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It’s been over a year since we last heard from Toshiko Sato, played by Naoko Mori, in Torchwood. Last time she featured in the brilliant Instant Karma and finally, she’s back in another hugely enjoyable outing in the form of The Vigil.

Cover art for The Vigil
Cover art for The Vigil

Written by Lou Morgan, who has penned a previous Torchwood adventure in God Among Us 2, The Vigil is actually a shorter story that we are used to with the Torchwood range but that isn’t a bad thing as Morgan makes sure to pack the 50-minute runtime with plenty of entertainment and spooky moments. And while one might say that this story is about grief and how people handle it as well as alien-body snatching. What I took away from it was it is a story about feeling inadequate. It’s about how Tosh feels like a member of Torchwood and her onscreen characterisation of feeling undervalued. And that is never more played out than in her scenes with Sebastian.

Sebastian is a brand new character too and the whole story is set before the Torchwood team that we all know and love, with a couple of references to Suzie. Before Gwen came onto the scene, it seems like Torchwood wasn’t the loving team we got to know. Sebastian, despite a good performance from Hugh Skinner, was a character that I didn’t like. I know that was a lot of the point but in what is basically a two-hander-story, I feel you need to like both characters to get the best out of the story.

That isn’t to say though that Morgan did a bad job with the characterisations. Indeed, you aren’t supposed to like Sebastian and he is a nasty piece of work to Tosh, in many ways their relationship reminds me of when I started my job. I don’t run around chasing aliens, (I can wish though right?!), I work behind a counter but some of my ex-colleagues could be nasty-pieces of work if they wanted to be. Before the team that I work with now, there was a lot of backstabbing and shocking behaviour and it was nice to see that reflected in something like Torchwood.

Sebastian’s mother Madeline, played by Lucy Robinson, is also just as unlikable, in a good way. Her performance plays into some of the well-worn tropes between a grieving mother to her devoted son and while sometimes it feels like it’s going to into melodrama, Robinson keeps her performance from going over the edge of that cliff. What Morgan also does rather well is keep the attitudes of Madeline and Sebastian open-ended as to whether their devotion to their country, sexist attitudes and sometimes racist comments are a result of their environments or their upbringing. Morgan puts a lot of work into the background of Sebastian’s character, so I’m going to go with the latter.

Morgan also does a great job with Toshiko, playing around with her feeling of being inadequate and not needed by the team. In some ways, its quite a sad way to look at the character, but those thoughts and feelings were always present onscreen so it only seems fair to see them explored here. Plus Tosh does get some nice moments and I feel like this script would have made a great television serial.

Naoko Mori is excellent as Tosh though, instantly reminding me of why she was always one of my favourite characters on the show. She just falls easily back into that performance and it feels like she has never been away. It’s just a shame that I’m always reminded of her fate at the end of any audio-story from her. I would have been twelve/thirteen at the time and it is still one of those TV deaths that I’ve never gotten over…

Lisa Bowerman does a tremendous job on the direction too. She keeps getting the best of the actors she works with and squeezes the script for every great moment she can. Mind you, she’s always been a fantastic director so these things should be known by now. I always look forward to an audio that Bowerman has directed.

Overall The Vigil is a good Toshiko Sato story, if not an essential Torchwood listen. If you’re a fan of Tosh then you’ll probably get more out of this one than someone just here for a listen. Still, it’s a great way to spend 50 minutes and a great script from Lou Morgan, someone I look forward to hearing more from in the future, particularly if its a strong character piece like this one. Plus I absolutely love that cover!

The Doctor Who: The Collection Season 23 limited edition Blu-ray is released on Monday 7th October and to celebrate the BFI (British Film Institute) on the London Southbank ran a special event showing the 6th Doctor story, Mindwarp, which constituted episodes 5 to 8 of the 23rd season with the Trial of a Timelord arc.

I’m always a fan of these events because you know everyone in the room is there for the love of the show. The structure of the event was planned that after the traditional quiz with giveaways, episodes 5 & 6 were to be shown, two or three guests to be interviewed, Episodes 7 and 8 to be shown with a final question-answer session with actors Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker. There was a lovely moment before the quiz started with an acknowledgement of Terrance Dicks or “Uncle Terry ” as he was known and the huge contribution he made to classic Who. He died recently and was a massive inspiration to fans of all ages, including modern writers and the audience gave a hugely deserved round of applause for a minute.

Special Edition of Mindwarp, which constituted episodes 5 to 8 of the 23rd season with the Trial of a Timelord arc
The Special Edition of Mindwarp played at the BFI which constituted episodes 5 to 8 of the 23rd season with the Trial of a Timelord arc

The Guests

Due to some technical hitches whilst playing episode 7 (MIndwarp Part 3) the screen froze so some of the guests were interviewed earlier than anticipated as the BFI team tried to fix the problem. There was success eventually, after a false start, with the return to the story with the surround sound. The original composer for Mindwarp, Mark Ayres came on with Richard Hartley to discuss the scoring for Mindwarp. Richard Hartley recorded all the original tracks again as the master tapes no longer existed and Mark did the 5.1 surround sound. It is noticeable with watching this special edition that besides the original synthesiser score there is the addition of a new cello score in certain scenes which adds an element of emotional poignancy to the story.

Russell West, who played the Raak creature that attacked Peri and the Doctor in the first episode, was interviewed and seemed genuinely delighted to have been part of Doctor Who and also at the BFI. He was at the time a jobbing actor, doing theatre at Stratford east who was offered the role and he humorously recounted his experience, to interviewer Justin Johnson, of his “small but important role’.

A highlight he remembered was seeing the ‘toned down’ performance of Brian Blessed during the day’s rehearsal he attended. Describing how once in the costume he found it incredibly heavy but also at the small-time fragile Russell West apologised for manhandling Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker too much laughter from the audience. He was also sorry for not being Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson which a podcast attributed his character was played by.

