO you have a large and genuinely impressive cast, creepy twitching spiders, plenty of well-directed action, terrific development of the Doctor, Sarah and Mike, some touchingly played moments of philosophy and lots of memorable scares. The first episode is one of the strongest of the era and the last episode takes the Doctor on the most important journey of his life so far, climaxing on a final scene that will melt your heart as the Doctor tries to comfort Sarah as he dies before her. The Metebelies sequences are quite theatrical but nowhere near as bad as people pretend they are and the power games with the Spiders are great fun. There are so many lovely touches throughout (Mike’s redemption, Jo’s letter, the return of the Doctor’s mentor, Sarah’s grief smelling the Doctor’s coat) it generates more than enough impetus to make this a worthy swansong to a memorable Doctor. With three of its main cast and the director now no longer with us it stands a fine example of their incredible work: 8/10

And big raspberry to anyone who says otherwise!

Result: I was genuinely surprised at how immersive an audio experience this story was with some absolutely stunning sound design that really plants you into the action. The virtual reality device gives the characters a chance to describe what they are seeing without it feeling like clunky exposition (although there are couple of moments where it is slightly overdone) and the technical boys to really show what they are capable of. The story is great fun, nothing too deep but full of excitement and great lines (especially for the villains). Like most Pertwee stories it starts really well and runs on the spot in the middle before a triumphant hurrah at the end but I wouldn’t expect (or hope for) anything different. For a chance to listen to the work of three great Doctor Who stalwarts who have now sadly passed away and one man who guided the show to success throughout the Pertwee era this is like a Christmas present that I think I will listen to once a year around that time to remind me of their fantastic contributions. A shame this couldn’t have led to more than two stories but I cherish this little coda to the Pertwee era all the same: 8/10

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Recorded Time and Other Stories directed by Ken Bentley

Softer Six: There is such a natural chemistry between Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant after so many years of working together I find it a joy every time we get to enjoy a release with this pair. I always found the relationship underrated on television but now they can soften the characters and make them good friends rather than sniping allies and it is a very warm companionship to experience. Sixie is clearly the standout revelation of the Big Finish main range and I like how they turn to his Doctor to see in the anniversaries. The Doctor is mistaken for a fool because he wears motley to court. That coat of his gets him into more trouble than not! He swears that his coat will be the height of fashion in the future and Henry almost chokes on his wine at the thought! As much as he might try Henry’s awesome presence wipes the strain of lavatorial humour from his mind and so to remind the Doctor not to be cocky he is put in the stocks for the evening! He describes their journey as ‘circum-perambulatory’ which is just about the most sixth Doctor word I have ever heard. The Doctor admits that he and Peri make a great team and refuses to act in any way that might threaten her life. He’s mastered the Dark Tower of the Death Zone on Gallifrey, solved the riddles posed by the Cybermen’s tomb on Telos and survived the City of the Exxilons – you couldn’t ask for a better scout than him! The Doctor has great fun embellishing Peri’s name much to her horror! Hilariously the Doctor has to rouse a speech which will woo Peri and he conjures up a list of compliments from finding her spirit beguiling to her many other attributes which are not unattractive (ooh you dirty beggar!). As soon as the amnesiac Gray spots the Doctor she wonders if they have found themselves in a prison for clowns. His pockets contain a ball of string, spare buttons and a toy mouse! He declares that the question marks on his collar are extremely odd (ahem) and he might not remember who he is but he doesn’t think he is the sort of person that is usually wrong. Judging by his attempts the likelihood is that the Question Marks is a Diva rather than an Opera Maestro. Nobody seems to noticed that he possesses a superior intellect! The Doctor refuses to leave Gray to die alone and talks to her until it happens – he tells her about his relationship with Peri.

Busty Babe: Easily my favourite companion to have leapt from the TV series to Big Finish, Peri is such a feisty and fun character that manages to have real hidden depths and there is the added bonus of Nicola Bryant’s pleasurable performances. I always get the impression that she simply adores her Big Finish work and the single best performance I have heard in an audio in recent years was her superlative turn in Peri & the Piscon Paradox. Peri studied British history at High School and doesn’t need the Doctor to spell out who everybody is. I nearly choked on my coffee when Peri had to perform a dance of love…the poor girl tries her best, but really… Considering how insistent and pampered the man is (not to mention with a taste for an execution if he doesn’t get his own way) I wondered how on Earth Peri would remain virtuous once she takes the King’s eye. She’s roped in as Anne Boleyn’s lady in waiting which is just another name for the King’s whore just as Anne herself was Queen Katherine’s when she was on the throne. Peri trying to give Anne some counselling has to be heard to be believed – this is not a time of reason and manners unless it is in the aid of advancement. Brilliantly as the King approaches to have his sport with her she grabs a candlestick to protect her virtue and winds up knocking the Doctor across the room! When Peri realises that the voice controls on Sendos are activated by female voices only she takes charge with some authority. Typical Peri, she wanders off on her own and falls for the sales patter of some sideshow huckster. When Mr Darcy dares to enter her bedchamber in a bold declaration of love I was starting to worry that Peri really wouldn’t escape this story unflowered! Nice to see Big Finish keeping up that fine tradition of Peri being the object of male lust throughout the galaxy…although in this case it is a character programmed to find her desirable. Earthy and inspired selection by Peri to attack the Mindsmith forces the Doctor to admit that even he is impressed with her.

