Not the standard show this week Who fans as Adam is super busy so Garry recaps what happened at the BFI screening of The Curse of Fenric, some cool merch items in time for Christmas and he dives into the Series 12 trailer.
Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the SJA story – The Eternity Trap. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
The new TARDIS team of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Marc continue their adventures in two-brand new adventures. Interstitial sees them dealing with timey-whimey stuff while Feast of Fear gives them a chance to show how close they’ve become over the course of their travels.
This set of stories is a real change of pace with the two-story format allowing us listeners a chance to breath with shorter adventures, that allows time to focus on characters rather than spectacle. And the Fifth Doctor era had its fair share of two-part adventures so he feels perfectly at home in this format.
The opening story, Interstitial from Carl Rowens, is an ambitious way of opening the set, particularly for the new companion of Marc. It was a brave way of giving him his first proper story a futuristic setting and I was a little surprised at how quickly he adapted to it, especially given how for companions who come from the past, it takes them a long time to adjust. Still, this allowed for the story to progress nicely and quickly enough and Marc fares quite well here, even if he doesn’t get as much air time as Nyssa and Tegan.
While I described this story above as timey-whimey, perhaps that isn’t the best way to describe this story, as Rowens explores the nature of time in a much different way. He uses evolution in a really interesting with time-evolving and de-evolving people unfortunate enough to get caught up in it and I don’t think the nature of time has been used like this in the show before so it was a great way to look at it.
If anything lets this story down its that it is a little dense, in many ways reminding me of the early sci-fi heavy Hartnell stories. No doubt Interstitial will benefit from a re-listen, with the first time giving you the concept and overall feel, and the second listen allowing you to understand the storyline. It’s a great story and an excellent debut from Carl Rowens but perhaps a story that relies too much on imagery over the story. But giving it a re-listen won’t be a bad thing as overall this was a great way to kick this set off!
What I really liked though was the way Rowens handled the TARDIS team. It was nice to see that while Marc excepted the things going on in the space station, he is having a hard time adjusting to life on-board the TARDIS. Actor George Watkins performs the character perfectly, with an innocence that not many companions have had and looks at the universe with a great amount of wonder.
Rowens also makes sure that Nyssa and Tegan get a time-to-shine with Nyssa showing how intelligent she is when she is separated from everyone and Tegan is handled just right. She’s as strong as always and ready to argue but here, she puts those confrontational skills of hers to great use! Hopefully, Rowens will be giving us some more scripts like this in the future with some more great use of character.
The set concludes with the second story, Feast of Fear by Martyn Waites. And while one might think that this is something akin to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, this story actually proves to be a little simpler than that outing but it is no less great.
As the cover might tell you, we get a chance to see an evil version of Nyssa and what’s clear from the beginning is that this is a Nyssa who had all her inhibitions stripped away. It’s a great exploration of the character, allowing us to see how she might have turned out after her home-world of Traken was destroyed at the end of Logopolis. Of course, it doesn’t take us long to learn that she’s been taken over by an alien, but it allows the same sort of exploration of a character’s darker side that Tegan got whenever there is a Mara storyline.
Waites also takes a bold approach to open the story with the Doctor and Nyssa having already been captured and taken over. Normally, the story will build up to that point, but by placing us straight into that situation, Waites allows the listener to work the story out for themselves or at the same time as the characters.
It was nice to see this more vulnerable side to the Fifth Doctor as the carnival uses him as a soothsayer, blindfolded and chained to a chair. It’s a harsh way to treat the character of the Doctor but it does allow us to see the true horror of the story. As a result, as capable as Tegan and Marc prove themselves, I wasn’t too sure where the story was going to go. Perhaps this was Waites intention all the time but you take the Doctor out of the equation or make him a weaker character somehow and the story instantly takes on a desperate vibe. And for a while, this is a story without hope.
