Menu

It has been quite the year for the Seventh Doctor, we’ve had 6 audio adventures to feature this Doctor, played brilliantly by Sylvester McCoy, Red Planets, The Dispossessed, The Quantum Possibility Engine, Warlock’s Cross, The New Adventures Volume One and now, to round that out is Muse of Fire, an amusing little story set in Paris in the 1920s which not only brings Phillip Olivier back as fan-favourite audio companion Hex, but also sees the return of the trans-temporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme and her best friend, Panda.

The cover art for Muse of Fire
The cover art for Muse of Fire

Arriving in Paris in the 1920s, the Doctor, Ace and Hex quickly discover that something isn’t quite right. Some of the world’s most influential personas have given up on their dreams. James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali have all moved away and are working boring 9-to-5 jobs. With the Doctor deciding to investigate, Hex befriends a strange woman, who invites him to a party.

Things are slowly coming to ahead. The Doctor is set to lock horns with Iris Wildthyme. There is a lady who owns a bookshop who isn’t from Earth and who knows more about what is going on that she will admit. Ace befriends a couple who are having more than the usual marital troubles. And then there is the bad-mouthed Panda, currently working as a art-critic!

Put simply, Muse of Fire is a delight from start to finish. I’ve always been a big fan of Iris Wildthyme and Katy Manning’s portrayal of that character. And Iris is a character who has been around in the Doctor Who universe for quite some time, appearing in the old range of BBC Past Doctor Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures, features in her own range of novels, had a long running series with Big Finish and met the Doctors a couple of times, the last of which being The Wormery, where she came face-to-face with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. And that was before she took on Jo Grant as a companion in The Companion Chronicles’ range!

When you look past all the comedy and bluster, there is a rather interesting character in Iris. She has a mysterious past and often comes across more as a meddler than a true ally. That is certainly the stance that she seems to take here when she meets the Seventh Doctor, who blames her for putting the future of Earth in the crosshairs.

If you are familiar with Paul Margs’ storylines, they often take Doctor Who stories and themes and gives them a more comedic twist. Muse of Fire could easily be put next to City of Death, thanks to its Parisian setting and storyline which revolves around famous painters. But where Muse of Fire is different, is that it doesn’t feature Scaroth, but a vampiric creature who sucks out human creativity.

Margs’ has created a very interesting story here, which feels like a mixture between a Seventh Doctor story, with his darker side shinning through and the comedic farce of a Wildthyme adventure. His image for the vampire alien is a wholly original one, someone who literally looks like a Picasso painting and it continues some of the original designs for aliens that Big Finish have been dreaming up recently. Put in typical Margs’ fashion, the comedic aspects of the story aren’t too far behind. We’ve got plenty of David Benson hilariously devouring his lines, “A BEAR?!!!” And a favourite moment of mine was when Iris convinced Hex to pose nude in the name of art. “Wait till you see what they made of him, we’ve had a lot of cubists in tonight!” Marg’s dialogue is electric, and the whole cast seemed to really enjoy performing this script.

Gods and Monsters saw Hex bow out following a storyline which saw the Doctor’s old enemy, Fenric making a shock return and since then, Phillip Olivier has appeared a few times in different Big Finish productions, recent outings include Star Cops and Doctor Who’s Shadow Planet/World Apart. Here though, Olivier is on fine form as Hex once more, proving why he is such a fan favourite. Hex was always brilliant, kind and caring and not afraid to stick up for himself or his friends, even if it means getting into trouble. One of my favourite moments with Hex comes at the end of episode two of Enemy of the Daleks where he tells the Daleks to stuff it. However, that might now be topped by a story-stealing scene here where Iris convinces him to pose nude in the name of art! It is a hysterical moment that will have any listener chuckling and the reaction from the Doctor and Ace just makes the scene a piece of comedy gold. Needless to say that Phillip Olivier is excellent all the way through this story and proves why we need some more trilogies with Hex in the near future.

The main cast of Muse of Fire: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Katy Manning, David Benson and Phillip Olivier
The main cast of Muse of Fire: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Katy Manning, David Benson and Phillip Olivier

Sylvester McCoy is just as excellent as the Seventh Doctor, with this story making six releases this year for his Doctor, one might speculate that he should have been getting tired by now. This couldn’t be further from the truth though, McCoy is just on fire here as he was way back in the year with Red Planets, in fact, he is a lot darker here than he has been in the previous outings. Instantly distrusting dear Iris, he even goes so far as to state that he needs to stop here once and for all. Of course the Doctor and Iris go back a long way so things aren’t as simple as that but McCoy really rises to the challenge and you genuinely don’t know what the Doctor is going to do here. McCoy’s pitch-perfect performance really keeps you guessing. For me, this was his best performance of the whole six outings of this year.

Rounding out the main trio is the ever-delightful Sophie Aldred who always delivers a terrific performance in anything she is in. She has a number of different audio adventures this year, not just in the main Doctor Who range but Gallifrey and Class. She has just been excellent in all of them but this audio will only continue to prove why the trio of Aldred, McCoy and Olivier are one of the dream teams of Doctor Who. All three actors bounce off each other as if they haven’t been apart for the best part of six years. I always look forward to anything which features Sophie Aldred and that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Katy Manning is just stellar as Iris Wildthyme. I’ve always been a fan of Iris’s adventures and was dismayed when the range came to an end with Wildthyme: Reloaded a few years back. However, she makes a triumphant return here, making you chuckle from the opening moments. It is credit to Manning’s acting skills that I didn’t register it was her in her opening scene until Iris’s distinctive voice comes into play. Manning is deliciously naughty here too, relishing the comedic moments and slightly risqué scenes but she is also cracking at the quieter and darker moments. She really shines with McCoy too, the pair bouncing off of one another nicely. Manning is excellent in anything, always bringing these magnificent characters to life. Iris is just so wonderfully naughty and mischievous and it is a wonder why the this Doctor thinks of her as a meddler. The rest of us think she is great to be around. So long as Big Finish keep Iris around, I’ll be there, wallet ready to splash out. Maybe one day we’ll get a ride aboard her double decker-bus and share a glass of G&T!

David Benson is excellent as Panda, another character I’ve always loved. Muse of Fire sees him as wonderful as ever. Always ready with a quip to take people down, here he seems to destroying the faith in the world’s most famous artists, writers and influencers. Benson has such a great handle on the character that it isn’t hard to imagine a toy panda walking around the streets of 1920s Paris and getting into a double-decker. Or sat in front of a typewriter, completely destroying people’s lives. Its glorious to hear! He too has a great rapport with the rest of the cast, and while it is really nice to hear him facing off against the Doctor, Ace and Hex, my one minor quibble with this story is that he and Iris are kept apart for most of the runtime. But considering how fantastic the rest of the adventure is, this really is only a minor, minor, quibble.

Rounding out the quest cast is Gethin Anthony, Rebecca La Chance and Christine Kavanagh as Kevin Archer, Isobel Archer and Dora Muse respectively. All of them are excellent. You instantly buy that Kevin and Isobel are husband and wife, thanks to the excellent chemistry between Anthony and La Chance, who also work extremely well with the rest of the main cast. In fact, by the end, you will find yourself routing for them, hoping that they make it out of this story alive! Kavanagh is excellent as Dora Muse, instantly luring you into a false sense of security, while also making you believe her story completely and utterly. She has a great chemistry with McCoy and the pair share a couple of electric scenes. Overall this is a really strong cast.

