Listen on these platforms? We're on those too, go subscribe…
Month: February 2019
Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…
The episode Rosa, co-written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, bags an award at the Visionary Arts Awards.
A new 13th Doctor 1:6 scale figure from Big Chief is up for pre-order and they need to get 500 orders in for the units to go into production.
“SJA – Secrets of the Stars” Review
We continue into Series 2 of The Sarah Jane Adventures with the Attic team investigating an astrologer-fraud-come-alien-light-being. Are we starry-eyed about this one or have the stars not aligned?
Next week our review will be the 3rd Doctor story – The Mutants. Until then have a great week and until next time – Allons-y!
It sometimes feels that, after 56 years, there’s little left to surprise you about Doctor Who. Thanks to the efforts of your Keith Barnfathers, Andrew Pixleys and Toby Hadokes, there are surely very few stones left unturned in our quest for Who knowledge. And yet, Tom Baker’s new novel Scratchman is one of those rare things, a surprise. Baker’s ability to craft a macabre and magical adventure was never in doubt for anyone who’s read interviews or his previous two books Who on Earth is Tom Baker?and The Boy Who Kicked Pigs.
What catches the reader off guard is that Baker has also managed to give us an emotionally robust Doctor Who story about what it means to be the Doctor in an affectionate and affecting tribute to the character to whom he, and we owe so much.
The behind the scenes story of Scratchman is well documented, but we’ll briefly return to it. Back in the 1970s, at the height of Baker’s powers, he and Ian Marter cooked up a Doctor Who feature film script which would pit the Doctor against the Devil. Inspired by Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, there would be evil scarecrows, Daleks, a giant pinball table, and Vincent Price would play the Devil! Whilst the idea found a writer and director in the form of James Hill, and got to the script stage, it was never produced and has remained one of Doctor Who’s few unanswered What If questions.
Tom Baker, with the help of prolific Doctor Who author James Goss has finally adapted his movie as a novel from BBC books. Much of Baker and Marter’s original ideas remain, with a sprinkling of nods to a future that would have been inconceivable in the mid-1970s. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry materialise on a sleepy Scottish island where an ancient power is turning the villagers into twisted, terrifying scarecrows. In their attempt to save the villagers, the Doctor and his friends end up in a mind-boggling battle with the Devil himself, the titular Scratchman.
Some concessions are made to the fact that this is a novel rather than a feature film. Instead of unfolding like a traditional adventure, this is a story told to the Time Lords, by the Doctor to delay his execution. The Gallifreyan Nights, if you will. The book is therefore written in the first person, from the perspective of the Doctor himself. Such a narrative device was always a bit of a no-no in Doctor Who books from the Target days onwards. However, if any writer could give their readers an insight into the impossible mind of the Doctor, it’s Tom Baker (and, for good or ill, Steven Moffat).
It’s always been difficult to tell where Baker begins and the Doctor ends, or indeed vice versa and that vein of ambiguity runs through every page of Scratchman. There’s that tone of melancholic, wistful nostalgia that inflects much of Baker’s recent contributions to the Classic Series’ BluRay range. The Doctor’s fondness for his companions Sarah and Harry is clearly rooted in Baker’s own affection for his friends Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter, both of whom are sadly no longer with us.
Baker’s sense of mischief is another thing that leaps off the page. There’s a cheeky reference to Worzel Gummidge that you can picture the Fourth Doctor delivering to camera with a wry grin and glint in the eye. He also deploys some wonderful, evocative turns of phrase which delight and disgust in equal measure.
“…their faces open in what could have been just an ‘oh’ of surprise, but looked like a horrible wooden choir screaming in silent and perpetual agony.”
Passages like that call to mind some of the more grisly moments of an Ian Marter or Gerry Davis penned Target novel as well as evoking the “Hammer horror at teatime” feel of Baker’s early years in the role.
Doctor Who has a decades-long association with novelisations and original stories but Scratchman is something utterly unique. An authentic slice of gothic horror by way of Holmes and Hinchcliffe, and a fascinating insight into both the character of the Fourth Doctor and the actor who played him.
