Lots of Big Finish news to discuss including a new release schedule and an amazing multi-Doctor team up we’ve all wanted for ages.
Review story this episode: The Trial of a Timelord – The Ultimate Foe
We’ve made it! May has been our The Trial of a Time Lord month and here we are at the two-part finale. Does the saga get a satisfying close or are we left feeling like this has been too much of a slog?
Coming next week: Torchwood – Sleeper
It’s back to our usual schedule next week as we pick up Series 2 of Torchwood. Good to be back or a snooze fest?
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a super week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
Shadow of the Sun will probably garner a reputation as being one of Big Finish’s most mythic releases to date. Originally due for release in an upcoming boxset, plans were delayed and ruined by the current Coronavirus pandemic and it seemed that this story was going to be pushed right back to 2024.
Luckily though, the masters at Big Finish had a plan. Using a story that the script was already ready for, the cast had been chosen and almost everything was in place, could they produce the same kind of quality over Zoom, with the actors performing from their own homes? Shadow of the Sun is a great answer to that question!
Normally, a Big Finish audio adventure will be recorded over a couple of days at a professional recording studio. Due to the lockdown restrictions though, this wasn’t possible so with the actors performing from makeshift audio-studios at their own homes with walls covered in duvets, sofa-cushions and the like, or in little cupboards under the stairs, or in bathrooms, I was really impressed that the audio quality was just as great as it would have been had it been performed in a professional recording studio. Huge congratulations to sound-designer Toby Hrycek-Robinson for making the audio quality sound seamless!
Author, Robert Valentine, takes the Fourth Doctor, Leela and K-9 on a trip to the sun, with plenty of twists and turns to keep us interested. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the story is the sudden shift in tone from the first to the second episode. And like any good Big Finish audio, it explores some interesting themes, most notably in this one the idea of how ridiculous blind-faith is when it ignores the actual facts.
Valentine kicks off the story right from the beginning at a breakneck-speed and very rarely lets up for the rest of the runtime. We get a little moment to breathe when we humorously hear Leela learning to ‘mingle’ at a party, but for the most part, things keep rattling along nicely. Of course, this breakneck-speed might not appeal to everyone whose a fan of the Fourth Doctor Adventures at Big Finish but I think it really suited the story, especially as there is a time-frame for the Doctor to try and stop and the ship from its collision course.
The cast is on fire here too. We’ve come to expect nothing less from all the Big Finish stars over the years but they all seemed to be on particularly fine form this time around. From the CD extras, we know that they didn’t have all the actors recording at the same time but its the sort of story you’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall for. Tom Baker seems particularly chirpy as the Doctor and still manages to prove why he’s one of the best incarnations of the Time Lord we’ve ever had.
Louise Jameson effortlessly recreates her original role as Leela and her chemistry with Baker and John Leeson as K-9 is still as alive now as it was back in the 1970s. One wonders how they do the voice for K-9. I know that Leeson can do the voice but I expect there is some voice modulation somewhere along the line. But I’ve always loved K-9 so its so nice to have more stories with him in!
With the first half of the story almost played for laughs, despite a number of slightly darker moments, its the second episode where things get really dark. The idea of people burning to death as a ship enters the gravity of the sun is horrible and I’m surprised that they did it here. But Valentine’s story is all about blind-faith and how without the proper facts, people can manipulate others into doing things.
You kind of expect the Doctor to get them out and Valentine makes the right decision in sending Leela, to get anyone who wants to leave. The Doctor would have probably sacrificed himself getting everyone away safely. Leela respects people’s decisions to stay, even if she knows their wrong but doesn’t mince her words to the people who stay behind. It’s quite a dark subject for Doctor Who to tackle but the story works all the better for having included it.
Shadow of the Sun is another fantastic stand-alone story and its fascinating to listen too knowing how it was made. But it also stands to make the point that all the best Doctor Who stories are made under pressure and with this pandemic and lockdown set to continue for the foreseeable future, its great to see that Big Finish is going to continuing working their magic. Shadow of the Sun is an absolute triumph in every way!
Review story this episode: The Trial of a Timelord – Terror of the Vervoids
Part 3 is upon us and it’s the Doctor’s future this time. A large supporting cast and those Vervoid costumes!
Coming next week: The Trial of a Timelord – The Ultimate Foe
Time to wrap up the TOATL review with part 4. The Ultimate Foe reveals the Valeyard’s master plan but does the performances bring this two-parter finale up to par?
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
Wrapping up the recent two new entries into the Class mythos is Volume 4, a set that comprises three new stories for the Coal-Hill gang and offers some great new stories for the show, proving there is still plenty of life left in the spin-off that was ignored by so-many fans.
The set opens with Mock, written by Alfie Shaw and gives us a nice story for Charlie and Miss. Quill which sees the pair having to work together properly for a change.
Shaw gives us a story that is about the power of storytelling while giving us some background on Miss. Quill. It opens with a rather creepy re-telling of her life on Rhodia when she was a freedom fighter. And it marks the first time we hear all six of the main characters together in one story, though the rest of the characters don’t do as much as Charlie and Miss. Quill.
Dervla Kirwan once again proves to be a formidable addition to the cast as Miss. Quill, effortlessly picking up the vocal tones and sardonic way of delivering her lines that Katherine Kelly did on the television series while giving it her own spin. Shaw also effortlessly captures the voice of Miss. Quill and gives her some great lines background to explore, which feels much more than we got in the one episode about the character on screen.
The main villain, the Cleaver was a strong creative and proves a formidable threat for Miss. Quill and Charlie to face. The Cleaver did feel a little like the Trickster, though to be compared to a villain like the Trickster is a great thing and the Cleaver works nicely for the older-audience that Class is aimed at.
Greg Austin is still great in the role of Charlie and he has just as great chemistry with Kirwan as he did with Kelly. It was interesting to hear Quill’s take on the war on Rhodia in a sequence similar to when Charlie told April about it in the opening television episode. And I was surprised with how dark Shaw’s storyline here actually was. Charlie and Miss. Quill was one of the best things about the television series and it’s great to see their complicated and interesting relationship continuing to get explored in audio form.