Muse of Fire, as well as some strong writing and fantastic acting from all involved, boasts some really tight direction from Jamie Anderson who once again proves he is an excellent addition to the creative crew at Big Finish. He really knocks it out of the park here, keeping the pace of the story really moving at all times. He also knows how to assemble a strong cast and he has excelled himself once again here. I hope to see more from him, both in the directorial and writing chair in the near future.

Overall, Muse of Fire is a fantastic story, full of comedy, some dark moments and a real sense of fun, this is an excellent way of spending two-hours. It seems that every time the Doctor visits Paris, something wrong is afoot, though I doubt even this time those feet would belong to a talking Panda! Margs’ characters of Iris and Panda are also welcome additions to any Doctor Who story and that trend continues here thanks to the wonderful performances of Katy Manning and David Benson.

The main and guest casts are on fine form here, thanks to some strong writing and tight direction, with everyone seemingly wrapped up in the same joy that the audience will have listening to this. Muse of Fire is fantastic way to wrap the Main Range of Doctor Who audios up for 2018, one that promises to come back strong with January’s Devil in the Mist. But for now, with Christmas and New Years’ approaching lets raise of a glass of bubbly to our mad Auntie Iris!

Synopsis

Oooh la la! It’s been a long time coming, but the Doctor is about to be reunited with Iris Wildthyme! They’re both in 1920s Paris and everyone’s flocking to Iris’s salon.

But wait…! What’s that noise..? Thud thud thud…! It’s the soft, approaching feet of a small and acerbic Art Critic Panda…!

Written By: Paul Magrs
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), Katy Manning (Iris Wildthyme), David Benson (Panda) Gethin Anthony (Kevin Archer/Dali), Rebecca La Chance (Isabel Archer), Christine Kavanagh (Dora Muse). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

Welcome to Episode 214…

No news, merch or review this week Who fans. Instead, we’re going to round out 2018 with a year in review where Adam and I give you our best and not so good moments followed by some Q&A.

As 2018 draws to a close both Adam and I would like to thank you all for another awesome year. Our little podcast which started as a one-man-show back in 2014 has grown so much and we really appreciate all the comments, reviews, audio clips and interaction with all our listeners. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas (hope you get that piece of Who merch you’ve been after!) and a Happy New Year!

A reminder that we’re now off for a couple of weeks and we will return on 11th Jan with our review of the New Year’s Day Special – Resolution.

Until then have a brilliant break and until next time – Allons-y!

Hello dear Reader, Soooooo how did you feel about the green frog? When you saw it, did you think what the four xxxx was that sitting on a chair? Yes, the episode is almost over-turned by that darned frog appearing sitting on a chair and talking in the voice of Grace. It’s the huge stomping elephant in the room when reviewing the episode. The internet and Twitter exploded I imagine at that point on the first transmission. There were a lot of views expressed that I’ve seen that the frog took you out of the episode. That was me on the first watch. Not exploding of course but open-mouthed in incredulity.

Or did you think (saying this bit out loud at this point) just WHY out of all the forms in the universe did a conscious universe have to take the form of a frog? That was me on the second watch. I know it was explained that it was a form that pleased it but from a credibility point of view couldn’t it have picked something or someone else. Susan maybe? Or did you think alright its daft but it’s a conscious universe able to take any form it pleases? Me on the third watch.

I have to be honest I hadn’t heard of Ed Hime but looking him up he is a vastly experienced playwright and radio drama author and a lot of his previous work is in the sphere of science fiction. So, based on that I shouldn’t really be surprised at all the disparate elements that are at play in this story. But I was really surprised by this story so much so on first viewing that I didn’t like it. I realised after a lot of thought the reason was because over the last few weeks the style of stories hadn’t really challenged me with a proper science fiction slant that when I was presented with a more complex story jumping one reality to another, including a green Frog seemingly just to be quirky, it confounded my expectations.

But after a couple more watches I’ve realised It Takes You Away is an accomplished story, not perfect in every way but there is an internal logic to the way the plot unfolds which makes it a pleasure to watch (except for the frog which will always be like an itch you can’t get to). I like the way it subverts your expectations quite deliberately. The synopsis for this story where on the edge of a Norwegian fjord the team discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help suggests a “creature feature” with a monster lurking in the woods. Cue as they approach the cottage, the framing of the camera behind the front door, the hand at the glass, and then inside the cottage, the wood interior and lighting giving nothing away before Hanne was discovered. The atmosphere was built up with the background music so heightened the fear of ‘The monster’. The roar of the monster also added some urgency to the proceedings. So far so scary and I was absolutely loving it. Probably my favourite part of the episode.

I really liked the pace of the story and how it gradually got bigger in scope. It’s one of the strengths of the episode that it layered many ideas one on top of each other that they could each have merited episodes of their own and going in quite separate directions. Hanne on her own in danger from a creature in the wood with her father disappeared, the anti-zone, the Solitrack universe.

The journey through the portal could have been instantaneous, into the other world but Ed Hime took time to create a hostile world within the anti-zone. Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs played a suitably devious creature in a Gollum Lord of the Rings type way. I liked the conversational to and fro between him and the Doctor about the Doctor’s “tubular” The flesh moths were an interesting addition to the anti-zone. I wonder if they were there as a kind of antiseptic there to prevent people from moving from one world to another? How Ribbons survived there so long is a miracle.

It Takes You Away makes a good attempt at exploring the themes of loss and loneliness. Many people have imagined of being reunited with someone that they have lost. There is no purer pain than that grief of loss which sends your world spinning and Hanne, Erik, Graham, Ryan, even the Solitract were living with that pain. I loved how it was that Graham discovered the portal. I wonder it was a deliberate ploy on behalf of the conscious universe to lure particularly him in. Would it have done the same to Ryan or was it able to sense Graham’s bereavement and target him?

Graham is confronted by a ghost
Graham is confronted by a ghost

I enjoyed watching the ease showed by the false Trine and Grace to try and trap their husbands permanently in the Solitract universe. Persuading but completely lacking warmth and compassion. I liked how Hanne being blind, made her other senses sharper that she wasn’t fooled by Trine whereas the men saw what they wanted to see. Erik was completely fooled by Trine that he abandoned his daughter knowingly which made him an unsympathetic character, a weak uncaring father which we don’t see very often portrayed in Who and which was only redeemed in part. I don’t know how I feel about his actions as it would be completely anathema to me to imagine doing that to a child. I felt the Doctors ‘Time to move on mate ‘comment rather unkind but I guess Erik was living with grief too and was taken advantage of. Graham’s desperation to believe the lie was heart-breaking and one could see it was something that affected him deeply even after he returned to our universe, the normal world. He has become of all the companions the most interesting to watch for me. So many different facets to his character to enjoy.

One of the other themes I noticed was around friendship and bonding. I liked Ryan looking after Hanne. It gave him something to do and also allowed for the friction between him and Hanne over what happened to her father and their later friendship. He has abandonment issues for sure so that he called Graham grandad was a surprise in some ways. Was the grandad moment earned between Ryan and Graham? For me, it didn’t feel the right moment as Ryan never saw his grandmother in the Solitract universe but I understand why others might have liked it. Yaz follows the Doctor around like a puppy and I think she is far better than that as a character.

