The Ark, The Mutants and The Perpetual Bond - reviews by Andy Weston
The Ark – DVD Review
The Earth is dying, so what better way to survive the end of the world than to miniaturise yourself and travel on a gigantic spaceship to a planet inhabited by invisible people? Not only that, but why not take along an alien race who want to help and don’t seem to mind a bit of subjugation – what could possibly go wrong?
The Ark is a story of big ideas, and plenty of them. To wit, you have: the death of the Earth with a huge spaceship ferrying the remains of humanity across the stars; a race of seemingly benevolent aliens whose very nature changes through the story; the miniaturisation of people through the journey, ready to be re-awakened and re-enlarged once the 700 year journey is over; a race of invisible aliens on the planet that the humans are seeking to colonise, their plight caused by solar flare activity – a neat parallel to the expansion of Earth’s own sun; and last but by no means least, THAT mid-story twist, that comes from nowhere but is completely in-keeping with the innovative ideas that the story has in spades.
The very notion of the human race fleeing from a dying world gives a certain sense of epic-ness to the story, not least in the revelation that they are in the “57th segment” of time, all the adventures we’ve previously seen having been so far before that these people are distant, and almost as alien as the Monoids. What is interesting is how even the Doctor is surprised by just how far into the future he’s travelled this time. They have no disease, they all seem to live in peace – and any ‘crime’ is dealt with by miniaturising the perpetrator, for them to be able to live their live once the journey has passed. It doesn’t even sound like a punishment, since they won’t have to endure the arduous voyage, and indeed will still be alive while their peers are dead. That said, to have your loved ones all long dead is a fairly brutal method of discipline, since they’ve no hope of seeing them again unless, one assumes, they commit a similar crime.
As regards performances, Hartnell is once more on form, uncertain where is at first but ready to become involved the moment any impropriety is suggested. He seems to accept the notion of the Monoids as slaves fairly easily though, in a similar way that Tennant does with the Ood in their first appearance. The Doctor is more impressed by the way in which the human race is still surviving, and the methods to which they have achieved all that they have. Hartnell conveys this well, as he does when indignant about being accused of destroying their culture with Dodo’s cold virus, and it takes a lot of persuasion (and Steven succumbing to the disease) before he is allowed to concoct a cure.
Yet this story needs to be measured by other criteria in that it is an introduction for a new companion. After forcing her way onto the Ship at the climax of the previous story, Dodo has now joined the TARDIS crew. However, we learn very little about her here, more character exposition being given in the fleeting moments at the end of Bell of Doom than in this entire story. That’s not to say that she’s ignored here – far from it. It is she who steps out and proclaims they’ve landed at Whipsnade Zoo and indeed it is her cold that is the catalyst for the entire adventure. However, as a character, she does seem a little generic. Or bland, take your pick.
After the rather wonderful Maureen O’Brien and Jean Marsh, here we are once more presented with a teenager who is more reminiscent of Susan, only with less to recommend her. It’s not Jackie Lane’s fault by any means (but where is she meant to be from? Manchester-on-Thames?), but it seems that Dodo wasn’t a character who was given a great deal of depth. The poor girl even gets the vaguest of departures, disappearing halfway The War Machines, never to return. Jackie Lane does the best with what she’s given, but she’s not griven an awful lot.
Steven seems to carry the weight of the story this time, which is no bad thing. Steven is – to my mind at least – a much underrated character, and here he’s given plenty to do. It’s he who instigates the escape from the cell, he who stands trial in place of the other two. The one sad fact is the lack of reference back to Steven’s storming out of the TARDIS at the end of Bell of Doom, when his disgust at the Doctor’s behaviour in France led to his temporary departure. The whole affair is never mentioned, and this lack of continuity is a shame since it was such a dramatic highpoint of the previous tale (which wasn’t short of them).
So, what of the story’s antagonists, the Monoids? Well, strictly they’re only the bad guys in the second half (the first half’s villain being Dodo’s cold), but even so, they’re still a rather weird and wonderful creation. They weren’t revisited again on television (more’s the pity – though they did appear in Jac Rayner’s Kingdom of the Blind), but had a spiritual successor in the Ood, another race of slaves/servants (delete as applicable) to humanity. The Monoids’ communication through sign language is another example of the innovative nature of the story. That they later develop a way of communicating through speech is another clever development, as is their uprising against their human ‘oppressors’.
No review of The Ark would be complete without a mention of the Monoids’ infamous ‘security kitchen’. Why can’t all alien races have one? Perhaps it’s the one flaw that leads so many of them to fail in their plans for galactic conquest. If more had a well-equipped security kitchen, then perhaps they’d fare rather better, destroying and overpowering worlds, even having time to fit in a well-prepared meal. That said, the Monoids’ culinary expertise is certainly lacking, and their novel idea for imprisonment doesn’t do them much good in the end, the poor Beatle-haired cyclopes.
The plight of the Monoids is mirrored to some degree in that of the Refusians, though their oppression comes from their lack of physical form rather than any ‘higher race’ overpowering them. The fact that their own disaster comes as a result of solar flares also mirrors the human race’s own problem, since it was their own sun’s expansion that forced them to leave their world. The Refusians are well realised, with shifting furniture and voices breaking through the air. Another idea that shows just how much creativity and thought has gone into the story.
The overall feel of The Ark is epic and it’s certainly one of the more innovative of early Who stories. It’s the end of the Earth, and the human race are fleeing, oppressing aliens as they go. Due to this oppression, the aliens rise up against their masters, but the story runs for two whole episodes before that happens, and then the story is turned on its head and thrust 700 years in the future. It’s a bold move, and while not completely successful it’s a thrilling idea. Events happen in the way they do all due to Dodo’s cold – without that, the Monoids might still be communicating in sign language and hefting the white goods when the humans arrived at the end of their journey.
The Ark is a fine example of early Who not being afraid to push boundaries, and for the most part it succeeds admirably. The humans are out there, way in the future, still surviving and pushing forward.
Here’s to that pioneer spirit!
Whilst not brimming with extra material, the few additional features this disc contains are never less than interesting.
The light-hearted ‘One Hit Wonder’ takes a brief look at the Monoids, and recurring aliens within Doctor Who. Matthew Sweet’s prognosis on why the Monoids never returned is due to their ‘dodgy feet’. He may well have a point. That said, Jac Rayner’s reasoning makes far more sense in that a lot of one-off monsters were written by one-off writers, thus if the monsters weren’t especially popular, they didn’t return. I found myself agreeing with her description of the Monoids as “ridiculous and scary at the same time,” and that was far more sinister than a monster that is merely scary. I defy anyone to cross an alien that throws flowers that angrily!
‘All’s Wells That Ends Wells’ is another short piece, this time looking at the influence of HG Wells on Doctor Who. The ideas are certainly relevant as regards The Ark, with numerous connections listed to such Wells stories as The Sleeper Awakes, The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon to name a few. Again, it’s another interesting short piece, but something that could certainly be explored more in a lengthier piece.
The other feature of note is Riverside Story in which Matthew Sweet takes Peter Purves back to Riverside Studios to get an idea of what recording Doctor Who was like. It’s a very revealing piece, Purves not only being full of enthusiasm for the story, but also providing an intriguing insight into studio recording, one particularly surprising fact (at least to myself) is the extremely short recording time that was afforded to a story, a mere three times the length of the running time. So, in terms of The Ark, around 5 hours for the whole story. When taken into consideration with today’s productions, it’s truly amazing that stories were produced to such a high standard under those quite restrictive conditions. It’s a very revealing documentary and definitely one of the highlights of the disc.
Overall rating: 8/10
The Mutants – DVD review
While The Ark is brimming with ideas and achieves them admirably, The Mutants is slightly less broad in scope, and doesn’t achieve its intended outcome as successfully. To begin, it’s hard to take seriously a story that seems to recreate the opening of Monty Python, with an elderly bearded man stumbling around a wasteland and all but addressing the camera at that last moment with an “It’s....”.
The words that sum up The Mutants best would be ‘unfulfilled opportunity’. It’s a shame, since the story starts (bar the Pythonesque opening) with an intriguing premise: the Doctor receives a mysterious message pod which will not open for him (he tells us that twice in about five seconds) and is tasked by the Time Lords to deliver it off-world to...who knows? At this point there’s significant mystery to make it interesting, and a genuine curiosity as to who it might be for. What’s also interesting is that the Time Lords send the Doctor on yet another trip to an alien world. What with the other excursion through time and/or space in Day of the Daleks, The Curse of Peladon and The Time Monster, it’s almost as the if the production team got itchy feet about grounding the Doctor quite so firmly. Hardly an exile when he travels here just as much (if not more) than in the following two series when he’s able to move freely once again.
When the Doctor arrives at his destination he and Jo wander into an allegory of British Imperial rule, with a just a dash of South African apartheid. “Segregation,” comments the Doctor as he spies signs designating different areas of the Skybase to ‘Solonians’ and ‘Overlords’. Subtle it ain’t.
Geoffrey Palmer soon appears to reinforce the allegorical nature of the story, telling the Marshal, “We can’t afford an empire any more,” while Garrick Hagon as Ky shouts, “We want freedom and we want it now!” It paints in broad strokes, so if you’re looking for subtext you’re not going to find it. What is happening is blatantly obvious, but it’s not that that drags the story down, and the first episode is all a fairly harmless set up for what happens later.
We next find out that prejudice is rife with everyone afraid of the unknown, but for different reasons. There is the obvious – the Marshal’s fear of the ‘Mutts’, Ky’s fear of the oppressors – and the less so, in the Doctor’s fear of how power corrupts and how is unsure just what the Marshal is capable of. In this instance there is some well-rounded character development, the Doctor’s indignation at the Marshal’s behaviour an obvious indication of his moral ‘rightness’.