Russell West (Actor, the Raak creature in Mindwarp)
Russell West (Actor, the Raak creature in Mindwarp) talking to interviewer Justin Johnson

“Once I was down, I was down! And it took three people to get me up again”
Russell West (Actor, the Raak creature in Mindwarp)

With Sil and the Mentors, a major part of this story Phil Newman, the freelance costume designer was also came on stage. He played Sil in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time which he quipped was definitely ‘canon’ and has also worked as a designer on the latest production from Reeltime Pictures, “Sil And the Devil Seeds of Arodor” The hour-long drama will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the 4th November. There was a surprise as Phil Newman also revealed a special purchase, the original Kiv costume.

“This year the whole thing came full circle as I was asked to design Sil for Seeds of Arodor”
Phil Newman (Designer)

Phil Newman, designer who played Sil in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time
Phil Newman, designer, who played Sil in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time

Reviewing the story

Last year I reviewed the 6th Doctor era and I remember feeling that the 23rd season was a rather uneven offering, that often struggled under the weight of the proffered story arc. This screening was the extended version of “Mindwarp” with an additional five minutes to the first episode plus different editing of certain scenes such as when Yrcanos escapes the laboratory after the attempted brain alteration. I think Mindwarp is actually one of the stronger story entries for season 23 although not without its faults. The courtroom scenes in this story have moved (mostly) past the juvenile insults, in “The Mysterious Plane”, going back and forth between the Doctor and Valeyard.

They actually serve a purpose to challenge the motivations of the Doctor, his ‘meddling’, the deaths that occur, his amnesia and subsequent ‘betrayal’ of new and old friends. Saying that at times the court scenes are a difficult balancing act for me as an audience member as they take you away from the action on Thoros Beta. But then conversely you don’t get a chance to get emotionally involved in the court scenes as they by the structure are brief interjections before moving back to the planet. It’s hardly the build-up seen in the film drama A Few Good Men. Also, as the 6th doctor or the Valeyard isn’t the meekest of characters the outbursts, tend to hammer heavily their points.

If I do consider just the scenes on Thoros Beta I really like Philip Martin’s script as it is full of black humour and unexpected moments. I love green skies and pink sea. Nicola Bryant’s Peri separated from the Doctor becomes better for it, being allowed to reflect on her feelings of homesickness. Due to the manipulations of the Valeyard to the matrix, Peri becomes a victim of others. Most characters are barbarians or become them: Yrcanos is willing to fight his way out of trouble, the doctor-affected by the mind probe becomes cold towards Peri, Crozier sees her as just a vessel for Kiv’s brain. The scenes where she is helpless in the laboratory tied and gagged and Crozier then performs the operation are memorable as is the assassination scene.

It’s a glorious brave scene, which still gives the chills, where Kiv sits up within Peri’s body and King Yrcanos has to shoot the Peri/Kiv creature. I love the shock value it gave at the time of original transmission and it wouldn’t have lost some that power if they had left the ending as it was.

Colin Baker acknowledged that it was partly his fault as he wanted clarification whether the matrix information was a lie, so did Peri die and was unable to get a definitive answer. The production team decided to backtrack on the original dramatic moment Nicola Bryant told John Nathan Turner she wanted.

After the screening of the episodes, there were sneak peeks, edited by Chris Chapman, of some of the features on the Blu-Ray. There was a montage of funny out-takes which gave the audience some laugh-out moments. Next, there was a feature on the Doctor Who Cookbook revisited, where Toby Hadoke visited Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) I am assuming at her home with Janet Fielding (Tegan) to discuss the recipes. What ensued was hilarity in the kitchen as Janet tried to reproduce one of the recipes, Fielding’s Ocker Balls, (with voiceover by India Fisher from MasterChef /Big Finish). Janet tried to explain what the Australian term “ocker” meant and to create the recipe’s savoury profiterole filled with cream cheese and oysters with help from Sarah and Toby. The eating results were actually better than any of them expected.

Next there was a Behind the Sofa snippet where the first ten minutes of “The Mysterious Planet “were reviewed with lots of dry humour from two different trios of old companions and one doctor not necessarily from the same era: Frazer Hines, Matthew Waterhouse and Mark Strickson were one trio  and Bonnie Langford, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant another as they sat on the sofa commenting.

It is probably well known that neither Colin or Nicola knew that Doctor Who was going to be cancelled after season 22. As actors, they were both kept away from the politics but it was enlightening to discover how they found out. Nicola Bryant described the funny story of how she wasn’t aware until she received a phone call from the press asking her to comment on the death of Doctor Who. She immediately assumed that Colin Baker had died, became hysterical thinking of his wife Marion.

After frantic calls trying to get hold of producer John Nathan Turner, she finally spoke to her agent who clarified that only the show was cancelled. Nicola was so relieved that Colin was alive she was not as upset as she might have been!

Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker being interviewed by Justin Johnson
Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker being interviewed by Justin Johnson

Colin Baker was told by John Nathan Turner that the show wasn’t coming back the following year because Michael Grade had disliked the show and had cut it. The upside was that Colin Baker had signed a four-year contract and so he continued to get paid, despite some initial wrangling from the finance department. The hiatus only came about, Colin disclosed, due to the initial outrage directed at Michael Grade from public and press so Michael Grade had to reverse the decision pretty quickly to say the show was being rested and would come back. Colin wasn’t really happy with the season 23 story arc mirroring the real-life trial the show was under.

Whilst Nicola was “wowed” by the state-of-the-art opening shot of the trial room spaceship Colin thought it was “pointless” as due to the cost of the model work and direction location filming was stopped. He revealed some of the other issues with production at the time. Eric Saward favoured certain writers which the producer JNT didn’t like, suggested things the producer wouldn’t accept and then left. Colin only became aware that Eric Saward did not like his casting to be the Doctor much later on. There was an acknowledgement from both Colin and Nicola that had they known all the issues at the time it would have probably affected their performance. They worked very hard as actors to enjoy their experience and show the development of their character’s relationship in Season 23.

