Monday, December 2, 2013

Big Finish - Judge Dredd: Solo

This is the last in the regular series of Big Finish audio dramas about Judge Dredd. Solo by Jonathan Clements, directed by John Ainsworth.

Dredd is investigating a murder but the body was found on the line between space port immigration and Mega-City One and Dredd is forced to team up with a green skinned alien known as Blarg the Mighty (you can see where this is going already) to track down a shape-shifting alien assassin.

There are two distinctive features about this last story. Firstly it is packed with references to science fiction and comics. Blarg is clearly Tharg himself, with all the usual catch phrases and irritating smugness, but there are also nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robocop, the Stallone movie, and even the Clangers. Secondly all of the speaking parts are played by Toby Longworth in an impressive display of his vocal prowess.

So this is all terribly clever but the story is fairly predictable and the only highlights are some of Longworth's voices incuding a rather impressive HAL 9000 on board an alien spaceship. It's a bit like one of those one man bands where you admire the virtuosity but the music isn't great.

It's a shame that Big Finish weren't able to maintain the standards of their earlier stories such as Death Trap, Get Karter and the first two Strontium Dog releases. As they went along the adventures seem to have become a bit sillier, and although Longworth sounds great in the part Dredd himself seems less imposing than he is in the comics.

That's not to say that this isn't fun because it is and Longworth is good value for money. It's just not a real Judge Dredd story. 3 out of 5 bike cannons. Next up will be four stories in the Crime Chronicles range which I think are more like audio-books then full cast dramas.

If you are interested in the rest of my 2000AD audio reviews you can find them all here.

Big Finish - The Space Race

The second release in the Big Finish 1963 series: The Space Race written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

While the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa are in England investigating pop music the Sixth incarnation and Peri arrive in Russia and find themselves caught up in a Vostok rocket mission and a mystery surrounding the earliest history of space exploration. The Russians are sending a mission to the moon but they may not be the first to get there and one of their capsules has returned to earth with a very strange occupant.

Actually this one is rather good. Colin Baker is in fine form and his Doctor seems childishly excited to get on board a rocket. Meanwhile Peri is left behind to figure a way through all the different levels of intrigue at the control centre. Someone is a spy but who? There's some great sound design work as well and the rest of the cast are terrific. It's nonsense of course but great fun for all that.

4 out of 5 space dogs and on to The Assassination Games.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2000AD - Megazine 342

This week's Prog 1859, can be summed up pretty quickly:

Good second episode. Dredd's face looks a bit weird in some panels and he gets disarmed too easily, but I'm looking forward to seeing how this wraps up.
Future Shocks
If you have read any Ray Bradbury story ever then you know how this one is going to end. It's no coincidence that the kid is called Troy. Lovely art by Nick Dyer though.
Brass Sun.
It's capture time in the continuing cycle of events for Wren and the other two whose names I keep forgetting. Looks very pretty.
Now the art is going off the rails as well as the script. And the Dinosaur rampage is really being dragged out.
Damnation Station.
Starting to get into this now, even if this episode is in Spanish. Pick of the prog this week.

However, this was a Megazine week so let's look at that in more detail.

Cover by Colin Macneil.
Beautiful image. 2000AD has always done future war and made it look weird and terrifying at the same time. This image is no exception. The razor wire gives it a world war one feel which is very appropriate for a comic published in November.

Judge Dredd: Duty Calls by Alec Worley, Ben Willsher, Gary Caldwell and Annie Parkhouse.
I love Willsher's kinetic artwork on Dredd. It helps to know that he is such a fan-boy himself and the photo of him getting a book signed by Ron Smith at the Free Comic book day event in May was a lovely thing to see. The story about a rogue sniper is a pretty good one, and it gives us a chance to see more filed teeth cannibals roaming the ruins of Mega-City One. The final image also takes us right back to Dredd's very first appearance in Prog 2. Classic stuff

Insurrection part nine by Dan Abnett, Colin Macneil, John-Paul Bove and Simon Bowland
Atmospheric black and white artwork, an army unit betrayed by their command, and terrible scenes of battlefield desolation. All this and an enhanced talking gorilla in battle armour, how can you go wrong? The first volume of Insurrection came out while 2000AD and I were on a trial separation so I missed it completely and the trade paperback is now out of print. I'm going to have to track down a copy to go along with this final chapter because this has been fantastic. And it really feels like a powerful anti-war story that reminded me of the last episode of Blackadder.

Ordinary by Rob Williams, D'Israeli and HV Derci
Another thing you can rely on 2000AD for is super-powers with a twist. Here we have a world falling apart as everybody suddenly acquires special abilities, everyone apart from one ordinary plumber who incidentally looks rather like the artist D'Israeli. Rob Williams is perfect at capturing that streak of dark comedy that 2000AD has always done so well. His Low Life stories were great and this is shaping up to be another great story. Having Michael the plumber trying to get across New York to reach his son allows D'Israeli to fill the background with all manner of strange super powered characters, the vast majority of them are just throwaway gags but it's all beautifully done with his trademark detail. It's unusual to see D'Israeli colouring his own work, I'm more used to his black and white stuff in the prog, but here his colouring just leaps off the page and reminded me of the great work he did on Scarlet Traces.

Dredd: Underbelly part three by Arthur Wyatt, Henry Flint, Chris Blythe and Ellie De Ville
The comic sequel to the Dredd movie concludes and left me strangely unmoved. Flint's art is great and the two page spread showing the Judges moving through the drug factory is fantastic, but I'd rather have him drawing regular Judge Dredd. I expected this story would be more about Anderson but she just popped up for a couple of cameos. It also seems strange that they chose to do another drug bust story for the sequel, there was the new angle with mutant trafficking but I would have thought they could have chosen a different aspect of Mega-City crime for the sequel. I am left feeling underwhelmed which is a shame as the rest of the Megazine has been great.

Lobster Random: Tooth and Claw by Simon Spurrier, Carl Critchlow and Ellie De Ville.
So there was a long period when I wasn't buying any comics at all. I know, what was wrong with me? So here is another story that first appeared in the Prog while I wasn't looking. Normally these floppy collections that come with the Megazine don't really interest me but this was great fun. Spurrier is clearly a very clever writer and while I found his Simping Detective quite hard work Lobster Random is a terrific creation. A grouchy old man with "anger management issues, surgically bonded Lobster claws, an inability to sleep or feel pain, and a sexual attraction to pieces of intelligent machinery". Add to this Carl Critchlow's weird science fiction art and you have something with a European comics feel that looks like it came from Heavy Metal magazine. Splendid.

