Monday, July 30, 2012

Big Finish - Project: Lazarus

Big Finish main range monthly release 45 - Project: Lazarus by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, directed by Gary Russell.

The Dr Smythe and the Forge arc continues. The Doctor believes he has found a cure for the Twilight virus so they return to Norway to find the young woman he and Evelyn left there at the end of the last story. But two years have passed and the good Doctors soon find themselves prisoners of the mysterious Forge organisation. And while the villain Nimrod tries to extract the secrets of regeneration from the Doctor, Evelyn is giving up some secrets of her own.

The Forge are an evil version of Torchwood, collecting and studying alien technology. They are fascinated by the legends of the Doctor and seize on the opportunity to strap him to the examination table. As the cover image shows there are two Doctors for the price of one in this story, which involves some time hopping and a face to face disagreement. There is also a twist which is a bit obvious I'm afraid.

Terrific performances all round. I was particularly impressed by Maggie Stables who has some very difficult moments to convey and does a fantastic job. I also liked Rosie Cavaliero as Cassie, and Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy are as good as ever. I had high hopes for the character of Nimrod but unfortunately he was more of a stereotypical villain in this episode, and Stephen Chance didn't get the opportunity for the philosophical clashes with the Doctor that I listen for in these dramas.

It goes without saying that the production values and sound design are great, I did find the incidental music slightly obtrusive in places but on the whole this was another cracking instalment of this developing arc. Project: Lazarus gets 3.5 out of 5 Cardigans and Cat broaches. Next up will be release 57 - Arrangements for War.

Big Finish - Short Trips

Pausing my Evelyn Smythe marathon, here are a selection of palate cleansers as it were. Short Trips are short stories from the Whoniverse which are read, or "performed", by one of the Big Finish actors as an enhanced audio-book.

The format allows the writers to tell stories about the first three Doctors who are sadly no longer with us. The actors reading the story give us impressions of their voices, as well as those of the companions, with variable results but we get the general idea.

So I listened to a number of short stories before moving on to Project: Lazarus. The Short Trips were Neptune, Lepidoptery for Beginners, The Little Drummer Boy, The Switching and Lant Land.

I originally intended to go into greater detail about each story, and the writers and actors involved but it was actually quite hard to find that information on the Big Finish site. All of these stories were bonus content released with other main range releases in my subscription. Instead let me say that these "enhanced" audio-books are not to my liking. I much prefer the full cast audio ranges which I am so addicted to at the moment. I listened to these five stories in the car and they were just like aural wallpaper to me. Once or twice the quality of the impersonation stood out and impressed me, and I wish I could name-check the actors involved, but the stories themselves just passed me by.

More impressive is another short story in my downloads basket that I may have listened to when it first came out in September 2009. Mission of the Viyrans by Nicholas Briggs and directed by Barnaby Edwards. Peri and The Fifth Doctor are having a fine time on a massive party planet but something is seriously wrong. Peri finds herself a prisoner of the mysterious Viyrans and struggling with her imprecise memories of what happened. I mention Peri first because this is a very Doctor light story. Peter Davison appears briefly but this is mainly an encounter between Peri and the Viyrans.

I was immediately much more engaged with this story and it was quite a neat one with a clever central idea. The Viyrans were created by Nick Briggs and I am tempted to chase down their other appearances in Big Finish, but I'm going to stick to Evelyn and the Forge for the moment. My only problem with this short story was that it needed an epilogue to explain the plot twists which probably should have been clearer in the main story.

Mission of the Viryans gets 3 out of 5 memory probes, whereas the above group of Short Trips gets 2 out of 3 original Doctors. The audiobooks are just not my thing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Big Finish - Project: Twilight

This is Big Finish monthly release number 23 - Project: Twilight, written by Mark Wright and Cavan Scott, and directed by Gary Russell.

Now this is more like it. The Doctor and Evelyn are in South London to visit the Doctor's favourite Chinese take-away. They stumble across a body, closely followed by another body, some thugs, a secret underground medical laboratory, and their first encounter with the shadowy organisation known as the Forge.