You are the maddest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I wish I could stay. But if either of us is going to survive, you’re going to have to let me go and keep on being brilliant by yourself.

What of Jodie’s Doctor? The comedy falls a bit flat at the beginning with the Doctor rather scatty with the soil eating and sheep rebellion business which I didn’t enjoy that much. The interaction with Ribbons was solid enough too as she fought against his deviousness. Some of the talking to herself where she thought out loud seemed incessant but I enjoyed her wonder at the Solitract and how she gradually had to say goodbye. It became a rather touching wistful moment and now we know who she blew a kiss goodbye to from the original series trailer. Not as expected to a Dalek or Cyberman fleet being destroyed but an entire conscious universe who would have to get used to being alone.

A compelling  concept from a new writer 8.5 / 10

I recently popped along to London’s Southbank to the British Film Institute ( BFI)  on a cold, rain-soaked afternoon to enjoy the 25th Birthday of an annual event called Missed, Believed Wiped, where newly discovered gems television gems are shown to a highly enthusiastic audience. My main reason was to see a preview of the 10-minute animation of the Wheel in Space but it turned into a really interesting couple of hours. Dick Fiddy who is the BFI Archive Television Programmer was the host. I have seen him at previous Doctor Who events but he is a man who very clearly loves his job.

As it was I arrived slightly late and missed the introduction of Vince Hill, a traditional popular singer from the 1960s and 1970s, who now in his 80’s was there to talk about a recording he had found and donated to the BFI archive. The recording was Vince Hill at The Talk of the Town (BBC 1969), a BBC TV special filmed at the popular ‘Talk of the Town’ nightclub at London’s Hippodrome. The recording was a live show which he was performing at the time throughout the UK. Watching the black and white recording which probably lasted 45 minutes it reminded me how a lot of the shows of the 1970’s that I used to watch as a kid hadn’t changed from this style yet. So, in the 1970s you had for instance “the Cliff Richard show” and Cliff would be there in front with a microphone singing a variety of songs carrying the show on the strength of his own performances, really being an entertainer in the broadest sense. This recording was Vince Hill, on his own having to sing and entertain an invited crowd of 1960’s hip young people as well as an older audience.  It was an enjoyable slice of nostalgic love songs, some from his favourite musicals along with some comic impressions he did of Tom Jones and Ken Dodd (singing and comedy royalty due to their longevity in show business.) The Talk of the Town also featured the only surviving performance of the song that was a hit for him ‘Edelweiss’ on BBC TV. I loved that Vince Hill got a standing ovation after the show finished at the BFI and thrilled that I got shake his hand.

There was a segment of a show called Stars and Garters, which to be honest was as mad as a frog on a chair. From what I can gather this was a British television variety show produced by ATV from 1963- 1965 set in a fictional public house with a mix of real pub singers and professional singers and compared by a comedian Ray Martine. The show opened with a lady singer, dressed in a showgirl costume holding a large python. Much hilarity ensued, probably unexpected as she sang and also tried to make the python slide around her neck and keep it there. It had other ideas! Despite the programme being incomplete, there was a teenager heart-throb performance from Adam Faith who seemed a bit bemused to be there, surrounded by people holding drinks and smoking profusely. My how times have changed.

Wheel in Space  mini episode

Next was the main event for me the 10-minute animated Doctor Who mini-episode based on the now lost first part of the 1968 Doctor Who story, ‘The Wheel in Space’, starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and Frazer Hines as Jamie. The episode was produced by Charles Norton and directed by AnneMarie Walsh who was there with the two other animators to introduce the feature. They were clearly enthused about the feature and Anne Marie Walsh was keen to emphasise the attention to detail they took. They also confirmed that they are animating The Macra Terror and the mini-episode will be included on the DVD

The Second Doctor and Jamie
The Second Doctor and Jamie

Onto the feature itself. It was in colour which was a bonus. The audio was crystal clear so when the theme tune kicked in I got a real buzz. I’m not an expert in animation but I think it looks similar in style to “The Invasion”. If it was a ten-minute feature it whizzed by. This is a condensed version from the first episode so you don’t see the reprise of Victoria leaving but it starts with the Tardis in flight as the mercury fluid link explodes and forces the Doctor and Jamie to evacuate the TARDIS to avoid mercury fumes. The Doctor turns the Tardis into to a regular police telephone box and they start exploring. Movement of the characters does feel a bit clunky and will never mimic real life such as when the Servo- Robot redirects the rocket from aimless wandering and the course change causes the Doctor to hit his head, concussing him.

Dick Fiddy interviewing Anne Marie Walsh who was there with her fellow animator
Dick Fiddy interviewing Anne Marie Walsh who was there with her fellow animator before the Wheel in Space mini feature

There is a fair bit of time, probably slightly too much, spent on the Servo- Robot as it wanders around the corridors but it looks impressive as a 3D shape. Shapes are obviously easier to animate so come across well on the screen such the oblong canister that the Servo- Robot opens to release a group of egg-shaped white pods from into space. The dark blue shots of space, the rocket and the giant wheel after the pods are released does look really striking. I don’t remember much of the Wheel in Space from my Troughton a few years ago but even with just the audio of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines I was being drawn in and it was then abruptly over. Ohh for a little bit more.

There were a couple of very short clips of some of the earliest footage shot by I think John Logie Baird in 1927 and a short of newly recovered clips from home recording equipment. The last part of the session was a clip from It’s Lulu (BBC 1970), with a performance of Aretha Franklin singing ‘Spirit in the Dark’ which was in tribute to The Queen of Soul, who died this year. I love Aretha Franklin; her voice is so resonant with the experience of love and all its pitfalls. It was an awesome clip where Aretha, then aged 28 so deftly played the piano keys and sang with such longing emotion you couldn’t help but feel the song and her musicality. To the couple behind me who noisily tapped every musical note of Aretha’s performance I’m glad you enjoyed it but next time, if I see you, I may have to get the Cybermen to remove your emotions.

So, a couple of hours later I left with a new-found appreciation for all the hard work that the BFI do to preserve our televisual history. What I knew and it was reinforced really is that the archive is so much more than just collecting old clips. It’s a social history document that captures moments in time. The Doctor Who Wheel in Space mini-episode took its place in that history.

For the past four-years, Titan Comics have been publishing brand new Doctor Who comics. We’ve had a series for all the modern era Doctors as well as short runs for the 3rd, 4th and 7th Doctors. Now though, Titan is publishing brand new Thirteenth Doctor comics, not quite tying in with the release of her first episode, the debut issue is certainly a strong one and a bold new direction for the publisher from the strong creative cast working on this title.

One of the variant covers for The Thirteenth Doctor #1
One of the variant covers for The Thirteenth Doctor #1

SETTING THE STAGE

Writer Jody Houser kicks things off by introducing us to a couple of time-travelling scientists turned thieves, trying to steal a painting from a gallery in 1999. It turns out later that they work for some large skeletal creature who needs the painting for something. The rest of the comic sees the Doctor, Ryan,  Yaz and Graham encountering a fantastic living nebula travelling through space and then encountering a strange portal which someone is getting through, to meet the Doctor.