The second episode of the set was my favourite. Creeper, written by Lizzie Hopley gives us Coal Hill School at Halloween. One does wonder though if the Class-gang would have had enough of monsters, without having to dress up as them.
Creeper would have been a brilliant episode to see on television and would have worked as a great breather episode, giving the gang a little break from the Shadow Kin. Creeper also features fewer of the Class gang which serves the story well as she makes sure there is just enough for Charlie, Miss. Quill, April and Mattuesz to do and give each character a time to shine.
It was also fun to hear them tackling old horror-tropes and the similarities to films like Halloween, Insidious and The Conjuring are worn on the story’s sleeve with pride. I love horror movies and Creeper hit all the right notes for me. I also appreciated that the main bulk of the story’s actions took place outside of Coal-Hill school.
It was great to hear the friendship between Charlie and April get some exploration, something that we didn’t really get to see on television apart from the opening and closing episodes of the series. They make a great pair and manage to solve the main problem for the episode without the help of Miss. Quill, who along with Mattuesz find themselves inside an Insidious-type of situation, stuck in a ghostly dimension. April comes across as much more self-assured here than she did on television and its really refreshing to hear Sophie Hopkins getting to take charge of the situation.
Charlie also comes into his own much more here, with Miss. Quill hilariously commenting on how the pair are always joined at the hip, it was nice to hear Charlie getting to play the hero and save his boyfriend. Jordan Renzo delivers a great performance here as Mattuesz, and proves to be a great pairing with Miss. Quill. In fact, that’s something Creeper does brilliantly, giving us unusual team-ups between the different characters, it’s a shame that Ram and Tanya weren’t included in it too, it would have been great to hear them pairing up to help.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Creeper was a terrifying listen but its certainly dark and disturbing and not the sort of story you’d have gotten away with in Doctor Who proper. Instead, it works brilliantly as a dark thriller, giving us some brilliant character moments and nods to legendary horror movies. What more could you want for want a Halloween treat. It’s certainly a story I’m going to enjoy listening to again in the near future.
The third and final story for this volume is Queen of Rhodia, from Blair Mowat. For Mowat, he has been involved with Class since its very beginning as he created the music for the television series. Dialogue is a lot like music so who better to give us a story than the original composer? And Mowat does a tremendous job here, giving us a story that does a sense of finality about it, almost as if this is the story that is going to close the Class session for good. I doubt this is the last we’ll hear from these guys, but I reckon we’ll have a few years between these and the next couple of releases for the range.
Miss. Quill, who is currently pregnant during this episode, which takes place between the television stories, The Metaphysical Engine or What Quill Did and the finale, The Lost, wakes up on Rhodia, only to find the Quill in control and she is the second in command to the queen, who is someone familiar, none other than Tanya. This alternate dimension not only threatens her life but the life of her unborn baby before things take a real turn for the more bizarre as the story rattles towards its conclusion.
As well as Kirwan as Miss. Quill, Queen of Rhodia gives the main cast a chance to play different versions of their familiar characters. Charlie and April are on the side of the Rhodians, while Mattuesz, Tanya and Ram are all part of the Quill. Not only is it a great chance to hear Greg Austin, Sophie Hopkins, Jordan Renzo, Fady Elsayed and Joanna McGibbon play different versions of their characters, but the story also allows us to see how Miss. Quill actually sees them and her reactions to them all are hilarious and stay completely in character.
I’ve always wondered why Doctor Who has never done a Star Trek-Mirror Universe-esc set of stories so Queen of Rhodia is perhaps the thing that comes the closest to that in the Whoniverse. And I really like alternate universe types of stories that give us different looks at characters and often shine a light on the ‘normal’-versions of characters we know and love.
Mowat also gives us a reason why Quill was so quick to take Tanya under her wing when her mother is murdered by the Shadow-Kin in The Lost. Catfish ended with Tanya and Miss. Quill coming to an understanding and Queen of Rhodia tells us that Miss. Quill actually sees a lot in Tanya, maybe also that her usual quietness might be hiding some darkness.
Mowat delivers a brilliant but bittersweet story here and while this does feel like it is the end of Class, at least for the time being, it’s a great story to go out on and I’m looking forward to hearing more Mowat if he writes more stories for Big Finish.
Given how the television incarnation of Class was cancelled after only one series, four volumes of audio adventures have more than proven that there is an audience for this spin-off and that it does have a right to be included in the Doctor Who universe. Sure it might not reach the heights of something like Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures but Class always was a lot better than people gave it credit. And it also proves that with more than just writer penning stories, Class could have survived more than one television series.
I think it’s fair to say that Class has firmly found its home at Big Finish and in the audio format.
It’s been a while since I had a chance to read through some of the Virgin New Adventures, I’ve had quite a bit on my plate recently and not much time for reading or writing, however, we’re back now with the next instalment of our look back of The Virgin New Adventures’ books, which filled much of the gap caused by The Wilderness Years and, while these books might not fit into the established continuity of the television show anymore, it’s still an interesting look at how the show may have gone had it survived into the 2000s.
The Left-Handed Hummingbird
Written: Kate Orman
The Left-Handed Hummingbird is the first book where I wondered if Stephen Moffatt had taken a few notes. The plot, from Kate Orman, can be best described as ‘Timey-Wimey’ with The Doctor, Ace and Bernice meeting characters, they’ll soon meet and the plot kind of works it’s way backwards and forwards with people meeting out of order for almost its entirety.
It’s an ambitious book and Kate Orman is a writer I’ve heard plenty about before I started reading through the Virgin books so I was pleased to discover that much of the hype was to be believed. While the book gets gradually darker and darker, like all of the good New Adventures books, but it begins and remains a very thoughtful read and the prose reflects this nicely, especially in the opening passages of the book.
However, despite the thoughtful prose and the fact that I did manage to finish it in a few days, the story didn’t really feel very cohesive. And it felt like I was reading through a number of different plots, rather than a series of plot threads that were gradually being woven together. That led me to not really enjoying The Left-Handed Hummingbird as much as other people seemed to, despite all the elements promising an epic tale for the TARDIS team.