“(Eric Saward), didn’t like the actor who had been cast as the Doctor which I discovered a long time afterwards. I had entertained Eric Saward in my house… Never told me that until he wrote about it for the magazine.”

Colin Baker, (Actor) the 6th Doctor

Regarding his time on the show Colin Baker revealed he had a seven-year plan and had hoped to beat Tom Baker’s record. Due to his sacking that didn’t happen. He was quite bold he said in turning down the offer to do a regeneration story basically because he was “hacked off”. He had enjoyed playing the character, felt he had a lot more to offer and praised Big Finish which gave him a chance to develop his Doctor many years later. The discussion turned to whether JNT who had been producing the show a long time, would have left when Colin left. Apparently, John Nathan Turner did want to do other things but he was contracted to the BBC and they would not let him go from Doctor Who. He didn’t go freelance but stayed with the BBC until the cancellation of the show after season 26. Colin said by staying JNT was fighting for the programme.

Following the interview, there were questions from the audience and the event completed with an autographing signing by both Nicola and Colin in a side room.  The queue snaked outside the room as people were keen to meet “Sixy” and his companion. Another wonderful afternoon of Doctor Who concluded with a warm glow but roll on the next event on the  23rd November for 7th Doctor fun and frolics.

Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 23 Limited Edition Box Set is released on 7th October 2019 priced around £40

Kicking off a new trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor this year, is The Monsters of Gokroth by Matt Fitton, which sees an older Seventh Doctor continuing her quest to wrap up his loose ends, this time, it concerns Mags, the brilliant character played by Jessica Martin in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, back in 1988.

The Monsters of Gokroth
The Monsters of Gokroth

Looking past the return of Mags for a moment, The Monsters of Gokroth from Matt Fitton works brilliantly as a love-letter to the horror movies of the silver-age from Universal. Even though Fitton has set it on the alien world of Gokroth, the old horror tropes are clear from the get-go. We’ve got castles on a hill, villagers who want the monster dead, people who won’t go out after dark and a mad scientist performing experiments in her castle. And then there is a Werewolf! Big Finish has done a number of love-letter-releases over the past, but this is the first one for the old monster movies.

The Doctor here is an older version of the Seventh Doctor. He has presumably said goodbye to Ace following on from Love and War, though she is in next month’s An Alien Werewolf in London. I think continuity fanatics might put this before the Doctor meets up with Klein and Will in Persuasion because this is still recognisably the Seventh Doctor. Matt Fitton also has the task of bringing Mags, the werewolf from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy back into the fold, once more played by Jessica Martin. And unlike Klein, the Doctor isn’t there to keep an eye on Mags, but as usual, in the Seventh Doctor’s life, it is more than just mere coincidence that brings the two together.

It is a nice touch that Fitton explores the idea that this incarnation is very aware of his own mortality. He knows his regeneration is coming and in one instance he even comments that he is trying to tie up all the loose ends from his previous adventures. Something that was interesting in the early years of the audio range and the later Virgin New Adventures range of books was that the Seventh Doctor had adopted this attitude because he felt his next incarnation wouldn’t have the stomach to play the kind of games he had done. Its a shame that the Seventh Doctor didn’t know about the Time War, where the Eighth Doctor discovered what he was really made of, however, it is a very interesting notion and it is nice that Big Finish are still exploring it and Matt Fitton adds some more interesting layers to it.

Sylvester McCoy is very entertaining yet again and he continues to prove why his Doctor is one of the best incarnations there has been. From the very beginning, the listener isn’t too sure if they should trust him or not. Even though Fitton re-introduces him to Mags early on, hopefully, the listeners will know that the Seventh Doctor is a little manipulative and I wouldn’t trust him right away. Once again it is a great character-beat for the Seventh Doctor and McCoy rises to that brilliantly. I can’t wait to hear him in the rest of this trilogy!

As the cover and the news suggested, The Monsters of Gokroth sees the return of Jessica Martin’s Mags. I must admit to thinking The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time. It’s just so enjoyable, there is some great performances there, a really campy yet creepy atmosphere and it is clear how much fun the production was! Plus the weather looked great! (Fun-Fact: I’ve actually stayed at the Warmwell Holiday Park in Dorset that was right next to the quarry where they filmed the majority of this story and Survival!)

The cast enjoy the recording of The Monsters of Gokroth
The cast enjoy the recording of The Monsters of Gokroth

One of the best characters to come out of that television adventure was Mags, who went on to form a brand-new Psychic Circus with the survivors of the original story. But the Mags we meet here is older and her leaving the circus is shrouded in mystery but she does say that controlling her werewolf-side has gotten a lot more difficult. It isn’t just in audio that Mags has recently turned up in but she also appeared in a comic-strip at the back of the recent Titan Comics: The Seventh Doctor run, written and drawn by Jessica Martin herself. But Mags always was a popular character from the Whoniverse and it is nice that she has finally reached companion status.

Jessica Martin does a tremendous job. She is instantly recognisable as the same character from 1988 but she obviously allows for the fact that the character is slightly older. She has great chemistry with McCoy, the pair obviously enjoying each other’s presence. Fitton and Martin also go to great lengths to show that Mags is a completely different type of companion to the Seventh Doctor’s previous companions Ace and Mel. And Martin does a tremendous job of balancing the knowledge her character has of the Doctor and still acting amazed at some of the things he does.

Overall, The Monsters of Gokroth is a great start to what promises to be an interesting new trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor. The story and it seems this trilogy, also has strong direction from Samuel Clemens who keeps the action moving along at a great pace.

The Monsters of Gokroth is a brilliant love letter to the old Universal Horror Movies and a very fun run-around, the main and guest cast do a tremendous job and for the first time in a long time, I’ve got no idea where this trilogy is going to go. And that is really exciting!