What really works in this story’s favour is how drastically different it is from the opening tale. While Interstitial was hard science-fiction, Feast of Fear has a little bit more a Brother’s Grimm dark fairy tale vibe going on. I’ve always liked Doctor Who stories that focus more on horror and dark themes rather than those which focus on science-fiction, so it was nice that Waites, another newcomer to Big Finish was daring to write one of those style of stories this early in his time with Big Finish and so well.
Feast of Fear is a really spooky and enjoyable outing and its a shame that nothing like this was ever made on television in the 80s, this is how I like my Doctor Who, dark, creepy with a touch of creepy fairy-tale fantasy thrown in for good measure.
Overall Interstitial and Feast of Fear make a couple of really enjoyable outings for the Fifth Doctor and his crew. And there is an overarching feeling of loss running throughout these two stories, something that will come into play no doubt in the next outings, Warzone/Conversion which see the gang meeting the Cybermen again. Given what happened to Adric last time these metal meanies turned up, I’m hoping nothing happens to any of them!
Fandom usually has good things to say about this so we dive into this belter of a Doctor-lite story from Series 4 where Catherine Tate runs the show before the epic finale. Are we into this one like everyone else or do we wish we’d have turned right?
Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the SJA story – The Eternity Trap. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
We run through the press announcement for Series 12 that landed on Wednesday 13th and a great fan project for a Terrance Dicks book that’s due out next year.
The upcoming vinyl LP The Web Planet looks gorgeous.
Review story this week is: Torchwood – Captain Jack Harkness
We’ve been up and down with Series 1 so far and this one is often viewed as a decent watch. Does this bring Captain Jack’s character up to where we know it can be or are we felt feeling trapped in the rift?
Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 4 story – Turn Left. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
Reeltime Pictures have been around since 1984 as a producer and distributor of films, whether of its own product or other companies. They have helped to fill the Doctor Who enthusiast shaped hole with documentaries (the Myth Makers video series) interviewing leading actors and people associated with the show. But Reeltime has also created original spinoff dramas by means of incidental characters and monsters licenced to the writers who created them.
Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor is their latest such drama. Unless you have been living in a swamp, within the Sea of Despair and Longing then you will be aware that Sil, the central character, is a mentor. A high level cold-blooded, fish-eating amphibian creature from Thoros Beta. He was last seen in the 1986 story “Mindwarp”, in Crozier’s laboratory as Peri was “killed” and Lord Kiv took over her body. As part of a national launch the London gala premiere of this movie-length project led by Keith Barnfather, founder of Reeltime, also director and producer, was held recently in Marylebone, north west London.
The Rudolph Steiner House Theatre is located within a 5-minute walk from Baker Street underground station (past the cute Sherlock Holmes museum with a large queue ) It is a cosy venue for a first viewing with an on-site café full of delicious looking cakes and teas. This fan of the mentors but a newbie to all things Reeltime joined the excitement to see what has become of the irascible Sil all these years later.
The schedule of the gala was comfortable enough that it gave time to the things you don’t get at bigger events such as talking to the guests. I remember my experience at this year’s London Film and Comic Con where I queued for ages for a picture with Jenna Coleman. She had probably seen hundreds of people before me. For the twenty-five seconds I had with her, she very briefly acknowledged me. My photo shows a glazed expression in her eyes as if she wanted to be anywhere else but there. By contrast after registration as I first entered the Rudolph Steiner autograph area and merchandise area at around 11.30 am, Sakuntala Ramanee who plays Larnier, the Prosecutor, greeted me with a warm cheery smile. Producing a silver pen from a box, she preceded to enthusiastically sign my alternative DVD cover.
I only realised very much later in the day at the group signing that she had also played Shreela, one of the young people transported to the Cat People’s planet in the classic Doctor Who final story “Survival”. When I remembered this Sakuntala revealed that she had enjoyed the opportunity when persuaded by Sophie to work with her friend again.