Project: Twilight really kicks off an arc of stories about the Forge that I will be listening to over the coming weeks. Now that Evelyn is a regular companion with the Sixth Doctor the tension has moved up a notch and there is a really sinister and monstrous presence to deal with. The Doctor has to makes some tough choices which put Evelyn in harm's way.

I was beginning to wonder if Big Finish had ever created a recurrent villain to match the Master or Davros. This story develops a couple of potentially recurring characters and the mysterious organisation that created them. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are on fine form, and are matched by creepy performances from Holly De Jong and Stephen Chase. The sound design is up to the usual high standards and apart from one or two moments when the villains choose to deliver stereotypical monologues instead of action the writing and direction are excellent.

This was a terrific, fast-paced introduction to the Project series and I am looking forward to the next one. I am trying to be tougher with my marking but I can't give this any less then 4 out of 5 question-mark embroidered shirts. Stay tuned for Project: Lazarus.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Big Finish - The Marian Conspiracy

Big Finish release number 6 - The Marian Conspiracy, written by Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Gary Russell.

This is the introduction of Dr Evelyn Smythe as a companion for the Sixth Doctor. It is also the beginning of a long arc of adventures that I have bought from Big Finish which will lead to a story called A Death in the Family. As you will have gathered from my previous reviews I am a big fan of Evelyn. I like her independent and combative spirit, and her clashes with the equally abrasive Sixth Doctor. She is a good match for him. I am also charmed by her frequent interest in food and, in particular, chocolate cake and a nice cup of Cocoa.

However, I was a little disappointed by her introductory story. Dr Smythe is a historian and the Doctor crashes one of her lectures to report that there is a problem with one of her ancestors which would cause her to cease to exist if not fixed. Before we know it she is in the Tardis and back in the court of Queen Mary in 1555. What bothered me is that we didn't get enough time for the relationship to develop between the Doctor and his new companion before plunging straight into the action. I thought that a tough woman like Evelyn would have taken a little longer to trust this strange figure who literally appears in her life. However the story demands that we are quickly caught up in a plot to assassinate the Queen which only the Doctor and Evelyn can prevent, if they can only escape from the Tower of London first!

And that is another problem with this drama. It is a pure historical story, the only science fiction involved is the Tardis and the Doctor's gizmos. Now I know that originally the BBC conceived Doctor Who to be a history programme with the crew of the Tardis travelling backwards in time to meet famous figures. But, just like those early TV viewers, I am more interested when the Doctor goes forwards or sideways and comes up against all those great monsters. I don't like the historicals, never have done. They are my least favourite episodes of the new Who series.

So this story was always going to struggle with me. Actually it's a pretty good tale, quickly told with a few interesting moments. But I didn't feel that Evelyn came into her own until the last scene. And a note to any voice actors out here: no accents, no really, don't do them, they are just distractions.

I was tempted to give this the lowest score yet but it is not quite that bad. It just feels like Big Finish were finding their way a bit. I am going to give The Marian Conspiracy a middle of the pack 2.5 out of 5 cups of Cocoa.

Now let's jump past the Spectre of Lanyon Moor, skip a couple of titles and head straight on for Project : Twilight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big Finish - A quick review

I have gone from being an occasional Big Finish listener to becoming somewhat of an addict.

Looking back at this blog shows that I have now reviewed 36 different titles. The average review score is hovering around 3.5. I have given three different stories the lowest score so far of 2.5, and just one story has got the full 5 star rating.

Looking at the downloads folder on my Big Finish accounts page shows a whopping 23 titles waiting for me to listen to, and that doesn't include future releases that I have subscribed to but have not been released yet. That is a lot of content to get through and lots of reviews to come.

I still plan to try and keep up with my complete James Bond read through, as well as finishing my Alien marathon, watching all of the Superman movies before next year's release of The Man of Steel, reviewing more medicine from the pages of 2000AD, and getting back to talking about some comics. That is quite a wide scope for one blog but I am trying to avoid these pages becoming about just one subject.