Adding a complicated timeline into the story, something which us Doctor Who should be familiar with now, was something that impressed the readers back in the 1990s and knowing that the TARDIS gang must-visit points A-C before the story can wind down does get a little boring after a while, if Orman’s story does anything its stop us from getting boring, even giving us more Aztec-action, though a much darker and more realistic take on their culture than the Hartnell story dared to do. In all fairness though, no way would have they have gotten away with some of the Aztec-antics on offer this time.
Something else which stopped me from really getting into the book was the constant shifting of the locations. This is something that should come with the disjointed time-line the book is told with but just as I got comfortable with one location and one set of characters, I was catapulted away from the time of the Aztecs, to the sad, despite the story not being about it, sinking of the Titanic as the Doctor tries to stop the mad god, Huitzilin, who loves to play with fears and death. There was though, a successful sense that this time, the Doctor might loose and the rest of the ongoing arc, would continue without the Doctor as Huitzilin’s plans come close to absorbing the Doctor.
With an ongoing plot about someone from the Doctor’s past coming back to haunt him, we’ve learnt that time is changing, something that started in Blood Heat when the Doctor, Ace and Bernice found themselves in an alternate universe, the threat of Huitzilin is a little dumbed down as a result. But he does join the Virgin New Adventures best villains, easily standing with the likes of Ishtar and the Timewyrm. Orman also handles the character of Christian really well, as the Doctor, Ace and Bernice continue to meet him out of order throughout the piece. It’s a shame that the rest of the characters don’t really get the same kind of treatment, given that a few of them including paranormal investigator, Macbeth, don’t really get much development.
The finished result is that The Left-Handed Hummingbird was written in a flurry of excitement. And while it doesn’t feel like a few of these books have done, like they are still in their first drafts when they were published, it doesn’t hold together in a way that it should. It’s a story that has a little too much in it and yet, not enough to keep things going.
It’s fair to say that Kate Orman is an author to be reckoned with and you can understand the hype surrounding her contributions to the Doctor Who books. But like a few other authors who have contributed to the range, she delivers a story which takes form and who can see where it is trying to go and what it’s trying to do, but it somehow falls short, despite the fact she wasn’t afraid to tell a different kind of story. But The Left-Handed Hummingbird doesn’t fall too short and stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best from this range so far, even if it didn’t hit quite the right spots for me.
Written By: Steve Lyons
Over the course of these books, there have been very few that have changed up the storytelling style, I can only think of Birthright which told almost two separate stories before bringing them together before I got to The Left-Handed Hummingbird which told the story out of linear order. Conundrum continues this trend and does something completely different giving us the story through the narration of the villain. But not only does it successfully do that, it removes the fourth wall completely and deconstructs what it means to be a Doctor Who story or even a book and author, Steve Lyons manages to make it effortlessly.
I’m more familiar with Lyons’ work from Big Finish with some of them, especially Son of the Dragon, being among my absolute favourite Doctor Who stories ever to be told. Colditz is another stone-cold-classic but I hadn’t really experienced anything he’d written in book form. So I was very pleased to find that Conundrum was not only a great book, but one of my favourites from the range that I’ve read so far.
As the book was written in the 1990s, I’m not going to be spoiling it when I say it works as a sequel to The Mind Robber, one of my favourite Patrick Troughton stories, but Lyons manages to avoid the trap of repetition that many other authors would have fallen into. This isn’t about the Doctor, Ace and Bernice arriving in the Land of Fiction, getting stuck in a fantasy realm and having to pass a number of tests and tribulations to get out. Sure there are plenty of tests, trials and tribulations to be had, but they don’t play a massive part in the overall plot. And as great as The Mind Robber is, Conundrum doesn’t follow the same A-B plot that story does and it doesn’t confine the Doctor and his companions to one location or time, which allows the book to give us many pokes and prods at the nature of Doctor Who-story-telling.
The Doctor and his companions find themselves in Arundale, a small English village which isn’t too dissimilar from locations like Devil’s End in The Daemons, or the locales in books like Witch Mark and Nightshade and I’m sure, with the amount of care and details that Lyons fills the book with, isn’t merely a coincidence. The Doctor, Ace and Bernice find the Arundale citizens to be full of murderers, cultists, superheroes and supervillains, witches, paranormal and private investigators, even a group of children who felt a lot like the Famous Five, minus Timmy the Dog. Each character feels like they could’ve lead their own series, with the Famous Five-esc kids could have easily proved popular in modern culture, lets just look over the fact that they all die at the end in a horrible way!
Lyons makes sure to also give the Doctor, Ace and Bernice plenty to do, while they rarely share much of the prose in each others company. He makes sure that we see each one through the eyes of the Master of the Land of Fiction. We don’t hear much of the Doctor’s inner monologue because he can shield his thoughts but Lyons’ take on Ace inner thoughts is hilarious, one line questions her anger issues and bad language, “…And in a book deemed suitable for consumption of minors,” had me in hysterics. When she finally discovers what’s going on the Master of the Land of Fiction shows her a few books that cover her life, most notably we see her read Dragonfire, Love and War and Deceit, which stand out as particular landmarks for the character. One does wonder if the book had come out later down the line what he would have made of Loving the Alien, a book which kills off the proper Ace and replaces her with a different one from another timeline?!
It’s interesting that Bernice is seriously considering a life away from the Doctor now, which feels very similar to Ace’s questioning of giving up her travels in Nightshade. Though for Bernice, quiet life in a quaint English village feels a lot more suitable than it did for Ace who would have eventually gotten bored. It’s fun to hear this yearning of Bernice’s woven into the plot, with the Master giving her a number of reasons to stay behind. Of course, the village of Arundale isn’t real so she can’t stay behind and resumes her travels. But it was an interesting take and look at Bernice, as Lyons seems to slightly dig at the previous books which haven’t really done much with her character.
The Doctor really comes into his own when he finally faces down opposite the Master of the Land of Fiction and we see the return of the characters, John and Gillian his other ‘grandchildren’ from the old 1960s Doctor Who annuals. For long-time fans, this must have been a great nod to the past when the book came out and for people who know whose those characters are, its still a great inclusion and nod to some of the stranger Doctor Who stories. And the Doctor’s scenes were played with a real sense of ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink,’ with the Doctor being referred to as ‘The Real McCoy’. Of course, this might not be everyone’s taste. But it was a book that felt so different from anything that had come before I couldn’t help but love it!