Sophie Aldred, who of course played Ace, has a significant role in Sil And The Devil Seeds Of Arodor and in a Reeltime double feature, in the morning there was the 1997 appearance from her in the story “Mindgame”. It was an enjoyable slice of an early quirky Reeltime effort done on a shoestring budget, It is implied in that story that Sophie is playing an older Ace employed as a mercenary paid to kill if she has to. It’s a strange feeling watching a spin-off as I found myself wondering do I accept “Mindgame” is canon for Ace? It’s fascinating to try to fit the scenarios that the spin-offs offer into a person’s existing history and probably something for endless discussion amongst us fans.
The main screening was at 1pm and Keith Barnfather as director and producer introduced the gala and came across as an extremely passionate person with a real love for the whole project. He had entire trust in his cast and crew during a hectic few days shoot. As a classic Doctor Who fan there is a great deal in the story to make you comfortable. After the opening shot where we see a few aliens milling around the lunar station, the production is limited to a few simply dressed sets and a maximum number of about eight significant characters. So you appreciate the budgetary constraints and the parallel to classic Who quite quickly.
The production also uses the classic Who four episodes format with the end of episode cliff-hangers to draw you in which is quite fun. Most of the main actors have a previous Doctor Who credit. Christopher Ryan who has been in both classic and new Who as General Staal in The Sontaren Stratagem and The Poison Sky is back as Lord Kiv. Janet Henfrey who was in The Curse of Fenric plays the adjudicator ably withstanding Sil’s attempted charm offensive with an appropriate curt put-down.
The story is written by the original Sil writer, Philip Martin adding an air of authenticity to Sil and the other returning character Lord Kiv. An experienced writer Philip Martin has many tv credits including Z-Cars, Hetty Wainthorpe Investigates, Tandoori Nights, Gangsters as well as Doctor Who. In the production team panel after the screening, Philip Martin revealed he has the copyright for the character only, nothing else, so had to work outside of the usual Doctor Who franchise using his imagination to create a pure story about Sil. He was struck with two ideas, a trial and a planet ruled by birds. Basing the story on the Moon came easily as he had written two scripts for the sci-fi show “Star Cops” years ago which was a series set on Moonbase.
I like the fact that Philip Martin continues to strike a political note in his writing here having a drug that initially helped people but then made them addicts as a strong premise to embroil Sil in. The themes of big corporation and corruption are as relevant today as in the future as is that someone should be taking accountability. Having Sil caught up in a justice system he will not recognise creates a conflict where he has to use all his wits to survive the claims made that he is a drug dealer. Sakuntala Ramanee plays the prosecutor and her role is a difficult one to entirely sympathise with. Her character and that of her son played by Jay Ramanee-Murphy are somewhat underwritten I think in favour of Sil. Consequently, both performances feel more slight than they should.
The appeal of Sil is the little child within us – Philip Martin
Nabil Shaban however totally relishes the opportunity to expand what we know about envoy Sil. As we don’t have the Doctor ready to bounce in as a protagonist Sil rightly moves centre stage to the story. I get a sense Nabil Shaban is a quiet man away from the camera but as Sil he brings great energy to the role. Begonia F Martin, who did the makeup for Sil and Sophie revealed the early starts from 5am for makeup and the 12 hour days in costume that the actor had to endure which he did without complaint. Nabil in the actor panel spoke of his previous experience doing stories for Big Finish where the only limitation was being in a recording box. He admitted that he was nervous to play Sil again but eventually felt able to do so due to the strong scriptwriting from Philip Martin.
Hurry hurry if you want the money- Sil
It is partly in the wonderful writing from Philip Martin that he shines but Nabil’s performance is full of surprises as we truly get a multi-faceted version of Sil. It struck me that Sil is probably one of the greatest characters created for Doctor Who. Nabil Shaban gives Sil, his usual deviousness to manipulate and extricate himself but he also imbues him with a fun charm. It’s a curious thing I thought that he only loves money for itself, not the luxuries it buys. Still, I can’t help loving Sil especially for the vanity within his frequent outbursts. I like the twist of the trial of the appearance of Mistress Na and the sacrifice plot. In episode three there is also a lovely soliloquy from Nabil which gives Sil what Philip Martin describes as a “dark night of the soul”.
