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The News

Nothing this week.

Merch Corner

Some details on the Sycorax figure from Robert Harrop plus a new Big Finish featuring Susan.

Review story this week is: Fugitive of the Judoon

We’re at mid-series point and so far it’s been mostly great. With a familiar monster being brought back does this one also bring back some good old adventure or is it shades of Series 11?

Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 story – “Praxeus”. Until then have a super week and remember – Allons-y!

The News

Nothing exciting this week but we chat about recent viewing figures (they aren’t that bad).

Merch Corner

Some new stuff from Character and some new Big Finish.

Review story this week is: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

We felt like last week was a bit “middle of the road” so does this one bring it back? Historical’s have typically been great since S11 so let’s dive into 20th Century NYC and see what Tesla and Edison are up to.

Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 story – “Fugitive of the Judoon”. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

BritBox has been live here in the UK for a few months now and with the recent addition of most of Classic Doctor Who I’ve taken a look at the service on various apps so let’s see how it fairs.

What is BritBox?

So what is BritBox I hear you ask? Good question. BritBox is an online digital streaming service set up by the BBC and ITV plc to provide, as the name suggests, a library of British box-sets from classic shows through to fairly modern releases.

It’s felt like a long time waiting for certain streaming services to arrive in the UK. We’re spoilt with some things, like the recent Star Wars movies opening a day early, the BBC channel here has no ads and most of the other streaming services have been here along with the US. However, we’re not always so lucky. BritBox is one of those services that has felt like ages before we could get our hands on it (much like the recently launched Disney+ service which doesn’t land here until the end of March).

Whinging aside, BritBox has been available in the US for a while and we finally have it. It launched on 7th November 2019 with a monthly subscription price of £5.99 (you can sign up with a 30-day free trial). I imagine the reason the UK did not get it at the same time is due to the usual kerfuffle of licencing blah blah. There was also one key show missing from the service at launch. Not Doctor Who I hear you cry! Yes, Doctor Who, although they swiftly rectified that.

All about Who

Ultimately, BritBox should, at the moment at least, just be called “WhoBox” (or any other suitable and clever Doctor Who/BritBox name you want to think up). The service has been marketed to Doctor Who fans more than any of the other shows available to stream. For example, when you log in or open up an app (more on those later), the top-level navigation has Doctor Who available right there. You don’t need to search for DW, it’s there, no other show on BritBox has that. Neat.

There’s also been plenty of marketing around DW on BritBox just after it launched in November of 2019. The ads I saw weren’t so much for the service itself but rather all the DW you can watch. Even ITV showed a few ads pushing DW on BritBox (for those of you not in the UK, the BBC and ITV are prime time TV rivals and rarely advertise shows from the other channel).

Diving into Doctor Who

The service has launched, we waited until Boxing Day when they added mostly all of Classic DW, our palms are warm with excitement, we open the app or log in to the site to check it all out but did they deliver on providing us with a worthy amount of content? A big yes is the answer, with a few extras thrown in for good measure.

Search for specific episodes
Search for specific episodes

Go into any other show on BritBox and you’ll see a standard layout of a nice large background image, the title, a few calls-to-action like “watch”, add to “My List” and then a list of series and episodes. With DW however, things are very different, for the better.

Clicking into DW from either the top nav link or from a section that’s on the homepage you’re presented with what’s basically its own area within the app. Unlike other shows, you get the large DW logo at the top then lots of ways to get into each Doctor/era of the show along with curated content that highlights various Doctors and special features. It’s important to note that (at the moment, more on that later) there is no modern DW, it’s all classic.

Some good old fashioned stats and numbers of what’s included:

  1. There are 627 items of content are available
  2. There are 129 complete stories, comprised of 558 episodes
  3. Four of the stories (22 episodes): The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase, The Ice Warriors and The Invasion are made up of a collection of originally aired content along with animation. Shada is presented as a 130 minute special
  4. Two purely animated stories The Power of the Daleks and The Macra Terror are here and in HD
  5. There are 5 “orphaned” stories: The Crusade, Galaxy 4, The Space Pirates and The Celestial Toymaker
  6. The 8th Doctor TV Movie is included
  7. The Underwater Menace, The Wheel in Space and The Web of Fear are included and completed with telesnaps
  8. An Unearthly Child The Pilot Episode is included along with the (amazing) An Adventure in Space and Time
  9. The Sarah Jane spin-off K-9 and Company is included
  10. The documentaries More than 30 Years in the TARDIS and Doctor Who: Doctors Revisited are also here

When you include the orphaned episodes that’s pretty much all of classic Who. There are exceptions where it concerns completely lost stories such as The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Evil of the Daleks and The Abominable Snowmen to name a few but to be honest I can’t blame BritBox for that as it’s one thing to include orphaned episodes or stories completed with animation but the reconstructed stories with just audio is something else. Maybe we’ll see them arrive one day.

Browsing through stories

If you know what Doctor you want to watch or a particular story it’s easy peasy to get to it. You can either click on the Doctor you want from the top section (it displays them using the nice illustrated style artwork that was done last year) and that will take you into that Doctor’s area which displays each story as a collective, you can’t select a specific episode. For example, if you wanted to watch part 3 of The Daemons you couldn’t access that from here (unless you started playing it from part 1 and skipped to the end straight away).

There’s a full-width section further down titled “Over 600 Doctor Who Classic episodes” with a button “browse by episode” which takes you into a more detailed view where you can browse through each series and select episodes directly.

Browse by Doctor's Storeys
Browse by Doctor’s Stories

One important thing to note and something I feel needs fixing is you can’t search for episodes in the main search bar. You can search for “Doctor Who” and it will return a few results like “Doctor Who Classic” and the documentaries etc but that’s it. What’s more strange is if you search for say, Peter Davison, it will return results for all the shows he stars in except DW, weird. So bear in mind if you want to get to a story or specific part you need to go into the sections within the DW area within the app.