Recorded Time written by Catherine Harvey

What’s it about: The TARDIS travellers find themselves at the court of Henry VIII, where the tragic Anne Boleyn will soon be discarded by her King in favour of the lovely Perpugilliam Brown. Or so it is written…

Standout Performance: I thought Paul Shearer and Laura Molyneux did a very fine job with the tricky roles of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Shearer embodied the arrogance and ambition of King who is never told no and Molyneux gave a sympathetic turn as one of the most notorious women in history.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Do you know any good bottom jokes?’
‘Don’t cut my head off if you don’t like it!’
‘Actually more clothes suits you…’ – says the Doctor to Peri!
‘Thus we fulfil the prophecy that one day a Queen of England shall burn!’

Great Ideas: A pathway unfolds beneath the Doctor and Peri’s feet and the palace shifts closer to them…not the usual events of a visit to the court of King Henry VIII! The Scrivener rewrites history, he can literally write down details and they will come true. What an incredible power that must be. The pen is made from the feather of a temporal phoenix, a long extinct bird and sometimes it has a mind of its own and forces the Scrivener to write. An immortal bird whose wings is said to have beaten the seconds of time itself. Henry found the pen when he was a little boy and forced the Scrivener to write his brother dead so he could become King. The ink is made from time drawn from the Scrivener and every time he writes it takes time from him, each death is a piece of his life. Nobody wrote Anne Boleyn’s son dead but the pen cannot bring him back to life. She fears death at Henry’s hand for not producing him a male heir. Henry wants to be become immortal and conquer time itself, it seems there is no end to his ambition. As Henry demands that Anne be burnt to death as a witch the Scrivener writes her the quickest death he can think of in a hurry, a clean blow from a French sword. Harvey very pleasingly gives Anne Boleyn’s well-recorded death a very Doctor Who twist of the Pudding Lane/dinosaur extinction variety that the mid eighties were fond of. The pen called out for an immortal, the Doctor and Henry wants him to take up the pen and continue his work. Anne asks the Doctor to tell people that she was not the scarlet woman that history chronicles.

Audio Landscape: Quill scribbling against parchment, a flowing river, a party atmosphere at court with lyre music playing in the background, a crackling fire, whipping up a strong wind, Peri smacking Henry with a book!

Musical Cues: During scenes of incantations of the Doctor plays some menacing and yet very pleasant courtly music.

Standout Scene: The Doctor offers Anne the gift of knowing that her daughter would go on to become the greatest Queen the world has ever seen, a comfort now she knows she will be going to her death. Its one of those moments where the Doctor travelling into the past allows him to give something special to those who suffer.

Notes: The co-incidence of this release coming up just as I am two thirds through Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn girl is extraordinary. I am thoroughly enjoying the book (although I didn’t think I would as I had this preconceived notion it would be a romance rather than a political drama) and I have just reached the moment where Anne Boleyn realises after a miscarriage that Henry is catching other women’s eyes just as he did hers and will be ensnared before long. And along come the Doctor and Peri…

One of the very first sixth Doctor audios dealt with an assassination attempt on Queen Mary and now we get to meet her father. It would wonderful to have a sixth Doctor tale with Queen Elizabeth and he would complete the set of Tudors!

Result: A fortuitous release that ties in with The Other Boleyn Girl that I am currently reading (although the takes on Anne Boleyn are diametrically opposite!), Recorded Time is a very fun story to kick off this collection and a piece I would have loved to have seen televised in season 22. It’s a great story for Peri who gets all the best lines but it’s a witty script regardless with a fantastic idea at its heart. Recorded Time educates and amuses and puts a very Doctor Who stamp on Tudor history: 8/10

Paradoxicide written by Richard Dinnick

What’s it about: On the legendary lost planet of Sendos, the Doctor and Peri find themselves caught up in the hunt for the cache of galaxy-busting super-weapons stored inside its fabled Armoury.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Su-Peri-or female voice!’
‘I don’t want bolshie Volshi in the skirting boards!’
‘You must travel to the heart of the armoury to meet your destiny.’

Great Ideas: Why is there a distress call being made by Peri from the lost planet of Sendos? The planets surface resembles ancient Rome in a neo classical style. It is the planetary equivalent of the Marie Celeste because one day it was a developing world with a flourishing civilisation and then…gone. There is a legendary stash of super weapons on the planets blasted surface and the armoury has been found but never opened. It is camouflaged somewhere within the ruined city. You can’t argue with the logic of having the Doctor take them back through time to steal the weapons before the armoury has ever been built! Once they have travelled back in time the Inquisa demands the weapons or she will destroy the settlement. Peri’s voice was sampled and used as the voice of the armoury. The Sendosa built the armoury because their race died from a terrible plague that came from space which was the weapon the Volshi used when the Doctor brought them to the past - they killed the Sendosa for a collection of bigger and better weapons. It’s a temporal paradox of unfathomable depth, they came to the planet to steal the weapons and went back in time to do so and wound up being the reason they were created in the first place. The Armoury was constructed so only the Volshie could open it – it was created as a trap all along so the Volshie can be brought to answer for their crimes. A device lies at the heart of the Armoury of the exact same specification of that which the Volshie used to destroy them – justice is served. The fact that it was Peri’s message that attracted them in the first place provides the perfect symmetry in this gleeful timey wimey adventure!