Boxed set artwork for ‘The Diary of River Song Volume 6

Having now appeared alongside all of the surviving actors who’ve played the Doctor, Big Finish has had to come up with other headliner guest stars to join Alex Kingston as River Song.

In Volume 5, it was four different incarnations of her husband’s best friend/enemy, the Master. Volume 6 finds River appearing before, during and after various classic Doctor Who stories, with mixed results.

The best story of the set is it’s first, An Unearthly Woman by Matt Fitton, which unsurprisingly teams River with Ian, Barbara and Susan. Investigating rumours of an alien bounty hunter loose on the streets of 60’s Shoreditch, River goes undercover at Coal Hill School, becoming wildly popular with pupils and students alike.

Cover art for ‘An Unearthly Woman’

The joy of An Unearthly Woman is in hearing River interacting with the original trio of Doctor Who companions.  She flirts with Ian, sweetly encourages Barbara not to give up on her dreams of travel and is a supportive, empathetic presence for Susan. Jamie Glover, Claudia Grant and Jemma Powell have such easy chemistry with Kingston and, following three First Doctor Adventures boxed sets, are incredibly comfortable in the roles now that it’s a convincingly authentic listen.

The story itself is one of lost souls waiting to be found or set free. Barbara dreams of leaving London behind, Susan finds comfort in her and River’s unearthly similarities. Susan’s classmates Lloyd and Sheila have come to Britain in search of family but are instead forced to contend with a harsh custodian and the inferred racism of their fellow pupils and neighbours.

In this, and many other respects, An Unearthly Woman shares more in common with 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks as it does An Unearthly Child. Here is a contemporary writer looking at the ’60s with a historical distance that allows for criticism of some of the less progressive aspects of the time. The central plot of the Doctor’s future popping up on the fog-bound streets of his past is reminiscent of this too.

The sound design and direction invoke these eerie, misty November nights beautifully, lending River’s investigations heaps of atmosphere. It also contrasts with the noisy, oak-lined boozer where River meets her colleagues. You get a lovely, warming, nostalgic hit from listening to our heroes sheltering in their local pub, and combined with the prickly sense of anticipation that comes with going back to the very beginning of the Doctor’s timeline makes for a hugely enjoyable listen.

Nostalgia and anticipation can go too far, and the remaining stories in the set are found lacking in the additional depth of character and plot that An Unearthly Woman provides.

Cover artwork for ‘The Web of Time’

The Web of Time by John Dorney finds River attempting to retrieve a priceless artwork during the Yeti’s underground incursion, prior to the Second Doctor’s arrival. What we end up with, is a sheepish exercise in sticking to established continuity. River can’t defeat the Great Intelligence outright, as her husband will do that in a few day’s time. Similarly, she can’t save Captain Knight because it will upset the fabric of time and space. It’s a sticking point that renders the casting of Ralph Watson as Knight such a bizarre decision.

Over 50 years have passed since The Web of Fear so, with the best will in the world, he can’t sound anything like he used to. He sounds like an old man, a detail so jarring that it undermines any attempts at authenticity. Quite why River wasn’t paired with another soldier whom we didn’t meet in 1967 isn’t clear, especially as the only original character in the story with any real depth is an irritant and an obstacle to River’s goals.

Which isn’t to say that it’s completely devoid of enjoyment. There’s some very funny mistaken identity schtick between River and the Great Intelligence and a lovely speech about the importance of The Web of Fear in Doctor Who‘s ongoing story. Otherwise, this is a rather hollow and disappointing entry in the diary of River Song.

Cover art for ‘Peep Show’

Peep Show is certainly more enjoyable, opening with a sabretooth tiger in a stationery cupboard and going hell for leather from there in a battle with Ogrons, Sontarans and Drashigs. River has found herself inside a miniscope, in an attempt to liberate its battery for sale on the open market. To do this, she’ll have to free its exhibits, including her de-facto companion, bewildered Northern security guard Dibbsworth.

It’s a lot of fun, especially in the comic back and forth between Dan Starkey and writer Guy Adams as the Sontarans and the Ogrons. The dialogue which appears to have been script edited by Gruntleigh the Ogron. River and Dibbsworth are good value too, a mismatched buddy duo brought together by exceptional circumstances in a screwball adventure story.

Unfortunately, it becomes weighed down when we discover that this is the same miniscope from Carnival of Monsters. The Doctor’s prior involvement doesn’t hamper the plot in the way that it did in The Web of Time but River’s constant references to her husband begin to grate.

There appears to be a real reticence to let River off the leash and have her own adventures. This could very easily have been a spiritual sequel to a Robert Holmes classic but instead, is a story that finds River tidying up after her husband’s sloppy workmanship, a lighthearted enough gag, but one which undermines both characters.

Cover artwork for ‘The Talents of Greel’

There’s more tidying up to do in The Talents of Greel, only this time it appears to be the writer Paul Morris doing the cleaning up of Robert Holmes’ ‘problematic’ masterpiece The Talons of Weng-Chiang. We won’t reopen that particular can of worms, but the contemporary concerns about Weng-Chiang do loom large in Morris’ script, which gives Li Hsen Chang some proper backstory and a love interest who sees beyond the hollow, gaudy Orientalism flouted as entertainment by Magnus Greel and Henry Gordon Jago.

River crosses Jago, Chang and Greel’s intersected paths in search of technology with which to fix her vortex manipulator. Interestingly, whilst she’s clearly pleased to meet the Doctor’s old friend Henry Gordon Jago, she refers to her own 51st-century knowledge of Magnus Greel rather than her husband’s diary. It’s almost as if he’s scrubbed the whole encounter from his 900-year-old diary for being too problematic like the BBC archive would an old episode of Top of the Pops.

The Talents of Greel is less Top of the Pops and more The Good Old Days, providing us a bit of River Song and Dance. The music hall rendition of River’s complicated timeline and her double act with Jago is a fun addition. Which all just begs the question of why you’d waste it on a story so hamstrung by established events.