Indeed, the letter from the Doctor that closes the novel is as much a letter from Tom Baker as it is from our titular Timelord. “I hope I’ve been a good Doctor. I hope you’ve enjoyed having me around.” It’s something of an understatement to agree that Tom has been a good Doctor, and it’s been noted time and time again how wonderfully he weaves a yarn. How brilliant it is to have this novel, which is the perfect combination of Tom Baker the storyteller and Tom Baker the Doctor. It may have taken over 40 years but Scratchman has definitely been worth the wait.
The Diary of River Song: Series 5 continues to pit River Song against various famous faces from across the Doctor Who universe. With Series 4 having brought Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor into the fold, Series 5 sees River come up against the Doctor’s arch nemesis, The Master, in many incarnations of that character. This is my first foray into the world of River Song at Big Finish so the question is, did I enjoy it?
THE BEKDEL TEST
Jonathan Morris has one of the most challenging things to do with The Bekdel Test and that is bringing Michelle Gomez into the world of Big Finish. Ahead of her own boxset due for release in February, this is a good look into how her own series is going to pan out.
And to his credit, Morris does a very good job. He forces two characters who are direct opposites to work together and then lets us watch the chaos that ensues. Missy is the same crazy version of the character that she was on television and Michelle Gomez seems completely at home with her character on audio.
Indeed, Morris makes the absolute most of the great chemistry between Alex Kingston and Michelle Gomez with a number of little moments which are laugh out loud. We’ve got one little scene where River goes through every rogue Time Lord in existence including the Rani and The Meddling Monk before she works out who Missy is. Gomez pitches Missy’s disgust just perfectly! How could anyone not know who she is?! And there is a great throwaway line to the Comic Relief special, The Curse of Fatal Death! It is a reference that only Doctor Who fans will probably get but it is a great one! Well done Mr Morris!
With this being my first time listening to The Diary of River Song, I was impressed with how good Alex Kingston was on audio. River Song is perhaps one of those marmite characters amongst fans, many love her but there are just as many who unfortunately don’t. I must admit to being someone who quite liked her character and Kingston’s performance in particular. There were moments where Stephen Moffatt would go a little too far with the innuendoes, but that isn’t a problem that Morris has. He keeps things tense and interesting and litters the script with plenty of twists and turns. There were a couple of moments which surprised me and the supporting cast was excellent too.
The Bekdel Test was a great way to open this set and kept me excited for the next adventure and the upcoming boxset for Missy herself, one can never have too much Michelle Gomez!
The second story for this set, Animal Instinct sees River Song coming up against perhaps the evilest incarnation of the Master, Geoffrey Beever’s decayed Master. Author Roy Gill is really good at keeping the Master’s identity a secret from River Song at first as this is perhaps the incarnation that casual viewers are less familiar with.
With River Song and her assistant Luke stumble across an ancient temple and stumble into a trap set for the Doctor. Waking the Master up from his stasis pod, they soon discover a secret history for this world and how that ties in with the plans of The Master. Roy Gill has gradually garnered quite the repertoire at Big Finish with his work on The Omega Factor range being standouts for me and he really has a handle on things here. His characterisation of River is spot-on, making her a much more Doctor-ish character than she is over the rest of the set. And Alex Kingston works brilliantly alongside Geoffrey Beevers. The pair have fantastic chemistry, Beevers’ silky voice and Kingston’s quite loud tones sound really nice together.
What really works quite nicely is that there are a few moments here and there, where this Master seems to rub off on River, causing her to make some surprising decisions and giving us some nice little twists here and there that catch us on the wrong foot.
One thing that Gill hasn’t forgotten to inject though is some elements of humour. As well as being perhaps the most callous incarnation of the Master, Beevers can also be one of the funniest. His Master has no understanding of the way humans work and that is clear here when he comments on how River manages to control Luke without the use of shocking weapons and threats. Kingston’s disdain at the comments help really sell the scene and Beevers’ genuine surprise at how this can work is hysterical.
