Doctor Who: Loups Garoux

Loups-Garoux-doctor-whobig-finish

Synopsis

Brazil, 2080: The Doctor and Turlough arrive for the Rio de Janeiro carnival.
Is wealthy heiress Ileana de Santos all that she seems? What sinister ailment afflicts her invalid son, tended by the mysterious Dr Hayashi? And who exactly is Rosa, engaged on a secret quest to fulfil the destiny of her extinct tribe?
Time is running out for Rosa, Ileana and the Doctor, as the fearsome shadow of an ancient werewolf moves ever closer…

Written By: Marc Platt
Directed By: Nicholas Pegg

I’m just going to start this off by saying that I was not a huge fan of Marc Platt going into this audio drama based entirely on his earlier contributions to Doctor Who, a TV episode called Ghost Light and a book called Lungbarrow. In fact, I would rather watch the terrible charity episode Dimensions in Time than sit through Ghost Light again. Thankfully, Platt seems to be on his A-game in Big Finish as I thought Loups Garoux was quite enjoyable. This is surprising as I think that Davison has got the worst scripts of all the Doctors (up to this point); a problem that seems to be sorted out.

First thing first, Turlough is awesome and I was pretty excited to hear Mark Strickson reprise the role in this drama. This isn’t just a guest role either; Turlough is up in the forefront of this whole play. As listeners, we get a glimpse at his mysterious darker nature, a fact that he has hidden from the Doctor and the other companions. He gets separated from the Doctor at one point (as with many Doctor Who stories), and takes center stage for a bit, even getting his own temporary companion in the mix. We also see a bit of a reluctant romance for not only Turlough, but the Doctor as well (Gasp!). This added romance is surprising for those familiar with Platt’s writing as Platt himself created the ridiculous “The Doctor is Asexual and Timelords are born in looms” garbage found in Lungbarrow, a piece of novelized fanwank that many fans cling to despite countless contradictory pieces throughout the show.

The rest of the actors are pretty solid as well, especially Emily Bron as Ileana. She plays the matriarchal leader of a group of old-world werewolves clinging to a hidden existence in the future. Despite a few wonky stereotypical accents, there really was nobody to single out as the weak link of the production. Everyone had their part, and everyone was important here. Even the Fifth Doctor, who did very little in his past few plays, was on top form here both in Peter Davison’s acting and the storyline itself.

The actual story is a solid plus from me as well, as it delves into the topic of werewolves without zany Hollywood movie hijinks. The creatures are treated in a manner that I’m not used to, and I really liked it. Basically these wolf creatures live among us, but use an ability to stay hidden from our eyes. While this isn’t exactly talked about at length, it’s sufficient to explain why we don’t have huge wolves walking around all the time. Of course the wolves can also take a human form, something that sickens a few of them to their core. This shape shifting is more-or-less the basis for the main plot. You see, Ileana has a son that can’t turn to a human appearance. She wants her son to be able to walk amongst the “cut-claws”, but he has a feral monstrous disposition and appearance. Oh and there is an ancient demonic former ex-lover of hers out there trying to kill the other wolves!

I guess I gained a new-found respect for Marc Platt, a writer who I was not too enamored with in the past. I’ve actually listened to one more of his Big Finish plays that I enjoyed, but that’s a review for another day. In closing, if you want a solid Peter Davison title to start out with in Big Finish, you could probably pass on the ones before this, as Loups Garoux is definitely a new benchmark for this Doctor.

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Doctor Who: Last of the Titans

While not an official Big Finish release, I decided to go ahead and listen to this short mini-drama starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. This drama was originally released for free bundled with issue 300 of Doctor Who Magazine. I managed to check it out due to the fact that it was split up and released via Big Finish’s weekly podcast back in 2009. According to Wikipedia this was originally a story called Vilgreth, released by a small company called Audio Visuals a long time ago. These guys were amateur audio drama / Video producers that eventually moved on to be part of Big Finish and BBV Productions.