There are some greatly interesting story ideas seeded throughout too, such as the twist that the mutation has been brought about (i.e. accelerated rather than caused) by the Marshal’s experimentation. There is the notion of daylight making the air on Solos poisonous, that their seasons are 500 years long and indeed the message box itself is an intriguing puzzle to be solved.
The direction is well thought out too, a notable example being a low crane shot as the TARDIS materialises on the Skybase in episode one. In addition to this, the costumes of the Mutts are very well-realised by James Acheson and do look genuinely alien and unnerving.
However, there are many flaws, the most glaring of which is the stretching of the plot. The last episodes consist of little more than a cycle of capture and escape, with very little in the way of extra plot information until the very end. Then we are given Ky’s transformation into some kind of super-being by way of a West End Production of Joseph. I half expected him to burst into song!
There’s also initially another mystery set up regarding a mention of Sondergaard, a scientist who went to study the Solonians but was never seen again. It’s built up quite nicely, though when he does appear it’s a suited figure near the end of episode three, and it’s down to the credits to reveal who he is! The mystery is cast aside, and when we next see him he’s in regular apparel chatting with the Doctor as if we know who he is immediately. It’s a great pity that more wasn’t made of it, but in the end he proves to be further exposition to push the plot along for another three languid episodes.
The cave in which Jo finds herself prior to our meeting with Sondergaard is full of radiation, but looks more like a disco – where’s Mike Yates when you need him for a ‘groovy’ night out? It’s interesting that when Ky opens his message pod he finds tablets inside, and Sondergaard feels he’s been affected by the ‘radiation’. Has Jo in fact stumbled on an alien rave culture? Maybe the ‘Mutts’ are hallucinations, and the Marshal represents ‘the Man’, the authority figure who wants to stamp out any unauthorised fun. Maybe he’s just bitter that he’s not been invited.
Aside from raves in the caves, it would be remiss of me not to mention the acting on display in The Mutants. It’s less than terrific in many quarters, Paul Whitsun-Jones overacts wildly as the Marshal playing ‘mad’ right out in the open without subtlety. Though perhaps that’s the whole point as the man has ‘evil’ written through him like a stick of rock.
Poor Rick James is always singled out for his stilted performance as Cotton, but the blame doesn’t lie solely with him. The script itself is far from perfect, and James is saddled with some rather clunky dialect specific speech. The trouble is, the dialect isn’t his natural one, and the words don’t sit right. Given better dialogue he may well shine, it’s just a shame it isn’t in this story. That said, he is left in charge of the Skybase – could there be a sitcom in it, a spin-off ala Jago and Litefoot? Big Finish if you’re interested, how about ‘Going Solos’, the adventures and misadventures of Cotton and Sondergaard as they help those crazy Solonians through their difficult transition period? Go on, it’ll be a hit!
If the story were trimmed to four episodes (or perhaps even three), it’d certainly be a much better focussed tale, and would certainly be far more enjoyable as a result. To leave on a positive note, I did appreciate the story reaching its conclusion with the line “Storage area four malfunction” line as the TARDIS dematerialises – the same line as when it appeared at the start. Like the evolution of the Solonians, the story comes full circle. Now there’s a title for a Doctor Who story...
As befits a two disc release, there are a good selection of extras available here. In addition to the commentary and a brief Blue Peter sojourn that features a Mutt, there are three noteworthy pieces.
Mutt Mad focuses on the making of the story, and we hear from all and sundry, learning such information as: the idea of the mutants and their evolutionary cycle was an idea of Barry Letts; Bob Baker and Dave Martin had a ‘lack of discipline’ according to Terrance Dicks (and boy does it show in this story!); and that designer Jeremy Bear used actual ideas that NASA had for potential space stations and was responsible for the triangular designs that after appearing here popped up in several other Who stories following this one.
Race Against Time is a very interesting piece of the casting of ethnic actors in Doctor Who, or rather the lack of them. Rick James is somewhat of a standout in seventies Who, which was the decade that saw fit to use a Caucasian actor to play a Chinaman in a leading guest role. It’s telling that the sixties featured more ethnic actors than the seventies, due to the racial tensions that the latter decade brought with it. It’s also a sad fact that in ‘Classic’ Who, that so few ethnic actors were used in more than small roles. Thankfully it’s a fact that has changed today, but as the closing narration says, it’s still telling that a choice of an ethnic actor playing the Doctor would be met with at least some surprise. It’s a documentary that is essential viewing.
The other piece, Dressing Doctor Who, is a long overdue look at Oscar-winning costume designer James Acheson’s work on the show. Full of self-deprecation for what didn’t work, but also admitting the successes of his time on the show, it’s an absorbing look at the creation of some of the most iconic of Who designs. Acheson admits that he had a lot of fun working on the show, and reveals that he’d originally wanted to build sets, not costumes, but describes the creation of Who monsters as akin to ‘building things’. It’s another insight into the workings of the show that far outstrips the story it is partnered with.
Overall rating: 6/10
The Perpetual Bond
Steven and the Doctor have lost so many friends: Bret, Katarina and last but by no means least, Sara. The TARDIS acts of its own accord and takes the pair to London in the 1960s, where they arrive in a very familiar junkyard...
Meanwhile across town, city trader Oliver Harper receives a phone call telling him the police are on to him. He needs to get out, fast. Just what is it that he’s wanted for? And why exactly does his boss suddenly look completely alien to him...?
The story hits the ground running with a swinging theme that wouldn’t have been out of place in any number of ITC productions. It’s a great way to start, with a really rather splendid bit of music and an introduction to the new companion that leads neatly into a mini-cliff-hanger as Oliver comes face to face with an alien – presumably for the first time. It also sets up an intriguing mystery, and one that isn’t answered within the story, as to just what Oliver has done to be on the run. Not only that, but here is a character who can see the aliens amongst him, while others can’t. The Doctor, upon meeting him attributes it to him using his “brain a little better than most people”, though I can’t help but wonder if maybe there is something rather more behind it.
The mystery the surrounds the character of Oliver is something that drives the listener onwards, though they are rewarded with few answers here. That is not to criticise, but that one should approach the story as the start of a story (which indeed it is) of his character. It seems that Big Finish are ensuring their companion is given more depth than many of his television counterparts from the same era, and this is an admirable conceit. I’m hoping that it pays off over the forthcoming stories featuring the character, and with Simon Guerrier continuing to write for him it’s unlikely the listener will be unrewarded.
The character’s likeability is something that isn’t at first easy to quantify, yet as the story progresses the character’s involvement increases, and morally we see he is on the side of our heroes. As such it is easier to embrace him, though still keep him at arm’s length. After all, we barely know him...yet.
Tom Allen does a fine job, and is aided by a striking script. The evocation of Sixties London is very well achieved, as is the rather splendid description of all that is around. Allen brings an element of charm to the character that could easily have been lacking in the hands of lesser actor. He’s ably assisted in this instance by Lisa Bowerman’s once more sterling work as director. Bowerman certainly seems to be a hallmark of a quality production, and this is no exception.
The Companion Chronicles that have previously featured Peter Purves (Mother Russia and The Suffering) have been among my favourites of the range, due in no small part to Purves’ performance and enthusiasm for the material. Purves too is given some excellent material here, not least when Guerrier presents us with Sixties London as seen through Steven’s eyes. The routines and rituals we take for granted appear different and strange to Steven: the Doctor handing over ‘metal tokens’ for pink slips of paper on the bus; the description of umbrellas as ‘portable rain screens’; the lack of a ‘G-Link’ to find information and puzzlement over how antiquated a phone-box is – something which is more and more commonplace in modern society too. Generations will grow up now little knowing what purpose phone boxes have when ‘everyone’ has a mobile phone, let alone from Steven’s time. A small moment in the story it may be, but it’s a telling one of how quickly society and technology moves on.
The Doctor is once more well captured, his own mysterious persona used as Steven feels that perhaps he will allow the aliens to continue with their business all because of a trade agreement. It’s telling that Steven isn’t quite sure what the Doctor is up to, and a good yet subtle indication and reminder that the Doctor is alien too. Purves’ performance is Hartnell seems to improve from story to story, and here he’s captured perfectly with vocal mannerisms and inflections just right.
The story itself is well done, and having it grounded in the very recognisable contemporary (to the era) setting makes it standout as a rather unique tale. The recent hardships that the TARDIS crew have been through is not forgotten, and it’s rather touching of the Doctor to think that the Ship may have brought them back to Totter’s Lane as a “kindness after what we’ve lost”. It’s a touching moment at the start, before the central mystery takes the Doctor’s attention.
The story itself though is perhaps the least important part of this audio. That’s not to deride it or cast it aside, but more to simply revel in the other joys that the play offers. The performances, direction and writing are of a very high standard, but it would be remiss of me to neglect to mention the rather wonderful score. Thoroughly Sixties and simply joyous to the ears, Richard Fox and Lauren Yason provide a memorable soundscape and truly in-keeping with the period. Looking ahead, I’m more than a little pleased to see they’ll be back for Oliver Harper’s next adventure too.
Overall, it’s another amazingly confident play, and a very enjoyable one too. It seems that this range can do little wrong at the moment, and with the promise of Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines next it looks set to continue.
Buy it now from Big Finish here.
The Feast of Axos written by Mike Maddox and directed by Nicholas Briggs, review by Joe Ford
What’s it about: "Axos calling Earth. Fuel system exhausted. Request immediate assistance.”Many years ago, the vast space parasite Axos attempted to suck the planet Earth of its energy. Now it’s all but forgotten – a dried-up husk, marooned in orbit, still stuck in the time loop it was placed in by Earth’s defender, the Doctor. Forgotten, that is, except by space tourism billionaire Campbell Irons – who’s hatched a plan to solve the world’s energy crisis by reviving Axos, and transmitting its power back to Earth. But the crew of the spaceship Windermere aren’t alone aboard the parasite. The Doctor has returned, to correct an error of decades past… And Axos is waiting.