It’s a question that hangs over much of The Diary of River Song Volume 6. The classic Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribbleations showed that it was possible to root around in the parent show’s mythology whilst making a dramatic virtue of being unable to change continuity. This series of River Song adventures makes no such virtue, and with the exception of An Unearthly Woman, doesn’t introduce any rogue elements for River to defeat in order to keep history on track. River is the rogue element, popping in and out of the Doctor’s timeline, raising merry hell. After six volumes of this sort of thing, and the glimpses we’ve had into what she does when the Doctor’s not around, I’m hoping that The Diary of River Song Volume 7 will finally, properly let her loose on the universe.

Hey, Who fans!

It’s a Garry-solo show this week as Adam is not about.

The News

Extremely sad news as we say goodbye to the amazing Terrance Dicks.

Merch Corner

The latest classic Who blu ray box set is Season 26, yay! A new Rose adventure from Big Finish and ol’ Sixie will be back with Peri next year for more Big Finish.

Q&A with Garry

As Adam is not with us at the moment I don’t want to watch and review stories without him so seeing as we haven’t done a Q&A for a while, now seems like a good time.

Not sure on the format for next week so stay tuned. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

Following on from Timewyrm, Virgin Books decided to give us a new trilogy entitled Cat’s Cradle, which is an interesting read. Personally, I wasn’t as impressed by this trilogy as I was with Timewyrm but there is still a surprising amount of content to praise these books for. And both these books come from two people who worked on the show before it was ended in 1989.

So in that way, perhaps this trilogy is closer to the television series than the previous set.

TIME’S CRUCIBLE: WRITTEN BY MARC PLATT

The opening story, Time’s Crucible is written by Marc Platt, the same man who gave us the confusing, yet entertaining Ghost Light on screen. And at first glance, Time’s Crucible is another confusing entry into Platt’s contributions to Doctor Who.  We’ve got many different time-streams being fused together and plenty of different characters which almost made me stop reading, to begin with.

My problem is that I love reading but if there are too many characters being introduced to me in a short space of time, I lose track of who’s who. There have been a few of these Virgin Books which have nearly lost me because of how many characters are involved and Time’s Crucible nearly did the same. It was only through perseverance that I continued, determined to say I’d read virtually all of the output.

All of that does make it sound like I didn’t enjoy this book but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised by it.  The whole thing is told almost entirely from Ace’s perspective which helps the narrative move along nicely. Had it been told from the Doctor’s things would have just descended into chaos quickly. It is a book that is told in a non-linear lay out and from that perspective, it keeps things interesting, just make sure your brain is ready for a workout here!

A textless cover for Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible
A textless cover for Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible

With seasons 25/26 of the television series, we fans will often refer to those stories as The Cartmel Masterplan, with the idea being that the Doctor was going to go back to Gallifrey, drop Ace off to join the Academy and then the Doctor would be found to be one of the founders of his home-world, raising him to almost god-like status by the rest of the universe. I’m not too sure how that would have worked on screen, Cartmel actually explores the idea in a future novel, Lungbarrow, but the seeds for that can be read here.

Time’s Crucible goes back and does a lot of world-building for Gallifrey’s birth, including an evil creature, Pythia who curses the children of Gallifrey so they will never bear children. Pythia is also a member of the Sisterhood of Karn, who also get an origin story of sorts here. But it all plays into the Masterplan, which we will see played out later down the line, and we can discuss the continuity of, later down the line because that could be an article in itself!

We also get introduced to a brand new villain, called The Process and this book sees its birth in the City. Like the Timewyrm, it’s invaded the TARDIS somehow, but unlike the Timewyrm, it is actually playing around with the Time Machine, causing the lock to melt and warp time around the outside. Inside, it is removing rooms and replacing them with what it wants. It is a being that is far from human but not as silly as the name might suggest.

Marc Platt is an author who I’ve always enjoyed the work of, and Time’s Crucible is no exception, even if it did take me a rather long time to deceiver what it was trying to tell me. It is certainly not a book I’ll go back to in a hurry but I mean that in a good way as it really serves as a way of playing into the grand scheme of these books rather than anything else. Cartmel’s masterplan is front and centre here and it is exciting to see where that is going to take us. If the past books have been any indicator, it’ll be someplace darker than the television series would have ever allowed…

WARHEAD: WRITTEN BY ANDREW CARTMEL

Just like Time’s Crucible, Warhead is another book which is told out of linear order. We jump across time-zones with reckless abandon and it is another book that requires your fullest attention. Being a shorter book than Time’s Crucible meant that it didn’t feel like it outstayed its welcome and it is packed with great ideas, even if some of them aren’t fully realised to a great extent.

What is nice is that the book opens with a passage concerning Ace’s friend Shreela, who we met in Survival. These books loved putting Ace and her friends through the wringer and this book sees the toxicity of the Earth’s atmosphere killing Shreela who suffers from severe asthma. In one shocking line of dialogue, the Doctor seems to suggest to Shreela and the reader that she will be dead by the morning but he needs her to write an expose on the mysterious Butler institute before she does that.

It is yet another example of how cruel and cold this incarnation of the Seventh Doctor is, so much so that even Shreela calls him out on it! It’s a great passage though and a great way to open the book, pulling on the heart-strings, even though it’s about a character we had only met properly once before.

The Butler Institute proves to be an interesting concept too and the book doesn’t pull its punches in making it clear that they are behind the Earth’s atmospheric problems while mirroring some real-life problems with corporations in a similar vein. And while I don’t usually enjoy long passages and chapters in my Doctor Who books without either the Doctor or selected companion, the characters associated with the Butler Insitute were interesting enough to keep my attention throughout and for one or two of them, I genuinely felt myself feeling danger for their situations. Not something that is easily achieved with me but Cartmel seems to manage it with ease here!