One thing I’d like to see improved is the consistency of the episode artwork as there is a mixture of images being used within each series. They’ve gone with a specific photo of each Doctor for a series but then some episodes have used what looks like the image from the dvds along with the same title text and logo. I’m not sure if this is a UX pattern to push people towards certain episodes (I can’t think of why they would do that) or if they didn’t have the time to do all the thumbnails with the episode artwork so they plonked a holding picture in for now? My preference would be to have the episode artwork for each thumbnail as you already know what Doctor and series you’re looking at.

Curated Collections

Along with each Doctor having their own section when you click into them, BritBox has put together some cool collections if you’re having a hard time deciding what story to watch. This is a great feature for me as I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve decided to watch classic Who, walked over to the bookcase and just stared at the dvds for about 10 minutes before closing my eyes, waving my finger, stopping and that’s the story I’m going to watch. Then changing my mind and doing it over again.

Curated Collections
Curated Collections

You get “New to Who” which is one popular storey plucked out of each era along with An Adventure in Space and Time and Tales from the TARDIS. You then get collections like “Villains: Cybermen” or “The Fourth Doctor: 10 of the Best.” Other good collections are the actor’s favourite episodes such as “Tom Baker’s favourite fourth Doctor stories”. What they do is take some of the decision-making process away if you’re in the mood to watch classic Who but aren’t too fussed on what or if you didn’t have a specific Doctor in mind.

They also break the content up with full-width banners suggesting a particular Doctor or story such as the TV Movie or the Tales from the Tardis documentary. As you can tell, they’ve gone much further with putting content together for DW than anything else on BritBox so bravo for that.

How does the app perform?

I’ve so far used BritBox in the browser (Google Chrome), on Apple TV and on my iPhone. Thankfully the development into the apps has been done rather well and performance is good across all three that I tested. My app of choice is Apple TV as it’s awesome watching classic Who on a large TV (plus I use Apple TV for a few other mainstay apps like Netflix, Twitch etc). It’s snappy and I can get around with no issue and the picture quality is top-notch, especially for things like AAISAT and Spearhead from Space which are presented in HD (it’s important to note that while watching any of the episodes, they are all listed as streaming in HD, this is just the output signal from the app/device and not the content itself).

Overall the picture quality for everything else is what you’d expect if you’ve ever seen any of the classic DW dvds. There’s no 4k here, obviously, so it’s either being streamed in its native resolution or in HD as mentioned above. Audio is on par with the dvds too. I’ve not done a side-by-side comparison but I didn’t notice anything wrong or any fancy remixes going on.

The future of Doctor Who on BritBox

This is an interesting question that I’m sure many have asked and I did almost immediately. Concerning Classic DW I imagine we will get more of the upcoming animated lost episodes such as Fury from the Deep and The Faceless Ones along with any other missing parts that may turn up.

Outside of Classic DW, the obvious one is will there be any post-2005 Who added in the future? So far BritBox has been labelled as “…first complete digital home of Doctor Who Classic…” with the emphasis on Classic. For me, I would love to see everything added to BritBox to make it the home of all DW. I mentioned earlier that BritBox is focused mainly on classic TV but they do have recent shows that were available straight away such as Downton Abbey and Gavin & Stacey.

I don’t know the answer to whether modern Who would be “allowed” onto the service but I imagine it’s got something to do with licencing and broadcast contracts in place. DW is still shown on the W channel here in the UK and let’s not forget that all of modern Who is available on the BBC’s iPlayer app for free so I can’t see it being added anytime soon.

There’s also the spin-off’s to consider. At the moment neither The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood or Class are available on iPlayer, nor are they being broadcast on any TV channels. These seem like perfect candidates to add to the service (SJA being a great follow on from K-9 and Company that is on BritBox) but those pesky licencing contracts are likely culprits.

Concerning the physical vs. digital media conversation, I (and lots of other Who fans) am a sucker for my physical releases. I love all of my boxsets and individual dvd releases but there would be something cool about firing up the app and having all of Who available within seconds. “Hmm, I’m in the mood for Remembrance of the Daleks and oooh, do you remember the 9th Doctor storey Dalek, cool let’s watch that after”. Being able to weave your way through classic and modern Doctors and follow a particular monster or reference is a great concept.

Of course, there’s nothing that’s stopping us from getting up off of our arses and putting a disc into a player but the accessibility of being able to browse through the entire library at once is an exciting idea, even if it does mean being a couch potato for longer (just get up after each part and stretch, make a cuppa 😉).

Browse by individual episodes
Browse by individual episodes

In summary

I’m loving BritBox right now. To be honest I didn’t think I was going to sign up, let alone get stuck into watching any classic DW again. My initial thoughts were that I already own them on dvd and blu ray so I have no need to watch them digitally but as I mentioned above, there is something cool about having the library so quickly and easily accessible. I also like the curated collections which guide me into an episode if I’m struggling to make my mind up on what to watch.

A few little UX niggles aside (the ability to search for individual episodes being my main gripe) the app is well made and I haven’t run into any problems. I select an episode, it’s playing within seconds and I’m enjoying classic DW, mission accomplished.

The larger question of if or when modern Who will come over to the service is one I’ll keep an eye on and potentially bug BritBox about now and then. It’s definitely something that will help either retain users and/or brings a lot more over to the service.

For now, though, BritBox has made a suitable place for classic DW and offers a decent service if you plan on doing an epic re-watch marathon or if you want to dip your toe into “old” Doctor Who.

It’s going to be quite the month if you’re a Seventh Doctor and Ace fan – We have the long-awaited Season 26 Blu-Ray boxed set arriving on Monday 27th, Sophie Aldred’s hotly-anticipated elder Ace novel At Childhood’s End on February 6th and this week Big Finish have released Dark Universe by Guy Adams.