Softer Six: An outstanding showing for the sixth Doctor who continues to be the golden boy of Big Finish (no pun intended!). The mileage for his character has far exceeded even my wildest expectations and Colin Baker continues to deliver the most thoughtful and exciting performances for the range. The Doctor’s reaction to Brewster pulling a gun on him is pure eye rolling nonchalance (‘Oh please’). He is so cheeky pretending to be willing to help to Brewster so he can activate the TARDIS sensory distortion field and disable him! Alas the Doctor is disinclined to help people who are threatening to shoot him. ‘So you bodged the job?’ Evelyn suggests of his first encounter with Axos when he tries to excuse his actions with talk of half his memory being missing and a compromised TARDIS! Its hilarious as the Doctor tries to avoid answering why the Time Lord’s exiled him to Earth, Brewster scoffs at the Doctor calling him a criminal when he stole the TARDIS. If Thomas can prove he can be trusted he might reconsider taking him home. ‘Surely not space tourism’ he sighs, appalled at the very notion. Evelyn points out that the Doctor and Thomas are both outsiders forced to be self sufficient, never fitting in anywhere but both trying to do the right thing. They are as pig headed as one another but the Doctor tells her that consistency of character is a virtue! When he discovers that Campbell Irons has taken over space control at Devesham, he notes it is a pity to see such a noble heritage privatised. The Doctor is appalled at the very notion that the people of the Earth should turn to Axos to answer their problems, they should be pooling their resources to look for solutions and not looking for get rich quick schemes. He considers Axon energy fools gold. The great Doctor’s reputation precedes him. Repairing the sonic screwdriver has been on his to do list for some time. I loved his assertion that Axos is a living being, a sentient creature and he wont kill it because it happens to be a nuisance – he would rather take it to a long dead galaxy. Not a fan of space walking. He’s close to tears as Evelyn drifts off into space, his heart broken at the loss of his friend. The Doctor’s mind is so superior to a humans it is like comparing a parsley pig to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon! He was there when the British Space programme with in its infancy, they were fearless, brave pioneers and he tells Joanne he’s glad to see that the flame still burns today. He gives Axos a chance, offers to take them away from the Earth but when they refuse his mind is made up and he apologises for sending them back into the time loop to die over and over again. He tells Evelyn it is wonderful to have her back and you know that he means it. Go listen to his wonderful, romantic description of the Earth in the last scene – Baker manages to bring these speeches to life with real poetry.
Learned Lecturer: It’s an obvious thing to say and I have probably repeated it over and over in these reviews but just how likable is Evelyn? They have tried with Erimem, Hex and Lucie Miller and in some cases gotten very close but no matter how good the material is for the other original Big Finish companions the chemistry between Colin Baker and Maggie Stables is untoppleable. They are just gold together. Evelyn doesn’t see any harm in taking Brewster home. ‘You’re not getting me in a spacesuit!’ she cried suggesting that she looks like Barbarella! Evelyn takes a paternal role with Thomas, harsh on him when he misbehaves but willing enough to give him a chance. When she sees that the astronauts are cutting into Axos she is horrified by their butchery. She thinks Thomas means well and that everybody makes mistakes in their life. Maybe he never had a chance to be trustworthy because the Doctor is too stubborn, I love how Evelyn cuts straight though the Doctor’s objections and points out his flaws. She’s the only person that would be able to get away with that! In turn the Doctor reminds her that all sentient life deserves a chance. She knows enough French to order a glass of Bordeaux and a room for the night (dirty cow, I bet she had a few nights like that in Paris!). Evelyn thinks it is marvellous that there is a real life James Bondian spy aboard! When she learns of the Doctor’s crazy scheme, Evelyn refuses to go along with it if it means sacrificing Thomas. She makes the Doctor promise to forgive him and take him home otherwise she won’t help him. ‘I’m in space! Weeeeee!’ – Evelyn is bewitched by the view from space, see the Earth from orbit. She asks the Doctor why they haven’t done this before and you cannot help but enjoy the idea of this woman in her twilight years larking about space walking! When things turn dark its wonderful how Evelyn accepts her fate and seeing that there is nothing he can do to help her refuses to let the Doctor blame himself. As she floats off she admits that she needs the Doctor. When she is rescued you swell with relief that she is safe. Evelyn is sweet and complimentary to her French saviours (‘Enchante’) and I wondered if anybody could fail to be charmed by this woman. I thought Brewster’s nicknames for her; old Mother Hubbard and old mum Smythe, were wonderful. In the last scene Evelyn can judge the situation well enough to leave the console room and force her two chaps into talking. I know she has had a wealth of stories now but The Feast of Axos has just left me hungry for more.
Artless Dodger: Whereas The Crimes of Thomas Brewster re-introduced the young scallywag back to the series it is in this story where the relationships are developed and explored in some depth. I don’t understand the allergic reaction some people have towards Brewster, he seems a pretty harmless, likable character to me. Regardless he shows enough initiative and charm in this story to make the reunion worthwhile. We get to learn something about all three characters, be it the Doctor’s obstinate refusal to give him a chance, Evelyn’s maternal instincts and Thomas Brewster’s aching wish to return home. According to the Doctor once a cutpurse always a cutpurse! He pulled a gun on them for dramatic effect, the magazine was empty. Everywhere the Doctor takes him he is a menace! He is conversant enough with 21st Century history and technology to use that foreknowledge to his advantage in the 19th Century. Thomas is trying to be like the Doctor. Axos considers him dangerous, deceitful and sly and they want him to speak for them, promising him Axonite to replicate as many gold sovereigns as he wishes. Axos distrusts Brewster because the Doctor does. I enjoyed how the script convinced you that Axos had managed to manipulate Brewster into thinking the Doctor is willing to sacrifice him to stop them and yet he is far cannier than that. Its odd but I find him far less irritating than Adric when conversing with the enemy! He pretends that he has decided to live up to the Doctor’s expectations, doing his best to look out for number one. Prestidigitation, you’re looking in one hand and the trick is being done in the other – whilst Axos is watching Brewster like a hawk the Doctor manages to con them! It’s interesting that Brewster reels of his life problems to the Doctor but it never feels like he is looking for pity, just stating a fact. He’s got no one and has had to fight to get on in the world. Nobody has done him any favours, he’s had no schooling, no roof over his head – he hasn’t had it handed to him on a silver platter unlike some. Given their reconciliation in the last scene it looks like this could be a friendship after all.
Standout Performance: This is a very impressive cast so it is hard to select just one. Colin Baker gives a bravura duel performance as both the Doctor and Axos; his evil doppelganger is chillingly light voiced to start with but turns growling and menacing, as Axos grows stronger. Bernard Holley has an awesome voice for audio, dominating and creepy and it really was a coup getting him to return for this story, over 30 years after the original.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nose hairs? We’re up a nostril?’
‘What were you doing in the rugby changing room?’ ‘Sightseeing mainly.’
‘Now there’s a whole mass of them! Twitching away like attention deficit spaghetti!’
‘Like an Axos chainsaw massacre!’
‘We shall drink it dry…let the feast begin!’
‘You sought to feed off Axos. Now Axos feeds off you. To a new era of energy!’
‘Don’t worry Doctor, its not your fault. Silly idiotic woman messing around in space like Barbarella at my age. Good bye Doctor…my dear, dear Doctor…’
Great Ideas: Affordable low orbit travel, not tourism! Joyrides for the mega rich into space for the price of a luxury cruise? Oil is running dry and people fear for their jobs and their future, Axos can provide clean, green energy for all. The time field causes transmissions to be sent backwards and forwards in time – as they approach Axos they can hear the original broadcast Axos sent on first contact in the 70s. Axos is stuck in a figure of eight looping through the four dimensions. When they enter the time loop there is a possibility that they will age 50 years in a second. Axos is hibernating but alive, a parasitic organism, a vampire in space drifting from planet to planet sucking them dry. Axos bleeds as they cut into it. The central chamber is like a cathedral made of jelly, the heart of Axos. A vast organism with a single mind but with the ability to extrude smaller independent units so it can relate and absorb other species. An energy vampire than can absorb even their footsteps, the faster they run, the more energy they give it. They make a replica of the Doctor, stealing his body print and adopting his memories. Axos tries to get its claws into the TARDIS. If Axos had wanted them dead it would have opened its mouth and coughed them out! They need time to gather their strength, to feed on the Windermere and commence the nutrition cycle. Can Axos replicate the TARDIS? The planets supply of fossil fuels has been exhausted, we are facing social and economic collapse, wind, wave and geothermic technology will not meet the demand. We need Axos to save us from catastrophe. If they don’t agree Irons will cause a miniature nuclear reactor aboard the Windermere to explode and they will be forced to absorb the explosion stuck in a time loop, constantly feeding on the full force of a nuclear blast! Irons is offering a strip of central Africa for Axos to rest and feed upon – madness! Axos will send its roots deep into the Earth as soon as they have a foothold. Craig is still working for the RAF, if anyone is going to exploit Axos it will be for the benefit of all mankind and not just for Campbell Irons! The Jules Verne receives transmissions of its own future attack by Axos. Axos wraps its tendrils around the Windermere! The handholds on the exterior of Axos are tissue scarring from the impact of meteorites. Axos destroys mission control, absorbs their energy and reduces them to dust. The Doctor suggests they might be sucking life from the national power grid and causing lights to wink out over England. However Axos could only drain Devesham. The Doctor traps Axos, forcing them to go nuclear over and over again until the time loop decays in about 6 billion years.