Audio Landscape: Scrabbling over a rocky landscape, gas masks, rockets launched, the ship crashing into the planet, the clanking locks of the armoury opening.

Musical Cues: Richard Fox and Lauren Yason are Lisa Bowerman’s composers of choice in the companion chronicles range and they never disappoint in providing atmospheric and emotive music that really compliments the drama. It is wonderful to see their names turning up in the main range and surprise surprise they adapt to the demands of each episode with their usual skill. Paradoxicide has some memorable techno stings which grabs the listener with the terrifying concept of a cache of super weapons and does far more work than the script in confirming that they are best left hidden away.

Result: Paradoxicide has the nuts and bolts of a great story and I can see why it was commissioned – they plot as it stands is a very solid one and once again there is a strong role for young Peri. Where it falls down is the guest characters who are written without much charm or interest and thus the performances are pretty flat. However the story gets more and more thrilling as the episode continues and I was hungry to discover what was at the heart of the armoury. Taken as a whole though this is very clever stuff, a tad predictable once you realise what the paradox is, but still very satisfying when the Volshi get their comeuppance. Flawed but exciting all the same: 8/10

A Most Excellent Match written by Matt Fitton

What’s it about: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a mind of her own must be in want of a husband. But which of Miss Peri Brown's rival suitors will be the one to win her hand: handsome Mr Darcy, or the mysterious Doctor?

Standout Performance: It astounded me that both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant sound as if they have walked out of a costume drama. This isn’t the sort of genre I would expect them to excel in and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The ever-impressive Mr Baker sounds for all his arrogance rather like an impossible suitor for dear Peri whereas the young lady herself has more than a touch of Cora Crawley from Downton Abbey to her. Applaud as Philip Bretherton slides from the laborious charms of Mr Darcy to the aggressive ambition of D’Urberville and finally Heathcliffe! And I thought the performers had a tough job in Recorded Time!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What an unconscionably arrogant fellow! I can’t imagine what everyone sees in him!’ – doubly funny because he is talking about the dashing Mr Darcy and because the Doctor himself could happily be describing himself!
‘I’ll admit its been a while since I had read the book but I completely forgot the part where Mr Darcy turns out to be a mind stealing alien parasite!’
‘My ladies were always happy with bonnets and balls!’
‘And the Doctor as you know is a gambler! A risk taker and habitual thrill seeker! Oh he might appear the upright pillar of society but anyone who knows him at all knows he has a much more questionable lifestyle!’ – Not only a great description of the main man but Nicola Bryant speaks the words with such vigour!

Great Ideas: The very idea of the Doctor proposing to Peri is enough to make me heave with laughter – what a positively terrifying match! The 2351 Galaxy Fair sees Cranton charging more than a pretty penny for The Austen Experience. It’s based on the events of the book but certain parts have been embellished. Nobody has ever come under the influence of the programme as Peri has although a few gents have offered Cranton a little extra to keep their wives under. The device is made from technology acquired from the Mindsmiths of Askertan, well known for their mind control technology on the battlefield (possess your half your enemies forces and the battle is a formality). Unfortunately there is a Mindsmith alive in the simulator. By marrying Peri the Mindsmith can take Peri’s mind and escape into the real world. Proof that looting from a war zone can have terrible consequences. The Mindsmith leaves Peri to escape so that it can latch onto the Doctor’s incredible mind – it could see the awesome impression he had left on her mind and how she knew he would enter to help her to escape and laid the trap. Tilly substitutes the matrix from Emily Bronte to Charlotte Bronte and conjures the burning of Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre to murder the Mindsmith within the programme.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, a horse sighing and trotting off, the burbling of the Experience machine, ticking clock, a fire tearing through the hall, the destruction of the machine, the fairground background.

Musical Cues: A gorgeous piano score which is bubbly and very enjoyable to listen to.

Standout Scene: Has Peri ever been so wonderful when she heads into the simulation and takes on the Mindsmith and rescues the Doctor?

Notes: A couple of things worthy of note – Matt Fitton is a fresh new talent who has in recent years contributed to Andy Weston’s Consequences fan fiction series (the same Andy Weston who embarked on the short lived but massively popular The Third Zone Webzine) and it is well worth checking out his work on Andy’s site. Secondly I am a massive fan of Pride & Prejudice, both the novel (one of the most evocative uses of language I have ever read) and the BBC television serial from the 1990s (which to my mind is the most perfectly cast period drama I have ever watched). Needless to say I went into this episode with high expectations.

Result: I know storytelling possibilities are endless but Doctor Who seems to go out of its way to prove this and A Most Excellent Match switches genres, literary icons, twists with frequency and proves to be a unique experience. There is plenty of imagination, a large splash of literature and another smart ending. All it lacks is some emotional consequences - the theme of this anthology seems to be fun over character development but when stories are is delightful as this who’s complaining? Great stuff: 8/10

Question Marks written by Phillip Lawrence

What’s it about: Five survivors of an unknown catastrophe wake to find themselves caught in an inescapable trap. But can the oddly-dressed man in the question-marked collar work out what's really going on before time runs out – for good?