Synopsis: Once again, the TARDIS displays its preference for the grimy, the odious and the dangerous – and, finding himself lost and alone in the dark heart of a gigantic spacecraft, the Doctor has no way of knowing that a cosmic catastrophe is waiting to happen…

Due to the limited run-time of the piece, and the fact that it was intended to be a free pack-in, I tried not to listen to this audio drama too harshly, but it still sticks out as one of my least favorite things that Big Finish has done. It’s not that the drama is written poorly, or that the production is bad, it’s just that I don’t like the main narrative device that is used – It’s from The Doctor’s perspective. I don’t mind hearing the Doctor talk to himself, or rationalize out loud, but having the whole thing in first person is not my cup of tea. If the character is to be mysterious, sometimes irrational, and full of questionable alien morality, hearing his inner thoughts sort of kills the whole thing. This structure also lends itself to a situation where the whole production reminds me of a children’s book. I’m not sure why exactly, but despite the dark nature of the story, the whole thing seemed immature.

Last of the Titans does what it was set out to do very well, although it is leagues below the quality of its “big brothers” in the main Doctor Who line. If anything, all this drama made me want to do is check out the stuff that Audio Visuals did “way back in the day” as I was unaware of their existence until I read up on it.

Doctor Who – Storm Warning

I remember being excited to import a copy of the Doctor Who television movie directly from the UK back when I got back into the show back in 2004. I had just purchased a region-less DVD player from China, and wanted to show everyone just how much of a nerd I could truly be. I had heard bad things about this movie, things that gave me absolutely no hope for it whatsoever. The movie could have been worse, but Eric Roberts basically ruined the whole thing for me; a fact that leads me to wish any character he plays in a movie the worst outcome possible. Remember that scene in The Dark Knight when Batman causes Roberts (as Sal Marone) to break both legs?  Tears of pure joy from this guy.

Aside from a few bits of questionable dialog, that weren’t his fault, I have always felt that Paul McGann would have been an awesome Doctor had he been allowed to hang onto the role longer than a 90 minute Television movie. Thankfully all memories of The Doctor being half-human and Eric Roberts in a silly outfit were washed away the moment I booted up Storm Warning from Big Finish. Here is the official Synopsis for Paul McGann’s triumphant return to the Tardis:

October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R1010, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation.

Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton… and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

There’s a storm coming. There’s something unspeakable, something with wings, crawling across the stern. Thousands of feet high in the blackening sky, the crew of the R101 brace themselves. When the storm breaks, their lives won’t be all that’s at stake…

The future of the galaxy will be hanging by a thread.

The Eighth Doctor was definitely an underrated version of the character. Not only did he feel cheerful and somewhat goofy, but he definitely had a romantic and adventurous side; these are traits not really seen for a long while in the television show. The eighth Doctor definitely looked to be more of an Indiana Jones type of character, and that definitely is the case in this revival. I’m a fan of the darker Doctor’s as well, but the wide-eyed swashbuckling, name-dropping, and most importantly – fun Doctor is what I like the most; this could be why I seem to like Matt Smith’s take on the character so much. I did try to get into a few of the BBC Eighth Doctor Books at one point, but found quite a few of them to be depressing, pretentious, and a bit too un-Doctor Who for my liking. I’m glad that the continuity Big Finish has created at this point seems to have nothing to do with those books, as I probably would not have liked them much.

What we see here, is both a re-introduction of The Doctor and the appearance of a new companion. This story does a great job of tackling both tasks, and is as good as Rose in the regard that it does not get bogged down by its own baggage and keeps the story moving. What I mean by this is that we don’t have a long winded passage where we find out what happened to Grace Holloway and Chang Lee, as this is definitely not needed; this was one problem I have had with the newer BBC wales series as the writing tends to have the Doctor constantly talk about his previous companions (Like Rose), and in the case of a character such as Martha Jones, it really hurts the narrative. The new companion in question is Charley Pollard, a tomboy-ish girl that fashions herself to be an “Edwardian Adventurer”. Charley seems to be the perfect foil alternative to many classic female Who companions, and comes across as independent and strong, not just a shrieking character that always gets in trouble (Susan, Mel, etc..)

This drama seems to share a bit with the later Steven Moffat televised episodes of the show in that Charley is shown to be troublesome to time itself in the same way that Amy Pond seems to be. Since the Doctor plucked her from a large scale historical event, (the crashing of the R101), her mere existence afterwards is a paradox and causes him problems from then on. I like this little subplot, as it give any later audio dramas a plot to latch onto, rather than them just being a set of unrelated adventures.