Audio Landscape: Nicholas Briggs has surpassed even his best efforts in this story, bringing together so many wonderful sounds to create an audio experience. Jamie Robertson’s sound effects are well and truly out of this world! The shuttle exploding into life, mission control buzzing, the echoing speakers relying the voices from the shuttle, sirens as the TARDIS leaves the Earth, grumbling shuttle engines, alarms, a burst of static as they cross the time field, the scream that invades the TARDIS and causing the engines to cough, that fabulous 70’s tinkly scanner, Axos’ sucking and pulsing arteries, spacesuit comms, a wonderful Next Generation-esque cargo bay doors siren, heavy breathing in space, sealing the space suits, the harpoon sticking into Axos, writhing electrical cilia, an alien, dramatic heartbeat, docking tunnel extended, the chainsaw cutting into Axos, reabsorbtion, walking on Axos’ sticky, spongy surface, thought scanner, the Jules Verne tearing through space, Swanson screaming as he is absorbed, the screaming Axon units, the scuttling, banging noises as Axos attempts to breach the hull of the Windermere, the sudden cut to the silence of space, impact with the exterior of Axos, sucking the Devesham base dry, the calmness of Evelyn lost in space, the assault of communications in Evelyn’s helmet, Axos’ gushing, throbbing gills, extruding the TARDIS, a nuclear explosion in space over and over, the rotting depersonalised doppelganger melting over the console.
Musical Cues: As well as provide all those wonderful sound effects Robertson also offers up one of the best musical scores I have enjoyed in years. The opening scenes have an optimistic, uplifting feel as the shuttle shoots into space, dragging you into the story. Mysterious chorals open out onto the emptiness of space. I love the menacing, exciting piano theme as the shuttle approaches Axos. Creepy alien screams bridge scenes. The music gets very fast and exciting as the situation gets more desperate in episode three and then becomes a stirring, tear jerking piece as we lose Evelyn at the end of the episode. This is extremely filmic music that pitches the tone of the story perfectly and combined with the sound effects makes this a very memorable experience.
- ‘Mine’s the one with the fishbowl helmet’ says the Doctor of his spacesuit referring to the space age design from The Moonbase.
- Nick Briggs is like the new Alfred Hitchcock of Big Finish – we used to get Gary Russell turning up in various roles across a wealth of stories but now its Briggs’ plumy voice! It aggravates some people but it just makes me laugh!
- ‘Its got gills, Thomas!’ Is that the Doctor’s alien costume from Peri and the Piscon Paradox that Brewster has found?
- Campbell Irons bought the British Rocket Group and runs his operation from the former defence station at Devesham (The Android Invasion).
Standout Moment: The end of episode three is absolutely devastating; Evelyn unhooking herself and just out of reach of Axos, floating out of reach of the Doctor. Her quiet despair and his desperation not to lose his best friend will break your heart. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables both give outstanding performances to the point where tears were forming in my eyes. It is a cruel and beautiful affirmation of their incredible friendship and a terrifying reminder of the dangers of space travel. I also loved the conclusion that saw Jo and David send a message to their families and sacrifice themselves to stop Axos – we’ve seen a hundred scenes like this before but the idea that saving their families back home at the cost of their own lives and the spirit and bravery with which they sacrifice themselves is very poignant.
Result: A sweepingly epic, visual piece of storytelling buoyed by some intimate moments and great characterisation, The Feast of Axos is an outstanding piece of audio drama. The titular creature itself is perfectly suited to audio offering up a genuinely chilling and exciting soundscape and some wonderfully creative moments. The relationship between the Doctor and Evelyn has never been stronger and Brewster gets some fine development but there are lots of lovely character moments throughout for the entire cast. It’s an intelligent script that inverts the original story and exploits mankind’s greed and there are a number of emotional moments that are beautifully performed. I cannot recommend this story enough, it’s one of the strongest stories in a very impressive run: 9/10
The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories &Relative Dimensions - reviews by Joe Ford
Meglos, Quinnis & Peri and the Piscon Paradox - reviews by Andrew Weston
The Crimes of Thomas Brewster written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs
What’s it about: Sent down south to assist the Metropolitan Police in their efforts to investigate the gangland kingpin known only as 'the Doctor', Detective-Inspector Patricia Menzies finds herself up to her neck in laser-armed robot mosquitoes, gun-running criminal overlords, vanishing Tube trains... and not one, but two Doctors. Meanwhile the real Doctor, and his academic assistant Professor Evelyn Smythe, have become ensnared in the machinations of an old acquaintance – time-travelling Victorian guttersnipe Thomas Brewster. But what's Brewster's connection to the rapacious robot Terravores? And can anyone contain the gathering swarm?
Aristocratic Adventurer: What a delight it is to have the sixth Doctor and Evelyn back together after what feels like the length of a bible! They just click together beautifully, she can insult him without it seeming rude, he clearly adores her and their time together and it’s just wonderful to see the pair of them so happy. When Big Finish first started who would have thought sticking together the least popular Doctor (as I say, at the time…) and a prickly old crone (sorry Evelyn!) and it would have made for one of the best (for me the best) ever pairings of a Doctor and a companion. Now that they are back in cahoots expect laughs and tears in equal measure. The Doctor thought he was too old for this sot of lark a couple of centuries back. He went under the original London Bridge with king James II you know! This is before the Doctor ever met Menzies, a fun place for her to be which means at the beginning of The Condemned when he first met the DI and said ‘typical!’ he was remembering her! He has another dozen identical coats back in the TARDIS (and hilariously answers a criticism levelled at the Doctors and companions of the JNT era – ‘Why did you think I always wore the same one?’). You’ve gotta love his escape plan which consists of jumping from a warehouse window, even he comments that this is no way for a 900 year old Time Lord to behave! He cannot stress this too strongly, he is not Captain Kirk! The Doctor is clearly having a barrel of laughs in this story, especially when he crosses swords with the Terrovore (‘On guard!’). His pseudonym is Norman de Plume! Oh Doctor! He is told something about one of his future selves saving Symbios from the Drahvins to which he shoves his fingers in his ears and screams ‘lalalala!’ People should know by now that he always has a plan but sometimes he hasn’t thought of it yet. What I found especially interesting was how Jonathan Morris asked the question ‘what if there was a conflict with both the Earth and another, worthier planet in danger – which would he save?’ It really seems as though the Doctor has stuck two fingers up at the Earth and Colin Baker plays it for all its worth (although deep down I knew that wasn’t the case). If there’s one thing you can be sure of there is more to the Doctor than meets the eye. I loved the final knock of pretence where the Doctor tells Menzies that he knows that they will meet again in the future and he will return the same courtesy she gave him and pretend not to know her.
Learned Lecturer: I loved the Doctor’s adventures with Charley and do wish there had been more but the only thing I wanted more was Evelyn back! Maggie Stables isn’t given enough credit for her dazzling portrayal of the Doctor’s elderly companion. She took hold of a role which was potentially one note and turned the character into a warm, witty, resourceful, delightful woman who you would love to go travelling with (especially since you could end each adventure with a delicious slice of chocolate cake). We all love Evelyn so much (except those that don’t and who cares what they think?) and that’s why they keep breaking our heart with her tragedies; first with her devastating reaction to losing Jem and Cassie, then all the business with her dodgy heart, then her leaving the Doctor for another man and finally her choke-back-the-tears heart attack in Death in the Family. I am very pleased to see Jonny Morris harking back to her more enjoyable days in the TARDIS, a time when she jumped on police launches, pretended to be gangsters and got taken over by alien what-nots! The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is a firm reminder of how much fun this character can be, I didn’t need to be reminded but I’m sure glad we were!
One day, she muses, she’ll be too old for this sort of thing. Finally Evelyn is given a reason that the Doctor wore his hideous coat (‘apart from fashion, you mean?’). She is reluctant to be sent on the inside of a criminal gang because she hardly looks like a gangster! She thinks on her feet and tries to pretend that her wiretap is a hearing aid! Its brilliant how she turns on the helpless old woman act when she needs to (‘There’s a man after me! He’s trying to mug me!’). The Symbios might control her mind but they could never make her pull the trigger on the Doctor. Just this once she wants to remain in blissful ignorance of everything that has been happening! I have always wondered what it would be like to have a younger man travelling with husband-and-wife team the sixth Doctor and Evelyn, despites Brewster’s roguish behaviour I think they will make a nice family unit.
Chirpy Copper: I know you shouldn’t always give the fans everything they want but Colin Baker and Anna Hope have such gorgeous chemistry it would be the most natural conclusion for the Doctor to ask her travel with him after Evelyn, Charley and all the others have left him. Menzies is delighted to see the Doctor again and uses Botox as the reason that he may look younger to her colleagues whereas she knows this is an earlier version of him. She says ‘that’s definitely my Doctor’ which made me go ‘awww’ (soppy get). She often tries to forget about the insanity that is her life and has a truly crap (but very funny) reaction to the Doctor saying ‘I am a Time Lord!’ Menzies likes the TARDIS but asks where the chairs are (Thank you! Finally somebody has noticed how bare that eighties console room is!). She also comments that it is not exactly fascinating watching the Doctor press buttons and claims she understands all the rules because she has rented out The Time Travellers Wife. Menzies deserves full respect for pretending to be the Doctor (having regenerated into a woman!) with her companion Norman! Admits that if she is going to die she would like it to be on the Earth.
Artless Dodger: It makes perfect sense that Jonny Morris should be the one to bring his creation back and the charming, if a little brusque and violent Thomas Brewster makes a very welcome addition to the TARDIS team. He is pretending to be an East End gangster called ‘the Doctor’ (the young whippersnapper!) to make ends meet. He’s an old friend of the Doctor’s; they have history (like it). Has Brewster developed a conscience, helping out Symbios out of the good of his heart, following in the Doctor’s footsteps? Less of an artful dodger, says the Doctor, more of an artless dodger! You can take the boy out of the Victorian age… He’s pretending to be the Doctor because if the Locus knew who he really was they wouldn’t trust him. Thomas admits that if he really were the Doctor he would never choose our Doctor as his companion! He thought the idea of the Doctor becoming a woman was a bit dodgy but he went along with it. Connie was the love of his life and she had a terrible accident where she had to be euthanised. The Doctor thinks he wants to travel back in time to save her but he really just wants to go back to his time. Brewster is no good in the future; he wants to go back where he will fit in. Once and cut throat always a cutthroat, Brewster hijacks the TARDIS at the end and orders the Doctor to take him home at gunpoint (you can just hear Colin Baker ranting in the next story already, can’t you?’).