The supporting cast here is great again, providing more than a little cannon fodder for the Master but the actors make their characters so likable that when one of them bites the dust, you really feel it. Overall, this is another strong entry to the set and another enjoyable stand-alone story to boot.
THE LIFEBOAT AND THE DEATHBOAT
The third story of this set is perhaps the most surprising of all and certainly garnered a lot of the focus in the different media outlets that jumped on it because it was a slow news day. Eddie Robson was given the hardest job of all here in the form of bringing back Eric Robert’s TV Movie version of the Master.
Setting his story on board a floating mishmash of a ship stranded in the time Vortex, he gives the Master just one location to work from and this, in turn, allows us to get a good look into where his mind is at. The biggest problem with the TV Movie for me is the way the Master is written, by people who claim to have been fans but have clearly never seen a Master episode of Doctor Who in their lives! That isn’t the case here and Robson gives this ridiculed version of the character some much-needed dignity.
Eric Roberts for his part does a damn-good job in the role. Being the only American in the cast, it isn’t difficult to work out who he is but I must admit I was a little flummoxed at the beginning, as he sounds absolutely nothing like he did on television. Of course, Roberts is older now and naturally, his voice would change but it took me a while to work out it was him! The change in tone for his voice though is a great thing because he gets across a much softer side of the character before snapping into evil-Master mode at the end. And although we still get a couple of theatrical moments, things are dialled down much more nicely and Robson and Roberts give the character a new lease of life. Hopefully, this won’t be the one-and-only time we hear from Eric Roberts with Big Finish, perhaps a rematch against the Eighth Doctor is now on the cards?
Robson has proved time and time again that he can handle some of the timey-wimey aspects of the show expertly, especially when it comes to bridging some of the confusing gaps or mistakes in continuity between the modern series and the classic series. He does this again in a rather imaginative way to explain how the Master survived the events of the television movie and for the most part it works, though it does stretch the imagination a little. But the rest of the episode is so enjoyable that you can forgive this little hiccup.
The Lifeboat and the Deathboat is a surprisingly enjoyable story which allows the TV Movie Master a time to shine. Eric Roberts has great chemistry with all the main and supporting cast and hopefully we’ll hear more from him again in the near future. And hopefully, his successful turn here will finally make the production team behind the TV Movie give Big Finish the rights to the characters of Grace Holloway and Chang-Lee. Now there’s a boxset I’d be the first in line to purchase!
THE CONCEALED WEAPON
The fourth and final outing in this set, Concealed Weapon sees the return of another evil incarnation of the Master, Derek Jacobi’s War-Master. Written by Scott Handcock, who perhaps has the best handle on this incarnation, The Concealed Weapon is another great story and a great way to close out the set.
Over the few years that he has been working with Big Finish, Derek Jacobi’s War Master has quickly become one of the most evil versions of the character since the character’s creation. With the Time War raging all around him, this is a Master who has gone a little more insane and just doesn’t care anymore. I’ll never get over his treatment of his ‘companion’, played by Jonny Green in the Only the Good boxset and here, his treatment of the supporting characters is just as vile.
Perhaps the best thing about this story is that River Song knows exactly who this Master is. We’re given no explanation as to how that is possible but we don’t need one as there is a real sense that she has no idea how to stop him. Almost throughout the entire story, the War Master has the upper-hand until River Song finally puts a stop to him at the end but there is a real sense of threat and unease as his plans begin to take form.
As with any good Master story, it ends with his plans coming down around his ears but it is a lot of fun getting to that stage and Scott Handcock makes sure he gives us plenty of misdirection in the meantime with characters shifting or having shifted allegiances throughout the piece.
With the series being headed by Alex Kingston, this story really is Jacobi’s show and it is clear how much he revels in being thoroughly evil!
The Diary of River Song: Series 5 is a massive success plain and simple. It has four incredibly strong stories all penned by competent writers. The whole cast, main and guest for all stories do a terrific job and for my first foray into this range, I was incredibly impressed.
All the Master’s were used incredibly well, Michelle Gomez is always a delight as is Geoffrey Beevers and Derek Jacobi but we know they all are, the biggest surprise was certainly Eric Roberts who stepped up to the plate brilliantly.
If this set proves anything it is that River Song doesn’t need the Doctor around to deliver some cracking storytelling. With the range having been commissioned for a further two sets, the future seems bright for River Song. We’ll next hear from her in the upcoming Legacy of Time and Ravenous: Vol 3 and Alex Kingston will head Transcendence, a Big Finish original.
It seems that Alex Kingston is going nowhere anytime soon as so long as the sets she is part of are as strong as this one, I’ll be there!
The Doctor isn’t the only Time Lord River runs into on her travels up and down the timeline.
The Master, in all of his – or her – guises, also has a chequered history with Professor Song. And whenever they meet, it’s a close call as to who comes out on top…
It’s something River must get used to: there are three people in her marriage – at the very least!
The Bekdel Test by Jonathan Morris
Back at the start of her imprisonment, Doctor Song becomes a guinea pig for an innovative new security system. But it’s her fellow prisoners she needs to be most wary of. Because it’s early days for Missy, too. The Doctor is dead, and she is outraged that somebody else killed him first…
Animal Instinct by Roy Gill
On a world where vicious beasts stalk ancient ruins, Professor Song teaches a student the finer points of archaeology. But then she meets an incarnation of the Master who is desperate to survive. And if they are going to escape this place alive, they all must work together.
The Lifeboat and the Deathboat by Eddie Robson Stranded in the Vortex, a father and daughter do their best to survive, living on salvage in a ramshackle vessel. Elsewhere, an obsessive ship’s captain hunts down a vengeful monster, whatever the cost. And River is caught between them, uncovering an old enemy in the most unexpected new guise.
Concealed Weapon by Scott Handcock A deep space exploration mission nears its end – when suddenly, the crew start to die. River must try to protect her colleagues and work out what else is on board their ship.
Something is stalking them, and the deadliest Master of all has his own plans for River Song…
Written By: Jonathan Morris, Roy Gill, Eddie Robson, Scott Handcock Directed By: Ken Bentley
Cast Alex Kingston (River Song), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Eric Roberts (The Master), Derek Jacobi (The Master), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Laurence Kennedy (Director), Fiona Hampton (Zerelda / Charlotte Henries), Richenda Carey (Darial / Admiral), Andrew Fettes (Hewel / Prison Guard), Timothy Blore (Luke Sulieman), Delroy Atkinson (Dav Christos / Therian Leader), Emily Woodward (Adella Franz Therian), Lucy Heath (Alison), Sasha Behar (Admiral Eno), Himesh Patel (Ayrton Valencia / Engineer), Eleanor Crooks (Kaliopi Mileska / Robot), Christopher Naylor (Number Two / Computer / James), Vineeta Rishi (Amita Burman), Orion Ben (Nina Purkis), Tom Price (Hugo), Jacqueline King (Michelle Lambon). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: Matt Fitton Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Kicking off a new year of exciting Doctor Who adventures for the Main Range Big Finish has to offer is Devil in the Mist. Written by Cavan Scott it sees the Fifth Doctor, Tegan Turlough and Kamelion stuck in a strange alien landscape, surrounded by strange animals and space hippos! Talk about kicking the new year off with a bang!
When the TARDIS arrives on a prison ship, the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion discover that the ship is only transporting one prisoner. Nustanu, the last of the Zamglitti has the ability to change his form into mist. But the ship is crashing. And the planet it is on a collision course for is shrouded in mists…
Yes, you read that right, Kamelion is back! The notorious robotic companion that featured in only two televised adventures, The Kings Demons and Planet of Fire has been given the Big Finish treatment. Out of all the different Doctors that Big Finish has handled since their creation in 1999, the Fifth Doctor’s era has taken the longest to complete. While Nyssa and Turlough were on-board from the beginning, Janet Fielding finally agreed to return as Tegan in Cobwebs and then Matthew Waterhouse in Psychodrome. For a time the whole gang was complete, we’ve had plenty of fantastic trilogies and box sets with those guys but there has always been a strange robotic form who has been content to sit in a TARDIS cupboard and be ignored. Until now.