The actual plot of this story involves the doomed flight of the R101 dirigible, and much in the old Doctor Who fashion it is explained that such a catastrophe was somehow caused by aliens and the Doctor was there. We have seen this with the Titanic, The London fires, Pompeii, and basically any other disaster! The aliens in question are the Triskele, which are described as being “dolphin-like” I’m not sure how literally to take the comment as the description given during the play could also describe our typical view of “grey” aliens, but since there are no pictures that I know of, I imagined them as such. This could be my only fault with the play that I could find – there is a lack of descriptive remarks that give an idea of the way that characters and such look. This isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, but I would have liked a few more “that looks like a dolphin” type remarks to solidify any impressions I had gained.

Storm Warning is a great beginning to a new series of Doctor Who dramas and kept me entertained the whole way through. This play has definitely re-kindled my like for the eighth incarnation of The Doctor, minus all the crap from the TV movie. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Review – Doctor Who: The Shadow of the Scourge

Wow! this is a bad cover 😛

 

Big Finish Audio “quick review”

 

Summary: The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stich convention, an experiment in time travel and… the summoning of the scourge.  The Doctor, Bernice and Ace find themselves dealing with a dead body that’s come back to life, a mystical symbol that possesses its host, and a threat from another universe that’s ready for every trick the Doctor’s got up his sleeve.  This time, has the Doctor gone too far?

As I stated in my last “quick review” with the darker Doctor Who styling, The Fearmonger, I need to try harder to separate these stories from that of the rest of the cannon.  Not that they are bad stories, but I have pre-conceived notions of what tone the show should be in that sort of interfered with that drama.  This time I decided to listen to a story based on the Virgin New Adventures line of Doctor Who books.  For those unaware of the term the VNA novels were released after the show was put on “indefinite hiatus” by Michael Grade, the much beguiled BBC controller in the late eighties.  Throughout the nineties, a series of books was released that put a darker tone to the stories, painting Ace as a soldier, and the Doctor as even more manipulative than ever.  I also got my first introduction to Bernice Sumemrfield, a 26th century archaeologist that traveled with the Doctor and Ace during this time.

This play introduces a new villain in, The Scourge, a multidimensional creature resembling a huge praying mantis, which dwells and thrives off of uncertainty, doubt, self-loathing, and depression.  They are found to do this by sonic means, so we get a rough scene where ace has someone box her ears to rupture her eardrums.  This does act as a sort of comic relief (something that is needed) as Ace now can’t hear what people are saying and constantly repeats things back to people.

 

From Doctor Who magazine

 

This play is VERY dark, almost Torchwood dark to be honest.  I was actually quite surprised when the Scourge start disemboweling people, as the foley guys (I’d assume it’s called foley in radio as it is movies) came up with the most grotesque noises that they could in order to portray such as scene.  We have many scenes of sheer emotional terror and anguish in this play as well with not only Ace, Benny, and background characters, but even the Doctor.  This is possibly the most intense play, if not Doctor Who related media, aside from maybe Torchwood: Children of Earth, that I’ve consumed.  While this sheer darkness is off-base for the TV show, I will concede that a darker take on the characters can be a bit satisfying as we get some real emotion from everyone involved, but it never reaches into the gratuitous side.

The one thing that really kept me from really liking this storyline and rating it better than “average” is the crazy “minscape” section towards the end of the serial.  The Doctor and Benny are literally sucked into the Doctor’s own mind as he tries to fight his own “scourge”.  It is at this point that we elarn that depression and other doubts are basically from these creatures, and they have been praying on the weak humanity for thousands of years.  The monster keeps repeatedly telling The Doctor some bad stuff like the fact that he is “merely a troublemaking child who fears being alone so much that he deliberately alienates his companions to see whether they’ll leave him or not”.  This reminds me of the recent TV episode containing the Dream Lord, as you find out that the Doctor is pretty self-loathing sometimes.

The Shadow of the Scourge was a decent episode of the Big Finish Audio dramas, and really reminded me of a Torchwood related item.  I’m still not a huge fan of the dark nature of some of these, but at least the performances were VERY well acted.