Set after Ace departs the TARDIS, it finds her running A Charitable Earth, angry and bitter about her time with the Doctor. This anger and her charity’s links with the Brazilian government make her an ideal companion for villainous Timelord The Eleven and a scheme involving a Gallifreyan weapon which is hidden deep inside a tree in the Amazon. In true Doctor Who style, what begins as a contemporary globetrotting fetch quest becomes a complex, slightly confusing, cosmos shattering battle for survival. Or, as Sylvester McCoy describes it “potty, and all over the place…but it’s not.”

Simon Holub's cover artwork for 'Dark Universe'
Simon Holub’s cover artwork for ‘Dark Universe’

Much was made of the tensions between Ace and the Doctor in the promotion of Dark Universe, is she the Doctor’s friend or is she his foe? What could have possibly gone wrong between the two of them? Whilst that appears to match up with the synopsis for Aldred’s upcoming novel, it doesn’t fit with Pete McTighe’s emotive Season 26 trailer. Nor does it ring true in Dark Universe itself. Without giving too much away, Guy Adams’ script spends little to no time in committing to the idea that Ace would ever betray the Doctor by siding with a Timelord as chaotic and evil as the Eleven – played once more by the excellent Mark Bonnar.

Thankfully, Sophie Aldred is clearly relishing the chance to play an older, wiser Ace. Gone are the juvenile insults, instead favouring acidic snark when dealing with each of the Time Lords she comes into contact. The twenty-year gap does add a different dimension to the Doctor and Ace’s relationship and she’s weary with his constant plotting and need for control. As Aldred observes in the behind the scenes interviews, there is an element of looking back over a previous relationship and identifying the problems with it. There’s interesting material in here for both characters but with a bombastic end of the universe style story wrapped around it, there’s a missed opportunity not to explore it further.

It doesn’t help that the Doctor doesn’t get much to do for three out of the four episodes, other than narrate the action and hint that he has a plan to reverse the seemingly hopeless situation. Much like Ace, I found myself wearying of this aspect of his character. It’s an issue that plagued many of the New Adventures novels back in the 90’s and here, his plan seems incredibly risky to the point of outright villainy, regardless of his good intentions.

Mark Bonnar, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Lin Sagovsky and Glen McCready in a grey concrete car park rather than a lush rainforest.
Mark Bonnar, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Lin Sagovsky and Glen McCready in a grey concrete car park rather than a lush rainforest.

It’s this that leads to the story’s standout scene – the big moral confrontation between the Doctor and the Eleven. It’s played beautifully by Mark Bonnar and Sylvester McCoy, equal parts righteous fury and empathy and contains the fabulous line “No-one cares if you’re caught punching a Dalek.” We’ve been here before many times, “we’re not so different, you and I”, but Bonnar and McCoy lend Guy Adams’ rich dialogue some real gravitas that momentarily distracts you from the well-worn cliches at the core.

This is the main strength of Dark Universe, our central trio of Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Mark Bonnar. They anchor a story that is quite convoluted and requires your attention, not one to listen to whilst doing the dishes, perhaps. Once the Doctor begins to reveal his intentions and set the wheels spinning in Part 4, McCoy really delivers in his emotionally charged confrontations with his nemesis and former companion. Similarly, Sophie Aldred is brilliant at drawing all the threads of Ace’s multiple Big Finish incarnations into a well-rounded individual that is no longer in thrall to her Professor.

Frustratingly, much of Dark Universe reminded me of Last of the Timelords but these character moments allow the play to step out from that story’s shadow, providing us with what Big Finish can often do so well – casting fresh perspectives and adding depth to characters that we think we know so well.

Dear reader, Episode 3 already and Orphan 55 roared its way into our consciousness. When I heard the title initially I had visions of something completely different. Episode 3 is a dystopian story, a scattershot warning of the Earth’s future. What I am finding out about the Chris Chibnall era is that it is a divisive time in the fandom over his interpretation but we are also being given lots of talking points in every episode garnering discussion. Online reaction to the episode has been ferocious so let’s get into it…

So, the biggies for me this episode were the speech at the end by the Doctor and the revelation this is Earth in one timeline. Yes, the speech was a sermon. It was a sledgehammer approach which I initially didn’t like as I felt lectured at. But thinking about in the bigger picture “we” (take that to apply as you want) do need to do more to preserve the beauty of our home this magnificent blue planet. In this age of evidence of global warming perhaps subtlety is no longer working.

I am reminded how at the beginning of the episode Benni and Vilma were looking over the blue pool (or lagoon) and commented how beautiful it was so maybe a bit of uncomfortableness in a painfully preachy final speech is excusable to preserve that view. It just struck me when the doctor says “People can save planets, or wreck them. That’s the choice “is she also referring to the Master’s destruction of Gallifrey and her? This is the second planet in a row that has been obliterated so is this an emerging theme this series?

You know that. The future is not fixed. It depends on billions of decisions, and actions, and people stepping up. Humans. I think you forget how powerful you are. Lives change worlds. People can save planets, or wreck them. That’s the choice. Be the best of humanity. Or… – The Doctor

The highs and lows of the episode

Talking of the Doctor I do like the more decisive tone they are taking with her character. Jodie has gained some confidence in making the Doctor more of the taking charge character we know and the companions bringing up the rear which I approve of. The way she takes charge of building the ionic membrane (a shield) is interesting although she seems to find the DNA filter very quickly.

I really enjoyed the initial set up of the teleport cube and the arrival at Tranquillity Spa although how the team can travel to an alternative timeline is strange. An alternate timeline is a reality which diverges from the true timeline due to the actions of time travellers and Graham didn’t do anything. Unless the cube has an ability to make them change team streams but that would require tremendous power? How did the Doctor know it was only one possible timeline?