Foreboding: Evelyn said in A Death in the Family ‘that poor Brewster boy’ – are we heading for more heartache? And we never discover who created the Terrovore but I wouldn’t be surprised if the monster in the title of the next story had something to do with it.
Standout Performance: Tough one because this is a very good cast. My money goes to Anna Hope who seems to be having a whale of a time as Menzies one step ahead of the Doctor – her scenes glitter with great lines and funny moments. Helen Goldwyn’s recognisable tones provide a very memorable and funny voice for the Terrovore.
Sparkling Dialogue: Some very funny gags courtesy of Morris but unfortunately I don’t have room to recite them all so my favourites were…
‘The visual over stimulation has rendered it temporarily unconscious!’ ‘Not the first time your coat’s had that effect!’
‘Billy and Terry Dalek! The Dalek brothers!’
‘Without it it has no independent initiative’ ‘I know some people who are like that with their I Phones!’
‘He doesn’t know who I am and he doesn’t know who I know who he is!’
‘You sent them to an alien planet…by Tube?’
‘I’m quite a way out of town’ ‘What? Like zone four?’
‘If we dropped a nuclear bomb on them I’d expect to see them buzzing out of the mushroom cloud!’
Great Ideas: We open the story with giant robot mosquitoes! A new gang has started up in London run by ‘the Doctor’. Is the Doctor one of his future selves? The Terrovore have the ability to turn people into diamonds. Brewster has smashed a hole in the fabric of the universe, creating a temporal bridge between the Earth and Symbios. With trees like bones, roots like veins, the ground pulsating, the smell of bile and rives of blood it doesn’t take Evelyn long to realise Symbios is one huge organism. A planet of symbiants, different organisms working together to act as one. The Terrovore are created by…Neville Perkins (poor Mr Chakrabatti down the hall!) on behalf of some unknown force. Brewster still has his time machine. So long as the Locus survives there is no death on Symbios. The Terrovore escape through the underground and start attacking London! Without the swarm the Queen can’t survive and vice versa and the Doctor cuts them off and they both shut down. The government hushes up this latest threat to the Earth as ‘Japanese toy robot terror!’
Audio Landscape: Nick Briggs has always been a fantastic director but his work over the last two years has been extraordinary, really immersing the audience in the story and feeling as if these events are going on all around you. He pulls off a hugely exciting James Bond-esque opening sequence with mosquitoes screaming, the waters of the Thames beckoning, a police launch coughing to life and growling along the Thames, helicopter blades and a huge explosion! We get to hear the mad bustle in Thames house, ringing phones, water dripping in Brewster’s warehouse, smashing glass, guns cocking, police sirens, train tracks, ‘MIND THE GAP’ on an alien world, bubbling blood, flies circling around Neville’s corpse, clashing steel, rats screeching, Menzies crappy ring tone (‘What on Earth is that?’), bullets ricocheting and a helicopter blowing up. A superbly directed audio, Howard Carter’s sound effects are extremely vivid.
Musical Cues: A phenomenal score courtesy of Howard Carter, dramatic, bombastic and really giving the already fast paced story some real lift. The 12 minutes musical suite extra is my favourite so far.
Standout Moment: It would have to be a cross between the high octane opening sequence, Menzies playing the Doctor and the Doctor turning his back on the Earth. Great moments all.
Result: A rollicking adventure full of energy and pizzazz. Lately the main range has been nothing but death and misery and angst…what joy to finally have some fun! From its breathless opening, through its gigglesome ‘have we met yet?’ antics, London transport shot onto an alien world (like Planet of the Dead but far superior) and an intriguing moral dilemma at the climax, this is a colourful and dynamic story. Jonny Morris assembles some of the most popular Big Finish characters to join the party and it is genuinely gleeful to have Evelyn, Brewster and Menzies back in action. Add some polished post production work, a robust musical score and more funny lines than my underwear could handle, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is a healthy reminder that Doctor Who can be a purely pleasurable experience: 8/10
The Demons of Red Lodge and Other stories written by Jason Arnopp, Rick Briggs, William Gallagher and John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley
An English Gentleman: Having not yet reached circular Time, the first of the four anthology stories it was very interesting to listen to four different authors take on the quietest of incarnations. Each bring something different to the character, Arnopp allows us to hear him genuinely frightened in an unforgettable opening sequence, Briggs offers a shy and thoughtful version who takes Nyssa to Concordum because she is missing her father, Gallagher writes him with real gusto giving him an awesome Shawshank Redemption moment were he becomes the prisoners hero and finally Dorney who captures Davison’s effortless ability to dramatasise exposition whilst digging ever so brilliantly at his DVD commentaries in the Doctor Who range. The Demons of Red Lodge and other stories really brings the fifth Doctor to life, if you (like me) used to think this was the blandest of incarnations this is a great example of what Big Finish have done with the character. In the first story the Doctor is genuinely afraid but this is proven to be artificially induced. He admits that it is always his fault. Gratitude through the death of others soon chews through the soul. If he would only take the time to explain what he was doing people would attack him far less! On the first morning the Doctor spends in prison he manages to organise the library according to the dewy system, improve the nutritional value of the food, set up night classes, allow 18 prisoners to get out on parole because of his counselling, start a 20/20 cricket tournament and write the F-wing pantomime! People listen to him, they like him, he has the common touch that allows him to gain peoples confidence. He refuses the Governors job offer and winds up in solitary for 6 months! A year is the blink of an eye to a Time Lord. He leaves prison with the reputation of the notorious criminal Doctor John Smith! It turns out he was the historical adviser on the Devil Whisperer and cheekily arranged for Nyssa to act in the film in 1976. Its hilarious how quiet the Doctor is in the commentary since Davison himself is the most verbose in his (in fact Davison’s comments are often the most insightful and hilarious). Nobody can remember him being hired but he admits himself that he is very cheap!
Alien Orphan: However if you think Big Finish has done wonders with the fifth Doctor wait until you see how well they have bolstered Nyssa! Sarah Sutton really is getting opportunities on audio that she never did on TV and its great that even though they have re-introduced attention seeking Tegan and shameless scene stealer Turlough (on TV he managed it just be looking shifty, somehow your eyes always drew to him) its wonderful that we will still be treated to stories with just the fifth Doctor and Nyssa. We have never heard Nyssa as panic-stricken as she is at the beginning of Red Lodge and Sarah Sutton subtly changes the emphasis on her characterisation throughout to a jumpy, twitchy young lady who is completely at odds with her situation. She asks the Doctor if they really have to explore everywhere they arrive unintended. I loved that scene where she has had enough of being afraid and throws aside the curtain to see what is banging on the window. Sunrise and sunset are her favourite times of the day and she used to sit with her father in the Grove and watch the sun, happy. Now Nyssa has a new home in the TARDIS. She has good memories of Tremas and she hasn’t had happy memories like that in a long time. The Doctor takes Nyssa to Concordum so she can listen to a piece of Trakenite music that her father used to play to her stepmother when she was feeling low. Nyssa the groupie almost made me spit my coffee out (‘Right, doll?’). It’s nice to see that her manners haven’t been lost with her morals! The Doctor thinks she is magnificent. Unfortunately (and hilariously) Nyssa does not make a very good criminal and is completely rubbish at trying to get herself banged up! Of all the warehouses she could have chosen to steal from Nyssa chooses the only one on the planet that is empty! Nyssa Trayken only did one film and then went back to her hometown of TARDIS but she is a good little actress (she does it all with her face you know!). Clearly Nyssa loves playing a little bit of melodrama as she really goes for it in the film!
The Demons of Red Lodge written by Jason Arnopp
What’s it about: A long, dark night in 17th century Suffolk for the TARDIS travellers – when they find something nasty outside the woodshed.
Great ideas: I love the opening sequence of the Doctor and Nyssa waking up in a dark, unknown place. There is a noose hanging from the tree outside of the cabin. Ivy was never a twin but the original creature modelling itself on her. There are duplicates of Nyssa and the Doctor. The Earths new human race will be genderless and statistically optimised. The image of the Doctor and Nyssa sitting to watch a sunset is a lovely one, a little pause of reflection amongst the rest of the madness!
Audio Landscape: Logs falling, trees swaying, a crackling fire, creepy banging on the window, water rushing by, the Doctor jumps into the water and wades through, sucking sounds of the creatures taking somebody’s identity, birdsong.
Musical Cues: You’ve got a dramatic mixture of drums and piano creating a very dramatic and exciting score and managing to create a genuine sense of unease. I don’t want to suggest this in a boring fashion but the music is always good for Big Finish releases these days!
Result: It starts and ends very well allowing us to see the Doctor and Nyssa at their most panic stricken and their most relaxed respectively but everything in between is pure horror movie and sci-fi cliché with nothing terribly original added. The ideas let this episode down, I still don’t get how have 0.00001% of the Doctor’s heart defeated these aliens! Atmospheric but empty: 4/10
The Entropy Composition written by Rick Briggs
What’s it about: A lost prog rock symphony is unearthed from the vaults – with catastrophic consequences for the entire cosmos.