Pick of the Meg is a really tough call but I'm going with Insurrection.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2000AD - Prog 1858

Cover by Clint Langley
I'm not a huge fan of Langley's artwork when it appears in the prog, but I do love his covers and this is no exception. Fantastic image that will pop on the shelves and hopefully tempt some new readers. Having said that both the alternate covers shown on Pete Wells' blog look great as well. Either of them would have been fantastic.

Thrills of the Future
Absalom is coming back and it looks like it's going all Life on Mars back in the 1970s. I love Absalom and can hardly wait for this one shot story that is set to appear in Prog 2014.

Judge Dredd. Ferals part one by Emma Beeby, John Burns and Annie Parkhouse. 
A nice little prologue to something wicked this way coming. I like the idea of groups of feral children establishing their own law in the aftermath of Day of Chaos, and regarding the Judges with suspicion. The first pages reminded me of an old Thunderbirds episode where a boy who was playing International Rescue managed to call them out repeatedly on false alarms. John Burn's art looks lovely for the scenes of the kids playing and I like his interpretation of Dredd's helmet which gives him more peripheral vision through the visor. Not sure why he turns blue in one panel but that is probably meant to be some ambient lighting effect. All in all a nice opener which promises much, and notice how I got right through this review without mentioning the writer's sex once? It shouldn't be the talking point it has become, let's get past it and concentrate on the stories.

Brass Sun. The Diamond Age part nine by Ian Edginton, I.N.J.Culbard and Ellie De Ville.
A change of worlds and a change of scene. The idea of all these different planets with splendid names like Plenitude, High Dudgeon and Hot Air is intriguing. I've been a bit bored with their adventures on the world they have just left so hopefully Hot Air will seize my attention again. Interesting that the colour scheme has changed with the setting.

Flesh. Badlanders part nine by Pat Mills, James McKay, Lee Townsend and Annie Parkhouse
Gorehead finally breaks loose, the black and white scratchy art makes me feel young again, and Pat Mills' dialogue is terrible. That about sums it up. I know we're not allowed to say a bad word about 2000AD's godfather Mr Mills but I'm not sure that he is giving this strip his full attention. At least next week we get Cowboy vs Dinosaur again, and that's usually entertaining.

Tharg's 3rillers. Rewind part 3 by Robert Murphy, Jesus Redondo, Eva De La Cruz and  Ellie De Ville.
So last time I got the details of how time travel works in this story all wrong and missed the bit about "time blisters" created by traumatic events. It still doesn't make much sense to me. I'm not sure what happens to the undead cop's chest wound when he returns to base. Nor how the murderer gets left to live out his life in the 18th century but can also be spirited away to serve an eternal punishment. Are the cops some form of purgatory police, and if so why do they need the science fiction technology trappings? To drag in another TV show comparison this felt a bit like the final season of Lost where all the sci-fi stuff was explained by a certain plot twist that the writers had been vigorously denying right from the first episode.

However Redondo's artwork looks great and the colours by De La Cruz are fabulous so it's nice to look at. Let's hope the next 3riller works better as a story.

Damnation Station. The Howling Beast on the Borderline part one by Al Ewing, Mark Harrison and Simon Bowland.
I went back and read Tordelback's primer to this series on the 2000AD boards and it begins to make more sense. Humanity is paying off a debt to one lot of aliens by fighting another alien force, and the beanie wearing Commander Joe Nowhere is some sort of undercover alien agent who is leading the resistance. The humans work out how to get a missile lock on the invisible alien ships but not before a bunch of nasties break through an airlock. At least I think that's what is happening. It all looks absolutely spectacular, I'm guessing that Mark Harrison is working mostly with digital artwork and colouring. However he's doing it this is the best looking strip in the prog at the moment.

Pick of the Prog could be any one of Dredd, Brass Sun or Damnation Station for the artwork alone. Although the Thought Bubble image of Judge Flask on the back cover, and Ezquerra's picture of Johnny and Wulf in the Strontium Dog advert look even better. No medicine to report on this week but I'm watching out for that adrenaline.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Big Finish - The Revenants

The Revenants by Ian Potter and directed by Lisa Bowerman.

This was a free extra that came with the special edition version of The Light at the End. It's a First Doctor story narrated by William Russell as Ian Chesterton. I don't normally like the companion chronicle stories where there are only one to two characters telling the tale instead of a full cast audio drama but this was splendid.

It helps that it has a framing device of a much older Ian telling the story to a woman he meets on a ferry. This also means that William Russell doesn't have to try and sound like his younger self. The writers have cleverly included several chemical references which makes the most of Ian's background as a science teacher. And it has an eerie ghost story feel to it. All this plus William Russell's only performance as the First Doctor which is lovely stuff.

An unexpected delight and a great bonus, 4.5 out of 5 stars.  

Big Finish - Judge Dredd: Grud is Dead

Judge Dredd: Grud is Dead by James Swallow and Simon Jowett, directed by John Ainsworth.

A bizarre faction of the Catholic Church are involved in a plot to create a new God and Judge Dredd has to travel to Rome and team up with Devlin Waugh to prevent them from unleashing chaos.

The whole subject of religion in Mega-City One is a bit complicated with characters using Grud as an exclamation instead of the word god, which the editors wanted to avoid in a children's comic. And here we have the church trying to restore the concept of God to the world of Dredd. On top of the that we have the renegade, vampire exorcist Devlin Waugh who, I confess, is a character who I know nothing about but he is played with considerable relish by Peter Guinnesss.

I'm running out of Big Finish Dredd stories and it seems unlikely that I'm going to find anything to rival Death Trap or Get Karter. This plods along nicely and I could happily hear more of the Waugh character but again it was all a bit humdrum, another middle of the road 2.5 out of 5 crosses.

Big Finish - Fanfare for the Common Men

Let me get this blog back on track with three quick Big Finish reviews. first up, Fanfare for the Common Men by Eddie Robson, directed by Barnaby Edwards. The first in the Big Finish 1963 trilogy.

The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa are in 1963 to see the Beatles but no one seems to have heard of them. Instead the band that was mentioned in passing by Susan in the very first episode of Doctor Who have taken their place in history and the Doctor wants to know why.

On the plus side the music in this story is fantastic. Howard Carter has come up with some catchy pop tunes that sound just right for the period and he's helped by some great performances by Mitch Benn, Andrew Knott and David Dobson as the band members with those familiar Liverpudlian accents. Having said that the rest of the story rather left me cold. The Doctor and the Nyssa investigate and discover the inevitable alien who is meddling with time, and although it is the standard four episodes long it just whizzed past without leaving much of an impression on me.