 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

 

Review – Doctor Who: The Fires of Vulcan

Note: I’ve skipped the last audio play as I need to re-listen to it.

 

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: “Two thousand years ago, a volcanic eruption wiped the Roman city of Pompeii from the face of the Earth. It also buried the Doctor’s TARDIS…Arriving in Pompeii one day before the disaster, the Doctor and Mel find themselves separated from their ship and entangled in local politics. As time runs out, they fight to escape from the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. But how can they succeed when history itself is working against them?”

You know, I haven’t really seen too many episodes of Doctor Who with Mel, but I always hear that the character is annoying and basically terrible.  Being an American, I don’t have all of the pre-loaded bias against Bonnie Langford, due to her status as a child star.  This fact, I have noticed, has made her get picked at a bit on websites and such.  In a similar case, I was unfamiliar with Billie Piper’s music career prior to her signing on with the show, and thus had no problems with the character Rose Tyler.  I think some people get so engrossed with the “pre-Who” careers of some folks, that it harms their enjoyment of the show.  Anyway, back to Mel; Mel isn’t really that bad at all!  Even in the campy Delta and The Bannermen, she seemed like a decent enough character despite the screaming and running around she seemed to do.  But wait – isn’t this a review of a Doctor Who audio book, and not a career retrospective of  Bonnie Langford as Mel?  Yes it is, and the above clarification is necessary, as I felt that this would be one of the worst audios due to the characters inclusion, based solely on other people’s opinions online.  Guess what?  I loved it!

The story opens with a strange discovery in a collapsed archaeological site in Italy.  It seems that an Earthquake has opened the ground near the site of the former city of Pompeii, revealing a blue police box in the rubble.  We jump to The Doctor and Mel arriving at the same site in 79 A.D., one day before the “big day” at Mt. Vesuvius.  Mel is worried that the Doctor seems pre-occupied and won’t let them run out and do their normal explorations on the amazing scene they are witnessing.  The truth is, the Doctor knows about the Tardis being found there, and he’s worried that today is the day that he finds out why.

It’s no secret that I love historical episodes, and this one did not let me down.  A similar episode of the show during the David Tennant run as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor relied way too much on aliens and other trappings of the “modern historical” in Doctor Who, but this is straight historical.  There are no aliens and no monsters just a story of one man’s quest to divert what he believes to be the inevitable – his death.  Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford do a great job in the roles of The Doctor and Mel, and show a great chemistry together.  While not as popular and dramatic as McCoy and Sophie Aldred were as a team, this pairing gets the job done, and harkens back to an older era in the show.

The Fires of Vulcan is probably one of the better Big Finish audio plays I’ve heard so far, despite all the fan hate for me.  I for one, hope she has done more of these!

 

My rating 4.5 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: Red Dawn

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis:

Ares One: NASA’s first manned mission to the dead planet Mars. But is Mars as dead as it seems?
While the NASA team investigate an ‘anomaly’ on the planet’s surface, the Doctor and Peri find themselves inside a strange alien building. What is its purpose? And what is frozen inside the blocks of ice that guard the doorways? If the Doctor has a sense of deja-vu, it’s because he’s about to meet some old adversaries, as well as some new ones…

We open Red Dawn with a countdown timer and launch of man’s first foray to the red planet in a ship called the Argosy.  From the very get-go this seems a doomed mission as a ton of stuff begins to go wrong right out of the gate.  At the exact same moment, The Doctor and Peri travel to a large building that seems to have doors and other controls that are run empathically.  Once they run into the now landed Argosy crew, they find out that they are on Mars just as the Ice warriors show up.  The villain of the piece is a man named Paul, who is so stupidly one-dimensional that he might as well be a textbook example of bad ethical practices.  The man literally tries to incite a inter-galactic war for the sole reason to make money on weapons trading and other like things.