Great Ideas: Concordum is the repository for the most heavenly music going back to the dawn of time, an MP3 player on a planetary scale (that idea was probably enough for Briggs to win the competition – what an awesome concept!). There is a piece of music that is destroying all other harmonies, a sound that can strip flesh from bones. I loved the observation that the rich love their privacy and their isolation. Quantum sounds rage at the roar of the universe’s birth before it was silenced by nuclear synthesis – the music of the spheres. It is the sound of creation itself. Entropy sirens can’t live in our reality since the first stars formed. Without chaos to feed on she would die so she found Geoff Cooper and became his muse, directed him to compose White Waves, Soft Haze and infiltrate a copy into Concordum’s vaults. The Doctor broadcasts the horrid racket to the whole of Concordum and the two waves of destructive sound cancel each other out. I really liked the point that was made that what is important is listening to music, not cataloguing it.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is that a vegetable you’re wearing?’
‘Sorry I can’t hear you through the cheese!’
‘So much silence to fill!’
Audio Landscape: It kicks off with an insane chord of rock and a dying scream and merges with the TARDIS landing, bubbling pots and pans and chopping vegetables, crunchy gravel, swaying trees, Mrs M being torn apart by music and laughter, the house breaking up, glass smashing, the Doctor’s threats over the PA, the stretched scream.
Result: Much better, the brilliant concept of a burst of music that can kill is used to great effect in this imaginative piece. It hops location with panache, first showing us where the music ended up and then where it came from, the dialogue has some real punch to it (I love the cheese) and I would suggest this freshman is given a chance to write a longer piece of drama given this unusual exploration of the medium: 8/10
Doing Time written by William Gallagher
What’s it about: On the planet Folly, justice catches up with criminal mastermind 'The Doctor' – but can he endure a year in the jug?
Great Ideas: I loved the faux Porridge opening. The Doctor is in Folly prison attempting to warn the Governor of an explosion that will take place in six months time. Personal time is slowed down in the force field around the prison and so what feels like a minute takes a week off your life. Thanks to the Doctor the Governor changes that to a year! She believes the Doctor’s story of an explosion and wants it to be her Election Day stunt, a disaster that will see her battling on regardless. The Doctor has inadvertently caused the explosion, Jabreth Starship engines use elliptical warp drive technology and in a time field the engines will go into spasm…boom! The Governor has timed it just right that the Jabreft’s will come and pick up their son on her election day and thus ensure her victory! Ugh, Jabreth throwing up his contraband is really nasty! The Doctor has a year to escape from prison and manages to put the Governor in her own little temporal prison whilst setting all the prisoners free!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When did you grow that beard?’
Audio Landscape: Clanging doors and walkways of prison, Jabreth talks as though he is throwing up, the singing in the next cell, the meeting room, ‘oh when the saints go marching in’ slowed right down, the time field.
Musical Cues: My favourite score of the anthology, kicking off with a mournful harmonica and then becoming very spunky as Nyssa tries to get herself arrested and exciting as the story comes to head and the ship threatens to explode in the sky.
Result: Huge fun, Doing Time is a really tight script packed with some very funny moments. If there was proof that you can tell an exciting, satisfying story within one 30 minute episode I would hold this episode up as a very nice example. The Doctor as the prisoners hero is worth the admission price alone but this story gets even more bonus points for Nyssa’s rubbish attempts to get arrested: 9/10
Special Features written by John Dorney
What’s it about: At last, the cult 1970s horror anthology Doctor Demonic's Tales of Terror is set for release on DVD, complete with a commentary from director Martin Ashcroft, leading actors Sir Jack Merrivale and Johanna Bourke, plus the film's historical adviser – the mysterious 'Dr John Smith'!
Great Ideas: The concept of telling the entire story through a DVD commentary is inspired and the ridiculous comments the contributors make in the first five minutes really reminds me of the lesser Doctor Who DVD extras (‘Lovely man’ ‘Oh yes’). I loved the Doctor trying to tell the story of the myth with Joanna cutting in with ‘oh there’s me!’ (it beautifully pre-empts the twist about her later in a very subtle way). Just because it’s a horror movie people start bandying the word curse! The director is breathlessly enthusiastic, guiding the commentary, toadying up to the actors! I loved Merrivale; he’s so cynical and bored by everybody else’s dull comments! They comment that the plot doesn’t actually make any sense. Nyssa stumbled into the wrong office in a very Katy Manning-esque way and that’s how she got the part. One of the three commentators killed Jerome so they could do the commentary instead as they only had the budget for three. In the 1800s, in 1976 on the film set and now here, a mind parasite from another dimension is bringing its plans to fruition. An energy being, more of a concept, sending out seeding devices through space for somewhere to fertilise. Some poor unfortunate finds the device and touches it and it plants a seed in their mind, a lone embryonic Rast, growing, enveloping and devouring the hosts mind, eating it away, gaining strength and becoming one. Then it births new Rasts in new minds. The creature killed everyone that got in its way; it couldn’t have anyone changing things before filming began. The footage and the device were both destroyed by the Doctor but the final scene, which was shot first had footage of the control device and if you say the control phrase over that final scene you can control anyone who listens to the commentary. Jerome (‘Quite the ladies man’) was seduced by Joanna, making sure the script was written and the props were included and saying the words herself to ensure she would succeed. Alas that crafty Doctor has cobbled together his own version of the film for the commentary where he replaced the Rasts pictograms with his own! No I can’t quite believe one half hour piece featured quite so many wonderful ideas and twists and turns either – this is more than I write for some main range full-length stories!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Not the best dialogue in the world, fairly functional.’
‘Its not me!’ ‘Or me! I’ve got a BAFTA!’
‘I mean would anybody talk such inane nonsense all the time?’ ‘Not heard many DVD commentaries, have you?’
‘Do you know what this means Martin? I think we’re going to have to do it all again…’
Audio Landscape: Praise should be lavished on everyone involved for going the extra mile and recording a half an hour ‘film’ for the commentary to be placed over. There is a werewolf growling and howling and tearing a man to pieces, manic laughter, a clucking chicken, birdsong and a fire crackling. There was probably much more going on in the actual film itself but I was so absorbed in the plot I never noticed!
Musical Cues: I love how the horror film gives the musician the excuse to really go for a melodramatic score, its full of crashing drums, over stated stings and insane moments of nightmarish shock.
Result: Breaking through the audio version of the fourth wall (the sound booth?), this is an inspired piece of aural storytelling, which manages to tell a spooky story with lots of laughs and some great observations on the paucity of DVD commentaries. Going into this story I wasn’t sure how the writer would pull this off but it defied my expectations and then some and highlights John Dorney as the latest unique voice in Big Finish’s range. Exceptionally good and the highlight of the anthology: 10/10
Standout Performance: Sarah Sutton, for her brilliant turn as terrified Nyssa, groupie Nyssa, criminal Nyssa and actress Nyssa!
Standout Scene: The big reveal in Special Features where I suddenly realised not only would this insane approach to storytelling work but that it would work brilliantly.
Overall Result: It’s a shame that the first episode lets the overall anthology down but the subsequent episodes just get better and better. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the single episode stories but Red Lodge found some very interesting ways to inject all those qualities I expect in longer stories (pace, a well thought through plot, character moments) into condensed tales. A great Christmas release: 8/10
Buy it direct from Big Finish here.
Buy it direct from Big Finish here.
Relative Dimensions written by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards
Once upon a time for over 40 years Doctor Who ignored Christmas. With the appointment of Russell T Davies and Gary Russell to the head of their respective ranges suddenly the festive season became a Doctor Who event. From Jackie Tyler running away from homicidal Christmas trees, Catherine Tate ducking blasts from a deadly north star, Kylie Minogue waitressing on a Titanic in space, David Morrissey is the Doctor, David Tennant regenerating, Michael Gambon as Scrooge…it has become a cornucopia of big name guest stars and yuletide madness! Big Finish has enjoyed its own Christmas delights; Colin Baker being eaten by a horrible great jelly, Sylvester McCoy being mesmerised by the pits of Angvia…and just recently we lost Lucie Miller in a devastating Christmas episode, which traded laughs for tears. Now Lucie’s back and the Doctor has invited Susan and his grandson Alex to Christmas aboard the TARDIS. As Lucie says…what could possibly go wrong?
Marc Platt seems the perfect choice to write a Christmas episode, his stories are always rich and fruity with an air of importance and often capture the crackling fire (Ghost Light), snowy wastes (Frozen Time, Frostfire) feel of a good Christmas. With Relative Dimensions he gets to throw off the shackles of literate storytelling and gets to enjoy the spirit of a good family Christmas.
There’s something truly heart-warming about the Doctor trying to trying to throw the perfect Christmas and the usual dangers and monsters standing in the way. Relative Dimensions has a lot to say about his character and with Susan around it parallels that even though he may have changed many times since she last travelled with him, he is still irresponsible and likes to get his own way! He’s dipping into his UNIT salary to buy his gifts and wants to make up to Lucie for spoiling her last Christmas. I loved his burgeoning rapport with Alex, its clear that Paul and Jake McGann were enjoying the chance to work together again and they are initially shy around each other, feeling their way into their relationship. The Doctor tells an awesome dinnertime tale about taking Leonard da Vinci to the first Christmas and there is a feeling that he loves spending some time with his family. My favourite moment in the story comes when Lucie and Susan stumble on the ring of bedrooms belonging his old companions and he admits that there isn’t much that is permanent in his life and he needs to hold on to what he can. It’s a lovely melancholic side to his character that we rarely get to see when he is battling monsters and saving the day and Paul McGann seizes the opportunity. This is probably the closest we have seen to the Doctor wearing his hearts on his sleeve and it’s a touching peek at his real feelings.