There are some cool little nods and easter eggs planted through the pages, the biggest of which is one of the scientists, Perkins, has opened the portal and travelled through it using a sabotaged Vortex Manipulator. During Rosa, The Doctor met a villain called Krasko who carried and used the device, as did Captain Jack during Doctor Who and later Torchwood. Could this all be a coincidence or could Houser be building up to something cool and exciting somewhere down the line? Part of me hopes so, maybe we will meet Krasko again and get some reasoning behind his actions in Rosa. Or maybe Captain Jack will be coming back. But the new series has taught me that things like this are just easter eggs and nods to things have come before.

Hopefully, though, Houser will expand on the elements of The Time Agency. We know Captain Jack worked for them and it seems to be a strange thing for a character like Perkins to own if the story doesn’t tie in with something like that later on down the line.

One of the interior pages of The Thirteenth Doctor #1, demonstrating the stunning art and colours
One of the interior pages of The Thirteenth Doctor #1, demonstrating the stunning art and colours

BEAUTIFUL ARTWORK

What really sold this issue to me, beyond the strong opening script was the fantastic artwork from Rachael Stott and colourist, Enrica Eren Angiolini. The likeness of actors Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole is astonishing. Titan Comics have always been great at finding artists who capture the likenesses our favourite Doctor Who characters but I have read a few issues hear-and-there where the art just hasn’t been up to the job. That isn’t the case here though and The Doctor, Ryan, Yaz and Graham look as lovely and alive as they do on screen.

Angilolini makes sure each page is just breathtaking. The colours really pop off the page and the quality of the paper really allows it to shine. I especially liked the pages set inside the new TARDIS. I don’t like the interior on screen but the pencils and inking really made me wish I could be lit like this on screen. I’m sold on the interior in the comics now they have to make me like it on screen!

Geeky readers like myself will also notice that the TARDIS uses a twenty-sided dice of the sort used in the game Dungeons and Dragons. Its touches like that, I really like to see on the TARDIS console. Well done.

OVERALL

Issue One is a really strong start for the new series of comics with the Thirteenth Doctor. The script is fantastic, the art is astonishingly good and the colouring is so bright and fantastic that I loved it from start to finish. I really struggled to get into the other Modern Doctor comics and I thought that might happen again. But not so, the Thirteenth Doctor comic has got off to a great start and I can’t wait to see where this series goes…

Welcome to Episode 213…

The News

More viewing figure chat from the last two weeks and last week plus the story of no new Who until 2020.

Merch Corner

A new Reeltime Pictures dvd – The Colin Bakers Years is on the way, The Macra Terror and the Series 11 soundtrack is up for pre-order.

“The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” Review

Series 11 has flown by, we’re at the end, the final, the finale, the big push, the big… oh hold on. Yeah, strap in Who fans as we dissect episode 10 and does it stand up as a suitable finale?

Thank you as always for joining us for 213. Next week is our final show of the year and not the usual format, we’ll be doing a year in review plus some Q&A fo look out for the social media post for that. Until then have a brilliant week and until next time – Allons-y!

My dear reader,

Life just has a habit sometimes of getting in the way of my live viewing of Doctor Who which is frankly inconvenient. So I settled down this weekend with a cup of tea in hand with iPlayer, as a longstanding fan of Doctor Who with butterflies in her stomach. The synopsis on the BBC website and the official trailer had suggested the BBC were raiding their costume department again for a full-on historical extravaganza. Would I love this story? Here goes…

The opening credits start and the theme tune…

Me: I’m still loving this interpretation of the theme tune and the visuals. The coloured vortex is so beautiful 

Written by Joy Wilkinson and directed by Sallie Aprahamian

Me: An episode directed and written by women. Could be cool. I’ve realised this whole series has been more female-centric than previously. Heroic females have over-shadowed the male supporting roles this series and have been written far more sympathetically so far anyway. 

The Doctor loves apple bobbing
The Doctor loves apple bobbing!

(A village scene, people dressed in early 17th Century rustic clothing. The Doctor is leading her crew around the looking for something. Something catches her eye )
DOCTOR: Apple bobbing! I love apple bobbing.

Me: Jodie’s delivery is so weird here. Why is she drawing so much attention with this line and why has no-one noticed their out of time clothing? The Tardis crew stand out. It was mentioned they are going to the coronation of Elizabeth the First so why aren’t they dressed for the period?

(An older man with a white beard rings a handbell..)

SMITHY: Mistress Savage demands your presence. The ceremony will begin.

GRAHAM: Anybody else missing the party vibe all of a sudden?…

Me: Interesting name Savage by name and nature?

DOCTOR: Yep. And judging by the vibe here, something is definitely not right.

Me: okay we’ve got folks in masks. Very Dick Turpin. 

 (A shot of the river and an old woman is chained to the end of a tree branch)…

GRANNY: Don’t cry, Willa. I will still be with you.

Me: Awww I feel a bit sorry for the old lady…

BECKA: Duck the witch!

ALL: Duck the witch! Duck the witch!

Me: This is all getting a bit nasty now. She’s done for either way. Such a mob mentality

(There is a splash! The Doctor has dived in the river and is swimming towards Granny.)

Me: Oh what just happened?  The doctor has jumped in! Have we seen the Doctor swimming before?  What about the rule of non-intervention. Isn’t she going to change events doing this?

Alan Cumming is a Royal with faith in God
Alan Cumming is a royal with faith in God

(Granny has died and the Doctor is squaring up Mistress Savage, who wants to take Willa. Mistress Savage challenges the Doctor who produces the psychic paper (sigh… used a bit too much at times. The classic doctors never needed it)

BECKA: Witchfinder General?
DOCTOR: That’s right. Witchfinder General, with my crack team, taking over this village. Right, gang?
GRAHAM: Yeah, cos you are in special measures

Me: The modern language here wouldn’t make sense to a real 17th-century person would it ?. I guess I should let it go as its Doctor Who but it’s making me wince. 

DOCTOR: Everybody, go home. This trial is over.

Me: I’m liking Jodie/ The Doctors authority here. She’s obviously working really hard to save this woman. I like the look of the whole location so far and the tone is dark and mysterious. I love the face mask design of the skulking figure.

(The Doctor is walking with Mistress Savage)

DOCTOR: If you’re the landowner, why are you walking? Where are the horses?
BECKA: Horses are banned in Bilehurst. They are creatures of Satan. I had them all shot.

Me: Wow! she’s dark, without mercy. 

( At the Hall the Doctor is warming herself by the fire trying to reason with Mistress Savage, offering to help as a mysterious figure enters the room removing his cape and hat)

BECKA: King James! Your Majesty

JAMES: You may prostrate yourselves before me, God’s chosen ruler and Satan’s greatest foe come to vanquish the scourge of witchcraft across the land. Forgive the mask. I have enemies everywhere and have to travel incognito. Also, I rather like the drama. What a peculiar ragbag of folks. And those garments. Are you actors?……

Me: Oh my God its Alan Cummings and why is he talking like that? He sounds very camp! Was King James like that in real life? Crikey. I’m a bit worried about that. What is he going to be doing later on?  (half laughing at this point). Well, I did say I wanted a bit more humour and a funny story in the past.  This wasn’t quite what I expected. Okay, I’ll go with it.

JAMES: A woman could never be the General.
DOCTOR: Silly me. Must’ve got all confused. Mustn’t I, boss?