Graham takes in Tranquility Spa
Graham takes in Tranquillity Spa

I didn’t feel that the supporting characters we met were as well developed as they could have been. There were a lot of them but they were briefly introduced and the monsters took over. Vilma could have offered Yes a cup of tea and a bit of a gossip. Nevi and Sylas could have bumped into the Doctor whilst looking at the teleport. The character Hyph3n was probably not needed and perhaps could have been Bella instead, hired and undercover. Good supporting characters add depth and character to a story. With the running time for the episode as 46 minutes, I do appreciate there was a lot to cram in but if you compare this with another episode “Midnight” where more time is given to establishing the characters before the peril starts it might have made us care a bit more as they died.

I don’t know whether Ed Hime deliberately was adding black humour where Benni was heard to ask Vilma to marry him and then shoot him but it is one of the funnier parts of the whole episode between Vilma and Benni. Someone did a count on YouTube and Vilma shouted out 18 times for Benni apparently throughout the script. The other “character” which gave some black laughs was the tannoy announcer “Welcome to the Tranquillity steam room. Please leave immediately”

The Doctor with Hyph3n
The Doctor with Hyph3n

I did think the design of the Dregs as mutations of the humans left behind was terrific in shadow as they were stalking their prey in the hotel. Truly scary and alien-like they were just full of rage and instinct. Humans are mammals but this was a terrifying devolution to a more primitive form that couldn’t speak. Of course, out of the shadows in the quarry terrain as design, they were a little lumbering so there was a disparity but they still looked unrelenting.

The script

I did enjoy some of the brief comedy we saw in the episode mainly from Graham wanting to relax and drink cocktails and Ryan reacting to the hopper virus. I enjoyed Ryan’s flirting with Bella, there seemed natural chemistry between them but thumb sucking was a big thumbs down from me especially their goodbye at the end.

The revelation through the Russian sign that Orphan 55 was Earth reminded me of a similar story about Ravalox from classic Who. The idea of the dome as a fake-cation was actually an interesting one and a differing planet outside but I don’t think it had to be Earth. The message would have still been as powerful. Would Kane really have been able to terraform and reduce the C02? Not without getting rid of the nasty Dregs. The pace was quite frenetic throughout the script at times too much so and the tone felt quite desperate, for the characters trying to make it out alive from a harsh terrifying world. I do question the decision to get everyone out in the vehicle. Why didn’t most stay in the hotel and just Kane and the Doctor go with Vorm. Vilma, Hyph3n, Vorm all died as a result of that decision.

There is definitely nothing wrong with a story extolling the ecological message. The third Doctor’s era is probably the most well known with stories such as Inferno and the Green Death which mirrored real-life concerns about environmentalism more than 50 years ago. It’s nothing new where Doctor Who used allegory to tell its messages. I do applaud the lesson within the story but perhaps not the execution of it. I do wonder though whether Orphan 55 aimed its withering eye at the right audience?

Should the story have made more criticisms aimed at industry, at governments instead? As individuals in the western world, I assume the majority of Doctor Who’s audience is well aware of the environmental issues. I reuse and recycle and do what I can but pollution and climate change come mostly from rising dioxide emissions from the industry with China, United States, India, Russia in the top four as the most polluting countries. When will they listen?

Not a Doctor Who story to give you comfort on a warm winter day 7/10

The News

A bunch of upcoming Series 12 episode titles have been announced, those nice people at the DWAS have made The Celestial Toyroom Annual 2020 free and more viewing figures for Spyfall (confirmed) and Orphan 55 (overnight).

Merch Corner

Series 14 will be the next “Doctor Who The Collection” blu ray set released in April and German company Pandastorm have produced another collectors edition set, the 6th Doctor Season 23 this time.

Review story this week is: Orphan 55

With the opening two-parter out the way, we continue into Series 12 with this intriguing story of monsters, romance, viruses and Benni! Does this continue the good feeling we felt from Spyfall or are we taking steps back to Series 11?

Thank you all for listening this week as we kick-off 2020. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 – Orphan 55. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

Well. That was certainly different. Taking place between the end of Series 2 and the beginning of Series 3, a particularly turbulent time for the Torchwood gang, Expectant gives us a pregnant Jack, while still trying to hunt down aliens, in a strange little tale from Xanna Eve Chown.

While I think this is certainly a strange outing for the Torchwood team of Jack and Lanto, there is certainly some fun to be had in hearing Jack trying to deal with his job, as well his pregnancy and putting up with his midwife Jonty underfoot. And Barrowman does a great job, despite sometimes falling into the realm of OTT acting occasionally as he tries to balance out his mood-swings and cravings. Sometimes it’s very funny but sometimes its also slightly too cringy but for the most part, it runs the knife-edge of both quite nicely.

Torchwood: Expectant - Cover Art
Torchwood: Expectant – Cover Art

At first glance, and certainly, in the first ten/fifteen minutes, it feels like this is going to be a story with little substance and just far too much quirkiness. But Chown quickly reminds us of when this story is supposed to be set and following on from the events of Series 2, the characters are trying to deal with them in their own ways. In Jack’s case, it’s carrying the prince of an alien species in his belly. Even though in Everything Changes, he swore never to do it again, something that they do reference.

I actually really liked this element to this story. With Lanto and Jack dealing with Series 2′s fallout as when Children of Earth rolls around it isn’t really mentioned again. I think its why I like the Torchwood segments in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End so much as it recognised the events and addressed them in a greater degree than the actual series did. And Expectant does that to a pleasing extent too.

Catherine Ayers. Aaron Anthony and Gareth David-Lloyd
Catherine Ayers. Aaron Anthony and Gareth David-Lloyd

And while this is a quirky story, Chown also manages to keep things on track by explaining to us why Jack is doing all of this. He says that he has seen many dark things, death, decay and war and so by carrying the child of Yalnix Empire, he is going to keep the peace to stop the Empire from falling into war. And through the character of Jonty, Chown has a great outlet to explain the politics of that planet to us.

