Saturday, 21 April 2012

Fourth Doctor Adventures


Destination Nerva: I was shocked at what a non event this was. After a decade of bringing us top-notch audio adventures I was appalled that Big Finish could introduce their supposedly greatest coup (stroking Tom Baker’s ego enough to get him to agree to make a trip to the studios) in such a slapdash story. Destination Nerva fails on practically every count as far as I can see – it’s a confused narrative that is spliced together from other, better stories, the guest characters are one dimensional and vacant, the dialogue lacks sparkle and the jeopardy angle lacks any excitement. Even worse the one reason people will pick this story up so eagerly is the reason it bombs so spectacularly – Tom Baker gives the least convincing performance I have ever heard from him. People might bemoan that the Hornet’s Nest Doctor is a far cry from what we saw on the television but at least that was Baker giving a hearty, menacing performance. The way that Tom Baker inflects some of his dialogue you would think that he was the one that was possessed at the end of part one – some lines fast, some lines slow, some injected with madness, some deep and menacing. It is literally all over the place and needs a much stricter director to whip him into shape. I don’t think even McCoy who was until now the most inconsistent performer has ever been this incoherently schizophrenic in a story. When your main man can’t even say ‘Run!’ convincingly at the cliffhanger you are in trouble. He does settle down a bit in the second episode  and at the conclusion seems a lot calmer so lets hope this is first story jitters. Louise Jameson tries gamely to salvage something and she is the one person who escapes this madness with her dignity intact. I think the advent of fourth Doctor’s return will be enough for everybody to give this a pass but if anybody can objectively say this is to the usual standards of Big Finish…well I would say they were wrong: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/destination-nerva-written-and-directed.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/101-Doctor-Who-Destination-Nerva

The Renaissance Man: A funny, colourful adventure with delightful characters and dialogue, The Renaissance Man would have made a far superior opening adventure for the Fourth Doctor Range. There is such a gulf between my reaction to Tom Baker in this and Nerva because here he made me laugh my head from his first scene to his last and rather than stumbling through an awkward plot he seems to be having the time of his life and its infectious! Coupled with the fabulous Louise Jameson who shows a real flair for comedy and you have a marvelously humorous double act fronting this story. The setting allows for a very domestic audio landscape that was very easy on the ear and Jamie Robertson’s Simpsonesque music continues to shine. Justin Richards is a fine writer who so rarely lets me down, after all these years of telling Doctor Who stories he also seems to come up with something fresh and exciting. Some of the ideas are plundered from his other stories (I detected some concepts from his novels Option Lock and The Clockwise Men) but the tone of the piece is vastly different. Energetic and enjoyable, this isn’t Big Finish at its absolute best but its still a hell of a ride: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/renaissance-man-written-by-justin.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/102-Doctor-Who-The-Renaissance-Man

The Wrath of the Iceni:  A dramatic tale that deserves applause for giving the fourth Doctor and Leela the sort of material they were denied on television but loses impact by covering some familiar ground. Louise Jameson gives a Doctor Who career best in The Wrath of Iceni and whilst Tom Baker is very good in some scenes he once again seems a little discordant and out of tune with the material as he was in Destination: Nerva, although nowhere near to the same extent. What really works is how the period of history chosen is so pleasingly tailored to Leela and generating tension between her and the Doctor and yet I found myself distanced from the tale because it wasn’t a period of history I was familiar with and nothing presented here made me want to learn more. Direction and dialogue are both top notch and you certainly couldn’t argue with how the material is presented, some scenes are so viciously presented you will be left reeling from the impact. It’s a tale that managed to thrill and frustrate but its definitively pushing the Doctor and Leela into new territory, if not the series and that can only be for the good of this range. A mixed bag then but erring on the side of excellent for the most part and fans of Jameson and those who want to see some riveting development of Leela have to seek this out: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/wrath-of-iceni-written-by-john-dorney.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/103-Doctor-Who-The-Wrath-of-the-Iceni

Energy of the Daleks: Personally I found this far superior to Destination Nerva on just about every count. The simpler, more dramatic story is a blessing, the characters whilst not Robert Holmes memorable were serviceable to the plot and there is a very real threat in the shape of the Daleks. Had Nicholas Briggs failed to impress me with a Dalek tale after his superlative four season Dalek Empire series I would have been gobsmacked but he understand the creatures too well to disappoint on that score. I’ve already heard people suggest that this should have been a longer story and I cannot help but agree with that assessment because the first episodes flies by in a hurry and only leaves a scant 25 minutes for the Daleks to impress. I’m not sure if the reason is financial of creative but two of the four released so far have suffered greatly from their reduced running time (and I don’t buy that Nick Briggs cannot work to a 50 minute schedule because he provided some belters in the 8DA range) and could have done with some fleshing out of the situation and the cast. Its all about as deep as a puddle but its very exciting and quite funny (I loved the character who kept pointing out how mad the Doctor was) for that and its good to follow up the high drama of Iceni with something this unpretentious and fun. There’s been nothing in this first fourth Doctor season that I would call and out and out classic but they are certainly bubbling along quite nicely. I just wonder what the first knockout of the range is going to be (looks up Jonny Morris’ next contribution in the Mary Tamm season…). Energy of the Daleks isn’t going to be anybody’s favourite audio adventure (at least I don’t think so) but it’s a harmless Dalek diversion with plenty of bang for your buck and I can certainly think of far less fun ways to spend 50 minutes of your life (I’ve just reviewed seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager). Enjoyable: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/energy-of-daleks-written-and-directed.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/104-Doctor-Who-Energy-of-the-Daleks