Me: Ohh the doctor sounds well peeved. The Doctor’s gender doesn’t normally cause an issue but interesting to see it used here to her disadvantage… the assumption that she is the cleverest person in the room is nicely overturned.

Granny is a bit off colour!
Granny is feeling a little off colour!

( Graham is explaining the assumed dynamic of the Tardis crew to King James. All modern gobbledegook )

JAMES: Even the wee lassie?
DOCTOR: Even me. Very handy undercover. Set a woman to catch a woman.
JAMES: A cunning ruse, using your innate aptitude for nosiness and gossip.

Me: ( laughing so much here) The doctor looks outraged at his blatant sexism. Alan Cummings is enjoying himself quite a bit here. 

KING. This is no time for the weak. Satan preys on the innocent, even while they sleep. Together, we must purify your land, starting with the grandchild of the witch you tried today. A fine plan, is it not?
BECKA: A genius plan, Your Majesty. Together we shall save the souls of my people from Satan, even if it means killing them all.

Me: Really ? Oh okay ( sarcasm) There is definitely something bad going on with her

 (In the woods Willa is burying her grandmother and Yasmin is watching. Yasmin sees a tendril come out of the ground and creep towards Willa’s leg. She saves Willa by using the wooden shovel and starts hitting the flailing tendril until it dissolves into mud)

Me: Oh its an alien. I’m so disappointed! Leave it out for once please.   

(At the Hall Ryan and Graham are trying to keep the King and Mistress Savage from going anywhere. The King is explaining about his torture implements, and wide selection of body parts ) Laughing

(The forest. Graham is with Becka)

BECKA: If people are good, they have nothing to fear.
GRAHAM: Are you a good person, Mistress Savage?
BECKA: My conscience is clean

Me: I’m not so sure. There are 35 people dead love! 

(Willa’s cottage. The Doctor and Yaz are talking to Willa)

DOCTOR: Do you mind if I check you over? Don’t worry, I am a doctor.

(The Sheffield sonic whirrs.)

Me: Oh god the sonic ‘s coming out again ( big sigh) Surely Willa would be more suspicious here of a light, buzzy wand thing

WILLA: That movement in the mud. It was Satan, wasn’t it?
DOCTOR: I doubt it. Not a big believer in Satan.

Me: Hang on!  What about when 10 went to the Satan Pit ? Are we retconning the past. Hope not

( By the grave, Willa’s Granny has come back from the dead and wants the phial of active material . The Doctor gives it to her unaware there are more figures
DOCTOR: Always good to get fast answers.

Me:  Zombies! This reminds me a bit of the Gelf  ( In the Quiet Undead) when they took over dead bodies…

(In the Forest Alfonso has been killed and Willa has betrayed the Doctor so King James has condemned the Doctor as a witch.)

JAMES: Like Doctor Dee. A necromancer. That seals it. Arrest the witch!
DOCTOR: I… I am not a witch!

Me:  I like this development and how the doctor being female automatically makes her  is a witch. Wouldn’t have probably happened otherwise. 

(In the village the Doctor is tied so a birch tree and King James has come to see her for answers)

DOCTOR: Don’t we all? But true knowledge has to be earned. Tell you what. I’ll trade you my wand for answers to as many questions as you want to ask.
JAMES: I’m not a fool, Doctor. I am King James, Satan’s greatest foe.
DOCTOR: Yeah, yeah, I know. It must be comforting playing that role, hiding behind a title.
JAMES: Just as you hide behind Doctor, perhaps…

Me:  Ohh I really like the Doctor digging into James’s personal history. Actually suggests the Doctor is sussing him out and shows her Doctor’s intelligence. They aren’t quite equals in knowledge but he’s astute. Shades of series 7 with King James’s comment? 

DOCTOR: You could have seen her before she died, but you didn’t want to. Why?
JAMES: She left me when I was not even one year old. What kind of mother does that? Why would I wish to see her?

Me:  I’m really enjoying the drama of this conversation between them. He’s bitter. 

JAMES: I do not know what you are. And there is only one way to be certain. Guards! Summon the villagers

Me:  Oh, a ducking!

(In the Hall Ryan, Graham and Yasmin are hiding and see a mud women with an axe)

Me:  That’s a BIG axe. The cool colour tones look really good and atmospheric. Great direction and cinematography. Adds to the horror. 

(By the river King James has given the order for the Doctor to be ducked )

GRAHAM: Bring her back up now! I’m the Witchfinder General! I’m giving you an order!
BECKA: I obey only my King!

Me:  Go Graham! Loving his assertiveness which feels instinctive from Bradley

(Becka has transformed into a Morax)
MORAX: Hand me your King.
JAMES: What?

Me:  Ha ! He cowered in fear . Okay the Morax are creepy adversaries

DOCTOR: Haven’t you got your own King? Or is he hiding?
MORAX: He does not hide, he waits. We have all waited for too long, trapped in the hill.
DOCTOR: Pendle Hill.
MORAX: Our prison. The mighty Morax army, captured and imprisoned on this pitiful planet, for war crimes.

Me: Oh, really is that what has happened! Oh, I think I preferred the straight witchfinder story rather than this sci-fi twist. 

(After the energy blast from the Morax, King James is missing)

DOCTOR: From what Becka said, I’m guessing the Morax are royals with soldiers. Pretty brutal ones at that. Presumably exiled for war crimes, scrambled down into their primal form.

Me: There’s a LOT  of exposition from the Doctor here about the Morax, Would like more show don’t tell.  

(Wila offers to lead the Doctor up the hill ))

WILLA: There are more powerful people here than kings and queens. There’s us, together.
Me: She’s brave!

(The Doctor has reactivated the prison under Pendle Hill)

JAMES: Yes, you will. Burn the witch!
DOCTOR: No, sire, stay away!
(James thrusts his burning brand into the Morax, and it screams as it turns into green flame)

JAMES: What, woman? She was a witch. She confessed.
DOCTOR: So you got what you came for.

Me: The Doctor’s not pleased but cant say I agree. King James had to kill her to escape with his life.

(Forest as the Tardis disappears)

JAMES: Where did they go?

Me: The look in his face is priceless.

Conclusion. I enjoyed that story overall. Joy Wilkinson loves her history and its very telling that it felt the strongest part of the story and the better realised thematically. I didn’t think the sci-fi element was really needed in the story and the reveal came quite late in the proceedings for me to care about the aims of the Morax. Much preferred the emphasis on the  witch finding story rather than the aliens imprisoned in the hill. I wasn’t sure about Alan Cumming initially but he won me over with a hugely charismatic performance as King James. By turn, he made King James horrifically focused seemingly enjoying  the torture of his subjects and  showed him also weak, cowardly. He was seen as a product of his upbringing. His dark humour though gave him an odd charm due to the nobility he carried himself with.

Siobhan Finneran was excellent as Mistress Savage with the right level of puritan sternness and darkness in her character but she also  engendered a touch of sympathy from me as she reluctantly changed into the Morax. Loved seeing the dark tears flowing from her eyes whilst she was changing.  Tilly Steele  as Willa was quite consistent all the way through. The story was beautifully directed with some lovely landscape and overhead forest shots by Sallie Aprahamian.