And it actually advances the ongoing plot of someone changing the Doctor’s past, with the Master narrating the story to the big-bad. It works much better than a similar thing did in The Dimension Riders, mainly due to the fact that isn’t tacked on like it was there. It forms as much of the plot as the Doctor, Ace and Bernice do. It’s an essential part of the story.
Like the overall arc, the characters also feel like they are going places with the three of them trying to find the time to talk and get the frustrations of the previous adventures out into the open. Of course, the Doctor doesn’t have too much time to do that, as he is the same brooding Seventh Doctor as he was in stories like GhostLight but Bernice and Ace come to blows and while it seems like Ace is just going to around in angry circles now, there is a sense in this book that the Virgin New Adventures is one big universe and I’m going to be intrigued to see where and who the big-bad is going to be in the next one. I think it’s a safe bet to say that Conundrum is a success in every way.
Next Time: No Future & Tragedy Day…
The Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive at the Museum of Aural Antiquities and get to experiment with the audio-format, while the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa find themselves in Alaska, being hunted by some deadly creatures. Both Whispers of Terror and The Land of the Dead find themselves as some of the earliest Big Finish audio’s ever and they both saw Big Finish beginning to experiment a little more with the audio format…
Whispers of Terror
Written By: Justin Richards
Much like the previous release, Phantasmagoria, I really like Whispers of Terror. While there is nothing on offer to really challenge the listener, its a good, solid adventure for the Sixth Doctor and Peri and Justin Richards makes sure to play with the nature of the audio-drama format.
He litters his script with an audio-monster, a museum dedicated to sounds and noise, and a blind-curator, played by the brilliant Peter Miles, who needs audio-cues, one might say that Big Finish had their work cut out for them. Luckily though, sound designer Harvey Summers litters the drama with unsettling whispers and disembodied voices crying out for help. Richards though makes sure the real danger comes from the words used by opportunist politician Beth Pernell, played by Lisa Bowerman. While the reveal that Beth is the real villain isn’t too much of a surprise, its a fun listen and reveal nonetheless, mostly down to the performance from Bowerman who always brings a little zing to her performances.
While there is still the trademark spatting between Six and Peri, Whispers of Terror does go the extra mile to dial that down and give the Sixth Doctor and Peri a much better Doctor/Companion dynamic. At the time of its release, this was the first time that Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant had been back in their roles as the Doctor and Peri and both slide back into their roles effortlessly. Colin Baker has always been brilliant as the Doctor and much like companions who would be coming back, Peri begins a much-needed re-do of her character and Peri is treated with a lot more dignity here than she was sometimes given in the television series.
Even though this is only the third Doctor Who release from Big Finish, you can see how much they improved in such a short space of time. Whispers of Terror was the first in a long line of early adventures which saw the production team incorporating the audio-medium into their storytelling. The script from Justin Richards sees the Sixth Doctor and Peri at their best and both leads are obviously loving being back in their original roles.
Whispers of Terror isn’t a story that will challenge anyone. What it is though, is a great look at how strong Big Finish was from the very beginning. With Big Finish determined to re-work the characters of Peri and the Sixth Doctor, making him much more compassionate, Whispers of Terror is a great place to start your listen of the Sixth Doctor’s audio adventures.
The Land of the Dead
Written By: Stephen Cole
With the previous three audio-adventures improving greatly upon each release, The Land of the Dead looks to do much the same. Unfortunately, The Land of the Dead doesn’t really have much of a lasting impact, it isn’t bad by any means but just hit the same notes as the previous three did.
Let’s talk about where this story succeeds first. It has a strong atmosphere, with the house the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves in, feeling as much of a character in the story as the characters themselves. There is a creeping sense of unease and a nice claustrophobic feel, something that isn’t easy to achieve on audio.
The Doctor and Nyssa themselves are brilliant too. Peter Davison had already been in two audio’s by this point and had time to get used to the audio-medium. Sarah Sutton also slips back into the role of Nyssa easily, though you can hear her growing with confidence over the course of the adventure. It doesn’t help in the early episodes that’s she’s given some clunky dialogue, otherwise, it doesn’t take Sutton long to find her feet in her original role. One wonders though if this script would have been better suited for a different Doctor as the script does fail to get the character of the Fifth Doctor. It certainly doesn’t match much of his other outings, maybe this would have been better suited for either the Sixth Doctor or the Seventh Doctor.
Cole’s characterisation is decent, apart from one character Gaborik who feels very one dimensional. All the characters do serve a part to the story, though perhaps sometimes Cole seems determined to focus more on them than he does on the Doctor and Nyssa which might feel like a misstep in some scenes. This might have worked but Cole doesn’t really give us much reason to care about any of the other characters apart from the Doctor and Nyssa and the script does feature dialogue heave scenes where action should have been used instead.
But don’t let that put you off The Land of the Dead. It’s a good story otherwise, thanks to the atmosphere that script creates otherwise and the performances from Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton. If you manage to get the CD, the author’s notes do explain that this story was written quickly in a week, probably as a replacement for something else. It’s unfortunate then that the short time frame shows. With too much roaring, exposition-heavy scenes that give Chris Chibnall a run for his money and to much focus on characters we aren’t given a reason to care about, The Land of the Dead falls a little flat. Not quite as dead as the title would suggest, but maybe not as alive as we would want.
Next Time: The Seventh Doctor and Ace return in The Fearmonger and The Sixth Doctor meets his new companion Evelyn Smythe in The Marian Conspiracy.
It’s been more than a couple of months since “Ascension of the Cybermen” and “The Timeless Children” aired and sometimes with finales the initial impressions you have being swept up in the excitement of a new episode stick with you forever. Sometimes upon rewatch you develop a deeper appreciation of the ideas expressed by the writer. Well for me Series 12 will be remembered but perhaps not as fondly as Chris Chibnall would have liked.
“Ascension of the Cybermen” sets up some thought-provoking scenarios and of the two episodes, Ascension has a stronger narrative for me. In many ways a traditional episode we have the common enemy, the Cybermen, trying to come back at the end of the Cyberwars. It’s a great scenario to explore. Whereas “The Timeless Children” has everything thrown in together bar the kitchen sink. There were sufficient ideas concepts there for three separate finales in my humble opinion. with the Master, the Cybermen, destruction of Gallifrey, an origins story for the Doctor plus the CyberMasters. Quantity is not always a substitute for quality but let’s review the juggernaut that was the series 12 finale.