Standout Performance: This is an ensemble piece and all five performers work wonders with the stifling material.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m not a what, Mr Stone! I’m a Who!’

Great Ideas: Much like The Cube the opening scene of Question Marks is extremely disquieting with Peri finding herself trapped with a stranger and with no memories to fall back on. They discover they aren’t in a prison but an abandoned spaceship. I love the idea of the Doctor being named Question Marks after the marks on his collar. There has been deliberate sabotage on the ship…is one of the five amnesiacs responsible? All the evidence points to Question Marks. Did energy weapon erase their memories? Peri and Arnie discover a dead body and the big question is which one of them killed him. There is a sea of magma above them which proves Question Marks’ theory that they aren’t in space despite all the evidence to the contrary. Question Marks figures out that they aren’t soldiers, they are scientists and that this is a research base. There was a power surge in the transmitter coil of the transmat that wiped their memories and electrocuted Jameson. Lava seeps along the vents – if it doesn’t consume them it the fumes will choke them. The five people that found themselves without memories are just copies of the people who transmatted away to safety – mayfly copies created by an unstable transmat device. Partial traces, echoes.

Audio Landscape: Falling into girders, the lights snapping on, steam hissing, the hull groaning, spaceship instruments bleeping, molten magma leaking into the Question Mark’s prison, bubbling lava, the place smashing up around Gray.

Musical Cues: The constant battering of uncomfortable music was an excellent choice and you are never allowed to relax for a second.

Standout Scene: The reveal at the end is a blinder and the more you think about it the cleverer it is until only one person is left standing and the last exchange is absolutely devastating.

Result: Saving the best for last has become a common feature of the last couple of anthologies and Question Marks is a superlative mystery tale that grows more and more uncomfortable to listen to until it hits you over the head with a devastating final twist that makes you want to go back and listen to it all over again. It’s a claustrophobic piece, brilliantly acted and Ken Bentley’s direction has rarely been better than this. I was knocked out by the intelligent handling of the amnesia, the way the mystery was slowly peeled away by the clues discovered and the heartbreaking final scene that had me reaching for a tissue. A perfect example of what Big Finish can achieve: 10/10

Overall: Far superior to bloated, overblown nonsense like Zagreus and with its pleasing mixture of styles and celebration of the finest BF Doctor and an example of how far you can take television companions such as Peri (who has both Henry VIII and Mr Darcy eating out of her hands!) this is Big Finish at its best. You’ve got a historical revelation, a genocidal trap, a shocking marriage proposal and an appalling fate for an amnesiac Doctor and Peri. I continue to be amazed that two of the least liked regulars on TV continue to be so awesomely utilised on audio and that Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant can stick two smiley fingers up at their critics for proving over and again that they were made for each other and the series. Its easy to see why these scripts were chosen as each of the fresh writers shows great potential and its further proof that Big Finish should extend beyond its usual pool of writers and sample new talent. I hope we see more of all of them. A final word for the creators of this piece - director Ken Bentley and the sound designers and musicians Richard Fox & Lauren Yason – all three are at the top of their game and proof that BF are using the best in the audio business. The best anthology since Circular Time: 8.5/10

Friday, 12 August 2011

Time Reef written by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: A curse on this damned reef - and curse the Doctor who brought us here! Drawn by the siren call of a distress beacon, the TARDIS crash-lands on an uncharted time reef. However, the Doctor, Nyssa and Brewster are not the only mariners marooned on this barren rock. Commander Gammades and his crew of returning war heroes have been similarly shipwrecked, as has the beautiful but mysterious Lady Vuyoki. But there's something else here, too. A thing of darkness which crawls blindly across the surface of the reef hunting for prey: the Ruhk.

An English Gentleman: This is one of Peter Davison’s most interesting portrayals on audio where he is constantly given far more than even this demanding script needs of him. Listen to how frightened he sounds when he realises his life has been saved or how quietly devastated he is when the TARDIS is finally taken from him for good. Davison is a superb actor and its very pleasing to se him being given such challenging material. He is trying to adjust to being back on the TARDIS again but the ship feels used and the engines sound different. Brewster has made his own revisions to the structure and the feel of the place. The Doctor sounds positively frightening when he talks about Thomas and it’s a side to the fifth Doctor that I wish would rear itself more often. He can sympathise with Brewster that launching out into time and space without any experience can be a downright terrifying experience. Hectoring Brewster doesn’t achieve anything but it does make him feel better.

Alien Orphan: Poor Nyssa is shoved into the role of diplomat between the Doctor (who is outraged at being abandoned) and Brewster (who brushes it off as if he has just been down the market for some milk).

Artless Dodger: Brewster tries to suggest he has only been away in a wink of the old peepers but the accumulation of evidence suggests otherwise (oh and The Three Companions). When it looks as though all is lost for the Doctor as he is sucked out of the TARDIS he refuses to let him die in such a violent fashion and risks his own life to save him. Pretending to be the Doctor comes with some drawbacks and one of them is returning to a previous location where you screwed things up. He’s the bad farthing that all turns up. Brewster is at that sort of age where you might want to impress women with gifts. He offers himself as a sacrifice to ensure that the Doctor gets his TARDIS back and the Ruhk save him at the last minute.