Not a terrible story but the pairing of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa is one of the least interesting teams that have Big Finish currently have. Let me be generous and call it a 3 out of 5 mop top haircuts story.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Big Finish - The Light at the End

The Light at the End. Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

It's the 50th anniversary special featuring the eight classic Doctors, a host of companions, the Time Lords, and the Master, and it's all fantastic. Everything about this production just hits the right spot for Doctor Who's birthday celebrations. The music and sound effects are superb. All the Doctors are on fine form with Tom Baker and Paul McGann really standing out. And there's a terrifically creepy performance from Geoffrey Beevers as the Master.

I won't go into details of the story and how all eight doctors end up drawn back to an important event on the 23rd November, 1963. However it's all masterfully done, there is nothing like a good multi-Doctor story and this is a real stand out. It even features incarnations of the first three Doctors here played by William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Trealor. They are trapped in some sort of Tardis time pocket so their voices are a little distorted which allows the actors some leeway in their recreation of the original actors.

As well as all this there are two CDs worth of extras which are well worth listening to. It's a tremendous package from Big Finish and it is impossible to give it less than 5 out of 5 classic Doctors. Highly recommended.

2000AD Prog 1857

By Karl Richardson. Terrific depiction of Dredd and the monster. Richardson goes with the vambrace gauntlet thing that he used on the cover of 1845 but more of that later. Dredd has pretty impressive abs for a 70 year old, I don't believe they would show through a leather uniform but that's artistic licence again. My main problem with this cover is that it looks so similar to Prog 1826 by Paul Davidson. I'll be interested to see Pete Wells' 2000AD Covers Uncovered blog posting on this and what Tharg's brief was.

Dredd. Prey part three by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse.
Although the bad guy gets plenty of time to monologue his evil plan this final episode feels a bit rushed like a lot of the recent Dredd tales. It did seem that it might have another prog in it but once the beastie is dispatched it's all wrapped up in five quick panels.

Now for the medical content. Firstly I don't know how the nurse's medical band delivers the "anti-allergy medicine" into the body but I'm pretty sure it would need to be on the skin or fairly close to it. We teach patients that they can deliver their Epipen or Jext injection devices through a pair of trousers or tights in an emergency, but I don't think that would work through a pair of thick leather gauntlets with that wrist protector vambrace thing. We know that Dredd's costume is resistant against fire and a variety of nasty chemicals. I don't think it can do that and still allow a fairly small needle or gas powered injection device to fire through the back of his glove.

The second problem with this get out of jail device is the idea that this medical band has delivered "enough adrenaline to briefly counteract the neurotoxin". Adrenaline does not work like that, there are only a few medical emergencies that justify its use. The devices used by patients and doctors to treat allergic anaphylaxis do contain adrenaline but the way that works is to increase the force and speed of the heart pumping, as well as opening up the airways and making it easier for someone having an allergic crisis to breathe. It's not going to reverse the effects of a neurotoxin. Adrenaline was also used incorrectly to get Dredd back on his feet after major blood loss in Trifecta. And another thing, in America adrenaline is called epinephrine, in fact there is an attempt to get all countries to use the same name for drugs and epinephrine is the term accepted by the international medical community. Unless the nurse is from Brit-Cit she is using the wrong drug name. This sort of stuff stands out like a sore thumb to me (and I see lots of sore thumbs as well). There are better drugs and devices that might work in these situations, just ask me.

Having said that the detail about the Doctor developing new drugs from the Scrall venom does reflect real medicine. In recent years we have started using a blood pressure medicine developed from Pit-Viper venom, and a new diabetic drug comes from the saliva of the venomous Gila Monster. So hats off to Mr Eglington for that.

Brass Sun. The Diamond Age part eight by Ian Edginton, INJ Culbard and Ellie De Ville.
Stop me if you have heard this opinion already. The art is lovely and I look forward to reading the whole thing in trade, but it just moves so slowly. Having said that doesn't it also seem that the protagonists are getting chased through long grass by one of those strangely ineffectual Scythe robot things every third episode or so? I'll wait for the collected version.

Flesh. Badlanders part eight by Pat Mills, James McKay, Lee Townsend and Annie Parkhouse.
I'm growing to love the black and white art which reminds me of the early days of 2000AD but I'm still mystified by the storyline. Still we get a raptor versus a rodeo cowboy, Vegas shows off her boobs again, and next issue we might finally get Gorehead living up to his name.

Tharg's 3rillers. Rewind part two by Robert Murphy, Jesus Redondo, Eva De La Cruz and Ellie De Ville.
I really enjoy these three episode stories which introduce some new blood into 2000AD's line up. There is a slight problem with the time travel cop story which has already been pointed out on the forums, namely if you can go back and solve past murders, why don't you just go back a little further and prevent them in the first place?

As you might expect I also have some medical problems with this story. In the last prog one of the cops used a hand held device to identify the suspects as two adult males based on "exhaled DNA particles". There are all sorts of problems with this. Let's assume that we do shed some some lung lining cells and blow those out in each breath. Collecting enough of those and then extracting the DNA from them is going to be enormously difficult and way beyond the power of something you can wear on your belt. However if we can accept time travel for the story then let's allow Robert Murphy to have a CSI crime lab that can be carried on a utility belt. But you can't identify someone's sex from DNA, you identify it from the chromosomes made from DNA. And even if we reject that as just a quibble about names how does DNA analysis tell you how old someone is?

My other problem with this particular story is the size of the hole that Dick Turpin blows in Benson's chest with his flintlock pistol. Of course this allows for some Death Becomes Her fun as the artist draws his partner peering through the gaping wound, but even a large calibre musket ball would not make that size of wound. Look at the American civil war photographs of Matthew Brady to see the small but deadly wounds caused by musket fire.

Damnation Station. In Another Lifetime by Al Ewing, Mark Harrison and Simon Bowland.
Looks pretty but I have no idea what's going on. I need to go right back to the start on this one.

Pick of the prog is Dredd, but mainly through lack of competition. I'm off now for an adrenaline shot and a nice cup of tea.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Big Finish - Daleks Among Us

The second Big Finish audio on the playlist for my long bike ride was Daleks Among Us by Alan Barnes and directed by Ken Bentley.

The conclusion to the latest Klein trilogy sees the Seventh Doctor, Will Arrowsmith and Dr Klein herself arrive on the planet Azimuth in search of that elusive Persuasion machine. As ever things are not what they seem and while Elizabeth learns the shocking truth about her past the Doctor encounters and old enemy.

Well this is just fabulous. Everyone here is on top form and I was very impressed to learn that Alan Barnes was the author. I have had problems with some of his previous scripts but it seems that Daleks bring out the best in him. And these Daleks are fairly nasty and violent and not just the giant screeching toys that they can sometimes appear as in Doctor Who. In fact there is a real sense of menace in this story with none of the humour to be found in Starlight Robbery.