Humans, humans everywhere
My expectation at the end of the glorious “Haunting of Villa Diodati” moving into the last two episodes was that the Doctor was preparing for an epic battle fighting the new Cybermen imaginings of the lone Cyberman’s ideology. The Doctor had had to surrender the Cyberium to Ashad in episode 8 so I enjoyed how the story picked up almost straight after as the Tardis team arrive on an unknown planet, maybe Earth and got stuck in protecting the initially sceptical humans. I liked how the threat was created as all the gizmos the Doctor created such as the neural system inhibitor, the particle projector customised to project gold in the air and the forcefield failed.
The humans really were a rag tail bunch and I did find myself slightly frustrated at the writing with some noticeable exposition scenes (a failing of series 11) as Reekat was interacting with the Doctor explaining who they are. The humans were sketchily drawn and hence felt disposable even before Ashad and his army arrived to kill them. I really enjoyed Julie Graham though as Ravio who brought much-needed energy with her no-nonsense approach. I’m so glad Ravio survived to end up in the 21st century.
One of the strengths of this series has been where the companions are separated and I loved the opportunities splitting the team up opened up for danger. The sequences seeing Yaz and Graham escaping in the graviraft with the other humans, encountering the Cyberman graveyard and then landing on the Cyber carrier were very well done. Those scenes gave a sense of scale and largeness to the Who universe which we haven’t seen for a long time due to the majority of this series set on Earth. I’m not so sure about Graham’s plan to use the Cyber armour. It’s not as if its empty suit. There are some body parts and circuitry inside so how do you climb into it? Why wasn’t the loud activity of drilling picked up by the Cybermen? But it did allow for the tense scene where Ashad almost discovers Yaz and Graham. Well done Jamie Magnus Stone. He’s had a great time with also directing Spyfall Part 1.
It is probably one of my favourite scenes because the camera lingers for so long on Ashad, Yaz and then Graham. Genuinely nail-biting to watch. There was a part of me that wanted to see Ashad find them just to have that gasp of breath as I did when Bill was converted. But of course, our Yaz and Graham are spared and in some ways, it’s a welcome paring having them the stronger actors of the companions together. They haven’t really talked much together since “Punjab”. So the quiet scene of “I’m from Yorkshire, that’s a love letter” was a charming relief if so out of the blue in amongst the action. You get a sense that Yaz has had the bigger journey this year and it’s good to see it acknowledged but it also feels like a surprise to see her growing so much.
This season Ryan had some solo interactions in “Orphan 55” and “Can you hear me” but with such a crowded Tardis I was expecting him to be killed by the Cybermen when he was left behind. He survived but was mainly sidelined bar a couple of good comic moments paired with Ko Sharmus. Ah now Ko Sharmus, is an example of a curious character whose back story I felt wasn’t given sufficient explanation. He was part of the resistance unit that sent the Cyberium back in time and I really wish more time had been spent over this series to explain the greater parts of his role rather than a throwaway line that’s only revealed moments before he sacrifices himself.
His actions taking the death particle to blow up the Master and the Cyberlords would have then felt more meaningful. As it was he took a bullet for the Doctor blowing everything up. I know that characters in Doctor Who have noblely sacrificed themselves before ( start a list someone ) but the Doctor’s eagerness to scamper off to find a Tardis felt a bit callous. It makes the earlier speech in the Tardis about ” This is the way it has to be “with the companions redundant and hollow.
The Cybermen being better than man
The appearance of Jack in “Fugitive of the Judoon” had warned of the danger of the lone Cybermen and that frankly had me excited. At last, there was a momentum to a series by Chris Chibnall. The ascension in Christian religious belief refers to the physical departure of Christ into the presence of God in heaven and Ashad holds the religious zeal of a believer. His monologue at the beginning of “Ascension” over scenes of a Cyberman graveyard gave the plausible idea that the reminder of a mighty empire exploited, outfought, surrendered could live again. It betrayed a stronger more violent creed, of the religious fanatic created for war. As he said he was a willing recruit “I was not discarded… I was chosen to revive the glory of the Cyber-race.”
For the Doctor, there is the personal struggle that the Cybermen have longevity and that however hard the Doctor thinks she has eradicated them the silver warriors can and do return. As I have said previously I’ve never adored the cold logic of the Cyberman but having a disturbed battle-scarred leader with a monstrous human face peering out makes for exciting drama. I really enjoyed the dichotomy that Ashad brought to the story.
The Cybermen are usually bereft of emotion but Ashad showed human anger and pride alongside the misguided grandness in his dream. There was something of the Star Trek Borg about his battle of logic and then the bubbling anger. The Cybermen actually felt a proper threat in “Ascension” mainly because of Ashad. The scenes on the cyber freighter of Ashad marching with the Cybermen felt genuinely thrilling and interesting. However, I really hope however we never see the flying Cyber head probes again which looked incredibly cringe coming over the horizon.
A regret for me with the outcome of the story is Chris Chibnall didn’t realise the lasting potential of such a fascinating character as Ashad. Having him miniaturised by the Master was so disappointing. Was the Master as interesting a threat than Ashad? Not for me. Having the Master create Cybermasters from converted timelords with the doyley head-dresses which did look rather silly diminished the impact of the earlier Cybermen and shrank them to mere puppets. I mean Ashad’s plan to have a fully automated Cyber army purged of all organic life using the death particle is granted a bit of a flawed plan as he wouldn’t survive.
However, when you have a hard-nosed character such as Ravio describing Ashad as the Cyberman who makes another Cyberman scream (as he drilled into one who cried in agony) then surely hang on that character for dear life and don’t get rid of them.
