Doctor Who: Colditz (2001)

Colditz_(Doctor_Who)

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), David Tennant (Feldwebel Kurtz), Toby Longworth (Hauptmann Julius Schäfer), Nicholas Young (Flying Officer Bill Gower), Peter Rae (Timothy Wilkins), Tracey Childs (Klein).

Colditz takes place during World War II, and as one can probably easily piece together from the title, it has to do with the infamous prison camp Colditz Castle. While Americans are not as familiar with this legendary facility, The UK has had decades of documentaries, Television shows, and even board games based on the many escape attempts of it’s prisoners. The camp was basically set up to house officers and other high ranking people who tried to escape from other camps, so it was almost seen as the Alcatraz of it’s time. Over here, we have tons of versions of the Steve McQueen movie The Great Escape which is based on an escape from a polish POW camp, so you get the idea.

The bad guys in this are Nazis, and if there was any “Tardis team” that has a good chance of being able to deal with Nazis, it’s definitely Ace and the seventh Doctor. We have seen their influence in Curse of Fenric, The Silver Nemesis, and one could argue that The villains of The Fearmonger were essentially some type of right-wing Neo-Nazi types. Because of this, I actually chuckled when Ace mentioned “not Nazis again, I hate Nazis!”. I’m not a huge fan of science fiction having Nazi bad-guys because it usually ends up being the lazy Star Trek “Space Nazis!” trope, but thankfully this isn’t the case here. These are regular Nazis in their correct time line.

I’m a big fan of historical episodes that do not involve some sort contrived alien involvement, and this one is almost entirely of that sort. In fact, The Doctor himself is the only real alien involvement we see here which is refreshing. The plot of this episode centers around The Nazis confiscating a CD Walkman from Ace and creating a paradox in which they reverse engineer it and win World War II. This plot is more-or-less in the background, but it’s the way they a new anti-hero character named Klein is introduced. You see, Klein’s from this alternate time line in which the Nazi powers have taken over the rest of the world. As far as she’s concerned, her world is the better one; as a child of German parents growing up in England, she welcomed the Nazi victory. I know from looking at Wikis that Klein’s story is fleshed out more, and can’t wait to fill the gaps in.

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Perhaps the most notable thing about this story is that the main villain of the story, Kurtz, is played by none other than a young David Tennant in his first Doctor Who related piece of entertainment. Kurtz is an awful piece of work, the sort of character that one really hopes will come to an early death. He plots behind the backs of his superiors, tries to hold information for his own gains, and even tries to take advantage of inmates in unspeakable ways. Kurtz is definitely a Hollywood Nazi archetype, as is another character in Schafer – the sympathetic Nazi. While these character tropes aren’t bad they reek of being historically inaccurate to some degree.

My only downside to this audio seemed to be the sound mixing, which shocked me because Gary Russell directed episodes are usually very well done. There were many scenes within the interior of Colditz Castle that had weird foley work such as footsteps that sounded as if everyone was wearing concrete shoes on metal floors. I have a digital file for this audio, so perhaps I got a bad download? I’m not sure, but it sounded off in places. Perhaps somebody with the CD could chime in on the comments page. This didn’t take me out the play by any means, but there were times where it got distracting or drowned out a bit of dialog.

All-in-all this was a great story, and considering people think that I’m too harsh on 80’s Doctor Who, this is the second McCoy/Aldred story in a row that I’ve really enjoyed. I do wish that the audio mix would have been a bit better, but it’s still a hearty recommendation to every Doctor Who fan. Upon listening to this, I also have a strange feeling that I should watch Chicken Run for some reason.

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Doctor Who: Bloodtide (2001)

Bloodtide

A review of Big Finish audio drama no. 22

Written by Jonathan Morris

Directed by Gary Russell

Music, Sound Design and Post Production by Alistair Lock

WOW! It’s been a while since I reviewed a Big Finish audio adventure, or any audio drama for that matter. For a few years, I was listening to these constantly, actually I was re-listening for review purposes, and I sort of let them slip a tad. For a little while, listening to stuff like this was kind of hard due to a promotion at work. I was previously blessed with over nine hours of work time to fill with podcasts, audio dramas, and radio – but this got hard when I became a supervisor. Suddenly I had a radio to listen for, and constant questions to answer. Now I’ve balanced this out, and plan to review an audio drama once a week! That’s right! Check back every week for another new edition.

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This week, I’ll be time-traveling back to 2001 and the infancy of Big Finish. This is a review of the twenty-second audio drama produced by these guys, starring none other than Colin Baker as The Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe, his audio companion. Bloodtide follows on from a previous audio drama that I reviewed a few years back, The Apocalypse Element, and sees The Doctor and Evelyn coming face to face with a big historical figure – Charles Darwin. Just like any other historical Doctor Who story, the trip isn’t exactly a pleasure trip for our dynamic duo.