I like this idea of the Seventh Doctor sensing his time is limited and trying to wrap up loose ends, all the while keeping an eye on Elizabeth Klein in case she somehow reverts to type. There is some more of that Elder Gods stuff which bores me but that is more than made up for with a clash of wills with a dark enemy. I didn't look at any cast lists in advance so I didn't know what was coming and Big Finish pulled off a big surprise. I won't spoil it here but it was as much fun as when they managed a similar trick in Unit: Dominion.

While all this is going on Dr Klein "borrows" the Tardis to travel back to 1945 Germany and discover some of the shocking truth about her origins that the Doctor has been keeping from her. Once again Tracey Childs does a marvellous job. I did like the way her German accent deepened when she was in her home country. I don't know if it would sound convincing to German listeners but it impressed me.

All in all a terrific story and my favourite of the trilogy. 4.5 out of 5 Persuasion machines. One of the best Big Finish stories around.

Big Finish - Pre-Emptive Revenge

Some quick reviews to catch up with my Big Finish listening. Pre-Emptive Revenge by Jonathan Clements, directed by John Ainsworth.

A Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog team-up! This takes place after the story Judgement Day which ran in 2000AD and the Megazine back in 1992. Dredd and Johnny Alpha are a long way (or time in Alpha's case) from home but before they can be picked up they have to deal with a missile defence system which threatens to destroy Hondo City.

This is a welcome return for Simon Pegg as Johnny Alpha. Once again he is acting opposite Toby Longworth but here playing Dredd instead of playing Alpha's bounty hunting partner Wulf Sternhammer. And this is a much more combative relationship. Dredd and Alpha do not get on and although they are forced to work together they do not get on at all. In fact this story largely consists of the two characters arguing. It is virtually a two hander with just one other actor in a minor role. And it all passes by fairly quickly without leaving much of an impact. It's a shame really to have two great voice actors and just have them shouting at each other for 50 minutes. Obviously the writer couldn't do much with the established continuity of Judgement Day and the comic storyline but the result is the feels rather inconsequential.

Still Pegg and Longworth are fun to listen to and it made the time fly by on a long bike ride I was doing recently. 3 out of 5 electronux defibrillators. Onwards!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Big Finish - Starlight Robbery

Starlight Robbery written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley.

Here is the second part in the current Seventh Doctor trilogy. Elizabeth Klein and Will Arrowsmith are sent undercover to an illicit, galactic arms fair run by the Urodelian crook, Garundel who we last heard in Black and White. The Doctor has set his two companions on the trail of the Persuasion machine and its creator Kurt Schalk.

Sylvester McCoy is a busy chap and this seems like one of the Doctor-lite episodes from new Who. So Klein and Arrowsmith do most of the leg work here and they are ably assisted by a host of bad guys attending the arms auction. In particular Dan Starkey who plays Strax on TV gives us three different Sontarans. His performance is one of the high points of this audio drama. It's nice to hear the Sontarans as a credible military power instead of just figures of fun. I am less keen on Garundel as a character but his role as a galactic con man works in this story so I'll give him a pass.

As ever it is Tracey Childs as Klein who really shines as the best thing in the whole episode. I've mused before about why her character works so well with the Seventh Doctor. We shouldn't like her but we do. The few moments she gets with the Doctor are great stuff. She can see through the master manipulator and recognises when she is being used as a tool, "just another sonic screwdriver" as she memorably puts it.

The story didn't grab me particularly, but the Sontarans and Klein were worth the price of admission alone. 4 out of Sontaran spheres for Starlight Robbery.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2000AD Prog 1848 - A Medical Review

A quick look at the Judge Dredd story in the very latest Prog. This is from Bender part four by John Wagner, Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe. Warning spoilers ahead!

Judges Lock and Bender make an explosive entrance into a hidden laboratory where two men are "cooking" the drug Zziz. One of the criminal chemists douses Lock with the highly flammable base ingredient which then catches fire when the Judge fires his Lawgiver. His partner Bender acts quickly to disable their assailants and throws a fire blanket over Lock to put out the flames. However from the following image it would appear that his injuries are severe.

Judges' uniforms are flame resistant and he hopefully got a lot of protection from his helmet. At the end of the previous issue Bender advised Lock to put his helmet respirator down before entering the lab. It is missing from the front crest on his helmet so he must have been wearing in when he was engulfed in flames. This should have protected his lungs from the flames, fumes and risks of smoke inhalation. However it would seem that Lock has third degree burns on his lower face and neck, the fire has removed the full thickness of skin and exposed the subcutaneous tissues. This is a serious injury that would require extensive inpatient treatment to heal and a lot of plastic surgery to repair the damage to the face.

Fortunately this is something that the Mega-City One medics are very good at. We know that Judge Dredd himself had similar facial burns repaired after the events of Necropolis. What bothers me slightly is how quickly Lock returns to street duty after this terrible injury. By the end of this episode he is back on his bike and confronting Bender about his actions. The story demands a fairly quick return to duty but I'm not sure that the medics would be able to get him fit again so easily. The other problem is that we know Lock is already suffering from a degree of post traumatic stress disorder after the events of the Day of Chaos. Having treated police officers and firemen who have been injured in the line of duty I know how difficult it can be for them to recover fully. After sustaining such horrific burns I would have thought Lock would need a further period of counselling before he was passed fit to return to work. However as the 2000AD forums have pointed out, John Wagner might have story plans for a Judge with deep psychological issues and a scarred face. He does resemble one of Dredd's greatest foes who is due to return to the comic next year.

One final note. I confess I don't know much about he properties of the fictional Mega-City drug Zziz. It would seem that Wagner has been watching Breaking Bad, and used the preparation of Meth-amphetamine as inspiration for the activity of the illicit chemists. Making the drug is clearly a risky business and judging from the following panels Lock was very fortunate that he had his helmet and respirator to protect his eyes and mouth from the drug base.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

2000AD Prog 1847

By Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague. There are two things that seem to work on a comic cover at the moment, Zombies and Dredd kicking butt. 2000AD has done plenty of both recently and this is a beauty which recalls some of Brian Bolland's classic images. There's some great detail particularly with the sole of Dredd's boot, the flying teeth, and the movement of the thug's gun. In terms of standing out on the shelves and selling the prog this one works for me.

Judge Dredd: Bender part three by John Wagner, Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe.
Lock's odyssey into the dark heart of Mega-City justice continues as Judge Bender's behaviour worsens and he pushes things (and apprehended suspects) over the edge. The information they get before their perp becomes a pedway paint stain leads them to a drug cooking laboratory and I suspect there are more Breaking Bad references coming up in the next instalment. 