Standout Performance: When I asked which part she enjoyed playing most in her interview Beth Chalmers knew with some certainty it was the bossy, psychotic and emasculating Lady Vuyoki and I can see why. She gets to have such fun ordering people about, insulting everybody and generally behaving in an outrageous fashion. ‘Curse you, you worm!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My TARDIS is dead.’
‘She dazzles the Reef like a comet with her beauty.’

Great Ideas: I love the idea of setting up the audience to think that the Doctor has been here before and somehow impacted on the lives of those trapped in the Time Reef and when he visits again we learn that it was Brewster disguised as the Doctor. Just how many places has he visited wearing the Doctor’s clothes and using the Doctor’s name and creating terrible calamity? Dead and dying over and over again…what a terrible curse that must be. The relative structure of the TARDIS is in flux and the interior collapses. The whole internal structure of the TARDIS implodes, it compacts down to a single knot – to nothing. A reef of space corral stuck in a bubble of existence where nothing can exist and the lights outside are the energetic patterns of the time vortex playing across the surface of the bubble. Marc Platt has always been poetic with his ideas but this one of his most elegant settings yet. Brewster sold the mislaid star mariners the fault locator and a beacon, looting the TARDIS for profit. Between the ridges dwells the Lady Vuyoki in the wreck of a spaceship, a lonely lady, cool as pearl and fiery as the sky. If you walk for an hour in around the circumference of the Reef you will end up where you started and if you touch the surface of the bubble you get pinned to the sky. The reality bubble that they are trapped in is generated by the conceptual geometer that Brewster sold them, time and space are churned up and it takes just one stray speck of corral on the TARDIS shell and you’ve soon got a whole Reef to wreck ships and strand innocent lives. Each year at the dead of harvest a tribute flies in thanks to Marabou, the Sun and the lady Vuyoki was his chosen bride. She was shoved in a jar and the ship blasted off to her marriage with the Sun.

Audio Landscape: There is a very early scene that sounds an awful lot like people are having sex en masse in the background…but at the same time there is a sound of cutlery on crockery so perhaps they were eating? I guess we’ll never know. The screeching cries of the Ruhk are enough to give anyone the willies! The sizzling vortex, knocking on Lady Vuyoki’s glass jar and removing the lid, the TARDIS literally sounds as though it is being torn apart, the soothing tide of the Time Reef, chanting monks, hundreds of Ruhk riding a storm as they approach, harpoons being shot, the Reef cracking open, thunder cracking open the sky.

Result: I have just finished listening to Time Reef and I have no idea what to think about it. Usually I get on very well with Marc Platt’s output (I can only think of one novel and two audios that I haven’t liked) but this time I was left wanting because the creativity on display is a little too weird even for my tastes. He has created an imaginative setting and a prominent villain in Lady Vuyoki but as a result the regulars are pushed very much to the sidelines and there are times when I wondered if even Platt himself knew where this was going. There’s a little too much technobabble involved in the conclusion and I’m not sure how these characters could survive in any other setting – you either buy into this madcap concept totally or you will be totally lost. Considering this is the last full cast story for the Fifth Doctor and Brewster I think I would have preferred a character drama that dealt with their feelings for each other but instead they are kept apart for most of the story and it fails to capitalise on the drama of Brewster’s exploits in the TARDIS. I wanted to like this more than I did but I think it needed a little more character and little less concept: 5/10

A Perfect World written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Who wouldn't want a perfect world? Thomas Brewster for one.

An English Gentleman: The Doctor’s house on Baker Street has laid dormant for 140 years.

Artless Dodger: He can’t believe how beautiful London is in the future, the air so clean and the town lit up by so many lights. Say you were someone from 100 years ago you would think that you were in paradise in the new millennium. Everybody is healthy, so much food you don’t know what to eat first and machines that take you anywhere you want to go. He calls the TARDIS his machine for travelling through time to impress Connie. He’s never found anywhere he’s wanted to belong before but now he has met Connie he thinks settling down isn’t such a bad idea. After meeting the perfect Connie and the real one it is the latter that he wants to spend his life with. The house on Baker Street is bequeathed to Brewster and the money from its sale should see him and Connie settled for some time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its as if the whole world has been…improved.’
‘Its not every day the world turns into a Richard Curtis movie!’
‘To some people small pointless blunders are what life is all about!’
‘Let’s go back and make some mistakes.’

Great Ideas: Occasionally a Big Finish story will contain something that is so uncannily like me it gives me the shivers and when Taz says that she is going to watch a diet programme just in case she ever fancies going on a diet (whilst munching on crisps!) I can’t count the amount of times I’ve done that! Suddenly Tasmin goes from being an obese dole scum slob to a motivating worker who pushed herself through university and kept herself slim. Who has created this perfect world? Suddenly the news is reporting the pleasant things that are going on in the world and everybody is healthy – somebody has changed the fate of humanity for the better. Imagine waking up one morning and everybody in the world is absolutely perfect except you…and there is even a perfect version of you to remind you of that. There are existential plumbers who repair reality (‘No job too large!’). It would be nice if things were better but how boring would a perfect world be?