There is a touch of Shakespeare style here seeing Sil in torment. He wrestles with the knowledge that he is wanted dead and the dilemma as to the motives of his mentor Lord Kiv and his love interest Mistress Na. Talking of lurve who guessed I would ever discover or be interested that Sil has feelings or a heart? Both Christopher Ryan and Sophie Aldred ably compliment Nabil Shaban’s performance and Christopher Ryan is luckily spared having to wear all the prosthetics and mentor costume that he had in “Mindwarp”
Some of the costumes from the production and prosthetics shown at the gala
But Christopher Ryan slips back into Lord Kiv with such ease it feels effortless between himself and Nabil and that is where the strengths of the production are so evident. Lord Kiv is no-one’s fool and will protect their employer the UMF at any cost. His voice haunts you coming out of the body of a corrupt human lawyer. Christopher Ryan conveys complete with a suitably crumpled suit how immoral and seedy he really is. In the production team panel Phil Newman, who designed the settings and principal costumes explained Lord Kiv’s somewhat shabby appearance was designed to show the result of all the brain transplants he has had to go through but he looks like third rate Columbo without his morals.
Sophie Aldred is almost unrecognisable as Mistress Na but plays her part of a half reptilian half-human seductress of Sil, a future Mata Hari, with some conviction. Her sweet words are music to Sil’s ears but I wonder if anyone else will find the gurgles of delight she elicits from him as she bathes his skin rather intrusive.I say get a room you two! In the actor panel, Sophie Aldred revealed that years ago she had always admired actors and prosthetics. She always wanted a role with the make-up so when she was asked by her friend Keith Barnfather she couldn’t say no.
The final events of the afternoon were two auction segments. Alaistair Pearson, the artist and illustrator were there for the auction segment selling an illustration. Keith Barnfather delved into a box to pull out props from the story to bid for, including a laser pistol belonging to one of the guards, moon-base area signs, a production script and other goodies. All the proceeds went to charity. The gala’s final flourish was a group signing session where all the principal actors were happy to sign autographs and chat amicably with fans. It was lovely to spend the day with this dedicated team and show our appreciation for all the hard work they have put in. As spin-offs go Sil And The Devil Seeds Of Arodor is certainly a worthy addition to the Doctor Who universe. Its at times like this I feel truly blessed to be a girl geek about town.
Torchwood: Smashed came about when Eve Myles suggested a story where Gwen spends the whole time drunk. James Goss took that idea and wrote a great script which deals with corporate greed in a storyline that feels very adult and relevant. And what feels like it is going to be a funny story with a drunk Gwen, quickly gets darker and bleaker and it doesn’t end well for everyone involved.
It wasn’t until I was writing this review that it struck me what this story reminded of. In many ways, it feels like Jon Pertwee’s adventure, Inferno. Here there is a group who are digging into the ground, in this case, fracking and something has come up from inside the Earth. And people are turning into monsters when they come into contact with a liquid substance, in this case, whenever they drink anything.
Smashed keeps it ambiguous as to what the creature in the Earth is. And for the most part, that works really well, allowing Goss to give us some social commentary on the greed of big corporations and they’ll do anything for their profits. Fracking has also been something that has been in the news over the last few years, destroying areas of the countryside or small towns and villages in search of oil. I have to admit I only know what Fracking is because I’ve seen Dallas, I was never great at science! But rightly Goss steers the story away from what Fracking is and instead focuses on the effect it has on the people around.