If you have listened to any of the Big Finish stories I have reviewed I would be fascinated to read your own reviews. Please send me links or put something in the comments box here. In the meantime thank you for your attention and stay tuned for more.

Big Finish - Home Truths

This is a story from the Big Finish Companion Chronicles series. Home Truths, written by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and starring Jean Marsh and Niall MacGregor.

Sara Kingdom met the First Doctor, but Sara Kingdom is dead. How can she be in a house in the Cambridgeshire Fens, sitting by the fire and telling a sort of ghost story to a visiting police officer?

The Companion Chronicles allow Big Finish to tell stories about all the different people who have travelled with the Doctor over the years. They tend to be shorter, single CD stories which don't feature the Doctor himself. Again this particular story was a recommendation from Brian from Canada who knows that I like a good ghost story, and this one has the added bonus that it is set in Ely where I live.

It is basically a two-hander with Sara Kingdom telling the story of how she, Steven and the First Doctor came to visit the strange house and the mystery they found there. By the end of the tale we will learn what the Home Truths of the title means. It is a cracking little ghost story with fine work by Marsh and MacGregor. It was also nice to hear them talking with director Lisa Bowerman and producer David Richardson in an extra track at the end. I know that some Big Finish listeners like to get the script or separate music tracks as CD extras, but I really enjoy the cast and crew interviews when they appear.

I can't say much more about Home Truths without giving too much away. It is not going to divert me away from the main Big Finish range where, thanks to a recent spending spree, I now have about 20 stories waiting for me to download. However I am going to give it a very impressive 4 out of 5 space security sashes.

Stay tuned for more Big Finish very soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Big Finish - Spare Parts

Raiding the back catalogue brings me to Big Finish monthly release 34 - Spare Parts by Marc Platt. Directed by Gary Russell and starring Peter Davison as the doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.

The Tardis lands on a strange planet and while the Doctor tries to work out where they are, Nyssa gets involved with a family who are struggling to survive in a city of people who are steadily replacing their organs with mechanical parts.

I originally bought this story after hearing it reviewed by the TimeVault team, back in their Cadmium 2 days. It has a reputation as one of the best Big Finish stories and this one certainly stood up to a second listening. Everything about this production is perfection. The cast are fantastic and include well know names such as Derren Nesbitt, Sally Knyvette and Paul Copley. Sarah Sutton is very empathic as Nyssa, and Peter Davison gave us a Doctor who grows irritable as a way of concealing his growing unease about the planet and the future. The sound design and music are great, and Nick Briggs does some astonishing things with the Cyber voices. These are the Cybermen from the Tenth Planet era with their slightly foolish sing-song voices. Yet Briggs manages to make them terrifying. It is an astonishing performance.

Even more astonishing is a moment when a newly "upgraded" Cyberman comes face to face with its former family and tries desperately to overcome its new programming and speak to them. I do not know how much of the tragic vocalisations are down to Nicholas Briggs, and how much to Kathryn Guck, but somehow it manages to be both moving and completely horrifying at the same time. It may be my favourite moment in all of Big Finish so far. And it is the sort of effect that I can imagine happening in classic Doctor Who.

Spare Parts is spoken about as the equivalent of Genesis of the Daleks for the Cybermen and, certainly, what it tells us about people of Mondas, their plight, and the Doctor's role in the events that lead to them becoming the Cyberman remind me of that great story. It is a perfect prequel to The Tenth Planet.

Looking back at the scores I have given Big Finish stories so far I can see that the top spot is shared by The Silver Turk and The Architects of History with 4.5 each. Well, no surprise but Spare Parts is going straight to the top with a full 5 out of 5 Cyber chest units. It's a perfect Big Finish story. Check it out if you have not done so already.

James Bond - Live and Let Die

Hot on the heels of Casino Royale came the rather surprising second Bond novel. Live and Let Die published in 1954.