Jonty is a great little character played brilliantly by Aaron Anthony. It would have been very easy for the character to become irritating but Chown gives him just enough intelligence and naivety to keep him interesting, elements of the character that Anthony really enjoys bringing to life. And he makes a great addition to the small cast, working excellently with John Barrowman.

It’s always nice to have Gareth David-Lloyd involved too. I really like Lanto so any opportunity for him to shine is always great and Lloyd does a great job here, giving him a much darker edge. It was a great way to explore the character. And Barrowman does an excellent job too, he’s funny and series when he needs to be but he is also just Jack and so what more could you need?!

For me, Expectant was a big surprise. While it seems to be initially a very quirky and strange story, it quickly becomes a lot more than that, allowing us a great exploration of Jack’s character and in turn, Lanto’s. But following on from a year of such strong Torchwood releases, its unfortunate that Expectant falls a little under the bar they set in terms of storytelling. But it’s not for lack of trying.

Dear reader wow series 12 is finally here after a long year and it’s great to have new content to review. A few months ago, I wrote that I hoped the production team had reviewed some of the decisions from the last series and one of the items I mentioned was a lack of two-parters. I’ve seen the trailers for the first episode and it’s really exciting to have a two-parter. In a recent Doctor Who Magazine article Chris Chibnall said Series 12 is phase two of a strategic plan with deliberate development and progression. The tone of episode 2 felt different to Episode 1 but with each bringing their own touch of the familiar.

Episode 1 James Bond-style adventure where we met a supervillain and new aliens.

Spymaster

Yes, I am going to tackle the massive secret revealed in the last couple of minutes of the first episode first! I’m so glad it was kept a secret because it’s WILD! Yes, the arch-enemy of the Doctor, the Master is back! It was delicious to see as the realisation set in for the Doctor and for us. Sacha Dhawan chewed up the scenery springing around like an imp on acid, clapping his hands, so pleased with himself at his cleverness.

Spies in Disguise- The "Fam" is back
Spies in Disguise- The “Fam” is back

Sacha Dhawan was totally channelling John Sim’s mania so that makes me think he must be the regeneration after Sim but before Missy. I really hope that is what is revealed later and they don’t jettison the Missy redemption arc created by Moffat. Sacha Dhawan created a subtle straight performance however as Horizonwatcher so I really enjoyed the reveal and what a hoot that he adopted the letter O due to his narcissism. The clues were there to his real identity I guess as O revealed he had files on the Doctor and the advanced technology he had within his “house”.  I really hope his masterly performance has some reason as well as madness but I somehow doubt it. He left the doctor to die with an intriguing message which I really hoped would be explained in Episode 2.

The highs and lows of the episode

The fact that I watched the first episode three times must mean I really enjoyed it. Yes, it was imitative, a pastiche, but it set its cards out quickly and clearly as spies kept being bumped off. I liked the alien Kasaavins who in silhouette looked like Chinese mud men but they did provide a sense of menace and felt very X Files coming through walls. One of the issues I thought was wrong last series was there was too much standing around talking so an episode inspired by the James Bond films was a definitive positive. I think Chris Chibnall has listened to the criticism of Series 11 regarding pacing and added more show don’t tell in this episode. All the espionage scenes felt familiar enough that I found myself relaxing into the story and relishing all the genre tropes such as the team decked out in tuxedos, the gadgets, Mr Big Lenny Henry playing a sneaky megalomaniac.

A Kasaavin and Barton
A Kasaavin and Barton

The direction by Jamie Magnus Stone was excellent adding sorely needed pace which a show like Doctor Who thrives on. The director made the most of the foreign location to ensure it looked suitably stunning. It was REALLY fun seeing all the gadgets, the plane, the motorbikes, the cars. I really liked the peril for the “fam” once the suicidal car starting racing down the motorway to kill its passengers. Did anyone else get an ATMOS feel with the car? The vibe with the night scenes in the car was definitely Chris Chibnall as it reminded me of Jodie’s first episode “The Woman who fell to Earth especially with the background score running alongside from Segun Akinola with the eerie 1980’ sci-fi film beat.  Stephen Fry talking through the audio sounded like Gus from “Mummy on the Orient Express” I must say Stephen Fry was wonderfully British as only he can be, in a sadly short role as C – the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. He bit the bullet O Oh!

Worse. Uber. Ever – Graham

Although it took a few minutes to re-establish where all the supporting characters were in their lives, which felt a little superfluous, I enjoyed Yas’s development actually pitting her interrogation skills against Daniel Barton.  Her emotional reaction after being zapped into the alien realm and returned to the outback felt like some payoff which we were waiting for her character since series 11. Ryan was there as support and she actually feels like the bossier one of the two so a Zoe and Jamie type of relationship could work well between them.

A spooky and fun spy adventure 8/10

Episode 2 The Doctor travels through history and discovers a terrible fate for humanity

The Timeless Child

Chris Chibnall is certainly turning his back of the stand-alone stance of series 11 and has added a series arc with the “timeless child” which I hoped for in my wish list. The fate of Gallifrey started with Russell T Davies wherein the Time War the planet was lost and destroyed, Steven Moffat brought it back, and now it’s destroyed again. I can honestly say I am a little nervous at this particular route of the Master destroying Gallifrey (and hinting at sinister secrets). Let’s see how this whole arc plays out. It has the potential to rewrite the entire history of the Timelords. Eek!

Everything that you think you know is a lie – The Master

The highs and lows of the episode

Previously on Doctor Who… Yes, this is new with the voice of Jodie and I am glad the precredit sequence made a return this series. Doctor Who really needs that hook for the audience.