Of the regulars, I enjoyed the comedy of the Ryan and King James scenes although Ryan does seem a bit out of place as does Yaz. Neither bring much to the story and seem almost bystanders. Graham getting the hat was fun as Witchfinder general and I like that he is quick thinking so much of the time responding to other characters. Jodie was much better written  as the Doctor this episode than previously and is growing more into the Timelord I understand. She got some meaty  one to one scenes with Alan Cummings and displayed some of the  curiosity and braveness I’ve seen with other Doctors. I still feel her characterisation hasn’t been completely consistent and nailed all the way through this series. I  never really know who she will be week to week and its feels as if I’m still waiting for a really big I am talking! a moment from her.

Not ducking history and an entertaining tale despite the sci-fi – 8 /10

Corporate satire

Dear reader, I wonder if Pete McTighe a fan of classic Doctor Who? I think so! Welcome to Kerblam! the unique story with an exclamation mark in the title which hits the most traditional notes of Doctor Who so far this series. Made better with subtle little throwbacks to the fez and the mention of Agatha Christie. It’s a fantastic idea using the premise of a colossal online galaxy retailer to take a wry look at the rampant consumerism the UK has embraced its collective heart through online shopping. Appropriate given we have just had Black Friday, one of the busiest online shopping days this year, worth squeal-making billions in the run-up to Christmas. It’s become a way of life in London because of the pace of 21st century living to order online, get next day delivery, collect instore or at a parcel locker. I almost, but not quite, miss all the physical fights that used to occur over bargains in shops.

I had no idea before the episode aired what the word Kerblam meant but it is apparently a word representing a sudden loud sound as in the sound of an explosion. Enter bubble wrap. It’s rather fun having it as a tool of destruction here given its everyday use nowadays and the desire most people have to pop the air bubbles. The only time I have considered bubble wrap in the context of Doctor Who has been in the Ark in Space when Noah was being turned into a Wirn. Back then in the 1970’s it was a new thing for the audience but let’s be honest it looked dreadfully cheap used within the studio.

The Ark in Space - Noah being wrapped in bubble-wrap and transformed into a Wirrn
The Ark in Space – Noah being wrapped in bubble-wrap and transformed into a Wirrn

Megalith Kerblam

Kerblam! was the ideal antidote to the last few episodes which have stretched the Doctor who format in new ways. A funny (mainly due to Graham) dark run-around reminiscent in style of the old series. It would have suited 10 and Rose as a story. It was a straight-forward adventure where the doctor received a distress message asking for help and off the team went to investigate where management and robots are under suspicion. Pete McTighe injected a welcome change of tone after the emotionally heavy “Demons of the Punjab” last week and I loved the opening shot of the Tardis rushing through the bright, beautiful looking vortex with a light pulse chasing the ship. I can’t tell you how happy I was to then see the planet Kadoka in the sky and the exterior of its moon. There is something about seeing an alien planet to me where anything is possible. Maybe it harks back to watching the original Star Trek series as a kid, repeated endlessly on the BBC, and loving it as the crew of the Enterprise explored somewhere different every week.

A Mystery to Solve

So, we then have a plot where people are disappearing and who is the culprit. Visually Kerblam! didn’t look the most expensive but made the most of the studio, with dark looking industrial areas and levels. The robots, both team-mates and dispatch bots did look suitably creepy with those light up eyes, their voices trying to mimic human tones coupled with an unnerving complete stillness they employed at times. In an age when we have issues over be able to see people’s faces having robots that look vaguely like updated conductors from “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” with a touch of a gruesome Postman Pat is unnerving. Obviously Twirly was the only robot I thought was very cute.

The Doctor looks cool
The Doctor looks cool

Fighting Back

It did take two watches to understand why Charlie was attacked by the teammates was because the system was suspicious of him or that the system placed the Doctor originally with Charlie in maintenance for the same reason. It was only that the Doctor changed the group loop colour that it delayed the resolution of the mystery which might have saved Dan and Kira. That is a big might though as Dan would have probably still swapped packing lists with Yasmin. I’ve seen it discussed online by people that thought it was awful how the Doctor sided with the system against Charlie when in essence it kidnapped Kira and gave her a present of the deadly bubble wrap. I think that at one point does the Doctor describe the system as having a conscience?  It seemed to have a definite consciousness when Twirly was connecting to the original system and it was saying help me help me. Dan said the teammates were always listening to the ‘organics’ even if they weren’t meant to be. It’s a bit morally ambiguous to me whether the system was as corrupt as Charlie. What do you think? Was the system taking an eye for an eye and no better than Charlie by killing Kira or was it just defending itself by showing Charlie what it meant to lose something?

We have a present for you
We have a present for you

There is a message here about the domination of machine over man, growing automation isn’t always in the best interests of humankind. Is Its hardly the most cheerful place in the world being like an open prison for the depressed where the huge warehouse is just eerie. At Kerblam the staff seem happy to accept the mundaneness and repetitive nature of their roles so they don’t end up losing their livelihood and purpose even though they only make up 10% of the workforce. Did Charlie have a point about fighting for better even though his methods were wrong?

Character Colour

It is encouraging that the script with a small supporting cast, Dan, Kira, Charlie, Mr Slade and Ms Maddox made time to give each person a bit of backstory although they were painted in quite broad strokes as characters. Lee Mack played a tragic hero with a child and gave a nice performance as Dan better than I expected, Kira (Claudia Jessie) was too good and positive a character you just knew she couldn’t make it to the end. Mr Slade (Callum Dixon) just looked like every nasty boss you ever had and Julie Hesmondhalgh gave a good performance as a nice but clueless Judy Maddox. Don’t get me wrong I liked them.

Kerblam! felt like a classic Doctor Who serial in structure as the regulars were split up to pursue different leads. Of the regulars my favourite Graham got some lovely comedy to play, as the reluctant maintenance operative, using a bit of ingenuity and guile to get the maps of Kerblam from Charlie. I was really pleased to see Yaz and Ryan working together and Pete McTighe remembered Ryan’s dyspraxia and Yasmin’s policewoman skills and incorporated them into the story. Jodie’s doctor still lacks the fire of the Timelord somewhat but she was more proactive in this story, actively investigating and I liked her angry dialogue when she dressed down the HR team about all the disappearances. But then she did doubt herself almost straight away and tried to make it funny so punctured the moment.

Supersonic

There is one thing which I understand that the story has to keep moving but damnnnnnnnn the use of the sonic screwdriver was a bit excessive. As a fan, I noticed its use a lot and it took me out of the story at points. Is there anything it won’t do?  changing a passenger manifest and the group loop colour, unlocking cabinets reactivating Twirly, acting as a teleport. It’s the perfect gadget.!! I want it for Christmas.

It ain’t heavy its bubble wrap 7.5 /10

First introduced into the Doctor Who mythos in Original Sin an Virgin New Adventures novel from 1995, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester travelled with the Doctor until the end of the range of novels, Roz was killed off in So Vile A Sin in 1997 and Chris left to become an agent of the Time Lords in Lungbarrow also published in 1997. For many fans of these novels and Doctor Who, these two companions are an interesting part of the Wilderness Years, where Doctor Who was experimented with like never before. Following their audio debut in Damaged Goods, an adaptation of a Virgin novel in 2015 and sporadic appearances here-and-there since, The Seventh Doctor, Chris and Roz are now back as part of the anniversary celebrations for Big Finish in a new and exciting boxset: The Seventh Doctor New Adventures, Volume 1.