Dredd turns up for a few panels just to remind us whose strip this is but actually this story is ticking along nicely without him. Although he does give a couple of looks that let us know he has a pretty good idea of what's going in with Bender and Lock. His doubts about Lock's ability are proven wrong when he despatches a goon who had the drop on Dredd. And then Lock gets to demonstrate that he's a pretty good detective as well. Another great bit of hard boiled police drama from Wagner and Willsher.

Defoe: The Damned part twelve by Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher.
So poor old Defoe does all the hard work, saves England from the undead menace, only for a group of super-heroes to turn up and claim all the glory. I don't know who the Vizards are, or why they didn't turn up sooner but there you go. Then it's all cleaned up in three days and just time for a cup of coffee and a chance for Pat Mills to give us the last part of his testament about the evils of the ruling classes. And Defoe disappears into the night apparently to return to his former profession as sedan chair carrier.

Lovely black and white artwork for Gallagher again but I'm left feeling that I've missed something. It all ended rather suddenly. I know Tharg is clearing the decks for another jumping on prog at 1850 but this felt like it needed at least one more episode to finish the story.

The Ten Seconders: Godsend part nine by Rob Williams, Ben Willsher and Abigail Ryder.
It's all getting a bit weird here. The scientist does his Mr Fantastic bit and produces a pair of magic gloves that do something ... well, sort of magical, and then Damage gets a bit cross and sets it up for a big final battle.

Ben Willsher steps into the art droid shoes instead of Edmund Bagwell but manages to pull off a reasonable impression of Bagwell as well as throwing a bit of classic Kirby crackle into the mix. It still looks all dark and sinister but I've lost track of what is going on. But never mind, next issue we get Damage hitting things.

Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld part eight by Alec Worley, John Davis-Hunt and Gary Caldwell.
Having given us zombie werewolves and the image of Rowan finally transforming into a Super-Wolf in the last prog this episode goes back to the cuddly looking Wolves sitting around talking. Then there's a ridiculously easy escape, some werewolf centaurs, and a flying car before we get the set up for the big showdown between Rowan and Alpha.

I'm trying to be kind about Age of the Wolf which really doesn't bother me as much as it does some people but it is starting to feel rather drawn out. Let's just get to the final fight please, we're all ready for the Moony shot.

Slaine: The Book of Scars part four by Pat Mills and Glenn Fabry.

Slaine continues to go all Quantum Leap through his past adventures, but as he just seems to drop in and out of them within a single issue I'm not getting any sense of dread or peril for the protagonist. I was hoping for a Slaine history lesson but it's all a bit disjointed and I'm not really bothered.

Everyone has their blind spots when it comes to big name comic artists and two of mine are Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley. Fabry's black and white line work is beautifully detailed but always looks rather static to me. Still it will be all change again next week when Bisley takes over the art. Oh dear.

Pick of the Prog. Has to be Dredd again with John Wagner's apparently effortless story telling and build up of suspense.

Big Finish - The One Doctor

Here's another title from the Big Finish first 50 for a fiver range. The One Doctor by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, directed by Gary Russell.

The Sixth Doctor and Mel land on the planet Generios at the vulgar end of time, and encounter another Doctor and his assistant, Sally-Anne. Who is the imposter, and can the real Doctor save the day when an alien creature demands that the planet pay a huge price to avoid destruction?

This is apparently a bit of a fan favourite from the early days of Big Finish (released in 2001) and it is a comedy of sorts. There seems to be a fairly clear attempt to evoke memories of Douglas Adams and the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, particularly with some of the oddball characters the two Doctors encounter on their different quests. Unfortunately it didn't work for me at all, much like Big Finish's attempt at a Monty Python script in Castle of Fear this just fell flat. Humour is such a tricky thing to pull off in a radio play and rarely succeeds for me. I've had similar problems with the 2000AD audios when they play up the comedy in their Judge Dredd stories. At the moment I'm more interested in the spooky or atmospheric adventures such as the Sherlock Holmes or Jago and Litefoot ranges, although they do have moments of humour.

There's not anything terribly wrong with The One Doctor. Christopher Biggins is pretty good as the imposter in his usual pantomime manner, and Adam Buxton and Matt Lucas provide some comedy voices for the minor characters. It just did not interest me. Even the Doctor's inevitable triumph just seemed like a bad joke that had been slowly set up over four acts. A favourite for lots of fans but not for me. 2 out of 5 evil Skelloids.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Big Finish - For King and Country

The last two Big Finish Judge Dredd stories I listened to, War Crimes and Jihad, impressed me with their more serious tone. So how will release number 15 For King and Country by Cavan Scott, directed by John Ainsworth, fare?

Not very well is the answer. Humour has always been a big feature of 2000AD strips and Judge Dredd used to be a much wackier comic than it has become in recent years. Getting the balance of dark humour and satire right is quite tricky, and some times it can spill over into a story which is just played for cheap gags. The plot of For King and Country has the current royal family of Brit-Cit wiped out by a bombing and the heir to the throne discovered to be the son of a fading Mega-City One pop star. Dredd gets the job of guarding them until the new king is crowned, so it's a return to this side of the Atlantic and things soon get out of hand.

There's some weird layering going on here. This is a British audio company producing a story about American characters who come over here to experience a parody of British culture as typically seen through overseas eyes. So the royal family are all idiots, the street level characters all sound like diamond geezers from EastEnders or a Carry On film, and the British Judges are upper class fools. I can cope when the Americans portray us this way, but when we do it ourselves, and do it badly, it starts to grate.

Predictably there is more to the plot than meets the eye, and for the second story in a row Chief Judge Hershey has set Dredd up for something without telling him why. But as you can tell I wasn't much bothered, I was just annoyed by British actors doing stupid cockney accents.

Only 2 out of 5 links in Dredd's badge chain for this story, and I think I'm being generous. There are some great Judge Dredd stories in the Big Finish range including Death Trap and Get Karter, as well as the two I mentioned above, but this isn't one of them. Next up will be number 16: Pre-Emptive Revenge which sees the return of Simon Pegg as Johnny Alpha and sounds much more promising.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2000AD - Trifecta

The big 2000AD event of last year is now out in a smart hard cover format. Trifecta by Al Ewing, Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams, Simon Coleby, Henry Flint, Matt 'D'Israeli' Brooker and Carl Critchlow.

Spoilers ahead! Last year the forums exploded after 2000AD pulled off the coup of combining three stories in the Prog when Judge Dredd kicked in a door on his last page only to crash through onto the first page of the next story. Opinions varied as to how well the three stories meshed together after that, and about some of the plot devices required to make it all work, but what wasn't in any doubt was the shock that this has been done with no forewarning at all. To pull off a comic surprise in the age of the internet and a sea of spoilers was an amazing achievement. And now we can read the whole story in one book.