Audio Landscape: Big Ben, a time machine going nuts, London traffic, alarm clock, elevator bell, typing.

Notes: Lets use this space to decide how well Thomas Brewster has worked out. The idea was a sound one having an Adric style artful dodger that actually did live up to the name and John Pickard has a real roguish charm that he brings to the part. Without trying to sound like a Jonny Morris apologist I thought that it was his material that serviced the character really well and showed his potential. The Haunting of Thomas Brewster was a blissfully written puzzle story that pushed Brewster to the fore throughout and let us see how much he suffered before jumping into the TARDIS and stealing it. He was almost written out entirely of Paul Magrs’ The Boy That Time Forgot which is an entire third of his time wasted but at least that story did bring Adric back so we could make the comparison between the two characters. Brewster got lost in all the conceptual madness of Time Reef and whilst it threatened to touch on the idea of him returning to the scene of one of his crimes posing as the Doctor it never really went anywhere. Then we have A Perfect World which is once again penned by the characters creator and he once again comes alive with some thoughtful dialogue and characterisation but it is only for a single episode. It feels rather like too little too late. The potential is there for a really strong companion but I don’t think we have tapped into it yet. I for one am glad that he got a second crack at the whip in a later sixth Doctor trilogy. Again that might not have been an absolutely perfect use of the character he at least gets a strong part in all three stories.

Result: There is something so simple about Thomas Brewster having a relationship with somebody from his own future and comparing their two lifestyles it gives his character a brand new dimension. A Perfect World is the last one part story for some time (unless you count Forty-Five) and I for one am glad. With each 3/1 release bar one I have been thoroughly disappointed with the main release and much more enamoured with the single episode coda. This is no different and I feel there is much more potential in the ‘perfect world’ scenario than is tapped into in this one episode. With Brewster to write out and a story of his own to develop the whole episode feels thoroughly rushed and yet is loaded with good humour and great lines – this should have been the main release and Time Reef should have been relegated to the one parter. I’m glad Brewster had a happy ending (for the time being at least) and I can’t wait until he teams up with Sixie and Evelyn: 8/10

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Brotherhood of the Daleks written by Alan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The TARDIS materialises. Despite console readings to the contrary, the Sixth Doctor and Charley step out, unexpectedly, into an alien jungle, where they find themselves stalked and then ambushed. They have landed in the middle of one of the Dalek wars, and this time the tactics used by both sides are threatening the very nature of reality.

Softer Six: A massive round of applause for Colin Baker who pretty much on his own has to handle the many deft and complex explanations as this story unfolds and he doesn’t falter once. I can only imagine the mess this would be if the story were written for Sylvester McCoy. The Doctor and Charley are planning holiday trips together so he must be warming to her quite a bit. When he first appears he is decked out in genuine Inuit garb for a skiing vacation! Does he look like anything other than one of a kind. He daren’t tell the Thals that he is the Doctor just in case he starts undoing his own timeline! Although suspicious of her knowledge of Daleks when Charley runs into the jungle to escape the Thals he cannot bear the thought of letting her fend for herself. Showing his humanity once more the Doctor refuses to allow such a sadistic experiment to even be performed on Daleks. The Thals who infect the Daleks minds need a leader and a tactician and someone with experience of defeating the Daleks…can you think of anybody more qualified? Murgat wants him to travel with them via the cairopytes dream state and destroying the Dalek heart from within. Charley calls him a fibber when he says that he hasn’t met Sigmund Freud but of course its just that he hasn’t met him yet. The Doctor cries with some anger that everything in the universe changes but not the Daleks who have stagnated themselves in evil and if it wasn’t so terrifying it would be pathetic. The Doctor has confronted the Daleks on a thousand worlds, beaten them time and time again, destroyed entire legions of Daleks, whole battle fleets and he doesn’t think it too many. He’s fought the Daleks for too long and ultimately they will never change, they can’t and he can’t allow a Dalek army to exist near so many civilised worlds. The Doctor thinks that Jesic has made the wrong choice by staying behind (he was going to let her come with them and see something of the universe) but she spared him the nasty task of having to take this evolution of the Daleks and crush it.