Following on from the depressing opening with Shreela, Cartmel doesn’t let up with the grim tones in this book. While we see characters dying all the time in the television series, we rarely see what happens to them after that. And we rarely see the level of violence that is on display here, especially towards the companion. Poor Ace is beaten-up a number of times and the Doctor doesn’t seem to care, showing again, a much colder version of this incarnation.

But Ace is also getting stronger and much colder, she doesn’t seem to care anymore that the Doctor is constantly manipulating her and putting her in harms-way, its a dangerous situation for her to be in, especially as its a concept we saw play out in the modern series with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara.

The cover for Cat's Cradle: Warhead
The cover for Cat’s Cradle: Warhead

Speaking of a much colder Doctor, he seems to have engineered this entire book. The few mistakes the Doctor makes in this book are only small miscalculations on his part as he and the TARDIS are still recovering from the events of the previous novel. He is directly responsible for just about every-single death that occurs in these pages and this is a Doctor who is far removed from David Tennant’s ‘One-Chance‘ but otherwise fun-loving, incarnation.

Perhaps the vilest character in these pages though is the owner of The Butler Institute, O’Hara, who manipulates his son into undergoing experiments and then kills his wife when she finds out he killed their son. All through the book O’Hara is despicable, treating people like dirt and an afterthought, even if they are there to help him. One almost cheers when he meets his demise at the end of the book.

However, I was very disappointed when this book turned out to not be a Cyberman story. It is a tale about changing people to adapt to their changing environment and there are similarities here between O’Hara’s plans and those of John Lumic in Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel. Both of these characters want to ascend from the trappings of the human-flesh and evolve to what they believe is the next step in human-evolution. And while I was disappointed it wasn’t a Cyberman story, O’Hara proves to be more than a worthy villain in the long run.

What sets this book apart from other Doctor Who stories of a similar vein is that this one plays out like a heist-story. We had one of those on-screen with Time-Heist but this book came first and the Doctor assembles a crack team of seemingly unconnected people to help him bring down The Butler Institute. This isn’t the first time that similar ideas have appeared on screen but I would put my head on the line and say that the Virgin Books did them first and mostly did them much better.

Warhead also provides an opening story of an unofficial trilogy of adventures forming ‘The War Trilogy’ with two follow up stories, Warlock and Warchild, coming further down the line. They are unofficial because they weren’t marketed as such but they all follow the storyline Cartmel set up here.

With plenty of action and interesting concepts littered throughout these pages, Warhead is an excellent read that doesn’t really feel part of the trilogy it came from. Unlike Time’s Crucible, the non-linear way of story-telling is used excellently here with the Doctor forming a team of allies from across time. This is another strong entry into the Virgin Books range and strange continuity that comes with the Doctor Who world and a book that is definitely worth seeking out.

NEXT TIME: CAT’S CRADLE COMES TO AN END WITH WITCHMARK AND MEET THE MYSTERIOUS PROFESSOR NIGHTSHADE…

2019 has proven to be a strong year for the Torchwood range of audio adventures. We’ve seen the team facing off against some of the worst Doctor Who villains including Autons, Fendahl, Slitheen and giant Maggots and BOSS. Last month’s adventure reunited Jack and Lanto and for this release, we get the excellent pairing of Owen Harper and PC Andy, following on from their last outing together in Corpse Day in 2017.

Let’s get this out of the way right away, The Hope is disturbing. But it’s great because it’s supposed to be. You are supposed to be creeped out by the whole thing and shocked at what the characters do. But its also amusing and funny, with some great one-liners and an excellent sense of false-security. Author James Goss has done a tremendous job here.

The story concerns Megwyn Jones, dubbed Britain’s most evil woman, who supposedly killed a number of children she was caring for 30 years previously. Since then she has spent all her life in prison but with Owen diagnosing her with terminal cancer, she is ready to give up the location of the bodies. They are buried out on The Hope, a region of boggy marshland near Snowdonia but they aren’t the only things out there.

For fans of a certain age, this story might hit a little close to home in terms of real-life incidents of a similar nature. The news has often covered murders of this vein and as such, The Hope certainly feels like one of the bleakest Torchwood audios ever attempted.

Torchwood: The Hope
Torchwood: The Hope

Goss, however, makes sure to keep things unpredictable. Just when you are pretty certain you know what direction the story is going to go in, Goss pulls the rug from under you and gives us a twist. But that is half of the fun of this story, never fully knowing what is happening and certainly not knowing what is going to happen next.

Making the most of this script is the excellent cast. Burn Gorman is just fantastic as Owen here, bringing Owen’s usual sardonic nature to life brilliantly on the audio format. But he is also really funny, some of the lines he shares with Andy are great and really help to liven what is otherwise one of the darkest Big Finish adventures I’ve ever heard!

Tom Price as PC Andy is a brilliant addition to the story and the pairing of him and Owen is inspired. In fact, the pairing here really allows both characters to grow. Andy is ever the optimist so his happy outlook on life forces Owen to look at things differently and occasionally rub him up the wrong way, and Owen’s dour outlook on life also grounds Andy a little, especially in a story like this. It really feels like both characters go on a journey in this adventure and the pair of them come out all the better for it.

But undoubtedly this story belongs to Sian Phillips, as Megwyn Jones. She is just excellent in the role and you never know what side Megwyn is on. This is perhaps where Goss’s excellent use of wrong-footing the listener comes into play brilliantly. You really feel like Megwyn is trying to turn a new leaf before she passes away and her treatment by her fellow prisoners, also following real-life events, help to hammer home how desperate she is. But it is never clear if she did murder the children or not and that really adds to her character, especially by the time the third act rolls around. She isn’t out-and-out evil and while that makes her harder to pin down, it also makes her feel completely human. Torchwood was often good at making humans monsters and that is a trend that continues here to great effect and Phillips’ performance is award-worthy.