Master mania on Gallifrey
I wasn’t expecting the Gallifrey reveal at the end of “Ascension” or the Master to appear but I guess as Gallifrey and the Master have been part of this year arc it’s appropriate they book-end this series. Sacha Dhawan has brought a lot of energy this series and I greatly enjoyed his performance in Spyfall as it felt nuanced and right because he was the enemy hidden in plain sight. But the Master in this finale though lacks real purpose and motivation I’ll explain what I mean. He enters at the end of Ascension and dramatically divulges “Be afraid Doctor. Everything is about to change” Why should he be so upset on the Doctor’s behalf. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
I know that it explained that the Master doesn’t like having a piece of the Doctor inside him so are we saying the Master is a right-wing bigot, oh wait he was wearing a Nazi uniform in Spyfall. It makes sense now I didn’t see the hidden political message (this is sarcasm folks). Where his demeanour is written as so manic, the delivery of lines so fast it becomes reminiscent of the Joker rather than the Moriarty he should be to the Doctor’s Holmes. Is he really so psychotic now that all the growth and redemption of Missy’s master is forgotten? Oh, this is so sad. I’m wondering if he is newly regenerated? But the master is having a temper tantrum and wants to punish the Doctor with the knowledge he has found that the Doctor is the “special one”? He is so upset at the lie that he destroys his own people? There was an interesting moment where the Master wishes for death and Sacha Dhawan’s performance sold it but I wish it had been explored further.
I have real reservations at the destruction of Gallifrey again when there are more stories to be told. It feels a step too far considering the historical place it holds in Doctor Who. It’s never explained how the Master destroys a whole planet like Gallifrey. I’m sure it has its big defences and it just feels too convenient for the story that we are told he just does it. The reason being is that the Master doesn’t like the lies. It feels intuitively wrong for me. There’s a lot of illogical assumptions made for the story. How did the Master create Cybermasters from dead timelords when he wouldn’t know if they would regenerate? He just did it. The whole storyline lacks any sense. As a viewer, I wanted something more purposeful, more sophisticated in the writing. Something that I could empathise with, such as the difficult decision the Doctor had to make to destroy his home planet to stop the Time War killing everyone including the children.
I think Chris Chibnall actually missed a real trick to make the Master the Timeless Child. Experimented upon and to all intents and purposes tortured it would explain the Master’s psychosis and destruction of Gallifrey far better. He would have also felt the injustice of being robbed of becoming the King of Gallifrey. When he looked into the Untempered Schism as a child the implication was he went mad so the Timelords in his mind whether intentionally or not he would have blamed for deposing him. This avenue would have also opened up the concept of the Doctor having a piece of the Master within her.
The Doctor Removed of Her Agency
Chris Chibnall I thought had taken note of the criticisms about too much exposition in series 11. So one of my issues with the final episode was the exposition scenes back to a toxic level and combined with the dark themes of being tortured, experimented on and exploited which served to strip the Doctor of her core central power as a strong character. The Doctor as a victim isn’t the character we know about and I don’t believe it as an origins story.
Yes it is believable that the Doctor would have changed to become Hartnell but the episode tone around the timeless children revelations left me a bit cold by 1) introducing a vast timeline past for the Doctor told in flashback. In my mind, the final episode really struggled under the weight of everything despite its extended time. It’s the kindest I can be.
2). The Master written as the most dominant character of the episode able to control the explanation of “The Timeless Children” which I thought was a real mistake. I found it extremely hard to warm to Tectuan, as the adoptive “mother” as everything was told second hand by the Master. His actions and motivations for providing the whole history of the Doctor unquestioned 3) The Doctor, who is the main character, had very little to do trapped in the Matrix. She was told everything by the Master in a huge information splurge instead of investigating and discovering for herself.
Jodie Whittaker has improved as the Doctor this series. I like the way it’s been explored how she hides her real feelings from the companions, feels the pressure of being in charge. The aggression and sarcasm from her interacting with the Master was interesting. However, I did experience a cringing moment as she clutched her head, broke out of the matrix and the theme tune kicked in. If it was meant as a moment where we felt all the history of the Doctor behind the 13th it felt hollow and uncomfortable for me.
Going down the rabbit hole
One of the criticisms levelled at Steven Moffat’s era was it became dedicated to only die-hard fans. Steven did tinker with the Who is the Doctor story but was careful not to reveal too much. I was really interested recently to read a Radio Times interview with Steven Moffathere he talked about Missy regenerating into Sacha Dhawan and that not filling in all the gaps allows for viewers to use their own imaginations. As a concept, he has a point. Using the imagination certainly is one of the greatest tools to make sense of random facts and to allow for creating stories in our heads. Shakespeare was a master of it and some of his stories about the ways we see different types of love have widely influenced modern thinking in society in plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth or Much Ado About Nothing.
As showrunner Chris Chibnall has had an opportunity to present new exciting adventure stories for the Doctor but chooses with “The Timeless Children” to go back into the past to fill in gaps that didn’t need plugging and would only matter to the superfan. If I’m honest I despised the revelations in “The Timeless Children” initially and coming back to it now that episode still feels so disappointing. It is where a promising series arc took a sharp turn into itself and did it to the series detriment. It led to a weak conclusion of a vastly improved set of episodes from the previous series.
Even with the Doctor there’s whole sections you don’t know about. I don’t necessarily want to know every detail. “I thought the same with River Song,” …. That’s so much more exciting.” Steven Moffat, Radio Times Interview
All these details of a previously unknown and unreferenced history as a concept smacks of bad fan fiction. Was it needed? Not really because there should be unknown things about the Doctor as its been from the beginning of the show. Perhaps it is hubris on Chris Chibnall’s part after the success of Broadchurch but as a precocious 16-year-old Chris Chibnall had in 1986 criticised Pip and Jane Baker’s story effort for the final episode of the 23rd season of Doctor Who, Trial of a Timelord (The Ultimate Foe part 2) on the BBC’s Open-Air programme. Not only was it “too complicated” he agreed “it could have been slightly better written, especially the last story. It was very cliched” This finale seems to be going down another rabbit hole adding to existing mythos contradictions in the show instead of exploring new horizons in science fiction.
I do have to wonder whether this avenue he’s taken the show is actually required. We can make assumptions who the faces are in the mind-bending contest in “Brain of Morbius” but how does that fit with “The Three Doctors” where the Timelords refer to William Hartnell as the earliest incarnation? Doctor Who is a mass of contradictions so why go there to create more. The Doctor has now been changed after 57 years to be as important as Rassilon who in “The Deadly Assassin” is described as the founder of modern civilisation, an engineer and architect. With the revelations, the Doctor has emerged as a god-like figure capable of many regenerations. Being the creator of the Timelords ability to regenerate and being from another world can open up possibilities of new stories I understand that. But being an all-powerful figure with an innate gift puts him/her above the Timelord he’s been previously.