Edwardian Adventuress: There is simply too much fun to be had with Charley continually keeping her secret from the Doctor. When she hears that the Daleks blood enemies are the Daleks she is naturally shocked and the Doctor can see her reaction no matter how much she tries to hide it and pretend she has never heard of them. The Doctor is slowing building up a picture of where Charley comes from and when she suggests shell shock over post traumatic stress disorder that is another hint in the right direction. Despite the fact that she is desperately trying to conceal her identity she still has time to a little bit sarky and gets a very nasty smack in the face for her troubles (the way the Doctor tries to comfort her is very sweet). When suggesting that they could be in a fantasy created by exposure to cairopytes Charley mentions that if that was the case she wouldn’t be travelling with the Doctor which unfortunately he overhears and misinterprets. Of course she means she wouldn’t be travelling with this Doctor but he doesn’t know that. Being a tooth that needs extracting in the maw of the Web of Time Charley is more than experienced with its ins and outs and the Doctor is curious to know how (she says he mentioned it last Thursday. Yeah, nice one Charley). I never realise what a devious cow that Charley could be and it has only been since she has been forced to make up her life as she goes along that you realise how smart she really it – just listen to her story where she tries to convince the Daleks that she is a replicant sent to travel with the Doctor and gain unique insight into him for the Daleks. She’s making it all up on the spot and she’s a bloody genius! This approach to her character being somewhat desperate and improvisational has really opened up a fascinating new avenue for the writers to explore. The Black Dalek has this insane theory that Charley has travelled with the Doctor in a future incarnation and has broken the first law of time by hitching a ride with him in one of his previous incarnations – the perfect chance for her to own up. Charley wonders if all that has happened to her of late is the Web of Time’s revenge on her and the Doctor for him saving her from the R-101. They went to amazing places and met the most wonderful of people and Charley never wanted it to end but one day it did. When she saw the Doctor die she wanted him back more than anything and to have told the sixth Doctor the truth would have been to have let her Doctor go. She’s not ready for that and she’s still not. As all this spills out of her you can sense her relief that she finally admitted to it and her frustration when it turns out to be a fake Doctor. Murgat warns Charley that she can’t lie to the Doctor forever and that he wouldn’t want to be in her shoes when he finds out the truth.

Standout Performance: Its lovely to see that no matter how complex a script Michael Cochrane thought Ghost Light was Big Finish have managed to trump it and give him a part in a story where he actually has no single clue what is going on! However it doesn’t matter because he is such a professional actor he gives a sterling portrayal of an insane quisling of a character. All the cast are very good in this story and it was needed to keep track of everything but the real plaudits have to go to Colin Baker and India Fisher whose relationship has become the highlight of the main range.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You really ought have become blooming by now’ ‘I’m not a Clematis!’
‘You’re a one man eco system!’
‘You can keep a crocodile in your bathtub Murgat but you’ll never make it tame.’
‘An experiment within an experiment! A triumph for Dalek ingenuity!’ – the Daleks take the credit for Barnes’ convoluted script!
‘A Dalek doesn’t change his spots!’

Great Ideas: Hold your breath because this is going to be a long ride. Sometimes a Doctor Who audio comes along that is so breathtaking in its labyrinthe plotting and packed full of imaginative ideas that it takes a hardcore breakdown to bring the quality of the script into perspective. The last time I encountered a script that was this complexly plotted but brimming with creativity was Neverland and low and behold that was also written by Alan Barnes. The scanner suggests they are in an ice cavern in the depths of some weird alien crevasse but outside the TARDIS is a lush and humid jungle. The scanners effectiveness is decreasing by the minute. A Thal platoon that is lost on Spiridon with their pick up on its way to their agreed location. Nyaiad was killed during their initial survey of the planet cornered by a squadron of Daleks. The TARDIS is eaten away by the spores and consumed by the jungle. When one of Thals recognises Charley it is a great ‘oh shit’ moment – not only because you wonder how she is going to talk her way out of this but because she has never met the Thals before. Hieroglyphs are carved into the moss of the nearest set of ruins but not in the stone? Nyaiad was seen to die but when she turns up they all think she is a Dalek replicate. Valion being taunted by Daleks inside his head as he struggles to find the word ‘EXTERMINATE!’ is as gripping as it is baffling. The reason that Charley didn’t start blooming when she was infected was because the dominant impression of her was that she was a Dalek replicate that couldn’t be infected. The Thals mental engrams are shaping this environment – they were never on Spiridon. There is something in the air that is encouraging this fiction but the Doctor discovers a blue flower that is noted for its anti hallucinogenic properties and they take a good sniff. That turns out to be a ruse by the Doctor to convince Charley that there was a way to break the spell of unreality and it works. When they wake up in the real world they are surrounded by Daleks who think they are the Thals that they met in the illusion (and their chanting of ‘WE ARE THALS!’ makes for a fabulous cliffhanger). The Doctor and Charley have landed exactly where they thought they were…in the hollows of an ice planet! Is a half Thal, half plant living in (for all intents and purposes) a mobile greenhouse so water is continually recycled to keep the foliage moist so the plants don’t prey on his own fluids. A hundred acres of the same flower cultivated in gigantic greenhouses in the heart of an ice planet – they are harvesting cairopytes. Their pollen lulls their victims into a dream state (see also The Mind’s Eye) where they live out a fantasy existence where they slowly being composted. The Jekylls share a symbiotic relationship with the cairopytes guarding them by night in exchange for immunity from their poison. And that immunity is what Murgat has extracted for himself to keep his infection at bay. The cairopytes pollen is sucked out through the extraction fans and pumped into the ice cavern to the Daleks. This was once a Dalek facility, an experimental station but the Thals have driven the Daleks out of this corner of the galaxy (with a little help from the Doctor). The Thals that they have met are all being eaten away by one giant cairopytes and all sharing the one dream and that dream is being relayed to the Daleks in the ice cavern. You can happily go boss eyed with confusion now, I don’t mind. The platoon were captured by the Daleks and the experiment was already underway when the Thals captured the base. The Daleks were planning on using the cairopytes dream state as a means of transmitting their thought processes into individual brains. Here was a way to enslave the minds of an entire species, pollinating an entire planet before their saucers even land. The Thals want to exploit this technique from the other angle and transplant their minds into Daleks and sabotage the Dalek are machine from the inside. It’s a long winded way to get to this revelation for sure but what a fantastic idea to base a story on. Just how far will the Daleks and Thals go to wipe each other out? The Doctor was brought here because Murgat wanted to see how the Thal infected Daleks would react to the sight of the TARDIS and unfortunately one sniff of their mortal enemy and they revert back to their heartless Dalek selves. Nyaiad was a Dalek replicant from the start…itself replicated and programmed to infiltrate the platoon! The real Nyaiad was captured alone in the jungle, interrogated in the Daleks underground citadel and subjected her to cruel torments when she refused to comply. The Thals and the Daleks are from the same species – would it be so bad if the Thals gained some of the Daleks ingenuity and instinct for survival and the Dalek’s some of Thal’s comradeship and fellow feeling. A Dalek ship glides over the facility to tell Murgat that they have been infiltrated and this has always been a Dalek facility. The Thal Daleks can experience the replicants pain. The Dalek facility is actually far larger than any of them thought and like the plot of this story has unexpected layers beneath that nobody knew about. Fully automated levels with experiments running. The whole point of the experiment wasn’t that they wanted Daleks that think they’re Thal soldiers, they wanted Daleks that think like Thal soldiers. The experiment was to bottle the fighting spirit and comradeship and use it as anything that would give the Daleks an advantage however small on the field of battle. The Daleks really are mindblowingly loopy aren’t they? As soon as he realises the truth about Charley he wants to create a replicant of her and send her to be rescued by the Doctor on the R-101 so they can change the Doctor’s future and the future of the entire Dalek race! Mad singing communist Daleks…surely this story cannot get any more insane? The Brotherhood of the Daleks is a dream worth having but the Doctor knows they will revert to type and remember the things about themselves that Murgat would rather they forgot. He wants them to spread comradeship and brotherhood throughout the universe but the Doctor knows you can take the Dalek out of the death camp but you can’t take the death camp out of the Dalek. A dream it may be but it is a dream worth having and Jesic agrees to stay with the Brotherhood and at the first sign of the Daleks reverting to type she will cause an antimatter explosion and wipe them all out.