The Hope is another classic from James Goss and Scott Handcock and one that I will look forward to listening too in the near future. It’s dark and human and a story about the evil we can do. It’s grimy and gritty and funny and great fun all at the same time and its impossible not to get caught up in the web that Goss has woven here. I’ve no doubt this will go down as one of the best Torchwood audio adventures and stories to ever come out of the television series! It’s superb from start to finish.

I’m really not in the know whether there is any truth in the rumours of disquiet behind the scenes for Series 12 but the factually correct internet blew a gasket with “news” recently with a report that Chris Chibnall had allegedly “gone” from Doctor Who and Jodie Whittaker had left in sympathy with him.

Not liking being told what to do he had allegedly been “fired” by the BBC or had“walked”, depending on the source, from Doctor Who. YouTube reviewers frothed with reasons why this had happened, there were creative differences, disagreements over the political slant in the show. There had also apparently merchandising issues as Chris Chibnall had wanted to create female Daleks and the BBC hadn’t been keen on the choice. This was due to complaints that Series 11 had not produced many merchandising opportunities.

All of this is nonsense, right? I just found all these rumours from unnamed sources as mischief-making and rather tiresome. Okay, let’s indulge the thought and Imagine that for a moment it’s true that Chris Chibnall had gone. How does that really help the show? Rumours like that to have a showrunner go mid-series are really disruptive for the show. The reputation of the show suffers, making the BBC, who owns the show and hire the man as looking very foolish.

Although why the Radio Times stepped up fairly quickly when they no longer have a link to the BBC to quash the rumours seemed strange. They had a “well-placed source” describing it as “all total nonsense”. I think I’ll wait until someone from the BBC officially comments before I believe any of these current rumours have any truth.

I do understand the disquiet amongst some fans after series 11. Chris Chibnall wasn’t the long term fans first choice as showrunner. Other names were thrown around for showrunner, Neil Gaiman, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss all whom perhaps had a better pedigree with the genre. But Chris Chibnall gave us his vision and the facts are the premiere episode of Series 11, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, received a total of 10.96 million viewers, making it the highest series premiere for a Doctor in the history of the programme, with the highest consolidated ratings since “The Time of the Doctor” (2013).

The ratings were generally higher than for series 10, probably due to the curiosity of a new FEMALE (sorry I just wanted to highlight the gender because Chris Chibnall seemed to think it was rather important) rather bouncy doctor. But a shortened series and the austereness with some of the choices he made for Series 11 made the show feel at times unfamiliar to viewers and the ratings did decrease week on week.

I hope that the production team have reviewed some of the decisions made for Series 11 and recognised the show format needs a few tweaks for the next series

With the series probably 5 months away and I had a list of what I would like to see for Series 12 it would go something like this:

1. Two Parters

A couple of two partners would definitely help as with fewer episodes there is then an opportunity to let all of these characters breathe and plot development. Having every episode as a single standalone last series didn’t work as it meant a lot of time was spent establishing the fresh supporting cast each week, the time and place at the expense of the four main characters. Series 7 was also all standalone and even though it did introduce a new companion in Clara it also gave the audience familiarity with three classics who monsters, Ice Warriors, Daleks, Cybermen and one New Who monster, the Weeping Angels.

The departure of long term companions Rory and Amy was handled in such a way that there was pathos and emotion as they parted from the Doctor at the hands of the Weeping Angels. Series 11 moved away from having recognisable monsters, brought in three companions and suffered for it as none of them felt fully fleshed out.

2. Story Arcs

This is probably a follow on from the point above but let’s have a story arc. I’ve been watching Season 16 recently (the Key to Time) and I think Series 12 would benefit some kind of structure to it. Yes, sure there was an element of fun gallivanting around the universe, with loose adventures for Series 11 but were we all tuning in week after week to find out what happens next? The viewing figures week on week went down for Series 11.

There wasn’t a hook to keep us tuning in. There has to be an element of what will happen next. I’m not talking Series 6 River Song/ Silents intensity but something that joins the episodes together in a broadway. Russell T Davies managed a nice balance between standalone stories and a mystery that would resolve in an epic finale.

Chris Chibnall did try with to create a monster in Tzim-Sha and have a pay-off in the “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” but it was poor. As there wasn’t any foreshadowing, except a brief mention in “The Ghost Monument” of the Stenza race, Tzim- Sha seemed a villain without weight. So having Graham and Ryan trapping Tzim-Sha in a stasis chamber, telling him to reflect on his actions, including Grace’s death seemed a little disappointing and inconsequential. He was also a new villain which the audience were unfamiliar with.

Although we did get a Dalek in “Resolution” how nice would it have been to have sprinkled some unobtrusive clues throughout the series for the return this classic foe.

3. Developing Yas and Ryan

There were lost opportunities in the last series to develop Yaz and Ryan and for them to grow.

I also felt the companions became secondary to the Doctor. Perhaps this was a deliberate move away from “the girl who waited” “the impossible girl” tags of previous years to make them ordinary. It’s not a bad thing but they became bland as supporting characters were the ones to challenge the Doctor.  Not one of them to rail against the Doctor’s questionable decision to let the spiders slowly die in “Arachnids in the UK”.  All well and good to leave it to the Doctor to criticise Robertson for shooting the giant spider dead, not agreeing it was a mercy killing but was her solution any better?

Give me a Sarah Jane or a Tegan Jovanka please to question a decision the Doctor makes not these passive passengers.

Talking of the companions I would have also have liked to have seen danger for them. One of the most used tropes of the show is the companion gets themselves into danger and has to be rescued. They are going to alien planets, visiting different time periods and don’t seem to attract any curiosity from the locals. I remember Graham was briefly held at knifepoint by Buttons but there wasn’t really any threat to any of them during the series.

