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Welcome to Episode 208…

The News

Arachnids in the UK consolidated and The Tsuranga Conundrum overnight figures; episodes 7 and 8 get their official titles and some blurb; lost story The Wheel in Space is getting a 10 minute animated short at the BFI and The Paternoster Gang is coming to Big Finish.

Merch Corner

No merch this week.

“The Tsuranga Conundrum” Review

We weren’t impressed last week so has this week provided some more oomf or is this a mid-series dip for sure?

Thank you as always for joining us for 208. Next week will be our review of – Demons of the Punjab. Until then have a brilliant week and until next time – Allons-y!

Shocks and betrayals are afoot in the latest release for the Seventh Doctor. Going all the way back to Mel returning to the TARDIS in A Life of Crime, the past has caught up with the TARDIS team. Mel has to face her past, the Doctor and Ace meet a pre-Gallifrey Narvin and an old enemy waits in the wings…

The Cover for Doctor Who: The Quantum Possibility Engine
The Cover for Doctor Who: The Quantum Possibility Engine

Concluding the ongoing storyline from A Life of Crime, which was released way back in 2016, The Quantum Possibility Engine has a lot of continuity it has to pick up, especially as events kick off where the previous outing, The Dispossessed left off. But author Guy Adams makes sure that these links to the past and future are only the tip of the iceberg as he decides to include Narvin from the Big Finish spinoff, Gallifrey and he brings back the villain from The Maltese Penguin, Josiah W. Dogbolter, a character who has also appeared in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. If you haven’t got it yet, there is a hell of a lot of continuity in play here!

But Adams doesn’t just rely on that. He manages to craft a surprisingly enjoyable story, even if it does suit a three-episode format and not the four-episodes that we’ve got here. One doesn’t need to have heard A Life of Crime to fully understand what is happening here, even if it does help.

Looking past the continuity references there is a lot here for the casual listener to enjoy. You’ve got an interesting villain in the toad-like form of Dogbolter, a universe on the brink of war, alternate universes and a machine that can literally change the future by affecting the past. The standout character here is Dogbolter who, even if haven’t heard him in any previous audios or comics, like myself, comes across as gloriously ruthless thanks to Adam’s strong dialogue. He takes the character in the same direction as a certain American president currently in power and it suits the story perfectly. Here’s a story about the Doctor trying to stop someone in power when the general public doesn’t want him to be toppled. It’s an interesting idea and one that Adams explores nicely.

And for a story that concerns the possible death sentence of one of the Doctor’s best friends, it is a surprisingly light and humorous story, I did laugh-out-loud at a couple of moments. Adams gives us glimpses of the TARDIS gang living different lives and that is surprisingly enjoyable to hear playing out.

The character of Mel has always been well treated by Big Finish, from her first appearance in The Fires of Vulcan to now, she hasn’t been the shrill-screamer she was on television. Actress Bonnie Langford has embraced that and run with it fantastically. She is on top form here, effortlessly delivering the material handed to her and we see what her life with Glitz at the end of Dragonfire, threw at her. She spends a lot of the story either with Dogbolter or his robotic companion, Hob and the dialogue here, is just electric, you really feel the contempt she has for the both of them and her current predicament, so a big thumbs up should be given to Langford and Adams for the great handling of the material.

Sylvester McCoy is on excellent form here too. From the off, he devours the script and he shares a fantastic chemistry with Sean Carlsen as Narvin. From their opening scenes, the pair bounces off each other brilliantly and some moments are extremely funny. Like Mel, the Seventh Doctor has been treated brilliantly by Big Finish and McCoy has risen to the challenges they have thrown at him perfectly. He is one of my favourite Doctors, mainly thanks to the treatment he has gotten on audio and so long as they continue the Seventh Doctor in the same manner, I’ll always come back.

The cast of The Quantum Possibility Engine, enjoying themselves at the recording
The cast of The Quantum Possibility Engine, enjoying themselves at the recording

Rounding off the main cast is Sophie Aldred who also puts in a perfect performance. Like McCoy and Carlsen, Aldred gets to double her roles and she does a fantastic job in those scenes. She shares many of them with Wayne Forester and the pair are the subject of one of the saddest moments to ever come from Big Finish at the end. Sophie Aldred is always a fantastic presence in any Big Finish audio and that doesn’t change here!