The play has a few missteps that made this drama hard to finish for me.  While I have complimented Nicola Bryant as Peri in the handful of audio adventures I have heard with her, this audio play is seemingly back to the “old school”.  I found Peri (of no fault to Bryant, but the script) to be about as annoying as she was in the earlier parts of her run on the classic show.  All she did was run around and hound one of the Ice Warriors about his promise not to kill the Doctor and yell at folks about ethics.  Peri was not the only blight on this drama as it seemed as if everyone involved was completely incompetent in all situations.  The Doctor kept talking about the Ice Warrior honor code, but never takes advantage of it, as he has with other races such as the Sontarans.

This is quite easily the most boring of these audio dramas so far, and it was slightly less entertaining than The Sirens of Time.  Not all stories can be top shelf I guess.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Here is a “trailer” of sorts:

Review – Doctor Who: The Genocide Machine

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

 

Synopsis: “The library on Kar-Charrat is one of the wonders of the Universe. It is also hidden from all but a few select species. The Doctor and Ace discover that the librarians have found a new way of storing data – a wetworks facility – but the machine has attracted unwanted attention, and the Doctor soon finds himself pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies – the Daleks!”

 

Ah yes, the first Dalek-related audio drama Big Finish has produced.  Being a huge fan of the little squid-like hooligans, I was excited to see – errr – hear what the audio format had for these guys.  This begins a story-arc of sorts that Big Finish has labeled Dalek Empire; it will contain four separate stories with different Doctors held together by the common theme.  This segment follows The Doctor and Ace as they are humorously brought to a planet called Kar-Charrat in order to return a library book, lifted from a library where such things are frowned upon.  At the same time we cut to another group led by a person that is almost like a “semi-companion” in Bev Tarrant.  Bev is a female Han Solo of sorts, and plans to steal a large ziggurat in order to make it rich.  Too bad the Ziggurat is full of evil squid monsters surrounded by armor – the Daleks.

After the last McCoy and Aldred play, I was worried that the overly dark nature would spill into all of their plays.  Thankfully that isn’t the case, as this play seems more in-line with the show than one of the books.  That is the great thing about Big Finish, if you don’t like a certain play, the next one will be completely different, and may strike your fancy.  I enjoyed the plotline and dialog; yet felt that it was bit too preachy in some regards, especially when you find out the atrocity the librarians on Kar-Charrat have committed.  Without giving away the plot completely, let’s just say that the overtly hippie-like nature of Avatar is pretty close to the mood the audio sets.

The audio only really fails on the insanely contrived plan that the Daleks have hatched.  While they are known to have ridiculous over-thought plans in the past, this one is pretty over the top.  They basically plan to use the libraries knowledge to create a super Dalek with the power of the Universe, so they plant cryogenic sleeper cells on every planet of this one particular system that also contains the aforementioned “secret” library.  I say “secret” because everyone seems to know of it.  Plot aside, this was a fun audio adventure, and a blessing of what to come for Sylvester McCoy stories.

 

My rating: 3 out of 5

 

Here is a trailer I found on Youtube:

 

Review – Doctor Who: The Land of the Dead

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

For me, the first three of these Big Finish Audio dramas were sort of like a warm-up for what the range could really bring; and The Land of the Dead is the first of these that really stands up along-side the TV series.  As I’ve stated before, not being a big fan of the Peter Davison era worried me about these plays, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that his audio plays are usually my favorites.  Sarah Sutton returns to reprise her role as Nyssa, a companion I actually really liked during this time.

The story follows The Doctor and Nyssa as they pop up in frigid Alaska in the dead of winter.  They stumble upon an encampment where a crazed billionaire named Shaun Brett is trying to build a shrine for his dead father from parts of the surrounding landscape.  This themed museum of sorts includes a rather ghoulish room consisting of old bones that freak out the hired Inuit laborers.  They believe that such a room will bring the vengeance of nature upon them; and this superstition isn’t helped when monsters begin to attack.

The acting in this play is very strong in almost every way from the principle cast to the background characters.  I was really worries that the voices for the various Inuit people would be off, as many UK based actors would not have a lot of knowledge on their language and culture.  Aside from a few minor UK-isms, I think they did a fairly good job, and kept the whole thing believable.

The play does a great job of helping the listener imagine exactly what the villains look like, which is a step up from the last few were it was sort of hard to imagine what the Big finish crew were really going for.  All in all a very enjoyable tale!

My Rating 4 out of 5