Ryan Sinclair and Yasmin Khan having a serious conversation

4. Show don’t tell

A more ‘show don’t tell’ approach to stories. There was a lot of standing around explaining things instead of using the visual medium fully  The doctor seemed to be the main culprit for doing this with long exposition scenes where she explained things. Scenes as what happened to Rosa (the scene in the Tardis) or talking about the Morax, such in The Witchfinders. It may have been done successfully in Broadchurch where the characters were exploring the impact of a crime.

Maybe the writers wanted the Doctor to be seen as clever and wise but for Doctor Who it served to slow the showdown without adding anything. Talking of the Doctor I liked Jodie Whittaker but didn’t love her. I hate to say that as a fellow female but sisterly solidarity be damned.

There is something about her style of delivery of lines that grates on me.  I am a Peter Capaldi fan, and he was so expressive in face and voice that whoever followed him I knew would have to be as strong ( I so wish we’d had Olivia Colman) and impactful. Jodie’s kooky socially awkward Doctor stands back at times and I’m not truly convinced I’ve seen the expected amount of authority required of the Doctor from her yet although “Resolution” was definitely her best story to date.

5. Captivating Plots

Whilst stories such as “Rosa”, “Demons of the Punjab” and “The Witchfinders” were interesting overall, the series suffered because the messages became more important than having strong plots or a decent resolution to stories at times. Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate the attempts to educate using the current deep cultural divisions at the core of this country as a looking glass into the injustices of the past.

Doctor Who has always tackled issues, whether environmental, political usually through allegory in stories such as The Sunmakers (Taxation), The Power of Kroll (Colonialism),  The Green Death (Pollution) and many others. Series 11 laid its cards on the table even before it started with the trailers for Jodie’s Doctor that proclaimed “its about time” and that the stories would mirror the SJW agenda to promote socially progressive views such as feminism, civil rights and multiculturalism.

But I would have also liked some stronger stories as there were some writers that struggled to successfully merge science fiction and a message in a seamless manner.

So that’s my wish list for changes for Series 12 but do you agree? What’s your hope for the next series and why? If you could plan the series what would you add or change?

Post your thoughts on here or on Twitter. Let’s talk!

Continuing the new trilogy of adventures for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, Emissary of the Daleks sees the pair coming face-to-face with their deadliest enemies once again on the remote planet of Omnia. Omnia has long been occupied by the Daleks who rule the population with a titular emissary. Of course, it doesn’t take the Doctor and Peri long to get involved with the resistance movement. But can they defeat the Daleks this time?

Following his success with the Cybermen in last year’s Hour of the Cybermen, Andrew Smith gets another chance to give us a cracking script with a classic Doctor Who villain. What made Hour of the Cybermen such a brilliant listen was how ruthless the Cybermen came across. And here is no different, Smith gives us one of the most ruthless Dalek adventures that I’ve heard in a long time.

The Daleks here are gloriously merciless and the story feels like it would fit in with the later classic-era Dalek serials perfectly. They exterminate without any degree of compunction and it is great that they clearly hate having to work with the Omnian emissary, Carmen Rega. Smith makes sure that this element of the story adds some great tension as you never know if the Daleks are going to flip and exterminate her or not. They are constantly looking for faults in her logic and plans in any hope of finally being able to really take over.

However, if you are familiar with The Dalek Invasion of Earth, then you’ll probably get what is going to happen here from the opening moments, Smith takes a lot of imagery from that serial including Dalek mines and the slaves used by them. But what is great is that Smith doesn’t pretend that he hasn’t borrowed those ideas. He just makes them even more fun and imaginative. We’ve got hints and nods to stories like The Magicians Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, Planet of the Daleks, Revelation and Resurrection of the Daleks and a fun appearance from the Special Weapons’ Dalek from Remembrance of the Daleks. While some fans might see it as a rerun of old Dalek adventures, it is actually very fun to work out which story much of this came from.

Emissary of the Daleks
Emissary of the Daleks

In typical Andrew Smith fashion, where the story really succeeds in its characters and world-building. Right from the opening story, we get a clear and vivid image of what Omnia is like under Dalek-occupation. It’s a tough and ruthless world where anyone can be your enemy. In many ways, it feels a lot like the old Big Finish series, Dalek Empire. Smith really makes you care about the characters we encounter. The Doctor finds himself imprisoned with two fellow prisoners by the end of episode 1, Kalib and Shayna. It is particularly heart-breaking when the pair are exterminated. For characters who probably only five-minutes of airtime, Smith does a great job of making us care about them.

There can be little doubt though that Carmen Rega, played by Saskia Reeves is the strongest member of the guest cast. You really get a sense of her conflicted emotions. She became an emissary of the Daleks to save her people, but the Daleks have twisted and warped her good intentions to fit their own dark purposes and so have placed her at odds with her son, Aldo, played by William Ellis. Ellis does a great job too and works especially well with Nicola Bryant, which is great as the story sees the pair together for much of the runtime.

As for the main cast, Colin Baker is excellent here, proving once again why he is such a great and under-appreciated Doctor. I’ve always loved the Sixth Doctor, there is so much more to him than his bright coat and audios like this continue to prove that. Baker seems to be having a tremendous time here, getting to square-off against his deadliest enemies once again.

But it is Nicola Bryant as Peri who really gets to shine here, getting to spend a lot of the story without the Doctor around, she shows us what she is really made of. She too gets some great moments facing off against the Daleks and she has an interesting pairing with Aldo. She works as an excellent foil for Rega too, as she tries to make her see the error of her ways. Like the Sixth Doctor, I’ve always loved Peri and would go so far as to say she is one of my favourite companions, and these types of stories, with strong writing and characterisations, really help to cement her as one of Doctor Who’s greatest companions!

Andrew Smith used to be a police officer and this allows him to be the master of the slow-burn. Nothing here is as it first seems and every small detail is important. While it might not be the big Dalek space-operas we’ve become used to, it does feel like a street-level invasion, dark, gritty and closer to home. And that really works in this story’s favour.