The Trail of the White Worm: I take real issue with the first episode of The Trail of the White Worm that consists of the audience being dropped into what appears to a chase sequence and then spends 20 minutes jogging on the spot only to lead to a cliffhanger that is spoiled on the cover. Its 25 minutes of the Doctor and Leela dashing about and all they manage to achieve is reaching the manor house where the actual story is going to take place – even the Doctor and Peri in season 22 got involved in the story with more speed than this! Its nicely performed but there is so little substance to it that a good sigh could blow it away. I don’t mean to be ingenuous to a range that is bringing together the Doctor, Leela and the Master but there seems to be little more to this adventure than that very purpose. The story that surrounds these three characters is just an excuse to have them all in the same vicinity rather than this being a narrative that had to be told. The Trail of the White Worm has all the elements of a traditional adventure; a country manor setting, Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, the Master, a grotesque but misunderstood monster, an eccentric nutcase…but it brings nothing new to the mix that would have bound all these elements together and made it more than an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a brainless energetic run-around with a fantastic turn by Tom Baker (probably his best since The Renaissance Man) but ultimately there is no innovation or imagination to any of it. Its odd that seasoned Big Finish writers that have written amazing stories in the past (Alan Barnes was good enough to whip up Neverland, The Girl Who Never Was and Death in Blackpool which are three of my absolute favourites) are really faltering in this first fourth Doctor season. I was expecting something far more dramatic and considerable than this: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/trail-of-white-worm-written-by-alan.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/trail-of-the-white-worm-658

  
The Auntie Matter: ‘Leave the man! It’s the girl I want!’ Whimsical, funny and with a delightful atmosphere; I’m really pleased to see this range going for something a little more out there. Its not the space faring nostalgia fest that Destination Nerva was (thank goodness) but instead season two of the fourth Doctor adventures takes a new route – simply providing a rollicking good time! I love the slower pace of this adventure, not trying to cram everything into an hours adventure and having the chance to enjoy the scenery and indulge in some warm and witty characterisation. I would do anything to listen to the divine Julia McKenzie getting the chance to embody one of Fishers ‘maiden aunts’ and she doesn’t disappoint and for the chance to enjoy Baker and Tamm back in action (slipping into this period with consummate ease) is a delight. Its light on plot but full of energy and has more great lines than you can shake a stick at. There’s a dash of The Stones of Blood (a succession of aunts over time) and a pinch of The Androids of Tara (Romana is proposed to again) but this exists very much independently of them. However very much like season 16, The Auntie Matter isn’t the most intellectual exercise but if you are after a story that will make you beam from ear to ear throughout then you should look no further as this is the best example yet from this range. The image of the fourth Doctor screaming along the country roads in a vintage roadster like some mad take on Toad of Toad Hall, scarf flailing about him makes me giddy with joy: 8/10


The Sands of Life: It’s time for the most explosive pregnancy in the history of fiction. The Sands of Life is all set up but let’s not beat around the bush…it’s bloody good set up! You’ve an intriguing new alien menace, a well drawn period of future Earth history for them to flock towards, a wonderfully dry and cynical new recurring villain in Cuthbert, a story that isn’t afraid to head out into new locales (the Sahara) and one that isn’t afraid to ape the Russell T Davies finale lead-ins by presenting a situation that looks like it could mean that end of the planet. Like the Dalek Empire series, Briggs revels and excels in this sort of action adventure and if there isn’t anything spectacularly original taking place (beyond the nature of the Laan and their potential effect on the Earth) then this kind of engaging escapade is infinitely preferable to the overdone nostalgia of the previous season. A few complaints; Cuthbert aside, none of the original characters came alive especially and even Romana felt subdued and lacking her usual vim despite taking a central role in proceedings and in places the dialogue was a little too informative. It isn’t so much of a problem because unlike The Auntie Matter this isn’t trying to be a character drama but instead carry you on a wave of excitement to a cliffhanger that makes you want to see how it pans out which it manages admirably. I’m really pleased that this was extended to three parts because it gives the story time to breathe and add some nice touches to the setting – the 50 minute stories of the first Tom Baker season always felt as though they were scrimping on detail to squeeze a four part Doctor Who story into two. It pleases me even more to think that David Warner is going to have a dominant role this season because his presence elevates this adventure considerably: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-sands-of-life-687

War Against the Laan: It was quite a brave idea to tell a story where the invading aliens aren’t invading but just looking for a place to give birth and the unfortunate consequence is that the planet that they touch down on (Earth, naturally) would be shattered under the weight of so many explosive pregnancies. I means that there are no real monsters to fight in the traditional sense in this five parter so Briggs has to invent some human ones to stir up trouble, exploit the situation and complicate an already precarious situation. Stand up Cuthbert…so brilliantly played by David Warner and who in other hands may very well have come across as little more than a series plot contrivances. He’s a vicious sadist, a powerful egotist and a man with lots of secrets. I’m looking forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeves away from this Earth-in-danger scenario. Ultimately this isn’t one of the better alien invasion stories because although it is masquerading as one there isn’t a particularly menacing enemy to fight so the danger often feels falsely prolonged by the efforts of Cuthbert. The solution is extremely simple and I don’t see why the Doctor couldn’t have explained all of this a lot earlier before all the this unpleasantness took place. It sure would have saved a lot of lives on both sides. Looking at the production this rollocks along at a great pace, has some typically exciting Nick Briggs set pieces and sees some very nice work by Tom Baker (I couldn’t tell it was one of his earlier performances) and Mary Tamm (Hayley Atwell makes far more of an impression this time around as well). Ultimately this five part epic is more of a prelude for things to come rather than a completely satisfying story in its own right. What is the experiment that Cuthbert was implanting when the Laan attacked? War Against the Laan shouldn’t be listened to in isolation (it is very much the conclusion of The Sands of Life) and whilst it has its moments (I’m still very fond of that unusual threat to the Earth…I thought everything had been done already!) it provides a predictable conclusion that feels underwhelming after all the stimulating build up: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/war-against-the-laan-688