The three separate stories feature Dredd himself, Dirty Frank from Lowlife, and The Simping Detective. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear from the start that the three strips are part of a larger whole. There are hints and strange panels featuring a mystery character who likes a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. This is later revealed to be Judge Smiley whose behind the scenes manipulation and physical appearance are clearly based on Alec Guinness in the BBC adaptations of the John Le Carre novels. Judge Smiley has placed some hypnotic memory blocks in the minds of the lead characters but they get strange flashes as their memories start to break through. At the time it wasn't clear what all this meant but reading again all is much clearer.

I have waxed lyrically about Henry Flint and D'Israeli's art before and their work here is outstanding. Particularly D'Israeli's ridiculously detailed Moon cities and his fantastic recreation of some of the more obscure monsters from Dredd's history. I was completely unfamiliar with Spurrier and Coleby's Simping Detective strip before this event, and I confess that I didn't pay much attention to the early episodes until Dredd's boot crashed through into Jack Point's world. And it's Simon Coleby's art that is the revelation in this volume. It's got that shadowy black and white look that suits the film noir private detective setting, but what I didn't remember were the vivid splashes of colour he uses particularly when Point seems to be hallucinating flashbacks to his meeting with Smiley. It's a wonderful blend of styles and I was particularly impressed when Coleby pulled off some 3-D effects with the introduction of the villain Turner.

The writing is pretty spectacular as well, especially when they pulled off the big crossover. Al Ewing captures Judge Dredd almost as well as John Wagner, and Rob Williams continues to delight with his hilarious Dirty Frank. Simon Spurrier writes the Simping Detective and gives Jack Point some very snappy dialogue with a long list of jokes and similes to describe the various perilous situations he finds himself in. Spurrier is clearly a very clever writer, possibly too clever in places and I wished that Point's introductory patter could have been turned down a bit as the story progressed. It is his distinctive feature (apart from the red nose that is), as he reminds us several times "I'm all about the funny, me". It just began to wear me down a bit as the finale approached.

Which brings me to the vexed subject of endings to comic book events. Like a perfect gymnastic landing they are apparently incredibly difficult to pull off successfully and Trifecta is no exception. The bizarre complexity of Smiley's plan to save Mega-City One depends on so many different events happening exactly as he predicted that disbelief isn't so much suspended as it is balancing perilously on the edge of a precipice. Not to forget the idea that a senior Judge can apparently hide himself in a secret room next to the Chief Judge's office for 20 years and nobody notice. However even the endings of acknowledged classics like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns can be similarly criticised. Maybe we comic fans just enjoy the journey more than we do the destination.

The medical details are a bit far fetched. Dredd is shot several times and appears to be bleeding to death at the end of one episode, only for a couple of bandages and an adrenaline injection to have him back on his feet in the next. I'm afraid adrenaline won't do that in real life, but as the main villain of the piece remarks Dredd always could take a beating.

One final criticism about the collected edition and its extras We get a beautiful lenticular cover by Henry Flint. All the related Prog covers are included in the back matter, along with some promotional images and character sketches, plus a brief paragraph about each of the creators, and that's it. I was hoping for some more material from the artists and what I really wanted was an introduction. I don't know who could have written it, maybe Tharg himself could have talked a little about the original conception for the story and how such a big surprise remained a secret. The old Titan books used to manage this but Rebellion editions seem sadly lacking in this regard.

Still when all is said and done it is a great story and well worth a reread. 4 out of 5 Sirian Rosettes from me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

2000AD Prog 1845 - review

Is by Karl Richardson and pretty exciting too. I'm sure that will shift some copies off the newsagents' shelves. Dredd's left glove looks a bit weird, more like he is wearing a piece of forearm armour called a Vambrace (yes I looked that up) instead of his standard gauntlet type gloves.His badge is rather pointy with his name at too much of an angle but hey, it's all artistic licence. I'm not sure that wall would really protect Dredd from the weaponry the Skull guys are using but once again anything goes to sell the Prog, and I think this cover does the job.

Judge Dredd: Bender part one by John Wagner, Ben Willsher and Chris Blythe.
I've been reading quite a bit of classic Wagner recently: Necropolis, Tour of Duty, Day of Chaos; and it strikes me that he is the master of the slow build of tension and story points. Little things start to add up and while there is usually the requisite amount of Dredd busting heads it is the dialogue and unfolding events that he excels at.

On the face of it this seems to be a straight forward tale of a Judge who has stepped too far over the line into brutality, but it is the character of Lock we will have to watch. Clearly traumatised by the events of Chaos day and his inability to save his own mother, how he reacts to being partnered with Bender will be interesting. Dredd makes a brief cameo as do the Skull faced gang. Ben Willsher can do no wrong as a Dredd artist, and all in all this is an interesting opening episode from the definitive Dredd writer.

Defoe: The Damned part ten by Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher.
The Pat Mills history lesson part one. Defoe appears to have sold out his comrades to the evil zombie master, Faust. While his comrades make their last stand he and Faust continue their dissection of all that ailed British society before the zombie plague. Mills knows his history and wants us to be interested in the Levellers and the New Model Army, and has chosen a black and white zombie comic strip to tell us all about them. Meanwhile Leigh Gallagher produces some stunning artwork with several of the usual zombie tropes beautifully rendered. Great stuff.

Slaine: The Book of Scars part two by Pat Mills and Clint Langley.
The Pat Mills history lesson part two. This time it's the thirty year history of the character of Slaine he's going to instruct us about by revisiting some of his classic battles. So here we have a retelling of the Wicker Man storyline with Langley putting aside his usual photo-realistic style to give us a scratchy black and white tribute to Massimo Belardinelli. He does this particularly well with the faces and hairstyles of the female characters. I confess I'm not really familiar with Slaine's history so I'm looking forward to this tour through his past with the artists entertaining themselves, and us, with pastiches of other illustrators' works.

Strange to have two black and white strips running in 2000AD at the same time, and both by the same writer. Last year when something similar happened it led to Trifecta. You don't think ... ?

Age of the Wolf: Wolfworld part six by Alec Worley, John Davis-Hunt and Gary Caldwell.
This one is not very popular according to the ECBT2000AD Progcast and the 2000AD forums. I quite enjoyed the first two runs of Age of the Wolf as the Werewolf invasion spread and the character of Rowan developed as humanity's last hope. The problem with the third book: Wolfworld is the depiction of Werewolves just standing around and talking. Rather than looking threatening they resemble large fluffy dogs or bears and bring us back to the level of cute, cartoon animals with no sense of menace.