It’s hard to believe that Lucie has only just returned to the series because I cannot imagine any other companion cooking Christmas dinner for the eighth Doctor and his family. Whilst Tamsin had just started to grow on me she wouldn’t have been appropriate for a story that sees the Doctor gathering his loved ones together. Talking with Susan is almost therapy for her and she realises that she does still love the Doctor despite the fact that he can be a plonker! The story ends with Lucie once again leaving the Doctor. Season four of the Eighth Doctor Adventures has completely made up the rules as far as the Doctor’s companion is concerned. First Lucie leaves in the first episode of the season, then we have an amusing Apprentice style episode where the least likely candidate is chosen, then its Companion Swap as the Doctor and the Monk swap Tamsin and Lucie respectively…and now the ongoing story twists again as Lucie decides to backpack around the world with the Doctor’s great-grandson. Its magnificent how this season keeps confounding our expectations and makes perfect sense that Lucie would choose to see the world with a Doctor in the making and help heal the wounds left by the news about Auntie Pat. I just hope she isn’t away too long, she is made for the eighth Doctor and the joyous scene of them putting the decs up reminds us of what we have been missing.
Continuing the superb character work Platt seems to relish bringing Susan and Alex on board the TARDIS and opening old wounds. As soon as she walks into the TARDIS it is clear that Susan has missed the TARDIS and she is furious that the Doctor should go to such lengths to try and lure her and her son into his lifestyle considering he threw her out in the first place. I have never been a huge fan of Carole Ann Ford but she is superb as Susan here, relishing the chance to pilot the TARDIS and tell her Grandfather a few home truths. You can hear how much she still respects and loves him though and how happy she was to get the invitation. I was very impressed by young Jake McGann who, despite sounding like he belonged on Eastenders at times, managed to develop his character from petulant great grandson whose life is always being planned for him to excited explorer knowing the TARDIS will one day be his inheritance.
So with all this sparkling character work taking place is there any room for a plot? Not really, but that’s not why we’re here. What little plot that there is concerns an 8-foot temporal dimensional fish with fearsome spines and quills. Platt throws in some whacky ideas like echoes of the future haunting the present and the Doctor’s brilliantly insane plan to get the past and future fish to cancel each other out but really this is all window dressing, a danger so we can see the four of them working together.
Barnaby Edwards is one of the unsung heroes of Doctor Who and he has directed some of my all time favourite stories. He sprinkles a touch of magic over this piece and really imbues it with the spirit of Christmas. From the gorgeous choral opening and chants of ‘Happy New Year’ in the January sales, to the bubbling veggies, a crackling fire and lovely crunchy snow, you can practically embrace the warmth of this story. The music is very emotive throughout and there are some well-chosen carols to accompany scenes of family fun. As superfluous as those moments are, the fish attacks are very well directed, the sound of tapping metal, fizzing and bubbling warning you of its advance. Big Finish stories feel remarkably polished these days but I was completely enveloped in the ambience of Relative Dimensions. I’m a sucker for Christmas! Oh and a little mention for the fantastic cover, I love the flying sprouts and roasties!
Marc Platt deserves kudos for tackling what could have been a potentially horrific faux Eastenders script and making it something special that develops its characters and creates an emotional atmosphere. He hasn’t lost the touch for magical lines either; the Doctor describes the January sales as ‘like going to war!’ and Lucie comments (almost presciently) ‘everywhere you turn its always Daleks smashing things up!’ and most brilliantly of all during a family crisis Ms Miller comments, ‘Doze in front of the Time-Space Visualiser or whatever you Time Lords do!’ What I will really remember this story for though is bringing Susan home and reminding us why we love the Doctor so much. Well done, Mr Platt.
Relative Dimensions is the perfect Christmas treat, a slap up dinner, lots of presents, bickering, tall tales and real sense of family. Oh and a giant pan dimensional space fish as well. A wonderful story and my favourite of the season so far.
Buy it direct from Big Finish here.
Buy it direct from Big Finish here.
Meglos – DVD review
“First things first – but not necessarily in that order.” It’s about time! No, really, it’s about time. In so many different ways! Witness that this isn’t the first time the Doctor’s been to Tigella, as he and Zastor separately feed us parts of that previous encounter. It’s a story we’ve never seen, but in a handful of lines it handily gives us a back-story to the adventure and why exactly Zastor would call upon the errant Time Lord for help. There’s the obvious use of time within the story too, in the chronic hysteresis that our Time Lord heroes are trapped in for most of the first episode. Yet, there’s also a sense of time running out both for the people of Tigella, Meglos, and the patience of General Grugger (he even kicks K9, the brute!).
The planet Tigella is one of those oh so familiar planets we’ve come across both before and since, this one having warring scientific and religious peoples (hmmm....sounds familiar....) that is obvious from the start. Is the dodecahedron a scientific instrument, a religious totem, or both? “So much for science” state the Deons (the religious ones) as their opening volley. Then they bicker – a lot. Yet, while it could become all too tedious (and no doubt there are many that would take this view) it very quickly builds a society not a million miles away from our own, with the same conflicts, doubts and superstitions. The set-up doesn’t remain entertaining throughout, but it starts well even if it loses its way somewhat later on. The fact that it can hold our interest is due in no small part to Jacqueline Hill who as Lexa is a world away from Barbara, all religious fanaticism and scientific ridicule.
The first couple of episodes tick along nicely, which some lovely directional touches from Terence Dudley (who it seems was a far better director than a writer for Who).The story has two great cliff-hangers in parts 1 and 3, the first being especially memorable – “We musn’t disappoint the Tigellans...” The performances are strong throughout, with Bill Fraser leading his crew of Gaztaks with a ruthless streak though a hint of a more intelligent than the usual ‘thug for hire’. Frederick Treves also seems to be having a lot of fun as his lieutenant, and his continued desire to possess Meglos’ ‘Doctor coat’ are amusing. Edward Underdown as Zastor brings a quiet dignity to the role and his scenes with both Hill and Baker are well played throughout.
As for the man himself....Tom Baker seems to be having a great time playing the Doctor and Meglos, giving just the right change of tone and look to convince as both Time Lord and villain. On being asked (as Meglos) to swear allegiance to Tigh, there is just the right amount of pause before he says with a smile, “I’ll swear allegiance to Tigh with great pleasure!” As the Doctor too he has his fair share of well written lines, a particular favourite being, “Let’s hope that many hands make the lights work.” I’m a stickler for a pun.
However, that’s not to brush its flaws under the carpet, for there are many. For a start, the religious versus scientific argument is an old one, and while entertaining for a time, it’s hardly a new or innovative idea. Meglos’s plan makes little or no sense – why does he need an Earthling to begin with? Why not kidnap a nearby Tigellan or even use one of the Gaztaks to take a body print? Not only that, but if he can copy the Doctor’s form without him physically being there, why can he not do the same for the human? It’s a sad state of affairs that all he wants the dodecahedron for is to destroy worlds – many have come before and tried, yet all have failed. The plan to gain the power of quite an ingenious one, but what he wants it for is rather uninspired considering this is a villain who can use a time loop to trap the Doctor. He doesn’t even want the Doctor’s TARDIS as a prize! What kind of evil cactus is he?
In addition, one of the things that I really didn’t understand was how exactly Meglos could take the coat off and give it away, since it was part of him when he transformed. It’s like giving away a limb or an organ without any thought and not being bothered to want it back! That said, maybe it was the equivalent of a mole he wanted rid of, so maybe he’s not too fussed after all.
As much as I like the idea of the time loop trap, how was it that sometimes the loop was longer? Sometimes they’d have time to chat, other times not. Dramatic license it may be, but it’s a nagging little inconsistency.
Worst of all though was Romana. Not Lalla Ward herself, who is splendid as ever, but rather the lack of anything for her to do. After part one Romana seems to little other than wander around the jungle with K9, running away from Gaztaks and trying not to get killed by plants. Not only that, but then it’s due to her that Lexa dies in a such a pointless way, the Priestess saving her from being killed by someone we’ve never really met. It just shows that some writers did understand and embrace the role of companion, while others didn’t or were unsure exactly what they were for. In this case it’s a real shame.
K9 doesn’t come off well either, and I’m hard-pressed to think of what he actually did in the story save from being repaired, running out of power and being kicked. I think he shot something, but that may have been a step too far in the action stakes, so perhaps I dreamt it.
Not a lot really happens in Meglos, but it’s down to the credit of the actors and the direction (not to mention the rather wonderful score) that for most of the time you don’t notice. It’s been said that this story is more of a throwback to Season 17, and coming as it does after the shiny ‘Look at me, look at me’ reboot that was The Leisure Hive, there is certainly some truth here. That said, it’s not a negative thing, rather just that the series had already moved on, and this story feels a little ‘last year’. It’s pleasant enough, and passes an hour and a half entertainingly, just don’t over think it too much.
And it does have a rather wonderful description of what the Doctor does: “He sees the threads that join the universe together and mends them when they break.”
Now, how do I end this? Oh that’s easy, just waggle his tail...
The two most notable extras this time round are Meglos Men and the Jacqueline Hill tribute A Life in Pictures.
Meglos Men is an agreeable enough wander around the old haunts of writers Andrew McCulloch and John Flanagan as they talk of their time writing Meglos. Making a special guest appearance is Christopher H Bidmead, who rather surprisingly is quite complimentary about Meglos (politeness? Who can be sure?). It doesn’t offer anything new, but is a nice little diversion from the usual talking heads style approach to this kind of thing.
Jacqueline Hill – A Life in Pictures is a rather poignant and interesting look back on the life on the one-time Barbara, and it is definitely a documentary that has been put together with love – both on the behalf of the Guerrier brothers (who put it together) and Hill’s husband Alvin Rakoff. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the most loved companions, and in brief clips from elsewhere shows just how an actress Hill really was, a fact often forgotten when only considering her (undeniably splendid) work as Barbara.
If science behind the fiction is your bag, then Entropy Explained gives some insight into the reality behind the theme of the season, while The Scene Sync Story is a brief look at the new technique that was used in Meglos to mixed effect. Outmoded it may now be, but at the time it looked a huge step up from the ropey CSO effects of the 70s. Sadly even this now looks dated, but it’s interesting to take a look back into history.
Overall rating: 7/10
Buy it from Play.com here.
Quinnus by Marc Platt
Susan visits the grave of her husband and recounts to him the tale of how she and the Doctor became involved on the affairs of the planet Quinnis in the Fourth Dimension...