The Justice of Jalxar: Looking back and taking everything into consideration (plot, characterisation, dialogue) it was John Dorney’s The Wrath of the Iceni that was the standout story of the first season of 4DAs. It was the only tale that tried to do something completely original with the fourth Doctor (stranding him in a Hartnell historical) and Leela (having her turn her back on the Doctor for the sake of her beliefs) and the overall story (whilst erring on the side of convention within the historical genre) managed to surprise and thrill. It was the standout achievement of the season and given his status as one of the best writers of the Jago & Litefoot range as well (Beautiful Things is one of my most re-listened to stories of any range) I was expecting great things off this second crack at the whip (although he is up against some stiffer competition this year with Morris’ The Auntie Matter and Briggs’ The Sands of Life providing some top notch entertainment). I shouldn’t have doubted him for a second. I thoroughly enjoyed this from the first second to the last and its tick list of elements (the Doctor & Romana, Jago & Litefoot, the foggy Victorian setting, a ultra cool robot, a nuanced villain) all worked as individual pieces to the puzzle but brought together assembled something that was impossible to resist. It is one of the better paced 4DAs with the first episode providing some memorable set up and reunions whilst catapulting the four protagonists into an adventure of machiavellian machinations whilst the second part wastes no time exploring its ideas and whipping up a satisfying resolution. Dorney’s real skill comes into play when it comes to handling his characters – he has already proven himself as one of Big Finish’s brightest script writers in terms of imagination and perfectly crafted stories but it is how he manages to bring so many different Doctors and companions to life with such legitimacy that always surprises me, giving them lovely things to say and revelling in their strengths (this extends to Jago & Litefoot here too). It delights me that Mary Tamm enjoyed material of this calibre in one of her final Doctor Who appearances. Whilst The Justice of Jalxar might not share the same rudiments as sixteen (with its historical trappings, continuity and Earthbound skulduggery) it does have one thing in common that screams of authentically capturing the tone of the period – the zest for adventure and lust for life. John Dorney has tapped into something extremely addictive and if you don’t come away from this adventure with a smile on your face then you are resisting something that is trying to make your life a more cheerful place for an hour and why would you do that? If you have been avoiding the fourth Doctor Adventures because of mixed reviews then check this one out. I promise you wont regret it, it is the best story of the range yet and another feather in director Ken Bentley’s cap too: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-justice-of-jalxar-689

Phantoms of the Deep: With some startling atmospherics, it is very easy to slip beneath the waves with Phantoms of the Deep and enjoy the stifling ambience of a tale set beneath the ocean. Jonathan Morris has always been a versatile writer but the gulf in genre and tone between this and The Auntie Matter establishes his ability to turn his hand to any type of story more effectively than ever. Where he opened up the season with a sunny, light and blissfully funny tale, here he indulges in the claustrophobia, terror and crushing horror of a base under siege adventure in an enclosed location. Between the two stories he has covered what must surely appeal to every Doctor Who fan. It’s a story that isn’t afraid to present some exciting set pieces despite the fact that there are no visuals (the underwater sea walk is very impressive) and Ken Bentley is more than up to the task of bringing these ambitious sequences to life. The first episode lays down all the individual elements (the intelligent jellyfish, the derelict submarine, the large underwater body) and then the concluding part cleverly weaves them all into a satisfying narrative. In storytelling terms there is nothing here that hasn’t been done before, it is the location that sets it apart but even on those terms this makes for highly enjoyable night time listening (turn all the lights out and press play, trust me it’s fantastic). It is probably the story that relies on the Doctor and Romana the least, at least in terms of their particular personalities. You could happily switch them for any other Doctor/companion combination with the minimal of tweaking, which is certainly not something you could say about The Auntie Matter but is often the way with such a traditional Doctor Who story. Regardless, Tom Baker seems to be having a blast and his enthusiasm for the material is quite infectious. Well paced, full of excitement and evoking a malevolent flavour, Phantoms of the Deep is another winner for the second season of fourth Doctor adventures: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/phantoms-of-the-deep-690