Audio Landscape: Sometimes when I hear a sound effect that made in impression on my during the television series being used so authentically in an audio adventure I cry out loud (no, its true) and when I heard the splot-splot sound of the horrid fungus plant on Spiridon I think I scared the cats! Dalek heartbeat, verdant jungle sounds, walking through the grass and ferns, a space craft screaming through the sky, Charley being eaten by a plant, gunfire, Dalek extermination blasts, we experience the Spiridon illusion vanishing and the Doctor and Charley appear in a dank spacious warehouse, lights snapping on suddenly, ripping off the masks (it sounds like ripping off somebody’s skin!), the humanoid sounding Thal Daleks are awesome, Nyaiad screaming horribly when she was tortured by the Daleks, Daleks screaming as their casings are melted down, the Black Dalek is executed in a big explosion.

Musical Cues: Steven Foxon has great fun providing a dark and playful score to accompany Brotherhood of the Daleks’ twisting plot.

Standout Scene: Just when you think the story must have run out surprises Charley admits what her secret is to the Doctor…that she is a Dalek replicant! This is so dizzyingly out of control at this point I was just grinning and going with it. Just when you think that Charley has finally owned up to the Doctor that is proven to be another conceit. Clever sods, having their cake and eating it. I love the sequence at the end with the title music playing and the Doctor completely subsumed by cairopytes that he thinks he is visiting Spiridon once again but this time with Jesic as his companion! Then Barnes trumps that by pretending that he is leaving the story open ended and suddenly disrupts what we think is the real concluding music with the crushing inevitability of the Doctor being right. It’s a superb final scene when we finally understand that their creed heralds their own destruction.

Notes: The Daleks remember Charley from Folkestone on the planet Earth – her cover is finally blown when the Daleks recognise her from the eighth Doctor adventure Terror Firma.

Result: ‘Doctor there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…’ When reality is in question and people aren’t who they say they are…can you trust anybody? As India Fisher says in the interviews ‘you’ve paid your money and now get your money’s worth’ and it will probably take a number of listens to get your head around the many layers that this story is built on. There is a feeling of distrust that runs through this story that extends from the Daleks to the Thals and even to the Doctor and Charley whose relationship is really starting to flourish in unexpected ways. Brotherhood of the Daleks is a devilishly complicated tale that enjoys freaking out the audience by never failing to throw more and more surprises at you. The ideas keep coming and when I first listened to it I gave up by the end of the second episode because I felt it was too complicated for its own good but I have never been more wrong. Alan Barnes rams so much ingenious plot down your throat you are left gorged by the innovations and completely unwary of the volley of twists in the last few episodes as the traitors are exposed and the Daleks make their move. Underneath this madcap narrative there is the continuing discomfort of Charley keeping her secret from the sixth Doctor and with each successive story things are becoming more and more impossible to hide. This is The Last Resort of the Big Finish range – an intricate nightmare of a story that is great fun to deconstruct its Russian Doll nature and with a intense final scene: 8.5/10

You Tube animation of the last scene here rendered in 3D animation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvaGZl477-4