The Doctor is known as a clever Timelord who ran away from Gallifrey and was travelling the universe. Part of the joy as a fan or casual viewer is identifying with the heroic things the Doctor does which he has learned to do since being the 1st Doctor Who Hartnell. The Doctor fights injustice along the way with just his wits and a screwdriver. He does it because it’s the right thing to do and not because he is looking for a reward of greatness. That’s the show’s inbuilt structure.
I’m reminded of another show from the 1980s called Moonlighting which was an American comedy-drama where Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd’s characters David and Maddy ran a detective agency. Their relationship and the success of the series was based on their romantic witty sparring (much like Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing) where the characters denied any feelings for each other. The series was extremely popular with tv audiences and critics until the characters finally in series 3 did go to a relationship and the ratings dropped like a stone.
My point is sometimes there are areas you shouldn’t touch or you use very sparingly. I saw a recent article where Andrew Cartmel has criticised the finale that it .“depletes the mystery of Doctor Who” and I can’t say I disagree with his comments that too much detail undoes the enigma and charisma of the character.
Risk and Boldness
The BBC responded to complaints regarding the Series 12 finale with a statement
BBC Statement on Series 12 finale : Doctor Who is a beloved long-running series and we understand that some people will feel attached to a particular idea they have of the Doctor, or that they enjoy certain aspects of the programme more than others. Opinions are strong and this is indicative of the imaginative hold that Doctor Who has – that so many people engage with it on so many different levels.
We wholeheartedly support the creative freedom of the writers and we feel that creating an origin story is a staple of science fiction writing. What was written does not alter the flow of stories from William Hartnell’s brilliant Doctor onwards – it just adds new layers and possibilities to this ongoing saga…..”
The BBC also in the statement mentioned the positive feedback but I’m suspecting the general public isn’t buying into the show showing indifference to the new backstory. The ratings are telling. “The Timeless Children” was the 30th most-watched programme of the week with an audience appreciation score of 82 which is average. It’s the lowest-rated episode of the show with 4.69 million viewers since its revival in 2005 after “The Eaters of Light” in 2017. So, if the general public isn’t invested in watching the arc who is Doctor Who meant to be aimed at now? This attempt at an origins story seems divisive to the critics and fans alike. I know that’s not new. Every showrunner or executive producer introduces new concepts and it won’t please everyone.
On the one side, some are saying RIP Doctor Who and on the other, some are enjoying the new landscape that has opened up. I’m somewhere in the middle as I will keep watching but that’s out of loyalty to the show, not real excitement now.
“……….We have also received many positive reactions to the episode’s cliff-hanger. There are still a lot of questions to be answered, and we hope that you will come back to join us and see what happens, but we appreciate that it’s impossible to please all of our viewers all of the time and your feedback has been raised with the programme’s Executive Producer.” BBC Statement on Series 12 finale
Chris Chibnall described in interviews the series 12 finale as “Massively game-changing” As a viewer, you imagine that all these revelations will have life-changing consequences for the Doctor but it seemed if there was a reset when Ruth appeared. She reminded the Doctor that having the knowledge won’t stop her being the Doctor and Jodie’s Doctor blasted mental energy at the matrix and broke out. It remains to be seen how this whole arc will conclude as we last saw the Doctor marooned in a Judoon prison and we are going into a Dalek story at Christmas.Jodie’s Doctor tends to brood and if there isn’t any progression shown in series 13 for the Doctor’s character with the knowledge of her new origins there will be a lot of fans asking, including me, what was the bleeding point of introducing this storyline.
I suspect even if we have answers I will wish we hadn’t gone down this route when there are so many other avenues the series could have gone to. I did like the idea of the Doctor working for the Division operating where necessary outside of official channels, outside of the non-intervention policy which forced Ruth to leave. I guess that may become a gauntlet of Big Finish to explore Ruth’s story further. I do hope we see Jo Martin again next series but it feels like she won’t be back. As for the “creator” tag added to the Doctor, it’s really not my cup of tea.
Very recently with the lockdown rewatch of Series 4 Stolen Earth and Journeys End I couldn’t help being reminded of revived Who in more halcyon days. Journey’s End was the most-watched programme of the week of 5th July 2008 and had an audience appreciation score of 91. I know that the David Tennant factor was part of that success but it prompted me to remember how completely joyful some Doctor Who finales can be. That was an acknowledgement then of four years of really hard work by Russell T Davies but he was also a master at knowing how to please an audience.
I really don’t relish the idea of watching Who now and being aware of the Timeless Child backstory when there are references to Gallifrey or who the Doctor might be so. Once this era is over I hope this “new” chapter of history much like “the I’m half-human “revelation gets quietly and safely forgotten.
Ascension of the Cybermen – a traditional set up full of Cyber promise 7.5/10
The Timeless Children – Exposition central, aims for big scale but collapses under the weight of its execution of ideas 3/10
No news this week.
We chat about the upcoming first entry into the multi-medium arc Time Lord Victorious with two novels which look rather good.
Review story this episode: The Trial of a Timelord – Mindwarp
Mindwarp, the second instalment for Series 23 which means we’re halfway through TOATL month. Part 1 was ok so does this one raise the bar some more or are we trapped in a sea of pink averageness?
Coming next week: Terror of the Vervoids
We continue TTOATL next week with part 3 where we meet a future companion, Mel, and some not niceness happening aboard the space liner Hyperion III.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
The Moff dropped a bombshell of trivia during a conversation with RTD about Doctor Moon in “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” actually being a future incarnation of the Doctor!
Big Finish will release “Shadow of the Sun” next week as the first remotely recorded story and The Unofficial Master Annual still has 20% off.
Review story this episode: The Trial of a Timelord – The Mysterious Planet
Throughout May we’re reviewing each part of TTOATL and this week we kick off with part 1 which sees The Doctor and Perri investigate a planet which feels weirdly familiar (ahem, cough cough, Chibbers). Not often ranked that highly but what do we think?