This one was much more tricky to get through. Bond is sent to America to investigate Mr. Big who appears to have discovered a stash of pirate gold, and is using it to fund his work for SMERSH. After Bond and Leiter get into trouble in a Harlem nightclub they meet the villain and the beautiful Solitaire. The action move on to Florida and then Jamaica where Mr Big captures Bond and the girl and prepares to keel haul them.

If reading the first book was a bit uncomfortable because of Bond's (and Fleming's) views about women then this book is even worse in its depiction of black characters. Fleming obviously prided himself on his ability to record the New York slang of Harlem in the 1950s and the patois of Florida and Jamaica but sixty years later it is just horrible and makes for a very unpleasant reading experience.

At least Bond gets more to do in this one. He has a couple of scuffly fights and one protracted gunfight. When he and Solitaire are about to be dragged over the razor sharp coral and into Barracuda invested waters their miraculous escape comes about because of something Bond did earlier and not as the result of a Deus ex Machina device as in Casino Royale.

Bond has to give up his fine clothes for American regalia as part of his cover, likewise he eats American food and is pretty snobbish about it all. At least he gets a few decent drinks. There is no clever spy work to match the craft Bond displayed in the his first outing. On the whole Bond just seems like a blunt instrument who forces his way through Mr Big's organisation. Interestingly the bad guys know who Bond is from the moment he arrives in America and the idea of the "secret" agent who is known right across the world has begun.

Not an enjoyable read to be honest, let us hope the card game in the next book can set this marathon back on its feet.

Bond check list includes one villain with a medical condition, one beautiful bond girl with "jutting" breasts, one torture scene, but no sporting encounter.

James Bond will return in ... Moonraker!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Big Finish - Winter for the Adept

Big Finish release 10 from July 2000 - Winter for the Adept, written by Andrew Cartmel and directed by Gary Russell. Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton, with an early Big Finish appearance from India Fisher.

My flurry of Big Finish reviews continue as I go back to the first stories I bought from them. I think I have had at least two different computers since the one I first downloaded this story on to, but fortunately the new Big Finish site makes it very easy to download all stories purchased in the past. It is a model of digital distribution that other pay for content sites could learn from. Once you have bought your story it remains in your account from then on, so you can download it to new devices as you acquire them.

This was another CD that Brian from British Invaders recommended to me because he knows I like a good ghost story. Somehow Nyssa arrives by herself at a remote school high in the Alps and she is soon caught up in an investigation into a Poltergeist, something that her very logical mind rejects as impossible. Fortunately the Fifth Doctor is not too far behind and on hand to help out when things get rather dangerous.

I must be getting rather spoilt by the high standard of Big Finish dramas lately because this was not quite as good as I remembered it. I was bothered by the accents that two of the supporting actors were using which kept taking me out from the story. Also the Doctor doesn't seem to be acting in a very rational fashion here, particularly when he keeps arranging seances, which seems out of character for him. We're used to him spouting scientific sounding techno-babble but when he starts talking about hauntings, seances and psychic ability it seems a bit strange to me.

Apart from the accents the rest of the cast are fine. India Fisher is good as one of the schoolgirls at the centre of the Poltergeist activity. I presume it was her work here that got her the role as Charley Pollard who becomes a companion to the Eighth Doctor in Big Finish 16 - Storm Warning. And the writer was Andrew Cartmel, he of the masterplan that never got a chance to happen because the television show was cancelled in 1989. Although he did get to supervise the lost stories series for Big Finish.

I think if he had rated this story the first time I listened to it I would have given it 4 stars. However in comparison with some of the stuff I have been listening to recently it is going to get downgraded to 3 out of 5 spillage detectors. But Big Finish and their digital delivery gets 6 out of 5!

I have just ordered another 12 Big Finish releases so plenty more reviews coming soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Big Finish - The Spectre of Lanyon Moor

The ninth title in the Big Finish monthly range was The Spectre of Lanyon Moor Released in 2000, written and directed by Nicholas Pegg, and starring Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Nicholas Courtney.

This was one of the first Big Finish stories I ever bought, I think it was on special offer at the time and Brian from British Invaders recommended it to me as a spooky story with the Sixth Doctor and the Brigadier. I have gone back and listened to it again as part of my look back at some earlier Big Finish releases.