While people don’t actually turn into monsters, that we know off, when a big oil company moves into town, it hasn’t been unheard of for people to fall ill as it upsets everything around them. In need of a job since leaving Torchwood, Gwen Cooper finds herself working as a consultant for a big company. They send her to a small Welsh town Glynteg, where Drillpak has given jobs to a number of residents and brought money to something of a dilapidated area. But Gwen quickly finds her principles threatened as she has to navigate minefields of angry and drunk residents, corporate yes-men, corruption and activists who are against the presence of the oil company.
What Goss is really good at too is giving us both sides of the story, not telling us one-way-or-another if we should be against big oil companies. He doesn’t gloss over the fact that these businesses do bring jobs to forgotten towns and villages, he also doesn’t gloss over the fact that they destroy the surrounding area and can hurt people and their livelihoods and putting Gwen right in the middle of it was a great move as out of all of Torchwood, she seems to be the only member who can see two sides to every story.
Eve Myles does a great job here, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone anymore. While she’ll always be Gwen Cooper no matter what I see her in, she’s a very in-demand actress right no so I’m also surprised she has the time for Big Finish. And she doesn’t go OTT in the drunk acting. That’s something that’s riddled with clichés but Myles keeps it believable. She becomes loud, argumentative, happy and funny sometimes all in one scene or sentence. Sometimes scenes are played for laughs but the menacing presence of monsters and talk about the company help ground the drunk aspect of the story. And it’s not just there as an excuse for Gwen to be drunk because the water table of the surrounding area has been heavily contaminated, the only thing to drink is booze. As I said above, things in this story aren’t all fun and games!
Big Finish newcomer, Omar Austin makes a great debut performance as Gwen’s ‘companion’ for this story, Martyn. The only activist left, Gwen teams up with him as a matter of survival and as a way of getting to know what is going on. There are some heavy scenes with Martyn like when Gwen forces him to drink even though it goes against everything he believes in. But Myles, Austin and Goss handle it in an intelligent way. It isn’t done as a way of getting the character drinking, Gwen is keeping him alive and given how many people she has lost since she’s joined Torchwood, it’s understandable that she wants Martyn to be someone who lives.
Helen Griffin rounds the cast out as the baddie for the story, Rhian. Griffen also memorably played Mrs Moore in the Tennant Cyberman story, Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel. Griffen also passed away last year after the recording of this story. Smashed is dedicated to her but she does a brilliant job here. Not necessarily as evil as you’d think, she is just the mouth-piece for the oil company. She does a good job here though making an excellent foil for Gwen and giving an inhuman monster and human face.
Overall though, Smashed is a darkly intelligent story with a lot more going on under the surface than it might first promise. Myles and the rest of the cast do a tremendous job and the script from James Goss is very enjoyable and clever, not really telling us what we should believe and who we should like and who we shouldn’t, allowing us to make up our own minds about those questions across the course of the story. Then there’s a big twist at the end that you wouldn’t predict happening in a million years! The resulting story feels very contemporary and gives a new twist on an old concept. This is great Torchwood through and through.
Continuing with outlook back at The Virgin New Adventures books, all of which continued the series once it ended in 1989, we’ve got Love and War, which bid farewell to Ace and hello to Bernice Summerfield and Transit, written by Ben Aaronovitch, perhaps most notoriously known for introducing Doctor Who to the ‘F’-Bomb.
LOVE AND WAR: WRITTEN BY PAUL CORNELL
Love and War marks the end of an era as it says goodbye to the beloved companion Ace. But it also marks a new era of Doctor Who storytelling as this is the book where this novel range finally steps out from under the shadow of the television series and begins its bold voyage in a brand new direction.
I think that by this point, readers would have known that Ace was going to leave, there had been hints since the beginning of the range and then Mark Gattiss gave us a false start with the previous book Nightshade. The Doctor cruelly dematerialises the TARDIS before Ace can say her goodbyes. Also, a thread throughout these novels is the idea that the Doctor is ‘Time’s-Champion’, seemingly the only being in the universe capable of sorting out these sorts of problems. And while they aren’t entirely wrong, it has driven a wedge between the Doctor and Ace and she is fed up of being used as a pawn in his manipulations as it has put in her many life-endangering situations not only over the course of these books but the television series too.
