Doctor Who: Colditz (2001)

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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: Dust Breeding

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Synopsis

On nineteenth Century Earth artist Edvard Munch hears an infinite scream pass through nature. Centuries later his painting of that scream hangs in a gallery on the barren dust world Duchamp 331. Why is there a colony of artists on a planet that is little more than a glorified garage? What is the event that the passengers of the huge, opulent pleasure cruiser ‘Gallery’ are hoping to see? And what is hidden in the crates that litter the cargo hold? The Doctor’s diary indicates that the painting is about to be destroyed in ‘mysterious circumstances’, and when he and Ace arrive on Duchamp 331, those circumstances are well underway.

Written By: Mike Tucker
Directed By: Gary Russell

Anyone keeping up with my Big Finish Audio reviews will recall that I generally feel that the Seventh Doctor stories based on the Virgin New Adventures line of books are …. not my cup of tea. I worried that this one was in that particular series, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Luckily I’m glad to report that this particular entry in the monthly line of audio dramas is in continuity with an earlier entry called The Genocide Machine and not The Shadow of the Scourge, the former being an entry that I quite enjoyed; the latter not so much. Containing The Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy (soon to be in a Hobbit film near you!) and Ace, as played by Sophie Aldred, this adventure seems just like a continuation of the original show, just if it lasted a bit longer.

One of the major strengths of this drama is the great cast within. There are a few questionable choices, as is usually the case with a lot of these early plays, such as a weird accent used by Caroline John, but the direction here is usually spot on. McCoy does great as The Doctor here, playing the role in such a way that it lines up far closer to the way the role was performed on the television show, not the yelling angry style found in the aforementioned “New Adventures” plays. Louise Falkner appears here as a Captain Jack-esque tertiary companion named Bev Tarrant, a character that previously appeared in The Genocide Machine.

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Above and Beyond, the highlight of this play (for me at least) was the return of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers previously held the role for a short time at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure on the main show, and was portrayed as somewhat of a walking corpse teetering on death at the end of his regenerations. Fairly early on, we are introduced to a wealthy man named Mr. Seta who wears an extraordinary jewel covered mask and is a bit less than trustworthy. Of course “Mr. Seta” is just another one of The Master’s playful anagrams of his own name, a fact that The Doctor should really pick up on at some point. Granted, his plan is ridiculous, and his regression back to his previous iteration (Anthony Ainley was very ill at this time and did not want to participate) is not very well explained, but it was nice to see Beevers do the role for a bit longer than he did in the past. I’m no Ainley hater, but the role was a tad silly when he was playing it, and Beevers adds the darkness back that was originally there with the first Master as played by Roger Delgado.

Many of the best dialog segments where by Mr. Seta / The Master, such as this gem:

‘You’ve spent your life looking at masks Madame Salvadore, without ever wondering what lay beneath them. Would you like to see beneath my mask..?’

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The plot has some silly, or convenient moments, and the main villain of the piece wasn’t all that spectacular but all in all this was a good listen. Little touches like a droning noise that sounds like a screaming Dalek in the background really makes Duchamp 331 a planet to be truly feared, and helps sets this play above merely “average”.  I loved the Master in this, had he not been present I’m not sure if I would have liked the final product nearly as much. For me, Big Finish dramas with the McCoy Doctor have been hit or miss, but this one was a nice surprise.

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: 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