Fortunately this episode concentrates on Rowan and her desperate race to save her daughter before the Wolves sacrifice the girl in a stone circle. But it's still all brightly lit and coloured and misses the opportunity to give us a sense of this darker world and stakes at play. It's OK and I don't actively dislike the series as some do but it doesn't seem to be working in the third book.

The Ten Seconders: Godsend part seven by Rob Williams, Edmund Bagwell and Abigail Ryder.
Now this is dark and menacing. Whenever 2000AD take on Superheroes you can be sure that they will do something strange and sinister with them. The classic red, white and blue all-american hero does not fit in to 2000AD's reactionary world view and here we find out what the alien super-powers have been doing with Earth. While at first it seemed that the parents of a bunch of naughty children of mass destruction had arrived to right their wrongs, now we find that our world is just the latest in a series of petri dishes they play with almost as a form of distraction for them.

Rob Williams continues to nod towards some classic moments from mainstream American comics and Edmund Bagwell gives us some glorious and twisted artwork. I wonder what would have happened if Tharg had switched Abigail Ryder over to colour Age of the Wolf, maybe that would have worked better?

Pick of the Prog = Dredd for a tantalising opener.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Big Finish - Invaders from Mars

Big Finish have permanently lowered the price of their first fifty Doctor Who titles to just £2.99 a download. So there are bargains to be had and I picked up Invaders from Mars, written and directed by Mark Gatiss.

This one has it all. The Eighth Doctor, Charley Pollard, Orson Welles and a cast that includes Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson from Spaced. The story of the Mercury Theatre's infamous radio production of the War of the Worlds is fascinating enough, but throw in some real alien invaders, espionage and gangsters and how can you not get this story for a mere £3.

It's just fabulous all round. Paul McGann continue to vie for the top spot in best Big Finish Doctors. I love the character of Charley Pollard, and David Benson does a pretty good Orson Welles impression. The inevitable separation of the Doctor and his companion works quite well, especially when he teams up with a woman called Glory Bee. Clearly Mark Gatiss loves the source material and all the legends that have developed about that radio broadcast.

I have difficulty finding any faults with this production which was over too quickly for me. A short review but a great Big Finish story. 4.5 out of 5 tripod war machines.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Big Finish - Brotherhood of the Daleks

A recent Big Finish sale gave me the chance to pick up another Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard adventure. Brotherhood of the Daleks, by Alan Barnes, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Doctor and Charley are expecting an ice planet but instead find themselves in a jungle, and in a war zone. The local resistance are fighting a losing battle against the Daleks, but there is something very strange about these Daleks, and about the whole situation.

So yes I bought this one just because it was cheap, and because Nicholas Briggs picked it as one of his favourite Dalek stories, and I didn't pay too much attention to the writer until I listened to the CD extra interviews. Alan Barnes is a Big Finish writer whose previous stories I have struggled with. I like what he does as the script editor for the main Doctor Who range, and I have to admire him as a former editor of The Judge Dredd Megazine but his writing has bothered me in the past. The only one I really liked was his parody of 2000AD in Izzy's story from The Company of Friends, and apparently I'm pretty much alone in liking that tale. In this take on the Daleks Barnes references the Vietnam war and draws heavily on the writings of Karl Marx and develops a branch of the Dalek empire that has adopted the principles of Communism. And the funny thing is it all kind of works, I quite liked it.

Admittedly this adventure does play with the dream within a dream, within a dream idea which has cropped up before and can be quite difficult to disentangle for the listener. It is never easy to work out exactly which reality we are in at any one point, but that didn't bother me here. India Fisher works wonders as Charley Pollard and Colin Baker is on infuriatingly accurate form as the Sixth Doctor. The rest of the cast were fine with no particular stand-outs, although there were a few problems when they are required to use the ring modulator to produce Dalek voices. Unless it is Nicholas Briggs doing them they just sound like children playing with something bought from a toy shop.

This Big Finish release is back to full price now and with their recent announcement that all of their earliest fifty stories are going to be available for £2.99 only on download it is difficult to recommend picking this up instead of a cheaper adventure. However it has restored my faith in Alan Barnes. Let me give it 3.5 out of 5 Dalek manifestos and move on to some invaders from Mars.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Big Finish - Persuasion

Number 175 in the Big Finish main range is Persuasion by Jonathan Barnes, directed by Ken Bentley.

Klein is back! Her story is getting a little complicated at this point. Let's just say she is the most interesting UNIT scientific advisor after the Doctor, and her love hate relationship with his seventh incarnation continues. And this time she has a young and enthusiastic but very inexperienced assistant along with her. Will Arrowsmith knows a lot about the mysterious Umbrella man and what UNIT refer to as "blue box incidents" but this is his first actual encounter.

The story concerns another set of powerful elder gods who the Seventh Doctor wants to deal with before his time his done. He senses that his next regeneration is approaching and is worried that his replacement may not be as resolute as he is. This sense that Sylvester McCoy's Doctor is ageing and trying to tie up loose ends before he finishes is very interesting and I wonder if Big Finish will continue with this. Also rather intriguing is the idea of the very powerful Persuasion machine which acts as the MacGuffin for this story. The machine's ability to persuade populations of whatever idea the controller programmes into it is obviously of interest to politicians of all ideologies. I presume this will also come back in the next two parts of this Klein trilogy.

I confess the elder gods stuff that cropped up in Protect and Survive and Gods and Monsters rather bores me. Here the characters of the Shepherd and Shepherdess speak in iambic pentameter which presumably was rather challenging for Jonathan Barnes to write, and it sounds impressive, but their storyline does nothing for me. Fortunately there is Klein and the idea of the Persuasion machine to keep me interested. Tracey Childs is right up there with Maggie Stables as a great Big Finish supporting actor and perfect foil for the Doctor. I was less convinced by Christian Edwards as Will Arrowsmith but maybe his character will grow on me.

Some interesting stuff in this one but let down by uninteresting bad guys. A middle of the road 3 out of 5 straw hats from me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Big Finish - Jago & Litefoot series one

At Big Finish day I picked up the first box set of Jago & Litefoot, partly because it was cheap and so I would have something for Christopher Benjamin, Trevor Baxter and Lisa Bowerman to sign. I wasn't sure when I would get around to listening to it but after enjoying the recent Justice of Jalxar so much I pushed it to the top of my list.

There are four single disc stories with a connected developing story arc through the season that links back to the characters' first Big Finish appearance in a companion chronicles story called The Mahogany Murderers. First up is The Bloodless Soldier by Justin Richards, directed by Lisa Bowerman, which has our two reluctant heroes investigating what appears to be a case of Lycanthropy. It's fairly classically done but is all very enjoyable and allows Henry Gordon Jago to discover some undiscovered depths of character.