So it fell to Paul Cornell, who had previously written the interesting Timewyrm: Revelation book, which also put a lot of focus on Ace, to write her out of the series. And while her departure is a bit predictable, it doesn’t spoil it, and indeed its hard to not see her point. The Doctor doesn’t care who he puts in danger and it costs the life of someone she comes to hold dear over the course of the book.
Ace has always been one of my favourite companions and while I’ve never really brought the reasons behind her departure here, she’s lost people before and its never really bothered her, perhaps its best to look at the circumstances around her leaving. So while I don’t like her departure, it is somewhat appropriate as it could only be something big to split the Doctor and Ace apart and that’s exactly what Cornell gives us.
As well as letting Ace go, Virgin also placed it on Cornell’s shoulders to introduce us to the new companion Bernice Summerfield or Benny as she likes to be called. Not only does this usher in a new era for Doctor Who but Benny also becomes the first of the new companions to become the star of the show. When BBC Books took back the licence to produce books for the show, Bernice was kept on at Virgin and they gave her another twenty-something book series following her adventures without the Doctor.
Benny wouldn’t be the only companion that the Doctor had over the course of Virgin’s publishing but she is certainly the most popular. She still pops up from time-to-time in books nowadays and her audio range with Big Finish has continuously gone strong for the last twenty-odd years! And its not hard to see why. She’s brilliant here, with Cornell devoting a lot of the plot to her, with the Doctor once again playing grand-chess-master, it falls of Ace, Bernice and the mysterious group, The Travellers to sort a lot of the problems out. And she also gets the first hints that the Doctor can be cold and manipulative but she also makes it clear that she won’t put up with it, forcing the Doctor to take a step back from his role of master-manipulator. It’s great to see a companion, apart from Ace, really stand up to the Doctor, though I would say that Bernice seems to be the first to almost work as his equal.
Looking once again at the idea that the Doctor is ‘Time’s Champion’, Cornell makes sure to make that notion more explicit and easy to understand. He tells us that Death is an Eternal, the omnipotent race the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough met in Enlightenment. Time is also an Eternal and the Doctor has long been Time’s Champion, fixing problems and stopping evil, even if it means the deaths of a few to save the many. And Ace and previous companions travel with the Doctor for enough time to be considered as The Stewards of Time’s Champion. And Ace isn’t too happy about that. The Doctor tries to make it up to her but just can’t help himself by continuing to manipulate and twist her and we also get the indication that the Doctor in the future still can’t help himself and he receives as game-player note from a future incarnation.
Cornell makes sure not to alienate old Doctor Who fans though as the Draconians from the Third Doctor’s era play a big part here. The planet of Heaven is a graveyard planet for both humans and Draconians following their peace treaty and the events of Frontier in Space. We’ve also got the inclusion of IMC, who would also feature in the future book Lucifer Rising, but IMC had already been the villains in Colony in Space. And Cornell also gives us the first mention of the Doctor being called ‘The Oncoming Storm’, as the Draconians call him this as does the modern series.
The Hoothi aliens are a great villain. They were first mentioned in The Brain of Morbius as a throw-away-line but they prove themselves to be horrific enemies. I just loved them, there were grotesque and disturbing, infecting people with little thorns that slowly convert their victims into them, absorbing their minds into their fungal hive-mind. They are perhaps the first worthy opponent these novels have had since the Timewyrm.
I really liked this book and it is just as good as Nightshade was. It’s dark and disturbing and offers us some new light on the characters of the Doctor and Ace. Bernice proves to be a great companion, even in her introductory story and even though I don’t really like Ace’s departure, the circumstances around her leaving feel entirely earned. She’ll be gone for a few books but have no worry, she’ll be back soon, badder and madder than ever…
TRANSIT: WRITTEN BY BEN AARONOVITCH
Transit is the first Doctor Who story written by Aaronovitch since the television series’ Battlefield and it was a book I had been looking forward to reading. Aaronovitch continued with his fascination for the Brigadier by introducing us to a distant descendant Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart and while I really liked her character, I must admit to having some trouble getting into this one.