I wondered how they would resolve the plane going down and I’m no expert but did anyone else think that the plane took ages on its path towards the earth considering there was no cockpit? Chris Chibnall borrowed the pre-recording trick from “Blink” which was okay. But he borrowed too many concepts from other eras, the mind-meld from the classic era, characters on the run, pursued by a person in control of technology from “The Sound of Drums” the Master living through the 20th and 21st century as Jack Harkness had to in Torchwood. I’m not sure whether he is paying homage to those ideas by reusing them or he can’t find his own unique solutions…

Jodie still irritates me when she tries comedy and there were lots of times I sighed in frustration for both episodes. “I’ve had an upgrade”, the snap gag in the casino was childish, the big crisis, kisses call to O, talking to herself come to mind) But then I really enjoyed her scenes with Sacha Dhawan in Episode 2 He snapped, cackled and popped in his scenes and she came up to meet him in those scenes. Finally, she has an adversary who she reacts to believably,  is allowed to show disdain, concern and act at a deeper level. To see her distress at the destruction of Gallifrey and anger at the Master reminded me of Capaldi’s reaction when Missy told him the co-ordinates for Gallifrey in “Death in Heaven”. That she reiterated her identity when asked by her companions as a Timelord made her seem more real, more open emotionally than I saw most of the last series.

Seeing both the Master and the Doctor above the human race atop the Eiffel Tower reminded me they are both renegades, equals in status if not attitude. Whilst the Master is a master of disguise seeing him as a Nazi was a strange ( obvious ? ) concept and seemed deliberately set to put him in bad taste. But what I do like is the actor Sacha manages to balance the rage and madness shown in 1843 with the tissue eliminator with a kind of calm callousness in 1943 and then a brute honesty as a hologram. Is that due to the writing or the actor I’m not sure? There was one strange scene where the soldiers shot the floor in the house where the Doctor and Noor were hiding and the Master just walked out. I did wonder did he know they were there or does he just do that for kicks. If he did, then the Master never checks the details of his schemes to see if they died.

Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 1
Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 1
Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 2
Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 2

Moving over to our other villain. The speech from Barton about how easily we give our data away electronically really hit its mark. Trusting in the technology we have and that the personal information we give is safe is a fallacy. I found the actual scene where people were being upgraded a bit of an anti-climax though. It just seemed too far-fetched as a scheme for us to be hard drives. I was more curious and really wish we had learnt more about Barton’s “mummy issues”. Lenny Henry was bitter coolly detached from reality and it was shocking to see him kill his mum. He seemed to exit quickly at the end from the scheme without any repercussions but I wonder if the long arm of the law will catch up with him eventually.

Going off on a companion tangent I certainly loved Graham over the two episodes. He has a quiet assuredly and gets some terrific one-liners with the Doctor. Bradley Walsh is pure comedy gold, so solid as Graham and seeing him dance in laser shoes was a definite highlight.

I suppose having two historical female figures in the story was meant to be an opportunity to educate us about” great women” but it felt clumsy and slightly lecturing.  Going to 1943 and meeting Noor Khan was probably superfluous. If you consider her eventual fate in real life being sent to a concentration camp and shot she felt a poorly sketched character for a British heroine of World War Two. It felt she was shoved into the story only for the purposes of using the radio to contact England about the Master and probably deserved a story to herself. Having Ada Lovelace, who was a determined, intelligent Miss to assist the Doctor would have been enough working alongside Charles Babbage, for me anyway.

The resolution of a story can be tricky and Episode 2 was a solid enough episode in that it answered the questions from Episode 1 about who the aliens were, what the relationship was between the Master and Barton. The Silver Lady figurine was also interesting as a device to summon the Kasaavins.

If I consider the story as a whole it feels slightly uneven for me.in that I think part 2 was so heavily plot-driven compared to Episode 1. It was packed full and only on a second watch was I was paying close attention did all of Episode 2 come together to satisfy as a part of the whole.

A busy episode where Jodie got serious 7.5/10

I’ll be honest, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the War Master range. I loved the first set, which feels like it was released many, many moons ago.  The first set, Only the Good was available in 2017 and now, two years later, the series comes to its conclusion, though I suspect there will be more, with the epic-four-part series, Anti-Genesis, which sees Sir Derek Jacobi’s Master altering the events in the beloved Doctor Who story, Genesis of the Daleks.

Russell T. Davies has gone on record saying that he considered Genesis of the Daleks to be the commencement of the Time-War. It’s an excellent notion and one that ties together the Classic and Modern era’s of the show together very nicely. And there is also the idea that neither the Daleks or the Time Lords would go back into each other’s history and alter their creations. Of course, the Time-Lords tried that in Genesis, so it poses the question as to whether the Daleks are, at least in part, right in their retaliation. This is a big topic that we won’t get into here but its an interesting question none-the-less and with the Master now altering the evolution of the Daleks, it seems its only the Daleks that have stuck to the rules.

The War Master: Anti-Genesis - Cover Art
The War Master: Anti-Genesis – Cover Art

As well as the excellent call-backs, nods and references to Genesis of the Daleks, Anti-Genesis feels a lot like a Gallifrey range adventure. And that really helped me to enjoy it more, I really liked the Gallifrey range and so tying the two ranges together is a great move, easily making it a continuation of both ranges. What I didn’t like though was that none of the main Gallifrey cast, Romana, Leela or K-9, Braxiatel and Ace were included. We’ve still got Narvin, which is great because he’s a great character but I wasn’t a big fan of the new Time-Lord president and the absence of Romana was much missed here.

The set kicks off though with Nicholas Briggs’ adventure From the Flames which sees the Master concocting his plan to go back in time and kill off Davros, thus enabling him to become the creator of the Daleks.

Briggs has always told some great Dalek stories and this one is no different as he sows the seeds for the series. The whole story feels like the Master is just going to do what the Doctor is tasked with doing originally and averting the creation of the Daleks until the finally five minutes when Briggs’ kicks things into an even higher gear and shows us how far the Master is willing to go and how manipulative he really is. It was an excellent way to kick off the adventure and really gives the Time-War a dangerous edge with what the implications of time-travel had in the conflict. I’ll be honest, the other Time-War sets haven’t come this close to showing how desperate things have become and for that, Briggs and this set deserve a lot of credit.