The Seventh Doctor - The New Adventures: Volume One
The Seventh Doctor – The New Adventures: Volume One

THE TRIAL OF A TIME MACHINE

The set kicks off with The Trial of a Time Machine by Andy Lane, the man who created Chris and Roz back in 1995. It is an interesting little story which sees the Doctor having to defend the TARDIS on a planet where unauthorised use of a time machine is against the law.

From its opening moments, it is clear that this is a story which could have quite easily have been a Virgin Novel, minus all the really “adult bits” that some fans didn’t like from that range. In many ways, it made sense for the creator of these two companions to start the set-off but rightly so, the story doesn’t put all its focus on Chris and Roz, though they do get the most interesting things to do in this story. Actually, The Trial of a Time Machine has some interesting things to say on the justice system. The crime and punishment in the society of Thrantas are based on the notion that some crimes can actually benefit society. It is an interesting notion and concept and while the Doctor, Chris and Roz go their separate ways early on in this tale, it is a notion that follows both storyline threads.

Lane does something really interesting with the TARDIS too. He makes the Doctor wonder if the TARDIS actually wants to travel with him. Of course, we know, thanks to The Doctor’s Wife, that the TARDIS loves travelling with him but it does instil a little doubt in the Doctor’s mind as to whether he is better than those he fights. Sylvester McCoy plays this scene wonderfully and it is a real thought-provoking moment.

With the Doctor defending his TARDIS in some interesting courtroom drama, Chris and Roz team up with local law enforcement officers Maratuk and Sydyck and travel thousands of years into the past to see the damage they did try to land the TARDIS on the planet in present day. While their storyline does little but serves as a way of adding a little mystery and then an enjoyable runaround, actors Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman do a fantastic job in their roles, making them a really enjoyable duo.

Overall The Trial of a Time Machine is a really enjoyable way of kicking this set off. We’ve got some fantastic performances, tight direction from Scott Handcock and a thought-provoking script from Andy Lane. Throw in some nice continuity references for good measure and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a fantastic Doctor Who story!

The new TARDIS gang, Yasmin Bannerman, Sylvester McCoy and Travis Oliver
The new TARDIS gang, Yasmin Bannerman, Sylvester McCoy and Travis Oliver

VANGUARD

The second story, Vanguard takes the TARDIS trio back to the more familiar territory after a thought-provoking series opener. The Doctor lands on a world which is at war with an opposing faction and the trio get split up, all taking different sides on the matter.

Steve Jordan has a story here with some really interesting ideas, an army of robots, a small band of survivors and some intelligent bacteria all proving problematic. While we’ve heard many of these stories before, they always make for a nice palet cleanser with the audience in some more familiar territory. Jordan’s script is good fun though, keeping you really interested throughout. There was even one moment when I had to cringe in horror concerning Chris and his broken arm. I’m not normally squeamish but this little bit was the exception to that rule!

With Jordan’s tight script, the cast really brings out the best of the script. We’ve got Sara Powell as the deliciously evil Contessa who has some wonderful moments and lines littered throughout the play. Olivia Morris and Connor Calland make a great brother and sister team who get some interesting moments to shine as the war puts them almost in opposing positions for most of its runtime. It also serves as a great example of what happens to families during wartime. And Jacob Dudman does a tremendous job Cannon and the voices of the robots.

What I really liked though was that Steve Jordan puts the Seventh Doctor in a brand new vulnerable situation where it will take all his diplomatic skills to survive. This isn’t the environment to be a chess player and sacrifice some pawns to save the day. McCoy is on fire in this set and he once again delivers a fantastic performance here, devouring the strong script and lines. Overall this another enjoyable story.

THE JABARI COUNTDOWN

With the opening two stories set on other planets, it does make sense to have the closing stories set on Earth in different periods of time. Alan Flanagan kicks off the third story with the Doctor, Chris and Roz finding themselves on a boat in the 1940s heading to a mysterious island with a load of mathematicians who need to solve an alien puzzle.

Flanagan’s script is a rather nice little whodunnit story, where you aren’t sure who you are supposed to trust. And it is another script full of cool concepts and ideas, some of which I didn’t see coming as I was trying to keep up with the many plot threads the story threw at us.

Perhaps the most impressive part of The Jabari Countdown and the story thread that I most enjoyed was the handling of the character of Eleanor and transgender-discrimination. This certainly seems like a strange topic to include in a story set in the 1940s but Flanagan handles the topic with grace and dignity as it is a topic that some writers might handle heavy-handedly. As someone who knows transgender-person from way back in college, I did see some discrimination and this story only serves as an important reminder that while a lot of attitudes have changed over the many decades, we still have a long way to go yet before we are truely inclusive.

I’ve been very impressed with Flanagan’s work, not only with Doctor Who but also his stories in The Omega Factor range. I hope he continues to contribute stories like these in the future.

Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver as Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej
Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver as Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej

THE DREAD OF NIGHT

The final story, The Dread of Night by Tim Foley sees the Doctor, Chris and Roz in a story that goes full-on horror mode. Foley manages to deliver a story that is not only scary but also has some surprising twists, the major one I certainly didn’t see coming.

Foley’s script should be one that is better suited for the visual format but they make it work, thanks to the great script but the sound direction too. There are some tremendous moments when quiet scenes give way to some great jump scares, beware headphone users!

As a horror fanatic, I also noticed there were some things that Foley borrowed from other stand-out movies, there are elements of The Others and The Conjuring, while one of the characters, Annabelle undoubtedly takes her name from the creepy doll in The Conjuring franchise. But for me, that made this episode even more enjoyable, picking out moments from other movies of this type.

I’ve also written a couple of horror novels and I know that even the strongest horror stories can’t just rely on scary moments alone, it needs to have a central mystery. Foley delivers this in spades. He carefully keeps us from the truth the whole way, running along the knife’s edge of giving us just enough info and not enough to keep us listening to the end. Even a fanatic like myself won’t see the final twist coming.

The Dread of Night is certainly my favourite story of this set, amongst some strong competition and the whole hour passes by quickly as you are drawn into the dark and macabre world Foley has created. Director Scott Handcock and the guest cast also manage to avoid the many horror cliches and the final product is something that feels new and exciting.

OVERALL

With Big Finish having produced Seventh Doctor audio adventures for the last twenty years, the era of the Virgin New Adventures is a period of his history that they have barely touched. There were a couple of audio adventures early in their run, The Shadow of the Scourge and The Dark Flame that stepped into virgin territory but apart from that, we’ve only had the novel adaptations to enjoy.

As a result, The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Volume 1 feels like something exciting and brand new. The four scripts have managed to give a new lease of life to the Seventh Doctor and his companions, Chris and Roz have an endless potential for future stories.

Scott Handcock delivers some strong direction, creating some stellar guest casts and once again proving why he is one of the best contributors Big Finish currently has working for them. If you haven’t heard Blind Terror: Gods of Frost, then I urge you to go and listen to it, it is superb.

Sylvester McCoy, Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver are also having a blast here, their characters coming to life effortlessly. Hopefully, though this won’t be the one and only set of stories for this team because like the Virgin novels that spawned these concepts and characters, Big Finish feels like it is stepping into brand new territory once more and I can’t wait to see and hear what comes next.