Once I got started I really enjoyed it, but the opening chapters of the book were so all over the place, I did have a mind to just put it aside and move onto the next one. And while I didn’t, I stuck with it and in the end enjoyed it, it still felt disjointed. Perhaps some of the disappointment I felt here was in its treatment of Bernice. Almost instantly her mind is taken over and she plays out for much of the rest of the plot, as a baddie, killing her way through to the final chapters when she finally breaks free.
While it isn’t a bad thing to do with a companion, Cornell had set her up as such a strong-willed character in Love and War, that here the fact she doesn’t fight back somehow is just disappointing. I think maybe’s that’s why I didn’t entirely enjoy this one, with one main character down, the Doctor playing master-manipulator again, which I must admit is beginning to wear a bit thin, much of the plot is put onto the shoulders of Kadiatu and Zak two really strong characters but not characters that Aaronovitch makes sure to make us care about.
Actually, that’s a bit harsh because Kadiatu is a fascinating character and its great to see the future descendants of the Lethbridge-Stewart lineage is in good hands. For modern fans, she might remind a little bit of Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter and I’d be surprised is the character for Jenny wasn’t possibly inspired by her character. And I think she comes back later in future novels as she does seem to fly away at the end of the novel.
Maybe another reason I struggled with Transit was in how it just seemed to be planting seeds for stories years down the line. We’ve got the first mention of the Ice Warrior-Human War also known as The Thousand Day War that will be explored in many books time with GodEngine. We continue with the Doctor being ‘Time’s Champion’ and he sets up Katiatu as a reoccurring character.
What I did like though was that the book seemed to lean quite heavily on Cyberpunk. Not something I’ve ever been into personally but it was nice to see DoctorWho venturing out into something a little bit different. It’s quite strange to have a story featuring cyberpunk elements that doesn’t focus entirely on those elements as stories about cyberpunk often fall to those traps that come with it.
With a few missteps here-and-there, Transit is a fairly enjoyable book, though it takes a while to get going. Once you get into it, its a fairly decent read, just don’t be shocked by the use of the F-word. I lost track of it after about ten uses as there doesn’t seem to be a chapter that goes by where it isn’t used. I think it caused quite a stir at the time though and I’m not too bothered by it, it’s just a word you don’t expect in something Doctor Who related! I didn’t like the treatment of Bernice here as it didn’t give her a chance to prove herself as a companion. Indeed, the book ends with Bernice believing she is nothing more than a pet to the Doctor. Not off the best of starts.
NEXT TIME: THE DOCTOR FACES THE HIGHEST SCIENCE AND THEN ONTO WHAT HAS BEEN THE WORST DOCTOR WHO BOOK I’VE EVER READ – THE PIT (AN IRONIC TITLE REALLY).
Released shortly after the finale of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor’s last trilogy of adventures, Tartarus kicks off a new set of adventures for Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, joined by Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton as Tegan and Nyssa respectively. But this trilogy is a bit different in its format, Tartarus is two-forty-five-minute episodes with the following two releases being made up of two different stories in one release split between two-episodes each. Oh, and Tartarus introduces us to a new companion, Marc.
It’s strange for Big Finish to release two historical adventures in a row and two historical adventures that feature something of a historical celebrity. Harry Houdini’s War featured a brilliant take on, you guessed it – Harry Houdini from author Steve Lyons. Tartarus features the famous Roman, perhaps the first lawyer in history, Cicero, played by Samuel Barnett who has also played the character in his own Big Finish series.
Tartarus from David Llewellyn is brilliant from start to finish and not just because the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are my favourite TARDIS team. It is great that Llewellyn and Big Finish took the risk to cross over a non-science-fiction series with a pure science-fiction series. It’s not the sort of move that I could see any television production company doing but it is these risks that Big Finish takes that end up paying off in the most brilliant of ways.