Alan Barnes makes sure to keep the bleakness continuing nicely in the second episode, The Master’s Dalek Plan. I’ll admit, that joke took me an awful lot longer to get than it should have done! What Barnes does brilliantly in this episode is take the dire situation from Genesis and seem to twist them until they become even more dark and dire. For its time, Genesis was a surprisingly disturbing story so its great that it’s getting even more modern twists, building on the excellent material that there was there in the first place.

Derek Jacobi with his copy of Anti-Genesis
Derek Jacobi with his copy of Anti-Genesis

And Barnes delivers another great ending that once again proves how far this incarnation of the Master is willing to go to enact his plans. There were some genuinely disturbing moments here and this whole set isn’t for the faint-of-heart but I really appreciate audios that have the guts to go to some very dark places and this set is one of them.

Throughout the first half of the set, the Time Lords send a condemned prisoner Lamarius back to Gallifrey much like they did with the Doctor only instead of stopping Davros, Lamarius has to stop the Master. Throughout the set actress, Franchi Webb does a tremendous job with the material she’s given. She’s a character who has been broken and twisted through war and has seen her family wiped out. She’s someone with nothing to lose so that makes her even more dangerous. She makes a good foil for the Master and she does fill in the Sarah-Jane role of befriending a local Mutant to infiltrate the Kaled dome. She also works brilliantly with Sean Carlson’s Narvin, who, just like he is in the Gallifrey range, is excellent.

And if the inclusion of Genesis of the Daleks wasn’t enough, this set also sees the Unbound Universe version of the Master, who hasn’t long been in conflict with the David Warner Doctor and Bernice Summerfield brought into the main Whouniverse, with Big Finish opening the door to the wider Doctor Who continuity once again. He features heavily in the concluding two episodes and is once again played by Mark Gatiss.

This was my first time hearing Gatiss as the Master and it did take me a moment to warm to him. He didn’t seem as manipulative or as cruel, though he is, as the other ‘real’ Master’s but I had to remind myself this is a version of the character from an alternative universe so he would, of course, be different. But it didn’t take me long to really like his take on the Master and his inclusion in this story proves that he is just as much the Master as any other incarnation. I hope we hear more from him in the future.

Barnes also writes the third episode, Shockwave and having introduced the Gatiss Master, he mainly focuses on what the Davros-created Daleks are up too. They seem to be just as surprised at the War-Master’s actions as the Time-Lords and so they drive an uneasy alliance between President Livia, Narvin, and the Unbound Master.

Barnes throws a lot of different elements at us here with a temporal shockwave, following the changes the Master made in the past, are beginning to affect not only the universe and the Daleks but also Gallifrey itself. But none of these little moments outstays their welcome but they allow the various members of the cast to really show us their acting chops in a number of different roles. What Barnes really excels at here though is elevating the Daleks beyond being just some shouting pepper-pots. The Dalek Time Controller, the leader of the Daleks during the Time War is given a lot of character building, proving that really when the end of everything is at stake, it’s surprising who you can actually turn too for help. But he is also someone not to be trusted and so he works excellently with the Unbound Master.

And on Skaro, Barnes makes sure to keep the shocks coming with the War Master ordering the extermination of the Fourth Doctor, Sarah and Harry as they arrive on the planet at the beginning of Genesis of the Daleks. It was a moment that really shocked me and took me a moment to get over. Big Finish actually went there. They killed the Doctor, Sarah and Harry, one of the most indomitable TARDIS teams we ever got. And it once again proves the lengths this Master will go too to enact his goals.

Sean Carlson, Derek Jacobi and Nicholas Briggs
Sean Carlson, Derek Jacobi and Nicholas Briggs

The whole set comes to a conclusion with He Who Wins, written by Nicholas Briggs and the story has a lot to live up too. After a great beginning and following two episodes full of shocks, twists, turns and genuinely dark moments, this one had a lot to live up too in creating a satisfying conclusion. And boy did it, but maybe not in the way you’d expect!

Unlike most series finales this wasn’t a massive action-adventure full of high stakes getting risen even higher. Instead, it was a character-driven piece and it really shows us the way the Master thinks. Now he has achieved all his goals, he really seems bored and the Daleks are beginning to act of their own accord. And while there will probably be some people who are disappointed by ending the series in this way, as apart from loud explosions and action, the character-approach really works. The whole set has had some very high stakes, so this works as a nice breather to bring things to a close and it also allows the cast to really work magic together as all the main characters come together, including an aged version of the War Master to put a stop to the Master’s plans.

It’s a series that has to be listened too to be believed. I was shocked by some of the things the production team did here, and appreciate them having the guts to do it. It’s the type of story that I’d happily see on television, though I suspect the sensors might have something to say about some of the more disturbing moments here.

As usual, Derek Jacobi is wonderful as the Master. I really liked him when he popped up in Utopia and thanks to Big Finish he’s really had a chance to grow and shine in the role and he’s now one of my favourite incarnations of the character. In real life, he seems to be really nice so it’s surprising that he can do a role as evil as this, but then it’s always the nice ones who make the greatest villains!

Anti-Genesis is a cracking story from start to finish. Its ability to play with the source material is inspired, especially as Genesis of the Daleks is often considered one of the best Doctor Who stories to ever be told. It’s almost held in fanatical regard so Big Finish has done a brave thing in playing around with it and it really paid off. It’s a story that if you haven’t heard, treat yourself, quite simply, it’s one of the best stories Big Finish has ever told.

