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

 

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Review – Doctor Who: Fearmonger

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?

One of the things that I have yet to actually get around to doing is reading any of the Doctor Who: Virgin New Adventure books produced in the early-mid nineties.  I do know that conceptually I do not agree with the general tone of the books based on what I’ve seen, and some of the fandom that came from them.  As a first “true” introduction to the format, these plays based on the Virgin New Adventure books, are equally as problematic to me.

The actual audio drama that I am looking at reviewing here is called the Fearmonger and stars Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred reprising their roles from the latter era of the original series.  Immediately we find The Doctor and Ace hot on the heels of some kind of monster that may or may not inhabit the body of a crazed right wing political group leader.  At least this is what a man who regularly calls into a Fox News styled pundit show seems to think, and says that he plans another assassination attempt on her, as a previous one (that the play opened on) went south.  We find the Doctor commandeer the radio show and egg on the “crazy” man, basically saying “yeah! There is a monster” which riles everyone up.  This leaves Ace and the Doctor to investigate the situation themselves in order to get some answers.

The right wing political party in question, The New Britannia party, is a pretty rough group of characters who base their entire political stance on racism.  They basically want to throw out anyone who isn’t white and sherilyn Harper, their leader, doesn’t help with her rhetoric.  Against them is a terrorist group trying to end the hate ironically with assassinations and bombings.  Immediately you may notice that the back-bone of this story is very dark, and that is honestly a big problem with it for me.  While things like nationalism, jingoism, racism, immigration and politics have always featured in Doctor Who media, the show was at least clever enough to try to keep it toned down.

With this new tone, the storytelling loses its fun and clownish charm, instead going for preachy social commentary.  This was a trend in the 1980’s McCoy episodes as they ham-fisted things like racism into episodes that did not need it in the plot.  Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind with a few scenes of black segregation in the 1960’s that served no purpose other than to make the watcher feel bad, and cluttered up the over-all narrative.  This bleak and preachy take on the Doctor is not my favorite to be honest.

I guess it may be my problem as a listener, that I need to differentiate the show and these audios more in order to really enjoy them, but as a fan of the classic show rather than a series of books, the themes in here clash with my preconceived notions of what the characters should be doing.  Aside from my gripes, the acting and production on this play are VERY well done, and to be honest it is the best produced play from Big Finish so far.  I know my opinions on the McCoy era may not be the most popular, but I will try to look at the other Virgin New Adventure stories with a more open mind.  We’ll see how that goes.

My Rating 3.25 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

 

Review – Doctor Who: Phantasmagoria

All in all Phantasmagoria is better than the Sirens of Time simply by having a better less convoluted narrative, but still suffers by being early in the run.

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Let me get one thing straight before going into this audio drama review: on a whole I am not a huge fan of most 1980’s Doctor Who stories when stacked up to anything else.  I buy the DVDs, watch all of the stories, and read the comics, but I prefer the modern way the show is told, or just about anything before John Nathan Turner took the show over.  Not that I don’t like the actors that played the Doctor during this time, I just find the show a tad “hit or miss” in the decade of excess.  The audio plays, as a whole, have helped me really appreciate those actors that I may have never given much of a chance to.  This can be attributed to both maturity of the actors, and let’s face it, solid production quality.  I went into Phantasmagoria assuming that I would not like it due to it starring Peter Davison, and was greatly surprised to find a well acted, well written, if somewhat goofy episode.

I had heard of Phantasmagoria long before I actually listened to the production, as it was written by mark Gatiss, and was supposedly the template for his 2005 televised episode The Unquiet Dead.  I’m not sure where folks keep dragging that up, as the two stories have nothing in common save the period setting.  The play stars the Fifth Doctor and Turlough as played by Peter Davison and Mark Strickson respectively.  Aside from the usual cast of Big Finish Players, I did notice cameos from Mark Gatiss and David Williams, who later went on the create the super popular show Little Britain is side roles, so that was fun playing “spot the person whose voice I know”.

The Story involves The Doctor’s arrival in London of 1702, a time of highwaymen and strange disappearances.  When folks start to turn up dead clutching playing cards, a local occultist seems to think that spirits are on the loose, but the doctor thinks differently.

Being early in the Big Finish run, I would like to cut this play some slack due to its early release (being the second one made), but I can honestly say that for all the good in this episode, there was unfortunately some bad as well.  The one thing I really picked up on was that a few of the actors took to their roles a bit too much, if you get my drift and came across a bit too campy for my taste.  This would be commonplace for the TV show at the time, but audio dramas are a bit different.

All in all Phantasmagoria is better than the Sirens of Time simply by having a better, less convoluted narrative, but still suffers by being early in the run.  The acting, sound effects, and story are pretty solid, but the play suffers from a few over-actors, and a bit of storyline padding.  Big Finish is just hitting their stride, can’t wait to listen to the next one.

My Rating 3.25 out of 5

 

Review: Doctor Who – The Sirens of Time

While the acting and sound effects are really good, the plot in The Sirens of Time is unnecessarily complex at times and seems to be full of stuff that does not move the storyline along very well.

220px-Sirens_of_Time.jpg picture by spdk1

Big Finish Audio drama

Earlier this year, I decided to take the plunge and start listening to a line of audio dramas from a UK based company called Big Finish.  Living in the U.S., we really don’t have audio dramas at all whatsoever, so I was not too sure if I would like them at all.  Gladly this was put to rest, as my experience with these is largely positive.  The first one I listened to was also the first Big Finish audio drama made that was officially licensed by the BBC.  Starring Colin Baker, Peter Davison, and Sylvester McCoy all at once The Sirens of Time promised to be a crazy ride.

Multi Doctor stories are generally not nearly as good as one would think they would be, as they generally come across as ‘fanwanky” and nonsensical.  Take for instance the 80’s TV episode The Five Doctors in which everyone looks to the Doctor’s first incarnation for some sort of wizened advice from time to time, despite the fact that the Doctor was younger and less experienced than the others.  Luckily The Sirens of Time escapes this fate a bit, but still comes across as a little thin storyline-wise nonetheless.

The story involves an invasion of Gallifrey, the Doctor’s home planet,by a warmongering race called The Knights of Velyshaa.  The Timelords release that someone or something is meddling with time and forcing three different incarnations of the Doctor to mess time up in some way in order to create this militant army.  Terrified by this prospect, the Timelords try to take measures to kill the Doctor so he can’t do the deed he is being tricked into doing.

The fifth Doctor is revealed to be stuck on a German U-boat in WWI, unable to re-enter his Tardis to go home.  The Sixth Doctor is on some kind of conference ship where a group of dignitaries and scientists are investigating a spatial anomaly known as the Kurgon Wonder. And the Seventh Doctor is in a jungle of some sort, where he saves a young girl from dying only to end up meeting a reformed war criminal on the run from android assassins.

While the acting and sound effects are really good, the plot in The Sirens of Time is unnecessarily complex at times and seems to be full of stuff that does not move the storyline along very well.  As a one shot story I feel that the episode is very “middle of the road”, but as a “sampler” of sorts for the next few dramas that were planned, I can see why this was made in this way.  All in all I liked The Sirens of Time, but better audios were to come.

My Rating: 3 out of 5