Llewellyn also has a great history with Cicero as he wrote the entirety of the Big Finish series, so he was the perfect writer to bring Doctor Who into the orbit of Cicero and it was great to hear the Doctor getting a moment to fan-girl over him. In fact, the chemistry between Davison and Barnett is one of the biggest things this story has to offer as well as giving us an interesting insight into a historical figure and a cracking good story.
Now I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Cicero before Big Finish announced his own solo series and because of that, I never listened to his audio range. But I think I’ve changed my mind now, this story has piqued my interest enough to get me interested in his series when I have some spare cash I may be tempted to part with it. What made it even better was that it wasn’t assumed that the listener would be automatically familiar with the character of Cicero so Llewellyn makes the right choice in kicking the story off like a traditional historical adventure with the Doctor determined to meet the man and dragging Nyssa and Tegan along. Already that is a different dynamic as many times before the TARDIS lands into a situation rather than the Doctor putting them into the situation.
I’ve always liked Llewellyn’s stories too and many of them have had some very funny moments and Tartarus is no different. There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The first episode features a sequence of movie-references including Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and The Wizard of Oz. Cicero remarks at one moment, “Doctor, I don’t think we’re in Cumae anymore!” which was brilliantly performed by Barnett.
All the cast are on their top game here. Davison is always brilliant and he is clearly loving this script, devouring it for all it’s worth! He shares brilliant chemistry with Barnett and the easy dynamic he shares between Fielding and Sutton is nicely on display here with the script that gives that a chance to shine. Janet Fielding is just hilarious, some of her lines are so funny and she too seems to be giving it her all as does Sarah Sutton.
And what of the new companion, Marc, played by George Watkins? Well, I was very impressed. For those of you who don’t know, Watkins is actually Davison’s nephew so it seems only right that he should join this TARDIS team. For the time being, he seems to be only in this new trilogy of adventures and from the ending of the story, where the Doctor goes back to see Cicero, it seems something bad has happened to poor Marc. Given that the Cybermen are featuring in Warzone/Conversion, I’m willing to bet he lays his life down somehow. I hope not though as that would seem like a re-treading of Adric’s demise at the end of Earthshock. But I was very impressed with Marc, he reminded me of some of the more old-school Big Finish companions and hopefully, the writers will play with that a bit more.
As much as I love characters like Flip, Constance Clarke and Elizabeth Klein, I really loved Evelyn, Hex and Charley and Marc does feel like he takes after the older companions! And he had great chemistry with the main cast with the writers seemingly setting up something of a love story between him and Tegan, I’ll be interested to hear how that plays out, especially if I’m right about his fate.
And Tartarus also features Tracy Ann-Oberman as the titular villain, Tartarus. In the interviews at the end of the CD, Oberman says how interesting she finds Roman culture and she has read up extensively on the subject. So this to be something of a dream for her and she does a great job in the role, instantly getting across the grandiosity of godhood!
Overall, Tartarus was another very strong outing for Big Finish and David Llewellyn has given us another fantastic adventure in the same vein as some Greek-odyssey. The whole cast both main and supporting are on fine form, clearly, everyone is enjoying the script and bringing it to life! And Scott Handcock deftly guides them in the role of director. Tartarus is a triumph in every way.
No news this week guys.
Fury from the Deep is getting the animated treatment and is due out next year, we’re getting a Master-centric unofficial annual, Sophie Aldred’s first DW novel is out next year too and the next exclusive vinyl LP is The Web of Fear.
Review story this week is: The Ambassadors of Death
Super cool and suave, the Third Doctor is on a mission to stop galactic war while dealing with conspirators and generally bad people. Does this James Bond-style story serve up the goods or does the 7-part run time feel like too much of a slog?
Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Torchwood story – Captain Jack Harkness. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!