The Dalek Contract: Big Finish have tapped into something far more engaging with their second season of 4DAs whilst not aspiring to the heights of true greatness that the main range can hit when at it’s best. Nick Briggs remains heavily involved (because, I suspect, Tom Baker feels more comfortable being involved that way) and his habitual, meat-and-potatoes approach to Doctor Who once again proves to be diverting enough but is still several notches down from his finest work (Creatures of Beauty, Dalek Empire). Mary Tamm’s Doctor Who experience in season sixteen was an atypical one; a series of linked adventures that indulging in science fantasy far more than science fiction that took Romana on an enchanting tour of some of the more imaginative locations in the universe on the hunt for the Key to Time. Without demeaning this year of audio adventures in any way, they have provided the character with a far more traditional season of adventures to compliment that. From historical comedy to space opera, from nostalgic fantasy to base under siege, it has encapsulated Doctor Who in it’s entirety and given Tamm’s interpretation of the character plenty more variety and scope. The Dalek Contract gives her (and K.9) the chance to butt heads with the Daleks and the unique idea at the heart of this tale is that this squadron are apparently hired assassins, under the thumb of Cuthbert (once again played with brio by David Warner). Neither cliffhanger feels especially memorable which is a shame because as scripted they are both great moments, especially the first one which subverts the usual Dalek shtick and sees them behaving in an unusual fashion, which is often when they are at their best. It’s non-stop action with some pleasant character moments for the Doctor and Romana (I feel that Briggs understands the characters without ever attempting to probe them too much) but very much the first half of a much larger story and you might feel a little short changed once you have reached the end of the disc purely because it abruptly stops just as the story hits a dramatic high. I’m not sure how to judge The Dalek Contract on it’s own merits because so much of it’s effect will depend upon the concluding half (we still don’t know why the Daleks have teamed up with Cuthbert or what his experiments entail) but needless to say this was diverting, time-honoured Who of the sort that I will never get tired of, even if it isn’t exactly firing at full throttle. What others will make of something this undemanding effort is beyond me, but it does at least entertain for an hour and thanks to an authentic score really feels like it has come from the era: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-dalek-contract-691

The Final Phase: Perfectly average, but never stimulating. Nick Briggs can be a fine writer but you only have to compare The Final Phase and To The Death (both epic Dalek finales that climax a series of 50 minute stories) to see that he is stating to get a little exhausted, possibly because of his prolific presence in this particular range. Like The Dalek Contract, The Final Phase has its moments but they are scant and submerged in all the rest of the noisy fluff. The dialogue is mostly functional rather than characterful, serving the scant plot and so the guest cast get a bum deal of being some the least interesting and memorable that have appeared in a Big Finish for some time. If the second season of 4DAs has been your first exposure to Big Finish then this might feel like a genuinely climactic and exciting adventure but if you have listened to even half of their other Daleks adventures (especially the likes of Davros, Jubilee, The Juggernauts, Enemy of the Daleks and Patient Zero) then The Final Phase is likely going to feel like quite the letdown. The Doctor and Romana play out the roles that is expected of them but aren’t stretched in any way (even when it looks as if the Doctor is dead the aftermath is handled too quickly and his return to the story quickly follows) and whilst David Warner continues to delight (despite his stiff characterisation, I don’t think this guy knows how to give a bad performance) Cuthbert’s story fizzles out without any resolution. The whole self fulfilling prophecy angle has been done before, and better, and I couldn’t help but think considering that since the story was promising an epic revelation (universal destruction, time and space split asunder, etc) that this was more than a little underwhelming. I struggle to see the merit in playing it quite so safe with the 4DAs. Even season two, which has been a quantum leap in terms of quality from season one, has failed to take any big risks (the best stories are a P.G. Wodehouse parody, a reunion with Jago & Litefoot and a claustrophobic SF tale beneath the sea – all quality stories but nothing especially groundbreaking). Next year I would like to see them try and push Tom Baker into more challenging areas, edgier drama and more oddball comedies. I would love to see him get his own Jubilee, Chimes of Midnight, A Death in the Family or Dr Who & the Pirates, something truly memorable. The Finale Phase caps off an entertaining season of adventures but I cannot imagine ever choosing to listen to this particular adventure again: 5/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-final-phase-692

The King of Sontar: A confident, memorable opening to the second season of adventures for the fourth Doctor and Leela. I'm getting to the stage now where the name John Dorney on a script is an instant stamp of quality because I cannot think of the last time he delivered anything that wasn't worth listening to. Whilst this does feel as though it could just about squeeze into season fifteen, Dorney is too original a writer to simply go for the nostalgia factor and he takes on a fascinating journey that allows us to look at the Sontarans in a fresh and interesting way. You've got the poignant relationship that builds between Leela and Vilhol, enemies with a common cause. You've got Strang, a legion of Sontarans amalgamated into one terrifying individual. And you've got the fascinating prospect of Sontarans fighting Sontarans in a war to the death plus the chilling thought of them being able to transport anywhere in the universe in the blink of an eye. There is far more innovation going on here than initially meets the eye. Then there is the climax which sees a massive tear form between the Doctor and Leela, a gripping conclusion and the sort of character development that I have been waiting for in this range for some time. A fantastic script then, buoyed by Nicholas Briggs' typically immersive direction and strong performances from a memorable guest cast (Dan Starkey ably brings a very different kind of Sontaran to Strax to life). This is exactly the sort of direction that the 4DAs need to venture into, I was mightily impressed by The King of Sontar and look forward to seeing where this season of adventures heads: 9/10


White Ghosts: 'Don't leave us in the dark!' Unlike many a new series episode, White Ghosts opens with an episode where all is not explained about the setting and the characters in the first five minutes and we are allowed the luxury of trying to figure out the situation as we proceed through a number of exciting and dark set pieces. I really liked that. For once the Doctor doesn't know everything and has to use his wits to try and piece everything together. It's hard to argue with a scenario as gripping as this one; a lifeless planetoid transformed into a deadly jungle in a matter of moments after a missile has exploded before hitting the surface, accelerating the life cycle of the aggressive wildlife. Barnes' tale might not have character on he brain (Hey's character aside I didn't really remember anybody from this story) but he has sure struck gold with his setting, ideas and imagery. With horrific plant creatures attacking, vampire transformations and the Doctor and Leela (both superbly characterised) being hunted within and without, White Ghosts errs towards the Hinchcliffe era than the Williams one but there's no denying that this story moves at a furious pace and kept my interest up throughout. If there is one thing that Doctor Who does well more often than not is a good base under siege story and this is certainly the most dynamic example in years from Big Finish. The first 40 minutes are near-flawless but the only blemish in attempting to produce a story so dense with ideas in an hour means that Barnes has to rush through a great deal of exposition in the final 20 minutes and a debate between the Doctor and Leela is frustratingly cut short. There is still plenty of drama though and the fate of Bengal and the others is one that I wont forget in a long time. White Ghosts is an attempt to create something a little darker and deeper than the usual 4th Doctor snog to the past and for that I commend it greatly. A few rushed explanations aside, it is the second very strong showing for the range in its third season: 8/10