The Doctor and Evelyn Smythe show up at an archaeological dig in Cornwall and, as ever, all is not what it seems. There are strange sightings on the moor, mysterious goings on at the Manor house, and somebody is trying to get hold of a missing and very powerful artefact.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has come out of semi-retirement to represent UNIT at the dig. The Brig never met the Sixth Doctor on television so it is nice to have them encounter each other here. I doesn't take the Brigadier long to recognise the Doctor and soon they are working together just like the old days. Nicholas Courtney was a terrific presence throughout the years of classic Doctor Who. A talented actor and, by all accounts, a lovely person. If there was one person from the television show I wish I could have met it would be Mr Courtney. Sadly he is no longer with us and after the Wedding of River Song we know he is no longer a part of the Who-niverse, which is a sad thought.

Courtney and Baker are on fine form here, as is Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe. She gets a job to do which suits her background as a historian, and, inevitably, she gets into trouble but is able to get out of it without the Doctor's help. The rest of the cast are also very good. I have always been a fan of James Bolam and it was great to hear him, and his wife Susan Jameson, in this story.

My only criticism is of the decision to give us an opening scene that tells us what the secret of Lanyon Moor is right at the start. It is unusual position for us to know more about the threat than the Doctor does, but that was just a story telling decision and apart from working out which of the various characters is the villain there are not too many surprises in this adventure. The sound design is as effective as ever, things go bump, strange creatures make strange noises, and large bits of scentific equipment whizz and bang in a suitable fashion.

It's all rather good but perhaps didn't stand up as well as I remembered it. I am going to give it a solid 3.5 out of 5 focus amplifiers rating. My trawl through the back catalogue will continue with Winter for the Adept.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Big Finish - The Sirens of Time

This is the first ever Big Finish monthly release - The Sirens of Time, written and directed by Nicholas Briggs, and starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

I have gone right back to the beginnings of Big Finish after reading a review by Mike from the TimeVault podcast on The Colour for Monsters is Green blog. I was curious to see what Big Finish was like when it first started in 1999. A lot of the people involved had been producing high quality audio dramas based in the Doctor Who universe so they already knew what they were doing when the BBC gave them a licence to produce official stories. And they certainly hit the ground running with this production.

As the cover picture suggests this is a multi doctor story with incarnations five, six and seven all facing an individual challenge before uniting in the final act to overcome the villain. The Doctors are flying solo without companions, Tegan and Turlough are mentioned but are conveniently locked in the Tardis and not heard from. Of the three actors Peter Davison and Colin Baker seem to drop straight back into their roles with ease. Only Sylvester McCoy seemed to me to be searching for his character in the opening episode. Certainly he has found it in all the other Big Finish stories I have listened to, so it did not take him long to pick it up again. The rest of the cast are all very good indeed and Mark Gatiss does a brilliant accent as the German U-boat captain that is so good I didn't realise it was him until I looked at the cast list.

I assumed that this early Big Finish might be lacking some of the production values that we have come to expect from them but it is all terrific. Right from the start they seem to have mastered the sound effects, music and general recording quality. I listened to this as a download from the Big Finish site and was it was great that all the individual chapters had the appropriate track names on them. I presume that data was not on the original CD pressings in 1999 so maybe they have gone back and added them since. Some of the recent CD releases have been a bit variable in track naming but that is just nerdy nit-picking on my part.

The script is great and I enjoyed the episodic nature of the story. Having read the TimeVault review I knew there was a twist coming but still had fun trying to guess what was going on. I know Mike had problems with one of the actor's performance in the first episode but it did not bother me so much. It reminded me of some of the terrible monster performances in the television show in a rather charming fashion. All in all I am tremendously impressed with the high standard set by Big Finish in this first release. It's going to get 3.5 out of 5 Tardis keys.