Kicking off the guest cast is Sean Carlsen as Narvin. Carlsen is just an astonishingly good actor and that trend continues here. What is really interesting is that Adams has decided to set this story for him before Gallifrey. When Gallifrey kicked off, Narvin was a Time Lord threw and threw. He looked out for himself and no one else. Then gradually, he evolved, becoming friendlier and gaining a stronger sense of morality.

But it is evident that this isn’t that Narvin. He puts himself and his duty first, even if it means the Doctor, Mel and Ace have to suffer for it. As I stated above, that antagonist relationship with the Doctor leads to some great banter which McCoy and Carlsen run with brilliantly. It is also interesting to hear Ace and Narvin meeting for the first time. They got on quite well when they met in Gallifrey and it is nice that there is some foreshadowing of Ace’s fate in that series.

Toby Longworth is glorious as Dogbolter, a ruthless businessman who has shades of Donald Trump in his character. One wonders whether those elements were there when he first appeared in Doctor Who Magazine but if they weren’t, they created a character who would mirror a powerful presence in today’s world and it is hard to believe that Adams didn’t have that in mind when he wrote the character. Wayne Forester pulls a triple duty in this story, playing Soldier Robots, Alex and Hob. I’ve already spoken about him as Alex so I’ll talk about his performance as Hob. Hob is a robot who shares much of the play with Bonnie Langford. While at first, he threatens to put his performance a little over-the-top, you get used to it and it is actually quite enjoyable. I also liked Hob reading the behind-the-scenes credits at the end! Rounding the cast out is Jules de Jongh as the Captain Regent of the Krasi. While she doesn’t get too much to do, she does a tremendous job in the role anyway, effortlessly showing how ruthless her character is. Overall, this is one strong guest cast.

Overall, The Quantum Possibility Engine is a tremendous outing for the Seventh Doctor. With continuity references aplenty, Guy Adams doesn’t let it bog the story down and the nice direction from Jamie Anderson, allows the story to be accessible to the casual listener as well as the die-hard fans out there. It is an epic finale for a story that has been two years in the making and almost feels like something Douglas Adams would have had his fingers in. And that isn’t a bad thing as overall, this a strong ending to the latest trilogy of Seventh Doctor adventures.

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace are locked up. The TARDIS is gone. Things just couldn’t get worse, could they?
Of course they could. Things can always get worse — the new President of the Solar System, Josiah W Dogbolter, didn’t get where he is in life without learning that. That’s why he has a Quantum Possibility Engine. It’s a wonderful machine, creating a wonderful Solar System. And with this wonderful device, he can bring happiness and peace to all. Possibly.

Either that or tear the universe to shreds, it’s hard to be sure which.

Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel) Sean Carlsen (Narvin), Toby Longworth (Dogbolter), Wayne Forester (Hob / Soldier Robots / Alex), Jules de Jongh (Captain Regent of the Krasi). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer: Nicholas Briggs
Script Editor: Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

 

Something unexpected happened with this episode: Doctor Who became a talking point. The third episode has just brought this series to life. The groundswell seemed to occur mainly on the internet, through Twitter, Facebook and online forums. The episode “Rosa” debuted to what seems mostly positive reviews for its portrayal of Rosa Parks, an activist in the civil rights movement and her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

I did wonder if the new series would ever do a straight historical and this is probably the closest we have had. Chris Chibnall said he was going to make the series more educational and everything I’ve read since Sunday has highlighted how this episode has started conversations between young and old.  It is to the credit of the skills of the writer Malorie Blackman and also Chris Chibnall that we are seeing that promise starting to occur. Whilst there are sci-fi elements in the story it is luckily kept well away from actual historical figures. When the Doctor met Shakespeare,  Charles Dickens or Elizabeth the first there was always an element of suspending your disbelief as an audience member and going along with the time travel element. Consequently, the strength of the story definitely lays in showing Rosa and Montgomery itself and what I love is this story wasn’t about the Doctor being in charge and influencing Rosa or bending the rules to change an outcome. It was about ensuring events happened as they should and always had done. That the Doctor and the companions became part of the event on the bus makes me wonder were they always destined to be part of events or did the presence of Krasko create the possibility.