The Crooked Man: I'm so conflicted with The Crooked Man because there are a lot of good ideas in place and it has some effective moments but I don't think it holds together anywhere near as well as it should. I'm not sure it is the realisation because Nick Briggs' direction is typically strong (although he lets a couple of poor performances through) and Jamie Robertson's soundscape and music both capture the horror of the situation superbly. I can see what John Dorney was going for with this adventure and intellectually he approaches the Land of Fiction from a less showy and more substantial angle than The Mind Robber. However there is no denying that waltzing with literary figures in a fairytale land is much more exciting and colourful than meeting a collection of fictional stereotypes turned baddies in a seaside town. Concentrating on the unknowns in fiction is a smart idea in theory, those characters who are long forgotten whilst the classics are given plenty of attention but the resulting guest cast is pretty unmemorable as a consequence. There is a much more tragic story to be told about these forgotten,embarrassing characters of hack fiction created by lesser writers and unfairly compared to the greats of literature. Instead of going for a more affecting angle he instead turns the characters into stock villains trying to take over the world. It is a novel idea but following in the footsteps of so many other Doctor Who stories. Maybe he didn't want to go over familiar ground since he already approached the idea of having clichéd characters take on greater dimensions in The Forth Wall. Mind you he talks about the responsibility of the writer to his characters in the extras for that tale and seems retract that here, suggesting that this cast of villains is merely the sum of its not very skilfully written parts. Maybe he doesn't have to accept responsibility when they are written as somebody else's creations? Tom Baker veers between very good and awkward in this story and whilst she isn't given her best characterisation in the range, Louise Jameson supports him well as Leela. I find it sad that a story that made me think about its ideas should just scrape an above average mark but whilst I can appreciate what the writer was trying to achieve I don't think the overall story came together quite as engagingly as he hoped. It's good but it could have been great. After setting up an intriguing scenario with the Land of Fiction rejecting its lesser creations, there is no time to explore the concept before the story has to be wrapped up in a terrible hurry. Perhaps this is another case for longer stories for the fourth Doctor, in which case there would have been time for the villainy and a chance to flesh out the characters too. Kudos for trying something a little more subversive and less traditional though : 6/10


The Evil One: How seriously can you take a story that can be summed up with: Leela is hypnotised by the Master to murder the Doctor. If that doesn't sound like the most appalling fanwank imaginable then I don't know what does. Even so, if you were a writer of terrific dexterity and intricacy you might be able to pull this off, abandoning the shows adventurous roots and going for something insanely dark and psychologically destabilising for the characters. Like having Leela beat the Doctor beyond recognition in her insane lust for his death and having to deal with consequences. Or the most stalwart of Doctor's being genuinely frightened of a supposed ally. Or Leela examining a disturbed relationship with her father. Instead this is a typical Nick Briggs script in the 4DA range with lots of running about and talking plot, very little substance and personality. It does try and pretend that it has something profound to say about Leela by linking her brainwashing trigger to the death of her father but it doesn't bother to scrutinize her relationship with him or explicate why his death might weight heavy on her mind in any great depth. Instead it's just a plot device, a way of flipping a switch and turning Leela from noble savage to mindless killer. On the basic level of sticking on a Big Finish story and being swept away for an hour of casual frolics with the Doctor, Leela and the Master this is enjoyable enough (I was certainly never bored...incredulous but never bored) but don't go in expecting anything revelatory because you will be sorely disappointed. I remember a time when Briggs conjured up an insidious and dark character drama that pushed the regulars to the edge and featured an astonishingly vivid guest cast. It was called Creatures of Beauty. This had the potential to be as hard hitting and unforgettable as that story but somewhere along the way Briggs has lost his nerve. Tidy, traditional, inconsequential - pick an adjective: 5/10 (I wanted to score one lower for being so unambitious but the production is too good to punish it like that - all praise Jamie Robertson!)