In the Ecuadoran settlement of Baquerizo Moreno, there has been some bad stuff going on. The Doctor and Evelyn attempt to have a normal meeting with a young Charles Darwin, circa his Beagle days, only to start learning about all sorts of horrific stuff happening there. Baquerizo Moreno is an Ecuadoran penal colony, so one can imagine that there are tales of barbaric atrocities going on. Something is different here, however, there are rumors that prisoners have been mysteriously disappearing from locked prison cells, A local fisherman has been driven insane by something he saw in the caves, and the Governor seems sort of suspicious.

The Silurians

Of course, everything can be chalked up to appearances by the nefarious Silurians, recently awakened from millions of years of slumber. At the beginning of the episode, we actually saw a flashback to the dying days of the Silurian Empire. The planet was dying, oceans were foul, and many animals were going extinct. The Silurians are preparing to place themselves into suspended animation, but one man is not welcome. A Silurian scientist, S’Rel Tulok, is banished to wander the Earth along with the reason he’s in trouble – genetically modified primates that he altered to be more intelligent. As one can imagine, this is the birth of the human race.

As you can imagine, this isn’t the modern Madame Vastra brand of Silurians we’ve been used to seeing in the current run of the TV series. These are the classic iteration as seen in Pertwee episodes complete with the hissing voice and all. The Silurians are a great audio villain, because they were sort of cheesy until they got revamped a few years back. Without seeing the unmoving mask and other shoddy special effects, the listeners imagination is left to run wild and create quite the formidable foe. This is especially true when the drama re-introduces The Myrka, a monster that never lived up to it’s hype in the actual show. Instead of a rough guy in a rubber suit caliber monster, we are treated to something more like Godzilla – a stature that seems to be the original idea behind the Myrka.

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Once again, I am reminded why I love Evelyn Smythe so much in these audio adventures, she’s not the center of the Doctor’s love-life since she is older and is written as an equal of sorts. I LOVE older companions, I wish there would be more in the actual show! She does do a bit of the annoying stuff that companions tend to do when they meet a historical figure (i.e. trying to lead them into coming up with a future theory while they are there, or helping them along), but she isn’t as bad as Rose trying to get Queen Victoria to say “I am not amused!” Maggie Stables has done the role five other times up to this point, and so far she has yet to do a bad job.

I have said many times, that I really enjoy the “softer” version of The Sixth Doctor in these audio dramas. It really shows that Colin Baker is a great actor and was “screwed” during the production of the actual show. While I do enjoy the moral ambiguity his Doctor had, sometimes it was a bit much, often resorting to murders followed by witty one-liners ala James Bond. Audio Colin Baker could be my favorite Doctor if future episodes keep this quality.

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The supporting cast was very good, with the only blemish being the shrill voice of Greta in the first episode (she improves vastly afterward). The Ecuadoran characters have suspect accents, like any other Big Finish audio with exotic characters, but since I am not from South America, I’m not going to pretend I am the authority on this. This adventure stars Miles Richardson as Charles Darwin, George Telfer as Captain Fitzroy, Daniel Hogarth as Tulok, Julian Harries as Governor Lawson, Helen Goldwyn as Shvak, Jane Goddard as Greta, Jez Fielder as both Emilio and Lokan, and finally Rob Shearman and William Johnson as The Myrka.

The Historical accuracy of this episode comes into question a bit for me, mainly because this adventure goes to great lengths to paint the picture that Charles Darwin became a devout atheist due to revelations attained on the island. With the premise of the episode being based on evolution and such, I can sense an agenda here to a degree, and unfortunately words are placed in Darwin’s mouth that he would have never said at the age he was here. Darwin is one of those figures that has become so “fetishized” that I’m not surprised this was in there, but a bit disappointed. Darwin was fairly religious into his middle age, but slowly edged towards agnosticism in his golden years. If anything, the revelation of the creation of mankind would have simplified his life, because he often struggled to reconcile his views with that of his upbringing, looking for ways to prove his theories tied in with God. Finding out that man was created by lizard people millions of years ago would have just lead to one conclusion: the Silurians are God(s).

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this episode despite the political tightrope walking in the plot. Being somewhat religious myself, and a history buff, I just get annoyed when science fiction tries to hammer an atheist subplot into stuff unnecessarily. The highpoint for me really was the Myrka attack, and how Big Finish was able to take a questionable monster and re-inject it with a bit of monstrosity and power. Maybe one of these days Big Finish will make a drama about The Supreme Dalek’s pet from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and make it cooler than a guy wrapped in paper and vines.

Ever Wonder how Scary the Doctor Who Theme Sounds Slowed Down?

Wonder no longer, I have your nightmare fuel right here!

Doctor Who Video Roundup

Rather than clogging up your blog “reader”, I figured I’d post some videos that I’ve been meaning to mess with all week. I’ll try to post something else this weekend, and move away from 50th anniversary stuff for a while. I still need to watch the much derided “BBC after party” that is so spectacularly bad it’s hilarious and a few more specials (like the one from Big Finish), so they’ll be on here eventually, but maybe not in the next few days.