SYNOPSIS

1. The Trial of a Time Machine by Andy Lane
After colliding with another time-ship in the vortex, the TARDIS materialises on Thrantas where it is arrested and forced to face trial. While Chris and Roz investigate the crime scene, the Doctor must defend his most loyal companion against a society where guilt has no meaning.

2. Vanguard by Steve Jordan
The planet Vanguard was once ravaged by a war between its peoples: the Dauntless and the Intrepid. Now, robotic titans stalk the desolation, searching for survivors. Their mission: to end the war for one side or the other. But which side will the Doctor take?

3. The Jabari Countdown by Alan Flanagan
Arriving on a mysterious island, stranded with a group of mathematicians, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the fringes of the Second World War. Trapped with only each other and an unknown threat, the group must work together to solve a puzzle greater than just one world’s war.

4. The Dread of Night by Tim Foley
When a grieving household offers the TARDIS travellers shelter from the weather, the Doctor, Chris and Roz find themselves exposed to even less hospitable conditions. A sinister presence stalks the house, plaguing its inhabitants… and only the truth can free them.

Written By: Andy Lane, Steve Jordan, Alan Flanagan, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Maratuk), Vikash Bhai (Sydyck), John Heffernan (Honos), Mina Anwar (Forsetti), Janine Duvitski (Alpha Wheeler), Leonie Schliesing (Zsa Zsa Straus), Franchi Webb (Eleanor Blake), Rupert Young (Binkum Fray), Silas Carson (Arbuckle), Sara Powell (Contessa), Olivia Morris (Green), Connor Calland (Blue), Jacob Dudman (Cannon), Melanie Kilburn (Hooley), Rhian Blundell (Isabel), Elaine Fellows (Annabel), Ellie Darvill (Willis). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

Continuing this year’s series of Early Adventures is Entanglement. Another solid entry from writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, The Doctor, Vicki and Steven find themselves in Cambridge in the 1930s. Separated from the TARDIS, the trio finds themselves wandering around the corridors of Sedgewick College. Strange things are afoot. The Master of Sedgewick, Sir Isaiah Hardy has gone missing. The Proctors are acting weirdly and there is an election coming up concerning the new Master of Sedgwick. And then there is the strange Entanglement machine. The Doctor, Vicki and Steven soon find themselves as part of a strange experiment…

Entanglement By Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
Entaglement By Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky

By now, Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have cemented themselves as great historical Doctor Who writers. The penned The Ravelli Conspiracy and Kingdom of Lies as well as some titles for other ranges or upcoming adventures for the next year. Both The Ravelli Conspiracy and Kingdom of Lies went down very well and I have a feeling that Entanglement will be held in the same regard.

This series of Early Adventures has had a lot of fun throwing twists and turns at us listeners so we are never quite sure what is going to happen. And Khan and Salinsky continue that trend, just when we think we know what is going on, a new character will turn up or something will happen that will wrongfoot us again and make us think once more. For a large part, the story works because of that. For another part, the story works because its the First Doctor, Vicki and Steven wandering around a college in Cambridge!

Khan and Salinsky have also shown us that they have an uncanny ability to craft and create some cracking First Doctor stories. Anyone can write a good First Doctor story but this pairing seems to be able to create the unique feel that that era of the show had. And it is very easy to hear William Hartnell delivering the lines they have written. The pair has a great handle on Vicki and Steven too, giving the pair plenty to do within this story. They make the right choice of separating Vicki and Steven quite early on to give each character an adventure all of their own but how and why the characters are separated is one of many great moments that this story has to offer.

While some of the twists and turns, as well as some of the moments, were a little too predictable for me to enjoy them thoroughly, Entanglement is another truimph from Khan and Salinsky and I hope to see that they will write more First Doctor stories in the years to come.

Surviving actors, Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves both do a terrific job with this script, the pair obviously enjoying how clever the prose actually is. As I said above, it is a story where you think you understand what is going on and then a curveball is thrown in and the whole thing gets shaken up again. O’Brien and Purves clearly enjoyed that aspect of the script too.

Purves is on hand as the Narrator as well as his character Steven and the Doctor. I’ve said many times in the reviews for these Early Adventures that he is a great presence in these stories and his ability to tell a story makes for an incredible listen. His impersination of William Hartnell’s First Doctor might not be pitch perfect, it can be a little too high pitched at times, does capture the spirit of the original performance. And even though it is Purves reading those lines, it is hard to imagine anyone other than Hartnell delivering them.

Purves is also excellent as Steven and Khan and Salinsky make sure he gets plenty to do here. From hurling stones at the TARDIS to helping stop the villian at the end, Steven isn’t left out of the action. While he might be an underrated companion on screen, Purves has found his place as Steven on audio, no doubt to the strange abilities of everyone at Big Finish to give the characters some much needed development. I hope this continues and so long as Purves continues to work with Big Finish, I and my wallet, will be reading to buy whatever they throw at me!

Like Purves, Maureen O’Brien is another terrific addition to this story. She was another underrated companion on screen but here on audio, she too has really found her place, solidifying my belief that was a companion who didn’t get much development. O’Brien really steps up to the plate with every audio adventure she is in and there is no sign of her getting bored of this anytime soon. She is also excellent as the narrator, really selling the story to the audience. She is a magnificant edition to the world of Doctor Who and Big Finish. I hope she too continues to work with them for a long time to come.

The guest cast do a great job too. Mark Edel-Hunt, Sam Woolf, Philip Fox, Richard Braine and John Rowe all do tremendous jobs with their respective characters. Some of which you’ll love, others you’ll know their characters up to something dodgy. But not one of them falls into the trap of overplaying their roles.

It is also a testiment to Lisa Bowerman who can gather a terrific cast and bring this brilliant script to life. She instinctively knows what makes a good, not only Doctor Who story, but a story in general. She doesn’t let the ball drop with the pacing which stays steady all the way through and she gets the best of the script out through the tight direction and her work with the cast.

Overall, Entaglement is another successful entry into The Early Adventures range. While the last story, An Ideal World didn’t really set my imagination off, Entaglement worked tremendously well, thanks to its tremendous direction, fantastic cast both main and guest and another solid script from Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky. I hope they come back to do more work with Big Finish soon!

SYNOPSIS

Cambridge, England, the mid 1930s. When the Doctor, Steven and Vicki get separated from the TARDIS they are forced to spend some time amongst the ancient spires of Sedgwick College. The college is mid-way through a leadership crisis following the unexplained disappearance of the Master of Sedgwick, Sir Isaiah Hardy. An election for his replacement is now taking place.

But is that all that’s happening in this seemingly peaceful location? The Proctors are behaving in mysterious ways and the students are prone to bursts of unexplained violence. When one of his companions also vanishes, the Doctor realises that there’s more at stake here than control of an educational establishment. A dark plan is underway – one that threatens the entire future of humanity itself!

Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast
Maureen O’Brien (Vicki / Narrator), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor / The Doctor / Narrator), Mark Edel-Hunt (Guy), Sam Woolf (Kim), Philip Fox (Professor Charles Lewis), Richard Braine (Professor Linus Woolf), John Rowe (Sir Isiah Hardy). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: John Dorney
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs