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Month: May 2019
Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…
We have no news or merch to cover this week. We know, sad face.
“The Keys of Marinus” Review
“Yes my boy!” We’re hanging out with the 1st Doctor this week for this series 1 six-parter. A collection of mini-stories provide some interest across the arc but enough to keep up into the search for the keys?
Next week our review will be the Torchwood story – Random Shoes. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
Ah, Doctor Who in the early to mid-1970s, a golden age. The shift to more Earthbound adventures, an increased social conscience and more emphasis on the evil that men do. (And people say that the Chris Chibnall era doesn’t reflect their Doctor Who)
All of which is present in the latest volume of Big Finish’s latest entry in their Third Doctor Adventures series made up of two stories Primord and The Scream of Ghosts. It’s no spoiler to say that the first is a sequel to 1970’s Inferno but it would be a spoiler to tell you which adventure the second is a sort-of prequel to. So I won’t.
Anyway, returning monsters aren’t the main attraction here. That would be the recasting of the much missed Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John as the Brigadier and Liz Shaw. I’m sure there was a temptation to do this much earlier, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Which is perhaps why, in this fifth volume, Big Finish have finally taken the plunge and cast Jon Culshaw as the Brigadier. It was a wise move to wait, Tim Treloar is clearly very comfortable now in his role as the Third Doctor, ably capturing the spirit of Pertwee’s original performance, so comfortable in fact, that he’s not shy in emulating that famous lisp every now and again.
So with Katy Manning and the remaining members of the UNIT family already onboard and the audience now accustomed to the new/old line-up, what better time to recast the Doctor’s oldest friend. Before we even get to discussing the stories in the set, it’s worth pointing out that Culshaw is superb as the Brigadier. That he gets the voice right is perhaps no surprise from a seasoned impressionist. But he also gets into the head of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and in the few scenes he shares with Tim Treloar’s Doctor, they’re bickering and riffing off each other just as comfortably and entertainingly as Nicholas Courtney and Jon Pertwee ever did.
Much like Culshaw’s performance as the Brigadier, the two stories in the set are impersonating a style of Doctor Who but also adding depth and weight to them, with neither John Dorney or Guy Adams wishing to provide hollow imitations of such a beloved era.
John Dorney’s Primord sees the Brigadier and UNIT seconded to a county-wide search for missing convicts following a series of prison transfer hijacks. The Doctor and Jo, meanwhile are in nearby Cambridge visiting Liz Shaw who needs the Doctor’s help with a major scientific project she’s been working on. Of course, both plotlines dovetail rather neatly, and we find ourselves in the familiar territory of cold war paranoia, scientific installations, corrupt politicians, rogue senior military personnel and monsters besieging the south of England.
It’s certainly territory that’s well-worn, but what makes Primord so interesting is how it manages to combine the cosiness and charm of the Season 8-10 UNIT family with the colder, bleaker tone of Season 7. Various plot developments and, in particular, the ending are savage, brutal and blunt. and yet, moments earlier, when all appeared to be lost, there’s a touching little scene between the Doctor, Jo and the Brigadier that you would never have got with the earlier, more cautious Third Doctor of his early exile. We also have the reintroduction of Liz Shaw, who provides an obvious bridge between the two series.
As Liz Shaw, Daisy Ashford (daughter of Caroline John and Geoffrey Beevers) is less assured than Culshaw’s Brigadier. She mostly captures the cadence but the voice isn’t quite there. John Dorney’s script makes a virtue of this, with the uncanniness suggesting that something is very wrong indeed with Professor Shaw.
There’s also some nice material, reminiscent of School Reunion between Liz and Jo, which is played nicely, both women displaying the requisite levels of respect and intimidation. Unfortunately, the various twists and turns of Liz’s storyline, including the final emotional punch are less effective due mostly to the fact that this isn’t really the Liz Shaw we know and love. However, this may just be a personal, pernickety little gripe, and Ashford does give us a layered and complex performance of which her mother was rarely afforded onscreen.
As a listener, you may be more willing to accept the slight inconsistencies and more readily engage with the story being told and the era being evoked. And the feel of that era is achieved brilliantly on every level from the script, the stock characters (Michael Troughton is particularly brilliant as a domineering, blustering army general with a dark secret), the sound design and the music. Primord feels like a culmination of four volumes of hard work, considered thought and terrific casting which finally completes our UNIT family. It’ll be exciting to see where it goes next.
It goes to a research facility (naturally) where a breakthrough has been made in portable communications. The Brigadier, Jo, Benton and the Doctor all converge on a small South East village (of course) where mysterious broadcasts and terrifying noises have been making life rather difficult for both the local residents and telecommunications specialist Professor Caldicott. And, because this is Doctor Who, things are about to get a lot worse.
Guy Adams fleshes out Sergeant Benton in much the same way as John Dorney did with Liz Shaw, this time it’s Benton who provides the inciting information to convince the Doctor to leave his laboratory to investigate the source of the strange transmissions. The reason that it’s Benton is down to a charming bit of business involving his hobby as a CB radio enthusiast, communicating with people from all over the World.
In an early scene, it’s suggested that it’s his work with UNIT, and specifically the Doctor, which has sparked this desire to broaden his horizons. It’s a nice scene and played with a good deal of affection and warmth by Treloar as the Doctor. Both men meet with one of Benton’s contacts, the electronic musician ‘Concrete’, who also answers to Warren and has heard terrifying noises out in the countryside. Given that both this and Primord highlight gender inequality in the backstories for Liz Shaw, the defence secretary in Primord and Professor Caldicott, it’s something of a disappointment that the role isn’t played by a woman, in tribute to Delia Derbyshire, especially given the heavy nudge-nudge-wink-wink final scene.
That said, as much as this is a story that fleshes out Sergeant Benton, it’s also one that puts a lot of the onus on Jo Grant to deal with bolshy scientists, missing villagers, dangerous alien technology and stopping the Brigadier from blowing everything to Kingdom Come. It’s material that Katy Manning clearly relishes, and she does wonderful things with it.
As well as evoking the South East England of 1970s Doctor Who, Lee Adams and Joe Meiner’s sound design does some wonderful things with Adams’ script, the unnerving screeching of the ‘ghosts’, the creepy buzzing in characters voices when they fall victim to the terrifying soundwave, the noises off-on business involving Benton and his soundproof headphones, this is one you’ll want to listen to with your own headphones on, maybe even in the dark. The Scream of Ghosts is a solid Pertwee era story, but it’s heightened by the fact that it’s being specifically written with the audio medium in mind.
Overall, The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 5 is a more than effective tribute to a golden age long gone, and to those no longer with us. Two brand new 1970s UNIT stories that hint at a new golden age for Big Finish. Whether or not we’ll see Culshaw’s Brig step out of the Third Doctor range to interact with other ranges to interact with other Doctors (or the new UNIT?) remains to be seen, but with Kamelion also under his belt, 2019 is fast proving to be Jon Culshaw’s year!
The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 5 is available to buy here
Primord by John Dorney/The Scream of Ghosts by Guy Adams
Tim Treloar (The Doctor) Katy Manning (Jo Grant) Jon Culshaw (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) Daisy Ashford (Liz Shaw) John Levene (Sergeant Benton) Guy Adams (Bob Ellis) Bethan Dixon Bate (Lady Madeleine Rose) David Dobson (Armitage) Joe Jameson (Private Callahan) Rosalyn Landor (Caldicott) Michael Troughton (General Sharp) Andrew Wincott (Captain Hall) Dominic Wood (Warren)
Following on from The Monsters of Gokroth, The Moons of Vulpana continues the latest trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor and his new companion but old friend, Mags, played by Jessica Martin.
Mags has been having trouble controlling her wolf-side and so the Doctor decides to take her back to her home-planet of Vulpana. But it isn’t the same world she has vague memories of. This is Vulpana at an earlier stage when four-wolf-packs ruled the planet and it is heralded as the planets golden age. But when the Doctor arrives, things start to go wrong…
Written by Emma Reeves, the political intrigue and drama elements of the piece is evident from the beginning as she wastes no time in planting the Doctor and Mags into trouble. Rescued by the Pack of Two-Moons, some of Mag’s ancient ancestors, she quickly finds herself thrown into a royal family without the Doctor to help.
Reeves goes to a great extent to show us how capable a companion Mags actually is, not only does she keep two of the Royal Brothers at bay but she manages to cope with the complex social structure of this world and thwart the villain. But the biggest thing she does is learns to control the wolf-side of her, something that the Doctor is trying to teach her. She doesn’t need to control it when she has been doing it all along.
Reeves also manages to give the Werewolf genre something new to bite into. I’m quite a fan of werewolf movies and television shows but very rarely do they give us something completely brand new. Reeves manages that here, imagining what a society of werewolves might look like. She adds a lot of history, pathos and depth to the planet of Vulpana, a name that had only been coined by Captain Cooke in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. While he used the name lightly, had the Captain travelled to the planet in this story, he might not have been able to take Mags away with him.
The Moons of Vulpana also works as a story of two halves. The opening two episodes are almost comical. The two brothers, Issak and Tob are trying to impress Mags and have a ‘mines-bigger-than-his’ attitude about it. While some might find this brotherly feud over a girl charming, Mags isn’t one of them and makes quick work of turning down their various advances. Issak and Tob are less friendly to their other brother, Jax who Mags tries to bring into the fold a little more during the first two episodes.
The last two episodes really switch tracks, going from light-comedy in the opening episodes to something quite dark. If you know how historical royal families worked or have seen any programmes about that kind of palace-drama and intrigue, you might see some of the things in the second half coming.
Reeves makes a few comedic moments out of the idea of the royal family interbreeding and how back in history they would only sometimes allow princes to marry commoners, something far more common-place these days. But that doesn’t stop some of this from being incredibly amusing! And Mags gets a great line about not being shallow when the Doctor asks her if she is going to marry one of the princes, even if she has only just met them.
The irony of the line can’t go unmissed as a few of the Doctor’s companions have done that completely out of the blue. It’s a great line and a great moment!
With the Doctor having sustained a bite in the opening moments of episode one, episode two is quite a Doctor-lite instalment for reasons which will become apparent in episode 3. As a result, a lot of the drama falls to Jessica Martin who rises to the occasion brilliantly. Not only is she becoming a great companion, but she is also proving herself to be a formidable entry into the world of the Seventh Doctor and this is against characters like Ace, Hex and Klein!
I hope this trilogy of adventures won’t be the only stories for the Seventh Doctor and Mags because if this story is anything to go by, they deserve to stay together for many years yet. And anyone considering picking this trilogy up should do simply because Jessica Martin is soooo good as well as the stories.
Sylvester McCoy is excellent here too and puts in another formidable performance right from the word go. The writers have picked up on what a great chemistry McCoy and Martin have and have given them some great moments together. They bounce off each other perfectly.
McCoy gets some great moments here, some are funny which he pitches perfectly and some are a little more manipulative in keeping with his character. A couple of times you think that he has left without Mags but he manages to get back into her good graces with ease. I think the best way to describe McCoy here is charming. He is just utterly charming here.
The Moons of Vulpana also boasts great performances from the guest cast. Peter Bankole and Sean Knopp as Issak and Tobb are really funny together, seemingly trying to outdo one another in the recording booth as well as the finished audio adventure! Irfan Shamji is a great foil for Mags in the role of Jax. Very much in the background for the first two episodes, Jax concerns the major twist in the second half and he puts in a great performance. You know he really does care for Mags but he would kill anyone who got in his way. Hopefully, we hear more from Shamji in the future.
Rounding out the guest cast is Beth Goddard as Doctor Barton who works as an interesting foil for the Doctor as well as providing a narrative for people who are trying to rise up through the ranks to always meet opposition. Nimmy March as Ulla also makes for an interesting addition to the cast of characters. While you are never sure what side she is on, she does the right thing in the end and March puts in a terrific performance throughout.
Overall, The Moons of Vulpana is another strong entry into this years’ Big Finish releases. The script from Emma Reeves is full of enjoyable little Easter-eggs and subtle nods to the wider Doctor Who universe as well as court-dramas like Victoria and Reign. On hand in the director’s seat once more is Samuel Clemmons who again proves to be a formidable newcomer to the world of Big Finish directing. He has assembled a formidable cast and gotten the best out of them without letting the ball drop in terms of storytelling.
I’m excited to hear how this trilogy will close out in next month’s An Alien Werewolf in London and thanks to the great amount of focus she gets here, I’m hoping it’s not the last we will hear from our favourite Vulpanan, Jessica Martin!
Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…
Some rumblings around the interwebs suggest a Doctor Who Christmas Special could be on the cards before Series 12 starts next year.
Some Big Finish is on the way starting with the limited edition vinyl release of the 10th Doctor story The Creeping Death which is exclusive to Asda and The Lives of Captain Jack which shows an intriguing cover of Jack wearing the 6th Doctor’s costume, hmmm 🤔
“SJA – Enemy of the Bane” Review
We’re wrapping up Series 2 with this week’s review. We’ve loved reviewing SJA so far so does this one continue to delight or does it fall through a portal of disappointment?
Next week our review will be the 1st Doctor story – The Keys or Marinus. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
“Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel” Review
Some Tennant action this week as we five into this series 2 two-parter. Garry and Adam haven’t watched these in years so are the original thoughts still there or has our opinion changed over time? Thumbs up or delete?
Next week our review will be the Sarah Jane Adventures story – Enemy of the Bane. Until then have a super week and remember – Allons-y!
Continuing this set of adventures which feature the Torchwood team coming up against classic Doctor Who monsters is The Green Life, a continuation of the story, The Green Death. We’ve got Maggots aplenty as well as the re-emergence of BOSS and the brilliant pairing of Captain Jack and Jo Jones/Grant.
Listening to the CD extras on this release I think it is fair to say that there are few 1970s stories that are quite as iconic as The Green Death. Not only are the giant maggots remembered by people of a certain age, we’ve got the very upsetting departure for the companion Jo Grant who chooses to marry Clifford Jones the Professor she fell in love with over the course of the story. John Barrowman has strong memories of this story it seems as well as Terror of the Autons and his love for this story is evident throughout.
The story from David Llewellyn kicks things off seemingly from the middle of the adventure which I must admit, was a little jarring at first, I thought I had missed something but as the adventure speeds along it becomes clear how these two characters happened to come back to the little village of Llanfairfach. What I really enjoyed about this story is that felt like the perfect continuation of the original adventure in much the same vein as the novels from the Virgin Missing and New Adventures and BBC Books from the 1990s and early 2000s. I’ve always loved those books usually from Gary Russell or Craig Hinton, continuing the threads that were set up in the original story and turning them into a continuing arc. Its probably the same reason why I’m going to love this run of Torchwood adventures and David Llewellyn has made this Whovian very happy!
What is also enjoyable is that it isn’t just a rehash of The Green Death. That story is one of the very best adventures that the Pertwee era had to offer, with the whole UNIT family at their absolute best. I’m not sure how much I should spoil but BOSS isn’t the big bad this time and the whole plan is something so disturbing that only Torchwood would be able to get away with it!
Llewellyn has a great handle on the characters. He has of course written plenty of Torchwood adventures over the years that the range has been running and much like one of his previous entries, The Death of Captain Jack, this one allows Barrowman to explore the fun side, as well as, the serious side of his character. Llewellyn has also written for Jo Grant before in The Third Doctor Adventures but this an older version of her character, set sometime after her appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures. What was interesting is that this is Jo on a mission, exploring a mystery, getting a little in-over-her-head and then pulling herself out of it. This is a very serious version of her character, someone with unfinished business. It is great to hear and Katy Manning performs it brilliantly.
Although he has probably been relegated to being one of the more strange enemies the Doctor has faced over the years, I must admit to getting chills when I heard BOSS again. BOSS is an interesting villain, a computer programme which seems to have a human personality made him quite different from all the other robots who were trying to take over the planet. Stewart Bevan, though credited as ‘The Voice of the Hive’ on the website, plays the role of BOSS this time around, with his original role of Clifford Jones off exploring and trying to save the oceans. He does a really great job here, making BOSS sound sinister and evil without actually being sinister and evil and actually succeeds in making us feel a little sorry for the megalomaniac machine!
The pairing of Captain Jack and Jo Jones is an inspired one. Whether it was Big Finish’s decision to do so or Llewellyn’s, it was a brilliant move as it always nice to hear two of the Doctor’s companions from different eras interacting. What is really interesting here though is that Jack and Jo are constantly arguing with each other. While this a more serious version of Jo, she still has the same sense of wonder and excitement she always did while Jack has a ‘been-there-done-that’ attitude which puts them at odds. And it is a little odd for Jack to ask Jo why the Doctor left her, was it like Sarah Jane or Rose. I would presume that these names would mean nothing to Jo but that is a minor quibble in an otherwise brilliant adventure.
Llewellyn also displays a great understanding of the themes in The Green Death about pollution and our planet dying is even more prevalent now than it was in 1973. I expect the same sort of discussion in the upcoming Sargasso with Rhys VS The Autons but it seemed particularly strong here. Jo talks a little about some of the work she has done around the planet and how much there is still to do. And that is true in real life, while we have made some progress we still have a plastic epidemic to deal with. But this story rightly keeps things along the lines of food and how people will eat anything that promises to help you lose weight. Even if you don’t know the real ingredients. Trust me, listening to this audio will make check the back of the box for the rest of your life!
As I’ve stated above, both John Barrowman and Katy Manning put in great performances here and it is clear how much this cast got in from the CD Extras at the end. Jack and Jo might seem like a strange pairing at first but it really works as the pair help show us how both Torchwood and Doctor Who can still co-exist.
Overall this another strong entry into the Torchwood range and another success for Big Finish. Director Scott Handcock keeps things moving along nicely while deftly creating a nice new world on audio for Jack and Jo. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see past companions in these sets, a Tegan/Tractators story would be nice!
Well done to everyone involved for another cracking release!