Strax videos:

Continue reading “Doctor Who Video Roundup”

Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice

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Synopsis

“The Doctor and Charley decide to take a well-deserved break from the monotony of being chased, shot at and generally suffering anti-social behavior at the hands of others. And so they end up in Venice, well into Charley’s future, as the great city prepares to sink beneath the water for the last time…

Which would be a momentous, if rather dispiriting, event to witness in itself. However, the machinations of a love-sick aristocrat, a proud art historian and a rabid High Priest of a really quite dodgy cult combine to make Venice’s swansong a night to remember. And then there’s the rebellion by the web-footed amphibious underclass, the mystery of a disappearing corpse and the truth behind a curse going back further than curses usually do. The Doctor and Charley are forced to wonder just what they have got themselves involved with this time…”

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I’ve really been enjoying these Eighth Doctor adventures from Big Finish so far, and was excited to dive into another one. This play is slightly surreal in both setting and plot. While it exists in the far-flung future, the characters and things happening in and around Venice make it seem as if it could have honestly been a historical episode. There are Dukes and Duchesses, art dealers and religious cults wandering the streets – all of these scream “medieval period piece” to me. This oddness in setting makes for a serial that revels in atmosphere and characterization over the story itself.

We basically have a group that wants Venice to Sink, another than does not, and a religious cult that believes a long-lost Duchess holds the keys to salvation. These three groups run around and talk to each other for four episodes, and not much else happens. This simple story is kept this way because the author wanted to build an engrossing mystery, but there is one problem. The story is really quite simple, and many will figure out the big M. Night Shyamalan-styled twist at the beginning of episode one. For me, this would be like watching (or reading) a Hercule Poirot mystery knowing the killer from page one. No matter what sort of swerves and red-herrings come our way, it just isn’t that exciting.

I’d say that this is the weakest of the Paul McGann episodes so far, and there is a great explanation for this. When Big Finish did these audios, they actually recorded a few of them at the same time. While we got “Storm Warning” as a smashing introduction to Charley and a great re-introduction to the Eighth Doctor, this was actually the first one recorded. I’m not saying that those portrayals are bad, but they are a bit more subdued than earlier episodes. Keeping this in mind, the episode is a success and an entertaining listen based on the setting alone, although it fails to meet the standards of its predecessors.

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.

Review – Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing.  The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilize the nexus and save Evelyn’s life. But there he meets the Queen of England and must use all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman’s block…

It’s no secret that the exploits of the sixth Doctor in the form of the original TV series were met with mixed reviews.  Many felt that the show was on its last legs at the time, and a few higher ups over at the BBC seemed keen on axing the show forever.  When I got into watching a lot of the classic stories, I really liked how Colin Baker played the Doctor despite his costume and the somewhat rough scripts he was sometimes handed.  As I’ve stated before these Big Finish audio dramas are where Colin seems to be at his best as the Doctor.  I would even say that his episodes are usually among my favorite.

This episode at hand, The Marion Conspiracy, is one of the better ones of this line up to this point, as it contains a few things that really set it apart: the introduction of a NEW companion, a historical timeframe, and time travel consequences.  The plot follows The Doctor and a history teacher named Evelyn Smythe as they try to figure out why Evelyn is seemingly being written out of time.  This dynamic is usually one of my favorites as I love when The Doctor takes in a companion that is a bit older and has wide-eyed enthusiasm AND wisdom; I think that’s why I liked Wilf so much in the last few David Tennant seasons.

The story follows The Doctor and Evelyn as they travel back to Tudor times to figure out exactly what Evelyn is disappearing from existence.  There are a few misunderstandings where they both assume that they are in Elizabethan England when in fact they are at the court of Queen Mary.  They both get embroiled in a plot to kill Mary and ultimately try to stop it.  All in all, this was a very good audio drama, and is one of the better ones that I’ve listened to so far.  The acting, plot, and pure historical awesomeness, all click in such a way to make me the most happy.

click here to listen to a trailer

My rating 4 out of 5

 

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

 

Review – Doctor Who: Whispers of Terror

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

With the medium of audio plays, it was a matter of time before Big Finish explored some kind of sound based monster for their Doctor Who audio dramas; I’m just surprised that they did it so soon.  Whispers of Terror marks the third monthly Big Finish Audio, and the first to star Colin Baker (by himself) as the Doctor and Peri as his companion.

The story follows the Doctor and Peri as they end up snooping around a museum called the Museum of Aural Antiquities, where every sound is tucked away in large storage devices.  Almost immediately we find out that a murderer is afoot, and someone is changing old political speeches for someone’s gain.  If all that sounded bad, there also seems to be some kind of monster made of pure sound running around.

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant almost immediately recapture their on-screen chemistry, and work well to make this seem like a “missing” Doctor Who episode.  Peri has always been a double edged sword for me, as Nicola Bryant was always nice to look at, but lacked a convincing American accent.  I know this may not be a real problem for those in the UK, that don’t have the ear for American speech patterns, but Peri was usually very far off.  In Whispers of Terror, Peri is in top form, as Nicola has obviously matured as an actress, and the role is acted shockingly well for me.  I feel that this revelation has really helped me gain a new found appreciation for this Doctor/companion pairing, that I really didn’t have before.

All in all, Whispers of Terror is a solid Doctor Who audio, if not a little on the average side.  So far I have noticed these dramas getting progressively better, and this is not exception.

My Rating 3.5 out of 5