I’ll be the first to admit that when this was announced I greeted the news with a mix of emotions. The Robots of Death is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories and Liv is a great companion for the Eighth Doctor. But did we really need a spin-off for the both of them? Well, I risked it and purchased the set and boy was I impressed and as I was listening I was wondering why I had any reservations at all, Big Finish always delivers the goods, and this set proves that even the most seemingly random combination can be a great experience in their talented hands.

Following on from Ravenous Volume 2 where Liv left the Doctor for a year to reunite with her sister on her home-world of Kaldor, The Robots picks up that plot thread and shows us what Liv, played by Nicola Walker got up to in her little gap-year. Over the course of the three stories we got some very intelligent social and political commentary on the function of robotics, what’s acceptable and what isn’t, how much we should rely on robotics and technology, as well as a look at humanity with emotional exploration through pain, grief, loss, love, family, and human trappings like old-age, dementia, creation of life and deceit. That’s an awful lot to cram into three episodes.

The Robots: Volume One
The Robots: Volume One

And that was another thing that seemed to work in the favour of this set was that it was only three episodes. Normally a box-set will have four different outings for the cast and while I would have gladly have heard another episode, I think the three-episode format, that seems to follow in the upcoming three-sets, will really work in this ranges’ favour.

The Robots of Death has already been the basis of a BBV audio production called Kaldor City, with episodes being written by the original author, Chris Boucher. And Big Finish has also returned us to Kaldor with stories like Robophobia and The Sons of Kaldor, which have given us enjoyable and different looks at the much loved-robots. It could be all-to-easy for Big Finish to re-tread the same ground as the original television serial, but each time they’ve done something completely new and that is a trend that continues here.

Roland Moore opens the set with The Robots of Life, and in typical Moore fashion, he explores the darker side of humanity, this time dealing with themes of deception, betrayal as well as making us feel sympathy for the characters through themes of friendship, old-age and dementia. Moore has quickly become one of my favourite authors at Big Finish and this another story that proves how excellently he tells us stories.

As with any series, the pilot episode is perhaps the most important episode as it has to lay a lot of the groundwork, set up society’s and characters moral standings, as well as delivering us an interesting story that’ll make us come back for more. Moore manages to do just that, giving us genuinely likeable characters as well as showing us how corrupt Kaldorian society can be. The Robots of Death touched upon that, how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and it’s nice to see those themes explored here.

Liv knows something isn’t quite right thanks to her travels with the Doctor while her sister Tula, played by Claire Rushbrooke, doesn’t necessarily see things in the same way because for her, this is the way things have always been. Moore plays with these two characters brilliantly, instantly giving us the feeling that these two are sisters and their relationship feels very real, there is a lot of love between the pair as well as respect, but their almost opposing world-views are constantly threatening to pull them apart.

Nicola Walker and Claire Rushbrooke as Liv and Tula
Nicola Walker and Claire Rushbrooke as Liv and Tula

The second episode of the set, The Sentient, shows another side to Kaldorian society. Looking after the people for many years, they finally want you to meet Vissy, the daughter you always wanted or never had. Robert Whitelock creates a great tale here, that focuses on people’s need for knowledge and Vissy wants to learn about everything.

In many ways, its a sci-fi story that’s been told time and again, the idea of an A.I gaining too much sentience and trying to destroy humanity but Whitelock makes sure it doesn’t re-tread those old tropes and instead delivers a cracking good story, which is part A.I trying to destroy humanity and part the betrayal of a loved one. Vissy is child-like in her mannerisms and as such doesn’t understand the world she has been programmed into. She wants to learn about everything, by any means necessary. And that story makes sure Vissy walks the knife-edge of leaving her ignorant and giving her just enough information to make her own decisions. Of course, it all goes wrong, but focusing the story on a child is a unique way of telling this type of story.

And its also a story that asks a lot of questions about humanity, in particular, the role of a parent and how a child is brought up. It offers us a lot to consider and particularly in that regard Whitelock, gives us a fantastic second instalment and I look forward to seeing future stories written by him.

The set concludes with Love Me Not, from John Dorney. A story that deals with grief and the death of loved ones and people’s need to hold onto the past, in some cases, in the extreme. Of course, we don’t model robots after dead loved ones, but that is exactly what Volar Crick does when his wife passes away.

But Dorney makes sure that this isn’t just a story about death, instead its a story about the sometimes uncomfortable topic of mental health. And Dorney delivers this topic in an original way, especially the consequences of what happens when mental-health isn’t dealt with properly. And uncomfortable it is supposed to be and the story and themes it deals with are made all the better for that, it makes you sit up and listen. And the cast really rises to the challenge on that mark too.

As someone who has dealt with his fair-share of mental-health issues in the past and who continues to sometimes struggle with it, I really appreciated the topic being talked about in Doctor Who in a really intelligent way. Well done Mr Dorney and thank you!

With excellent scripts from three talented writers and another great example of why Ken Bentley is one of Big Finish’s greatest directors, The Robots boasts an excellent cast, both guest and main, everyone should be very pleased. Nicola Walker has always been excellent and you’ll be forgiven if you’d forgotten she first appeared as Liv Chenka opposite the Seventh Doctor in Robophobia as she’s made such a name for herself opposite Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Here though, Liv proves she is more than capable of stepping out the Doctor’s shadow, and carrying a series of her own. And Claire Rushbrooke is just as excellent as Tula, the pair effortlessly feeling like family and sisters. Those themes run particularly strong throughout the set of three stories and so long as Big Finish do nothing too drastic, which I’m sure they won’t, I’m really looking forward to hearing where these two characters go in the near future! And maybe we can have Rushbrooke joining the TARDIS team at some point? Pretty please?!

Overall then, Volume 1 of The Robots was an absolute blast. Three strong stories which intelligently deal with their themes while throwing some occasionally uncomfortable glances at the nature of humanity are handled with great care and tact. The three stories work perfectly listened too together or separately and with the return of Pool and Toos in Volume 2, two survivors from The Robots of Death, I’m really looking forward to seeing where this range goes!