Coming next week: Mindwarp
We continue TTOATL next week with part 2 where The Valeyard tries to throw more evidence against the Doctor on his most recent adventure and encounter with Sil.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
There can be little denying that the short-lived BBC3 spinoff Class, was a divisive entry into the Doctor Who universe. I was one of the people who really enjoyed it, despite its faults; I wrote an article for the show, discussing the ups and downs of Classhere.
So when Big Finish announced that they were producing a further two volumes of audio adventures for the Class gang, following on from the successful original two, I was ready to hear more.
The opening story for Volume 3 is The Shoer’s Ditch, written by Carl Rowens. At first, I thought it was going to be another werewolf story, a genre that Big Finish hasn’t shied away from over the years. The trouble with werewolf stories is that you can only really tell one kind of story, even more so on audio as that particular horror monster is quite a visual one.
I was pleased then that the wolves in Rowen’s story where just that and April, Charlie, Ram and Mattuesz are just wolves and instead, the story focuses around the Shoer’s, a race of aliens who displace themselves in time, capturing humans and betting on who their wolves will hunt down.
As a story goes, it’s fairly basic and won’t challenge the listener but that works in the story’s favour. A lot of the fun of this story comes from the main cast and who Rowen’s writes for them. It’s interesting too that these new stories seem to be set almost completely apart from the proper series. I don’t remember April and Ram ever really dating after the mid-series two-parter so one does wonder if these stories do take place sometime after series 1. It’s an interesting question but it doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the adventure and I enjoyed hearing April and Mattuesz getting to take the lead in their respective teams here, giving them some nice time to shine.
It was also nice that Rowens gave them a chance to travel through time, with the Shoer’s taking them back to Tudor times for their games. And Rowens makes sure that Class continues to be firmly set in the Doctor Who universe with plenty of references to the Shadow Proclamation. One wonders though if this was written almost as if it were a proper-Who adventure as Charlie gets some nice Doctor-ish moments towards the end as he works out what the Shoer’s have done, while Mattuesz, April and Ram fill in the role of companions rather nicely.
Sophie Hopkins, Fady Elsyed, Greg Austin and Jordan Renzo are brilliant in their roles as April, Ram, Charlie and Mattuesz and I think you can say what you will about the series as a whole, but listen to these audio adventures and then try to tell us that they don’t have good chemistry together. The only thing missing was the inclusion of Tanya and Miss. Quill, while they get to feature in the next two stories, it would have been nice to have the whole crew back together. However, as things stand, The Shoer’s Ditch is a brilliant way to kick the series off.
When I listened to the second story, Catfish from Kate Thorman, I wasn’t a big fan but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had enjoyed it. It marks the first appearance of Joanna McGibbon, as Tanya, who had previously been played by Vivian Oparah. This was something that we knew coming into these new volumes that both roles of Tanya and Miss. Quill had been recast because the two original actors are currently busy with other work.
McGibbon easily sets into the role of Tanya and instantly fits in with the rest of the cast. She does sound a lot like Oparah which helps but she also manages to give the role her own spin. I never really understood why Tanya’s mother wouldn’t let her do things, surely being able to be a teenager is all a part of growing up too, so on television, I always felt like Tanya was left behind as a character.
It’s nice then that Kate Thorman manages to bring Tanya into the group through the titular catfish, who also happens to be Tanya’s boyfriend here. And Kate also manages to portray how Tanya does fit into the group of teenagers with her interactions between April, Ram, Charlie and Mattuesz and their respective couplings. But there are a few things that feel out of character, Tanya falls for the new boy, Paul, pretty quickly and is quite snappy with her friends when things start to fall apart. Sometimes these things can come across as a little jarring and while they don’t take you out of the story, they don’t feel like they quite fit. But maybe this is because Tanya was so underdeveloped on television that we never got to explore these aspects of her character?
Catfish might not have ticked as many boxes for me as The Shoer’s Ditch did. But it was a much more thoughtful story, about focused on the aspects of the life of choosing your friends and family and how sometimes the two are the same. As a result, the titular catfish feels a little secondary but Joanna McGibbon did such a good job, that you don’t really mind!
Volume 3 comes to an end with Sweet Nothings from Michael Dennis and is a story which focuses on the character of Miss. Quill. Katherine Kelly’s original performance in the role was amazing. She was another thing where you can say anything about Class but she was one of the best things about it. Recast as Dervla Kirwan, Miss. Quill keeps her acidic sense of humour and Kirwan does a brilliant job in the role, easily making it reminiscent of Kelly’s performance while bringing her own style to the part. Like Joanna McGibbon as Tanya, if the original cast members can’t do anything because of their work, I’d happily see Kirwan return to the role of Quill.
Dennis makes sure to show us just how miserable Quill is on Earth, she’s not adjusted her life here and you feel how deeply she misses her home planet. Listening to this story one has to wonder if the Twelfth Doctor was right to leave her behind, but she quickly meets and falls for a strange man, who seems to be based on the Doctor. He takes her on adventures through space and its fun to hear Quill running around, enjoying herself for once.
Dennis then gives us a cruel twist when we find out the man Quill had fallen for wasn’t real, a construct created by Charlie using some telepathic device. Dennis makes sure not to paint Charlie in the best light, though he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing. On-screen, Charlie wasn’t really a good-good person. Quill was his slave and the pair, while they had to depend on each other for their survival, and the relationship between the pair was exploitative. Whether Quill had a creature in her brain to stop her killing him or not, I don’t think anyone would have blamed her after his actions here, with the final moments really showing how arrogant Charlie is and just how misunderstood Quill is.
It’s an interesting look at Quill’s character and it was fun to get her out of the classroom and go on her own ‘Doctor Who‘ adventures for a while. Kirwan proved a formidable opponent for the role too and devours the strong script here, giving us a tremendous performance. Something Miss. Quill herself would be proud of.
Class: Volume 3 was another strong entry into the Class mythos and the wider Doctor Who universe. I’ve said this a few times now, but you can say what you like about Class on television, it works brilliantly on audio and its clear how much the cast and production team have enjoyed themselves. I think Class has now finally, found its home on audio and I’m hoping we get some adventures set during the unmade second-series. I would love to hear where that Weeping Angel storyline would have gone.