I'm not planning to work my way through the back catalogue like Mike is. I can't afford to for one reason. However, I am going to be listening to one or two older stories and reviewing them here in between the regular monthly releases.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Big Finish - Jubilee

Big Finish release 40 - Jubilee by Robert Shearman, and directed by Shearman and Nicholas Briggs. Colin Baker plays the sixth Doctor and Maggie Stables is Evelyn Smythe.

This is diving into Big Finish's back catalogue again. The latest issue of Doctor Who magazine features an article about the episode Dalek from the first season of the new Doctor Who. The episode was loosely adapted by Shearman himself from this Big Finish story. I am quite interested in episodes of the television show that have been adapted from other formats. I have read the Paul Cornell novel that went on to become the Tenth Doctor episodes Human Nature and Family of Blood, and enjoyed both versions and the differences between them. And the episode Blink was based on a short story by Steven Moffat which first appeared in the 2006 Doctor Who annual.

In Jubilee the Doctor and Evelyn have somehow appeared in a parallel time stream where the English empire is celebrating the anniversary of their victory over the Daleks 100 years ago. The only element common to this story and to the TV episode it became is the idea of the single Dalek held prisoner and tortured by its captors. Evelyn Smythe forms a sort of relationship with the creature which obviously influenced what happened with Rose on television.

This is my first encounter with the Big Finish companion Evelyn, and I was quite impressed. I like the idea of an older companion who can give as good as she gets from the somewhat abrupt Sixth Doctor. Her scenes with the Dalek are very good and, as this is a four part story, she gets more time in the cell than Rose does, so the depth of the relationship she forms with one of the Doctor's implacable enemies is more convincing. I shall certainly be seeking out more Evelyn stories.

The rest of the cast are mostly fine and Nicholas Briggs does an absolutely splendid job with the Dalek voices, foreshadowing what he would go on to when Doctor Who returned to television two years after this story was released. I was slightly bothered by the accent that Martin Jarvis chose for his performance as the English President. Normally Jarvis is a fantastic voice actor so it was strange that he was the weakest part of this production for me.

However, this is another great Big Finish story. It bears almost no resemblance to the television episode it became and is almost more interesting as a result. This is getting another strong 4 out of 5 Dalek manipulator arms. Next up might be some more Evelyn.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

James Bond - Casino Royale

While I am working my way through the Superman films, all the Alien movies and the latest Big Finish releases I have set myself another challenge. Last month I went to a book talk by the historian Ben Macintyre about his most recent book Double Cross. I was intrigued to learn that he had written a biography of Ian Fleming and James Bond. I bought it and it was a fascinating read which has prompted me to go back and look at the original novels and to try and read them in the order they were published. So here goes with the original Bond novel from 1953.

The plot is well known. Bond is sent to beat the villain Le Chiffre at Baccarat in the eponymous Casino. I don't think it is too much of a spoiler to say that Bond wins the card game but things don't go entirely according to plan from then on.

The strange thing is how little Bond actually does in this first book. Apart from the card game, he is involved in one brief scuffle at the Casino and he drives and then crashes his Bentley. Otherwise he is a mostly passive participant in the events which happen to him or to those around him. He isn't the punching, shooting man of action that he becomes in the films.

However, all the well known facets of Bond's lifestyle are filled in. His clothes are described in beautiful detail. He goes on about drink a lot, and invents the famous Vodka martini. He orders expensive food with great precision and then asks the head waiter if he approves of the choices in a combination of snobbery and wishing to impress. As Macintyre points out in his book these meals must have been instantly attractive to Fleming's audience in post war austerity Britain. Some foods were still rationed until 1954, Bond's menu could only be dreamed about by the majority of his readers.

And, of course, there are Bond's views about women which are also spelt out in some detail and are really quite reprehensible, even for the time. All in all James Bond comes across as an unpleasant character. We might admire his actions and nerve, but we probably wouldn't choose to be in a room with him. Especially with his 60 cigarettes a day habit. This is certainly not the James Bond from the films. It is slightly difficult to see what set the public's imagination alight but maybe it was all those fabulous meals.