Following a brief appearance in the episode Winter, in the anthology release Circular Time back in 2007, over ten years later, Cavan Scott’s Devil in the Mist, finally gives Kamelion is first proper appearance in the audio format.
Cavan Scott has been a busy boy of late, writing for the Star Wars range at Marvel Comics and the Doctor Who series’ at Titan Comics, it is nice to see his name appearing on the Big Finish site once again for the first time since 2017. And Devil in the Mist certainly feels a lot like a comic book adventure, it is one of those stories that would never be produced on television because of budget constraints, even by today’s standards and that is a compliment because it means the finished product feels rather special as a result. We’ve got some truly relentless pacing, which amps up our excitement with the piece, a much larger than life supporting cast and twists and turns thrown at the characters at the end of every episode.
To his credit, Scott handles of all this very well, such storytelling might prove problematic for a few other writers who might sacrifice one thing to get more of another. But Scott manages to not do that and all the time, make his supporting characters feel very real. Indeed, I found myself really caring for Orna and Rako, space hippos whose real mission doesn’t become clear until the final episode. It is a fantastic idea, taking something like a hippo and putting them in a spacesuit and they feel a lot like the Judoon, Rhinos in space. But the Judoon are happy enough policing the space-lanes, Orna and Rako work for a species who are glorious warriors, who have now dedicated themselves to peace.
Actors, Anjella Mackintosh and John Voce do a terrific job as Orna and Rako and one wouldn’t think for one moment that isn’t anything other than space-hippos! They achieve this by lowering their voices slightly and getting the sound of an animal that would speak with a deeper but louder voice. Their voices also someone manage to convey the weight of these aliens which is something strange to note but it works in their favour too!
Where the story stumbles slightly is in its handling of the main villain, Nustanu. While the conclusion explains what has been going on, it is a shame that he hardly features in the story at all, despite the fantastic job that Simon Slater does in portraying the character. Once episode two comes along, the sense of any danger that the opening episode managed to really conjure up, dissipates quite quickly and the dangers that the TARDIS crew encounter feels slightly disjointed as a result.
But that is just a minor quibble as Scott gives us some really action-packed set pieces and even puts Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor through the wringer landing him in a Professor X situation. There is a real sense of panic when we learn that his back is broken, even if the Doctor tries to brush it aside as if its nothing. We know that this won’t stick because there is no mention of anything like this in the television series but Scott does make it an interesting mystery as the story progresses to its conclusion.
Let’s take a look at the biggest star of this audio drama, Kamelion, played by Jon Culshaw. Well, he is just a delight! Culshaw does a terrific job in the role, giving us shades of Gerald Flood’s original performance while putting his own spin on the character. As a result, we get a sense that Kamelion is trying to move away from the grip the Master had on him and become his own, well, robot. Scott also gives us hints that Kamelion is trying to form his own conscience and is trying to understand the thoughts and emotions of those around, particularly Tegan who is completely against him joining the TARDIS. Scott gives Kamelion a unique character here, something that was never achieved on television or the novels, The Ultimate Treasure or The Crystal Bucephalus. Hopefully, this will be a narrative trait that will continue through this new Kamelion trilogy and I can’t wait to hear more from him! And let’s give another round of applause to Jon Culshaw who has successfully resurrected this long-ignored character and who finally made him feel like a companion for the Fifth Doctor.
Speaking of the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison is just as excellent as ever. Even if there isn’t too much panic in his voice when the Doctor discovers his back has been broken, it does feel quite natural as the Fifth Doctor would have tried to act gentlemanly despite the dire circumstances he now finds himself in. As well as his excellent chemistry with Mark Strickson as Turlough and Janet Fielding as Tegan, he also has chemistry with Culshaw and as a result, it feels like Kamelion never really did just vanish between his two televised stories. Well done, Mr Davison.
