Doctor Who: Project: Twilight (2001)

Project_Twilight_cover

A review of Big Finish audio drama no. 23

  • Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Directed by Gary Russell
  • Sound Design and Post Production by Gareth Jenkins
  • Music by Jane Elphinstone and Jim Mortimore
  • Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Holly De Jong (Amelia Doory), Rob Dixon (Reggie Mead), Rosie Cavaliero (Cassie), Stephen Chance (Nimrod); Rupert Booth (Dr William Abberton/Matthew), Mark Wright (Mr. Deeks),Kate Hadley (Nurse), Daniel Wilson (Eddie), Gary Russell (Newsreader)

Full disclosure here: In all honesty, I’m not much of a fan of vampire fiction. While I would say that Nosferatu is, quite possibly, one of my favorite horror films, anything after the 1950’s is pretty hit or miss for me. Things that “try something different” with the legendary creatures like Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D, I am Legend or even Lost Boys are fairly interesting, but exists as diamonds in the proverbial rough of all of the other vampire stuff. I especially am not a fan of the more “romantic” side of vampire fiction, meaning that anything from Anne Rice novels to True Blood aren’t necessarily bad, but are not my most favorite thing to watch/read/ listen to. So imagine my apprehension when I come face to face with an audio drama that is not only about vampires, but has the word “Twilight” smack dab in the center. If there is anything that I don’t like it’s a story of pre-pubescent love between a vampire werewolf, and a caricature of a high school girl, but I digress.

Doctor Who has tackled vampires before, to varying degrees of success. We have seen things like fairly classical vampires in State of Decay, fish monsters that have fangs in Vampires of Venice, or grotesque mutations with a taste for blood as in Cure of Fenric. I think one of reasons I’m not too enamored with these stories is that they go leagues out of their way to explain common vampire tropes like an aversion to garlic, thirst for blood, and sensitivity to light all with a scientific slant. This has been done so often since 1954’s I am Legend that it almost seems silly at this point; it’s quite similar to how contrived many of the “origin stories” for zombies have become. In the 50’s, Richard Metheson breathed new life into a tired genre by making his vampires somewhat science-based, 60 years later it’s yet another tired cliché. I honestly can handle these mythological creatures, there doesn’t need to be an elaborate background of expositionary dialogue to set everything up.

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In Project: Twilight we find ourselves knee deep in just such a situation, with vampires being explained in a silly way. It appears that the ‘Twilight’ vampires were a form of botched scientific experiment, having been humans (typically prisoners or war wounded) created during the First World War by the Forge, a top secret government initiative to research means by which a superior soldier class might be engineered. So basically, the vampires in this episode are like a messed up version of Captain America.

The reason The Doctor and Evelyn end up coming face to face with this situation is The Doctor’s hunger for what he says is the best Chinese food in all of the galaxy, located in the most unlikely place – a dockside in south-east London. He assures Evelyn that he has sat for dinner with the legendary Kublai Khan, and not had Chinese take-out as good as this restaurant – The Slow Boat. Once they are chowing down on MSG-filled wontons and noodles, they discover the remnants of what can basically be called a “nest” filled with carcasses of brutalized small animals and other refuse. Next thing you know something like a mafia hit appears to happen nearby, and The Doctor and Evelyn are stuck in the middle of another bad situation.

‘Private. Do not enter.’ Oh dear, perhaps I should tell them that’s ancient Gallifreyan for ‘Doctor come on in, have a snoop around.’

We are introduced to the staff of a shady nightclub and casino called Dusk, run by a man named Reggie Mead who is obviously in some sort of organized crime syndicate boss, oh and a vampire. Other characters are varying degrees of likability, but a character name Nimrod stands out the most. he is described as an older man, donning all sort of futuristic vampire hunting technology. He is apparently nearly one-hundred years old, and was a twisted scientist in his past. He was mortally wounded and had to inject himself with the very same serum that created the vampires in the first place, cursing himself to hunt the earth for his own kind. My mind immediately slipped to the Marvel comics character Blade, who was a vampire himself, and yet hunted other vampires.

I liked Project: Twilight for what is was, but it’s not my favorite entry of the Big Finish line. Try as I might, I just have trouble enjoying vampire stories as much as other people and I’m not sure why. I like the inclusion of the shady governmental organization Forge and Nimrod, and hope they show up up again in a later installment. Much like with a few of the New Adventures related Sylvester McCoy dramas, I disliked how gory this episode was. I am not squeamish to this sort of thing, but I don’t see Doctor Who as the prime place for exploding people and vampire torture with added “squishy organ” sound effects. I originally didn’t finish this drama a few years ago because it got silly towards the middle with this stuff, and I was especially burnt out on vampire stuff having worked at a retail store when those Twilight books and films were coming out. On the second listen I’m glad I finished it, and I would say that it’s above average.

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.

Review – Doctor Who: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: In a desolate Cornish landscape littered with relics of prehistoric man, the doctor and Evelyn uncover a catalogue of mysteries.  What is the secret of the fogou? Can the moor be haunted by a demonic host of imps? And what is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doing in Pengriffen?  Teaming up with his old friend, the Doctor realises that an ancient conflict is nearing its conclusion – and Lanyon Moor is set to be teh final battleground.

One thing that I always love in science fiction is when the writer takes a prominent supernatural occurrence (e.g. ghosts, elves etc…) and explains it away as either completely commonplace or something more.  For instance the way that Gods in Stargate are actually powerful aliens that prayed on human faith.  This particular Doctor Who audio play does this exact thing with the mythical creature – the imp.  The story consists of the Doctor and his newest companion Dr. Evelyn Smythe investigating old Celtic ruins alongside an archaeological team and even the Brigadier!  This play is in fact the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in any Big Finish Audio release.

An Image from Doctor Who magazine

It was always sad to me that the sixth incarnation of the Doctor as played by Colin Baker was never allowed a proper adventure in which he interacts with the Brigadier.  Almost all other Doctors ended up with such an episode, but the closest thing we ended up with was the dreadful charity “special” Dimensions in Time in which I need to dissect one of these days.

This episode has its ups and downs but was generally very entertaining to me, and sits as one of the better episodes of Big Finish Audio out there.  The duo of Colin Baker’s Doctor and Eveleyn Smythe as played by Maggie Stables is a great pairing, and I really hope they do a few more stories together.  Having the brigadier in this episode really helps iron home that this is, in fact, a Doctor Who story.  It really seems the most like an old episode of the TV show that I’ve listened to.

My rating: 4 out of 5

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