“Rosa” touched a lot of emotional buttons about what is a shameful piece of history as white people were shown to actively oppress black people. As a white woman, I can’t say that I truly “know” the experience of what it was like for black people in 1950’s America facing discrimination due to their skin colour. My parents faced discrimination of a different kind as immigrants from a crown colony to the UK in the 50’s/60’s. My father was repeatedly turned down hunting for work. Mum when a young woman had in more than one lodgings things, given to her by her family, stolen from her room. She was unable to say anything as she would be asked to leave. The discrimination in Montgomery was far more violent but just as blatant, just as ignorant and it makes me ashamed to think about it. I’m really glad that the programme didn’t shy away from showing the unconcealed reality of their lives When Ryan bent down to collect that lady’s glove without thinking I was scared for him. He got slapped but it could have been much worse and I just felt as tense when he got off the bus to go to Rosa’s house. It was brave for the script to also have exchanges in the diner and the hotel, to show how menacing the situation was. The scene between Yaz and Ryan by the rubbish bins brought a contemporary reference to how racial discrimination is still something ongoing and I would have liked to have heard a bit more from them both.

Talking of Yaz and Ryan I find Tosin Cole is the better actor of the two and he impressed again this week especially in the scene with Rosa and Martin Luther King. The little smile of delight as he realises he is talking to the two of them. There was also the earlier sarcasm in the diner that he doesn’t eat negros. This quote actually came from Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion boxer. In 1960’s On being told whilst at a diner “We don’t serve negroes” he said “I don’t eat them, either. Just give me a cup of coffee and a hamburger” Talking of quotes I also loved that the dialogue on the bus was historically accurate between Rosa Parks and James Blake. Therein lies part of the power of the episode as well as the song ‘Rise’ by  Andra Day which is the unofficial anthem of Black Lives Matter campaign which added to the emotion. Oh my goodness Bradley Walsh is proving all the doubters wrong this series with his versatility. He blew me away this week. I loved him for the despairing look on Graham’s face which broke my heart and when the policeman came to the hotel and he pretended to be Steve Jobs, That made me laugh. He is fantastic.

Jodie did impress me this week. I liked how her performance was dialled down for most of the episode with less scatty and wisecracks and more seriousness appropriate with the subject being explored. Her interactions with Graham are the most fun though, such as when Graham is hungry, the pretence of being a couple at the motel and the ongoing gag about Banksy. She squared up to  Krasko really well and it was interesting watching her pushing him enough to grab her by the neck. That felt a very Doctorish thing to do even though it surprised me.  The sci-fi element was the weakest part of the plot but I liked the references to Stormcage and vortex manipulators. In between original ideas of his own Chris Chibnall aren’t wiping all references to the past which gives a sense of continuity

I can’t give it tops marks as there were a couple of scenes that I wanted more from. When Yaz said she was a policewoman and Rosa just accepted it without even questioning further. There were women police in the UK at that time and WPCs were tackling all kinds of police work and respected members of the team after a long struggle, and  I think I would have liked to have seen a little bit more discussion around their differing experiences woman to woman. The other scene was in the Tardis as the Doctor explained about what happened to Rosa. That whole scene looked cramped and staged in the set. It did feel a bit of exposition for the audience and as I said previously the Doctor felt schoolmarmish, giving a lesson. It wasn’t delivered that naturally by Jodie. I also got distracted by the Tardis crystal column going up and down in a weirdly wonky in the background. I really don’t like that set.

For a programme lasting 50 minutes, it feels extraordinary that it has made the impact that it has. Humanity is capable of so much good but then parts of it revel in despicable acts and I was so pleased this episode has been made.

How a historical should be made 9 out of 10

Next time scary spiders smothering Sheffield eek!

Welcome to Episode 207…

No news or merch this week.

“Rosa” Review

A proper historical for what seems like ages in Who. Important subject matter and some emotional stuff to behold but does The Chibbers handle this well and with respect? And…

“Arachnids in the UK” Review

After the previous emotional bomb from the last episode, we need a good old “creature feature”. Did this deliver a decent scare show in time for Halloween or is this a case of Arach-miss in the UK?

Thank you so much for joining us for 207. Next week the review train carries on with our review of –The Tsuranga Conundrum. Until then have a brilliant week and until next time – Allons-y!