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-evil-one-803

Last of the Colophon: 'We're the ones that set him free!' A pinch of Talons of Weng-Chiang (Morax's condition), a sprinkling of Planet of Evil (a survey ship landing on an alien world), toss in some Brain of Morbius (an engaging scientist with a dark secret) and a huge dollop of The Armageddon Factor (a world devastated by war, a story told in a handful of sets)...mix it all together and serve it up as a two part audio story and slap the title Last of the Colophon on it. I have to admit that this is one of the stories in the third season that had me the most excited before I heard it (along with White Ghosts and The Abandoned). The cover is phenomenal and after reading the synopsis I felt wrapped up in the warm glow of nostalgia for the era (a dead world, a survey ship, a brilliant scientist under house arrest and a robot nurse sound like the ingredients for an engaging fourth Doctor romp). I've been harping on about how traditional these fourth Doctor adventures have been to their detriment and along comes a story which does absolutely nothing new that I thoroughly enjoyed. Go figure. Episode one is extremely predictable (Morax is the villain of the piece as soon as Thomas utters his first word) but even so it builds to an impressively creepy climax with the characters trapped inside the prison at the mercy of the madman. I might sound like a broken record but this is another terrific showcase for Jamie Robertson's talents, one of the strongest talents to have been acquired by Big Finish in the past five years. Much of the effect of a story this slender comes down to how it is presented and Robertson provides sounds wonderfully frightening moments, shock sound effects and a big, filmic soundtrack. I think Jonathan Morris understands the fourth Doctor era (and the fourth Doctor himself) better than any of the other writers in the range. Whether he is writing a witty Wodehouse pastiche for Romana, a claustrophobic underwater SF tale featuring a villainous K.9 or transporting us to the budget saving three set spectacular on the dead world of Colophon there is something authentic of the era about his tales whilst still being solid stories in their own right. Given his penchant for Douglas Adams pastiche (check out Babblesphere, The Beautiful People, Festival of Death and The Tomorrow Windows), I am assuming he is going to feature heavily in season five. I can't wait. If you are seeking out the 4DAs because you are looking for a nostalgia fix for the Baker years on television, this is by far the most accomplished that has emerged. Utterly clichéd and for once it's a plus, Last of the Colophon embraces predictability and uses it to deliver an energetic hit. Gareth Thomas excels: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/last-of-colophon-written-by-jonathan.html
Buy it from Big Finish here:

Destroy the Infinite written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Result: War, possession, gaseous entities...how many clichés can you pack into one Doctor Who story? I think it is a little unfair on the era that this story is supposed to be aping to suggest that Destroy the Infinite is merely going for the nostalgia jugular. It's something that I have heard a lot lately with regards to the 4DAs (especially in my own reviews) and I think it is worth remembering that the Hinchcliffe/Williams eras are some of the most innovative and imaginative periods of the show. Certainly there was nothing that surrendered quite as much to formula as The Evil One or Destroy the Infinite. The producers would simply not allow anything this predictable to screen. What Briggs is doing it pulling a number of Doctor Who clichés out of the bag (Master + companion gone bad, war + possession) and applying them to the bare bones of a narrative and injecting it with a sense of adventure. Superficially fun but the merely the essence of a Doctor Who story rather than a substantial one. Destroy the Infinite feels like one long action set piece rather than a plot that has been well thought-out and given they are as blankly characterised as the guest cast this story could pretty much feature any Doctor/companion combination. The Doctor and Leela could easily be excised and the third Doctor and Jo or the sixth Doctor and Peri slipped in. I'm not saying that every piece should be uniquely carved to a particular set of regulars (although some more the of the probing of this pair would be welcome after flirting with the idea in The Heroes of Sontar/White Ghosts) but they should never be this throwaway. This is passable filler (I seem to keep saying that about Nick Briggs' 4DAs, easily the most expendable stories of the range because they never attempt to think outside the box) but as an Eminence story The Seeds of War was more intriguingly structured and detailed (with a stronger cast of characters) and Time's Horizon in the Dark Eyes II box set was much more frightening. I had no problem listening to Destroy the Infinite but I wont pretend it challenged me for a moment. Listening to a 'written and directed by Nick Briggs' story at the moment is like enjoying a Chinese buffet; instantly fairly gratifying but you will have forgotten all about it within five minutes and never be able to distinguish it from the other meals you've had for the rest of your natural. Sometimes it's nice to chow down on something memorable: 5/10


The Abandoned written by Louise Jameson & Nigel Fairs and directed by Ken Bentley

Result: 'What is the point of the point of stillness?' Brave and challenging, it's time for something completely different. There are going to be people who really don't like this kind of thing because they have a certain expectation of what they want from Doctor Who. And there will be others that adore because it is pushing the boundaries and giving a range that has surrendered to nostalgia and predictability more often than not a shot in the arm of creativity. I'm mostly in the latter category and think it is long past time that this range started displaying some individuality but I do have an issue with some elements of the execution of the tale. I did enjoy some of the TARDIS based atmospherics and Nick Briggs certainly fulfils the remit of utilising the sound effects of the ship to create an unique audio environment, playing to the strengths of setting a story entirely within its walls. The moments of random weirdness reminded me of Sapphire and Steel but the first episode might test your patience because it doesn't appear to have any structure to it and there are some moments of assaulting shrieks and laughter that encourage the application of paracetamol. As you might imagine from a script partly written by Louise Jameson the characterisation of the Doctor and Leela is extremely strong, returning them to their roots of teacher and pupil but also saying some new things about both characters. That genuinely surprised me in a period where I have come to expect little definable examination of the regulars. Stephanie Cole is one of my favourite actresses and I have always wanted her to appear in a Doctor Who story so I can cross that off my wish list. With a little binding of the script and production so that it wasn't quite as all out cuckoo, this would have been an absolute classic. As it is I would still say it is a massive leap in the right direction for the 4DAs, an attempt to try something completely exclusive rather than trading on past glories. Nigel Fairs and Louise Jameson should team up again, they are clearly full of ideas (the former brings his penchant for fairytale notions and the latter a willingness to experiment and pioneer...and Jameson certainly brings a narrative coherence that has been lacking in Fairs' last two scripts) and are invested in the characters. With firmer notes from the script editor they could produce something truly outstanding instead of something flawed but fearless: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/the-abandoned-written-by-louise-jameson.html