The framing device itself is a rather wonderful element of storytelling, and throughout the Companion Chronicles it is interesting just how many different ways there have been of using this to tell the story. Some are from the ‘present’, the companion narrating the story as if it had just happened (witness The Suffering); it has been dispensed with altogether (Solitaire); or on this occasion and many like it, it is an older version of the companion looking back nostalgically. Few though have had a ‘life’ outside the confines of the Companion Chronicles series, which is no bad thing in itself. However Susan is one such character who has recently seen her own life brought back into focus in the Eighth Doctor adventures, first visited by him in An Earthly Child – where we meet her own son – and also in this month’s Relative Dimensions where both she and that son (Alex) are reunited with the Doctor. This tale is placed – at least in the context of the framing device – between the two adventures, Susan worried about her Alex’s upbringing in a wonderful parallel to the Doctor’s concern for his granddaughter’s own in the main body of the story.
The Susan recounting the tale is far older and wiser than the Susan than we are used to, Carole Ann Ford perfectly capturing the grown woman she has now become; a woman now imbued with responsibilities a world away from the carefree time of her TARDIS days, grounded on one planet as she was when first met her, though harbouring no resentment for the grandfather who left her in this situation. She acknowledges that it was the right thing for him to do, and has had stability ever since as a result of these actions – a stability she seeks for her own son.
From the outset it is clear that this Companion Chronicle has a lot to prove, being the only one (thus far) set prior to the events of the television series. One would hope that such a story would expand upon the relationship between the Doctor and Susan, perhaps even giving some indication how and why the TARDIS ended up in a junkyard in November 1963...
The adventure itself is at once in keeping with those early stories in that, paradoxically, it is unique. The lack of any one path for the show to take meant that anything was admissible in those early years, and in that respect that world of Quinnis is no exception. Quinnis is a world that is superficially like our own in many ways, though at once a thoroughly believable alien world. Marc Platt’s description is particularly evocative, with beautifully crafted phrases such as the depiction of the sun as “a white punch-hole in a sky the colour of copper.” There’s classic Doctor Who initial mistrust of our leads as the untrusting locals eye them warily, and a lovely lightness of touch as they are soon won over by Turkish Delight and happy to oblige. The music conjures up something of the exotic reminiscent of Africa, and the sound-scape of the marketplace is wonderfully suggestive. This, coupled with Carole Ann Ford’s narration, give a very definite sense of place, something which is continued when the vastness of the landscape is revealed. There’s something epic about the nature of Bridgetown which is far better conveyed on audio than it could have been on television; streets as bridges criss-crossed each other, while down below...
There a palpable sense of dread in the air throughout the story. From the Doctor’s off-hand remark about rain that gets his and Susan’s fate inextricably linked with the townspeople’s to the fear that the figure of the bird-like Shrazer instils in the populace, to the arrival of the play’s supporting figure, Meedla. Tara-Louise Kaye (Carole Ann Ford’s real life daughter trivia fans!) makes a very memorable and sinister first impressive as a girl who certainly seems to be hiding something. To say what would reveal too much, but the music that accompanies her has the sinister air of television stories like Platt’s own Ghost Light, and shares with that the idea that things are not as they first appear. Ultimately this is Susan’s undoing, and where accusations of stupidity could be labelled at another companion, here it is Susan’s naivety that is to blame for the unravelling of events.
Both regulars fare very well here (as one as come to expect from a Platt script): the First Doctor is captured perfectly as the inquisitive explorer, immediately asking the way to a library and wanting to meet other ‘men of science’. As mentioned earlier, it is his characteristic carelessness that involves the two of them in the affairs of Bridgetown, but also his scientific knowledge that wins out in the end. Susan is given a far larger role than on television which is apt considering she is the sole companion and because it is very much Carole Ann Ford’s show.
Carole Ann Ford’s performances are rather wonderful, not least since she is playing two very contrasting versions of the same character: the older grounded Susan who is a mother and a widow, and the more carefree naive version that we know from her television portrayal. What is remarkable is how well Ford captures the younger Susan, and as events begin to take a turn for the worse it is to her credit that the sense of urgency and dismay that the character is feeling never once remind you that everything will be alright because we know it to be. The fear that Susan has that they will be forever trapped in this place is very real, and it’s a testament to Ford’s performance, Platt’s writing and unsung hero Lisa Bowerman’s direction that we believe that the worst could come to pass.
Ford’s Doctor is well captured too, an improvement on her last take on the character in Here There Be Monsters. Here, the Doctor seems gentler, more compassionate and Ford gives just the right edge to him so that we know he is still the same Doctor we later see for the first time at Totter’s Lane.
There is a great deal to love about this release: Platt’s remarkable writing; strong performances from both Carole Ann Ford and Tara-Louise Kaye; beautiful sound design and music and, by no means least, Lisa Bowerman’s quietly masterful direction of it all.As the First Doctor would say, “Sheer poetry, dear boy!”
Peri and the Piscon Paradox by Nev Fountain
Peri and the Piscon Paradox by Nev Fountain
Or ‘Peri and the Perplexing Perspective Predicament’. Not that my facetious attempt at another alliterative title is in any way a measure of any negativity relating to this latest Companion Chronicle, rather the dizzying but extremely satisfying efforts of Nev Fountain to tell a tale in his own unique style. Unique it most certainly is, and in the best way possible.
However, be warned – this way spoilers lay....look SPOILERS! If you’ve not heard it yet go away, listen, then come back and read this review, because while I’ll try my best not to give everything away, it’s inevitable that something will come out if only because I won’t be able to contain the wealth of ingenuity on display and end up blurting it out by accident. Needless to say you need to hear this CD. Go, buy it now! If you really need to know what I thought before you buy, skip ahead to the end and check out the rating. Or at least, know this – it’s very very good.
Right, you’ve been warned.....
Perspective, that word again. Primarily, PatPP (I’m calling it that for shorthand – curse you Fountain for using that title!) is concerned with perspective. Not just Peri’s either, but...well let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Peri we know and love is travelling with that cricket-loving incarnation we know as the Fifth, when she finds herself back on Earth in the year 2009. Setting out to take advantage of the mall, it’s not long before she’s embroiled in another perilous plot to take over the populace. Or so it seems at first...and then she meets her older self and things begin to get a little bit complicated...
Perpugilliam Brown is a secret agent. Working for a “quasi-Government agency which investigates alien insurgents hostile to the homeland.” She can’t believe her younger self looks so ‘perky’ and she likes a little something extra in her coffee. Yet she’s hiding something. Several somethings in fact. All is not at it seems...
The story itself is wrapped up in disc one. Well, sort of. Ok, not really. Ok, not at all! There is the possibility that you could listen to disc one on its own and leave quite contented, but you won’t. There’s too much of a preposterous puzzle for Perpugilliam to solve! Listening to disc 2 is not only required, but it enhances as well as building on the first half of the story. Here we see the same events through different eyes. Well, technically the same eyes, but older ones. Some very subtle seeds have already been sown, and they bear magnificent fruit here. Some of this is overtly comic, such as the appearance of the Sixth Doctor himself with Colin Baker in a dual role that means you’re going to have to go back and listen to part one all over again...His performance shows both a mastery of comedic timing and also a dignified seriousness and poignancy to his scenes with the older Peri.
There are moments of drama within the story (some heartbreaking) and since this ostensibly appears to be a comedic tale they are all the more real when they occur, juxtaposed next to the light-heartedness. The tragic naturally goes hand in hand with the comic, and it’s very true of the older Peri who seems to hide her life behind such a facade. The lies that she tells her younger self may be amusing, yet they convey a deeper sadness and a longing for a life not lived. Anyone put off by the idea of this as a comedy shouldn’t be, as it’s so much more than that. It is very funny in places: the John Inman themed coffee shop; Buretor’s (apologies if I’ve spelt if wrong Mr F!) reaction to ‘Zarl’ and her ‘realisation’ of who she ‘really’ is (the inverted commas will make sense on listening, trust me); the Sixth Doctor’s meddling in his own past and just what he needs to do to put it right, which will please fans of Steven Moffat or Jonathan Morris style plotting, to which it’s equally as witty and audacious; and several more besides. It’s to Nev Fountain’s credit that the hit rate is so high and that it doesn’t undermine those moments of drama.
Yet while Nev Fountain and Colin Baker both deliver splendidly in their respective departments, it’s Nicola Bryant who rightly deserves the most praise. First of all we have two different versions of the same character, and it’s to Bryant’s credit that she manages to imbue them with enough differences so as to distinguish between them. The younger time-travelling Miss Brown is definitely the one we know from television, her voice perkier and outlook brighter than her older counterpart. The older version is clearly someone who has lived, and it’s to Bryant’s credit that you can hear it in her delivery. The futility with which she tries to warn her younger self of her impending dangers is heartbreaking, and it’s clear that it’s a very emotional moment for the character. The line, “Cute blond guys have a habit of turning into unstable violent guys real quick and they can do it right in front of your eyes,” has a tragic double meaning and Bryant delivers it perfectly. Yet it’s not only the two versions of Peri that Bryant has to content with, as she delivers a perfect take on the Fifth Doctor’s youthful enthusiasm and morality and a splendid Southern drawl as Buretor. It’s truly remarkable that for the first disc she (almost) carries the story completely solo, yet it never seems to be a one woman show.
All credit too to John Ainsworth’s direction for really bringing the best out of his (admittedly very small) cast and to Jamie Robertson for yet more fantastic sound design (something greatly overlooked on many occasions).
I could extol the virtues of this production yet more still, but I’ll stop for fear of looking like a sycophant. Go listen to it, then listen to it again. There’s so much going on that it needs to be heard more than once.
The Companion Chronicles are always strong, but if they continue on a roll like this they’ll soon eclipse their older sibling.