One final point of note. Bond has a few minutes between winning his card game and taking Vesper Lynd out to dinner, in which he has to hide the cheque in his hotel room. The way he does so, which defeats both the villains and his accomplice Mathis, is a fantastic little bit of spy-craft which I have never seen used in any of the films. Very clever indeed.

The Bond checklist for this book includes: one villain with a medical condition or deformity, one beautiful girl, one torture scene and one sporting or gambling encounter with the bad guy. Next up is Live and Let Die.

Big Finish - The Butcher of Brisbane

Back to the main monthly releases and this is number 161 The Butcher of Brisbane by Marc Platt, directed by Ken Bentley. Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson all return as the Tardis crew and Angus Wright plays Magnus Greel.

Let me get my confession out of the way first. As the co-host of a podcast all about British science-fiction television it is rather shameful to admit that I have never seen The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It is reputed to be quite possibly the best Fourth Doctor serial ever and one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time. And yet I still have not got round to watching it. Maybe that puts me in a unique position to review this story which is a sort of prequel to Weng-Chiang with a rather complicated time structure. This is the Fifth Doctor meeting a man who he first encountered in his Fourth incarnation. However it is a younger Greel who has yet to acquire the time machine which he will use to travel back from the 51st century to Victorian London for the encounter depicted in Weng-Chiang. So the writer has to be careful about how much time Greel has with the Doctor himself in order to not interfere with continuity.

Marc Platt solves this problem by making full use of the Doctor's three companions. The role of a companion has varied over the years. Some have been required to do the action stuff for the Doctor such as Ian, Steven, Jamie and Leela in classic Who and Captain Jack, Micky and Rory in new Who. Other companions are needed to ask the Doctor questions so that he can explain to them and us what is going on. Examples include, well just about all of them apart from Liz Shaw, Romana and K-9. The one standard for all companions is that they must get separated from the Doctor and get into some form of trouble. The neat trick that Platt pulls off in this story is to explore the concept of time travel and have the companions separated by time rather than space. It is an idea that has been explored in recent Doctor Who television stories, in particular with Amy Pond and her dilemmas in The Eleventh Hour and The Girl who Waited. The result is a very interesting story which has Nyssa and Turlough embroiled in political intrigues and espionage.

The Doctor himself has a back-seat role in this one. It's almost like one of the Doctor-light episodes that new Who does once a season. As ever the Big Finish production values are top class and the whole thing cracks along at an enjoyable pace. I particularly liked the music by Fool Circle which reminded me of some of the incidental pieces used in the BBC TV version of The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This maintains the recent high standard of Big Finish stories that I have been listening to. It gets 4 out of 5 Time Cabinets. Now I get a bit of a break before Protect and Survive. Time to catch up on some of the shows I am supposed to be watching for British Invaders.

Predatory Instincts

My plan was to watch all of the Alien movies before setting off to see Prometheus. Some family business has meant that I haven't managed to see Ridley Scott's new film but I did watch Alien vs Predator and Aliens vs Predator: Requiem.


These are two terrible films. The first one is just about watch-able and the lead female character is pretty good, but AVP Requiem is truly awful. Every possible action and horror film cliché is used, some of them several times. Characters wander off on their own, "bad" people get punished for their character flaws, while the good guys have some unresolved business which will lead to a neat pay-off at the end of the film. Heroes and villains spout terrible action film nonsense and both movies are devoid of any horror or tense moments.

The second film is slightly interesting as an exercise in film making. It starts out as a standard "teens under threat" slasher movie. Then about half way through the production team appear to have had a discussion about how good Aliens was and decided to remake it with their cardboard characters. Except without any of the wit, verve and slowly building tension that James Cameron added to the Alien franchise.

At least the monsters are mostly of the man in a suit variety as opposed to terrible, lightweight CGI sprites. Unfortunately that does lead to some odd moments when the tall and slender actors in the suits look rather ungainly and lumbering instead of the fast Aliens or powerful Predators they are playing. This could have been fixed with clever editing but even that is a disappointment.

Really, these two films are best avoided. Stick to the original Alien movies. Let us hope that Prometheus does not disappoint although early reports are not good.