Zygon Hunt: What is the point of a story like Zygon Hunt? It barely holds the interest over its length and has nothing to say about its subject matter, its returning monsters or its regulars. It's under an hours worth of dashing about and sound effects that make me nostalgic for the story that inspired this one rather than wanting to listen to this one. Nick Briggs is capable of so much better than this and his recent efforts in the 4DA range truly feel as though they are bypassing everything that is good about him as a writer (of which, contrary to some peoples opinions, there are a great many things including an ability to tell an epic story with lots of clever details, stirring melodrama and twists that make you genuinely gasp). The first episode is almost entirely without substance...there is plenty of interaction and running around but nobody seems to be talking about anything tangible, we don't seem to get to know anybody in any great depth, the monsters aren't explored at all because they haven't appeared yet. It's half an hour of empty incident. Briggs was openly critical of The Zygon Who Fell to Earth in one of the issues of Vortex, stating that it was not the sort of story that he enjoys. If the paucity of content in Zygon Hunt is his reaction to such a tale I would have to admit that I'm sitting squarely in Paul Magrs' corner. The 8DA tale had strong characters, real drama, comedy and an achingly poignant finale. Zygon Hunt is just sort of there doing exactly what you would imagine of this kind of story doing and holding no surprises. The third season of 4DAs has been a real mixed bunch, some genuinely strong tales (The King of Sontar, War of the Colophon, The Abandoned) and some mundane ones (The Evil One, Destroy the Infinite, Zygon Hunt). I want to see Briggs produce his very own Creatures of Beauty and Lucie Miller/To The Death for the 4DA range. Hop to it. A beautiful Alistair Lock score aside (and even that is inspired by Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom rather than creating anything original), this was devoid of interest. Even my reviews of these stories are starting to sound like a broken record: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/zygon-hunt-written-and-directed-by.html

The Exxilons: A love letter to Death to the Daleks might not be on anybody's wish list but I'm not surprised that it exists given the 4DAs penchant for nostalgia trips and Nicholas Briggs waxing lyrical about this serial on the DVD release (while not the best story he admits it is the quintessential Doctor Who story). Bearing in mind it comes after Zygon Hunt, which was a love letter to Terror of the Zygons with a parody score it does tend to suggest that this range is sticking with the same formula that has plagued it from the beginning: imitation not innovation (with a few rare exceptions). If you lower expectations (a hard job given the strength of the recent Gareth Roberts fourth Doctor novels that have been released), this really isn't terrible. The Exxilons has the brio and confidence of a season opener and is fast paced, well performed and blessed with a stunning Alistair Lock score that fuses too eras together beautifully. You cannot have failed to have noticed that I have spent more time in the sections above discussing the stunning sound design rather than the lacklustre storytelling and there is a very good reason for that. This isn't going to challenge you (unless you are really very simple) but it will provide you with a warm glow of Doctor Who gone by and pass an hour amiably. I should be more critical of a story that is this well made but lacking so much ambition (it is devoid of it) but I kind of enjoyed it on its own terms. There were no surprises, everybody behaved as I predicted they would and the story dodged several attempts to give the city or the Exxilons greater meaning...but as a Doctor vs. baddies it trotted along nicely enough. I think it helps that I am a big fan of Death to the Daleks and am on the same page as Nicholas Briggs with how enjoyable the story is. It's easy enough to blow a kiss to a story as popular as Terror of the Zygons because it has many supporters but to get people in the mood to watch Terry Nation's Exxilon based adventure is really rather impressive. Easy to listen to, never inspiring: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/the-exxilons-written-and-directed-by.html

Requiem for the Rocket Men: There is one thing that you can say for Requiem for the Rocket Men from the off...this is not something that would have been aired in the mid-seventies. For those of you who tune into the 4DAs for a nostalgia kick that might be a problem but for the rest of us who have been bemoaning a lack of a fresh direction it is practically a godsend. You simply would not have had a story told primarily from the Master's point of view with the Doctor in the background trying to outwit his scheme. That alone makes this tale worth checking out. I found this story ridiculously enjoyable throughout, the narrative subversion gave me an effortless entrance but what kept me entertained was the glorious treatment of the Master and the Doctor and how their cat and mouse game in the clutches of the Rocket Men continued to evolve. I have rarely seen the Master written this enjoyably and Geoffrey Beevers seems to relish the opportunity to play something a little different to the usual stereotypes. The moment he laments for the Doctor's death was magnificent. The first episode reminded me pleasingly of the DWM strip 'Death to the Doctor!' with a great sense of paranoia brewing around just when the Doctor will spring his trap. As a result Tom Baker's gleeful madman seems more dangerous than ever. If the second episode progresses into something a bit more predictable that doesn't really hamper the pace or the glee with which the story is told or the priceless lines on display. Requiem for the Rocket Men sounds like it is going to be another thoughtful story in the ongoing saga of this criminal organisation but really it is nothing of the sort. It goes for the entertainment factor and succeeds in droves and it pleases me no end to thoroughly recommend a fourth Doctor adventure after savaging so many of this ranges output. If every story was as easy on the ear as this one I wouldn't have any complaints: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/requiem-for-rocket-men-written-by-john.html