Mark Strickson is always a delight as Turlough. Coming after The King’s Demons, this is still fairly early days for Turlough in terms of his televised adventures but with Big Finish we’ve had a whole series of adventures from Cobwebs to The Entropy Plague where Turlough mellowed out a lot more and gelled into the Fifth Doctor dynamic much easier. Strickson rightly keeps that same pace and energy going, deciding not to go back to that slightly duplicitous character he always had on screen. Turlough is one of those companions who has benefited from much character development with Big Finish and in stories like it shows, he is just a joy to be around and some of his sarcastic one-liners end up as comedy gold!
Janet Fielding as also just a delight as Tegan. I might be a little biased because she is my favourite companion, but I always look forward to an audio adventure with Tegan. Cavan Scott gives her a time to shine too, really showing that she can get things done, making a raft to travel down some rapids and squaring off against hippos from outer space! Scott also gives her some cracking lines, my favourite being when she tells a snake to “Hiss off!”
Like Turlough, Tegan is one of the companions that Big Finish have really run with her independence shines through here as she basically takes charge of the situation. Her relationship with Kamelion was quite interesting at the end of The King’s Demons and her sense of distrust continues here, even playing into the big twist at the end. We get moments where Tegan is happy enough to let Kamelion help out and then moments when she goes back to distrusting him, even if Kamelion doesn’t understand why. But it feels perfectly natural, in the story that came before, Kamelion gave her no reason to trust him but here, she begrudgingly comes to respect him. It is nice to hear and I’ll look forward to learning if that newfound respect for the new travelling companion continues in future releases.
Overall then, Devil in the Mist is a cracking adventure. While there are a few hiccups here and there, the overall story more than makes up for them. It follows an action-packed storyline that never lets up or slips in its pacing and as a result, we are on the edge of our seats. Hopefully, Cavan Scott will be back soon with more stories and not let two years slip past before submitting another story!
Director, Ken Bentley does another terrific job here too, keeping the whole cast quite small really helps the story as sometimes a story can have too many characters for its own good. Rightly so, the cast of characters is kept quite small here and Bentley has cast perfectly the guest characters. He also helps the pace keep up while allowing things to breathe in quieter moments. Bentley is one of Big Finish’s strongest directors and long may his work with them continue!
The main TARDIS team are fantastic and listening to the interviews at the end of the release, it is clear how quickly and readily they included Jon Culshaw into their little family. The gang feel like they have been together for a long time already and hopefully, this will be a sense that continues for as long as Big Finish keeps these guys together.
And the cover from Will Brooks is just beautiful!
The TARDIS deposits the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and their android ally Kamelion aboard a prison ship. A ship with just one prisoner: Nustanu, last warlord of the Zamglitti – monstrous, mind-bending mimics able to turn themselves into mist.
A ship that’s in trouble, and about to make a crash-landing…
On a planet of mists.
Written By: Cavan Scott Directed By: Ken Bentley
Cast Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Jon Culshaw (Kamelion), Anjella Mackintosh (Orna), John Voce (Rako), Simon Slater (Nustanu). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: Scott Handcock Script Editor: Alan Barnes Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…
We finally have some news! Doctor Who included in the Top 10 iPlayer shows of 2018, we say goodbye to Clive Swift and Tiny Rebel Games are shutting down their Legacy game.
A new unofficial drama from Reeltime Pictures featuring Sil is out later this year and John Levene’s autobiography is out this month.
“The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People” Review
The majority of 11th Doctor (and 10th Doctor for that matter) episodes left for us to review are two-parters. Our first one, and this week’s review, is a story of moral situations, plot twists and two Doctors!
Next week our review will be the Sarah Jane Adventures episode – Secrets of the Stars. Until then have a super week and until next time – Allons-y!
Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…
A new B&M set featuring the regenerated 4th Doctor and TARDIS is due out, hopefully, soon.
Back on the Torchwood train as we look into this gory story from Chris Chibbnall.
Next week our review will be an 11th Doctor two-parter – The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People. Until then have a great week and until next time – Allons-y!