Death Match: The most blatant Blakes' 7 rip off I have ever seen in Doctor Who is pulled off with spectacular style. I thought Chris Boucher returning to his roots (both the 4th Doctor and Leela and the combat scenario that played out in the Blakes' 7 episode Death Watch) in the BBC Novel Match of the Day felt congratulatory and self plagiaristic but this takes things a step even further. If it wasn't all so deliriously enjoyable to listen I would probably take more of an exception to it. This is a range that is finally starting to deliver on a regular occasion (that's three strong releases in a row) which makes me very happy for Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Nick Briggs who I am sure have figured this is the kind of success they have been achieving since day one. Death Match sports some delicious Doctor/Master dialogue, which Baker and Beevers relish like a fine wine and it provides some new insights into the relationship of the two rivals. The story is fast paced, set on a gloriously Terry Nation-esque world (acid seas and testosterone fuelled competitions) and features a terrific score courtesy of Jamie Robertson. Listening to this story was effortless and I had a smile slapped on my face throughout. This is a little longer than your average 4DA too so you'll get a little more enjoyment for your buck too. Matt Fitton deserves some recognition as one of the breakout talents of the last few years, he's delivered again (The Wrong Doctors) and again (The Fall of House Pollard) and again (Equilibrium) and again (Return of the Rocket Men). Give that man a pay rise, he's approaching the Dorney's and Morris' of the company. If you want to take this as Requiem of the Rocket Men as a four parter there is an argument to be made for that...but they are equally strong standalone stories too. The usual suspects will tell you that this is undemanding fare but it is hugelyenjoyable and in this range that is a valuable commodity: 8/10 

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/death-match-written-by-matt-fitton-and.html

Surburban Hell: What is going on with the fourth Doctor range? This is the third story in a row that is a massive departure from the 'it's 1977' nostalgia rush that the range has been keen to capture in the past. I could really get used to this. Remember when Tom Baker said that he turned up at a random house and asked if he could watch The Deadly Assassin part three because he was worried about the content, well the fourth Doctor and Leela emerging as guests at a dinner party and the entire story being contained in a domestic setting is just as wonderfully bizarre. I got a Sapphire and Steel Adventure Five vibe from this story that pleased me because I think it is one of the unsung stories from the series - a mystery spread across two time periods in a domestic and yet completely artificial (in terms of the furnishings and the relationships between the characters) setting. This is a lot more frivolous and frothy though, which might explain why it feels so throwaway when it is genuinely doing something a bit different. Splitting the narrative between two time zones gives the story more scope and allows the Doctor to investigate the cause and the Leela the effect and between them they sow up who is the vessel that the alien is looking to inhabit. Tom Baker is on fine form but he has been all year and I really think he has come into his own on audio now. My only complaint is that this had the opportunity to be a devastatingly witty, almost Coward-esque play but Barnes doesn't quite have the comedy chops to pull it off. Instead we have to make do with an entertaining romp but don't underestimate Suburban Hell because I describe it as such because so many 4DAs have been anything but: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/suburban-hell-written-by-alan-barnes.html

The Cloisters of Terror: To say that a 4DA is offering nothing revolutionary can hardly be a surprise to anybody who has followed the range regularly. Recently I heard a suggestion that this arm of the fourth Doctor's adventures is deliberately unambitious, that they are light affairs catering to an audience that want to lie back and let a story wash over them rather than challenge them. Sometimes I'm in that mood and these stories fit the bill perfectly. Even the superb Dorney/Fitton two parter this season was frothy and amiable rather than anything that really made me work at unearthing its treasures. Jonny Morris delivers a fun enough script but it follows the 4DA pattern; well made, acted and scored but lacking any ambition than killing an hour in a reasonably amusing way. Like so many of these economically told adventures, I can't imagine waking up with a burning ambition to listen to The Cloisters of Terror again in a hurry like I do with the best of Big Finish. Everything played out in a way that made sense and the setting was rather nice and the atmosphere of ghostly spectres was very in keeping with the early Tom Baker television tales. The trouble was I never had a genuine sense of danger, especially with the Doctor taking everything in his stride and Leela and Emily acting more flippant than anxious. The SF elements don't really come off either, feeling as though they were dumped into the story rather than part of the narrative from the get go (when I'm sure that is not the case). I think if this was double the length with time for Morris to allow the characters a chance to breathe and spend more time with the aliens of the week and set up their plight this might have appealed more. As it stands it is like a bite size chocolate bar, over too soon and lacking in substance. After listening to four companion chronicles that utilised their time to tell intelligent, thought-provoking and staggeringly dramatic tales these 4DAs seem all too opaque. If Big Finish were looking at producing quality over what sells, I know which range I would reduce to box sets and which I would be releasing every month. Stunning cover, though: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/the-cloisters-of-terror-written-by.html

The Fate of Krelos: 'It is a terrible sight in the light of three moons...' I can see precisely what Nick Briggs was going for with The Fate of Krelos and to some degree he has succeeded but I think that is mostly down to his work as a director rather than a writer. There is a disquieting atmosphere to the whole piece that is world away from usual fluffiness of this fourth Doctor adventures and it genuinely feels as though it is building up to something spectacular. It isn't quite the Lucie Miller of this line but it is certainly along those lines. I love the idea of the Doctor and Leela going on holiday and causing a chain reaction of devastation because of that but I don't know if this was subtly written enough to explore the idea. The first episode is quite bluntly plotted to ensure that by the time we reach the climax we are dead certain of what the writer is trying to say. It's rather like being bonked on the head with the Doctor's mistakes rather than learning about them naturally. The concept isn't explored imaginatively or emotionally, it's simply presented to you and you are left to make up your own mind as to what you think of it all. However the atmosphere is unnervingly maintained throughout, helped no end by the curious use of K.9. What really stood out to me in this story was the very natural chemistry between Tom Baker and Louise Jameson and how so much of the story was told through the eyes of the Doctor and Leela. Over three seasons the characters and actors have developed a fine rapport and since Briggs has become intimately acquainted with both the actors and their roles the net result is a story of terrific interaction (with some surprisingly touching moments). Surprisingly dramatic and eye-opening, I hope the second half can keep up the feeling of dread: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/the-fate-of-krelos-written-and-directed.html

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