Next is The Bellova Devil by Alan Barnes, again directed by Lisa Bowerman with Jago & Litefoot on the trail of the walking dead, or a man who appears to have died twice. I confess I am still struggling with Alan Barnes' stories for Big Finish and this was probable the least enjoyable of the four tales but it does provide hints as to the true villain of the first season.

The Spirit Trap by Jonathan Morris is directed by John Ainsworth. What seems to be a straight forward investigation of a bogus spiritualist medium leads our heroes in to a much more sinister world where, in classic Whovian fashion, the paranormal is explained with some science fiction bad guys.

And finally the bad guy returns to haunt Jago and Litefoot in The Similarity Engine by Andy Lane, with Lisa Bowerman returning to directing duties. Possibly because it is the last and brings the developing plot threads together this was my favourite of the four. It also helps to have the multi-voiced talents of Toby Longworth on board.

To attempt the alliterative talents of Mr Henry Gordon Jago this set is fairly full of fantastic, phantasmagoria! The shorter stories really work well and Baxter and Benjamin are just a delight to listen to. I'm still committed to the main range of Doctor Who releases but Jago & Litefoot could possibly tempt me away. Some of the best stuff I have listened to recently. 4.5 out of 5 silver shillings for this set. And there's another four box sets in the series so far. Corks!

Big Finish - The Dalek Contract and

Two Big Finish stories from the Fourth Doctor Adventures range, The Dalek Contract and The Final Phase. Both written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

This is really a two part story for the Fourth Doctor and Romana as they deal with the consequences of a deal that the capitalist megalomaniac Cuthbert has made with the Daleks. And when have the Daleks ever kept their word?

There is something very nostalgic about the Big Finish Fourth Doctor adventures. They have deliberately set out to recreate the feel of the late 1970s in these stories and it is all rather charming. Alistair Lock's music seems to catch this mood perfectly and really stood out as a great example of what Big Finish do so well. Obviously Tom Baker is on cracking form and John Leeson is in there as K-9 as well. David Warner brings a robust Northern accent to the part of Cuthbert and is a delight, as is long time Doctor Who fan Toby Hadoke. But these stories really belong to the late Mary Tamm who plays Romana for the last time ever. She is so good and it is almost painfully sad to listen to them knowing that she was not very well at the time, and that this is her last work on Doctor Who.

I bought these stories because Nicholas Briggs recorded some crowd noise during a live podcast at Big Finish day 3 and my voice is in there somewhere in the background. The Dalek Contract part two, track five in case you're interested. But these are two terrific Dalek stories tinged with the melancholy that has affected the Who universe recently as we have lost so many of the companions from the classic series.

Four out of five mechanical Mutts and farewell to Romana One.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Big Finish - Judge Dredd: War Crimes

Next up in the Big Finish's 2000AD line is War Crimes by David Bishop, directed by John Ainsworth.

Dredd is a prisoner and facing some pretty gruesome interrogation techniques with electric wires connected straight into his nervous system. At first the identity of his questioner is concealed but it soon becomes clear that he is been held to task for his actions in The Apocalypse War when he pushed the button that wiped out East Meg One. However there are some twists and turns along the way, if Dredd can survive the torture long enough.

Interestingly there are some parallels between this story and current events in the comic book where Dredd is being held responsible for the latest disaster to strike Mega-City One, the Day of Chaos. In both cases blaming Dredd makes little sense, and certainly if the Council of Five has followed his advice early on then Chaos Day at least could have been avoided.

So this audio drama is basically a two hander between Toby Longworth and Caroline Burns Cooke as the interrogator, Isaacs, and they do a pretty good job of keeping the tension up and driving the story on. As we would expect Dredd is fairly tough in the torturer's chair. And once the twists start to be revealed it all moves along to a pretty nifty conclusion.

Having a Big Finish story that ties into so many of 2000AD's epic adventures is great fun and the two actors completely sold me on their characters. A very decent 4 out of 5 missile launch buttons. Next in the 2000AD line will be For King and Country.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Big Finish - The Justice of Jalxar

From the Fourth Doctor series here is The Justice of Jalxar by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley.

The Doctor and Romana arrive in Victorian London on the trail of a crashed alien spaceship but they need some local knowledge. And who better to turn to than the Doctor's acquaintances from a previous adventure, Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago. There are a number of strange murders to solve, and there is the mysterious figure of The Pugilist, who appears out of nowhere to fight his one man war on crime and wrong-doers.

Corks! This was simply splendid. With witty nods to superhero stories, the steampunk genre, a Victorian version of the X-Files and even a Taxi Driver joke, John Dorney has delivered a fantastic script which showcases Big Finish at its finest. The performances are top notch with the remarkable Christopher Benjamin stealing the show as Jago, although Tom Baker, Trevor Baxter and the late Mary Tamm give him a run for his money. The sound design, the music and special effects and even the cover art are fantastic, and this two part story really cracks along,

I may have a problem here. I'm trying to stick to the main range Doctor Who releases, but there's also the upcoming Sherlock Holmes stories, and now there's the Fourth Doctor series and the temptation of all the Jago & Litefoot material which I haven't even touched on. Balancing this budget could get tricky.

Anyway, leaving those purchasing dilemmas aside this was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 5 out of 5 steam powered robots. Only the eighth Big Finish story to get that top score from me. Corks!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Big Finish - Industrial Evolution

Release number 145 from back in March 2011, Industrial Evolution by Eddie Robson, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe take Thomas Brewster back to Victorian England, find him a job, and then hang around to see that he settles in. But there is something mysterious lurking in the cellars below the factory and it is growing in power and malevolence.

Industrial Evolution is a good steampunk story that suits the Sixth Doctor rather well. It also harks back to some of the classic adventures from the 1970s. It could almost have been written by Robert Holmes, which is high praise indeed. It's my favourite of the Thomas Brewster stories so far and it has that terrific Sixey-Smythe combination going for it as well. Strange and sad that it is the last story with either companion that we are likely to have.

One observation: The Doctor's adventures on Earth must now number in the hundreds, in all the various formats over the years. So it does rather strain credulity that stories like this one have not affected human history. Obviously this is one of the concessions we make when we suspend our disbelief, but it does make me wonder whether there is some hidden force in the Doctor Who-nverse that goes around tidying up after his exploits. Maybe that was one of the things that The Silence did while they controlled history.

Anyway a terrific story, great performances, rather good music, and a creepy, clanking creature of cogs and steam. 4 out of 5 Victorian top hats off.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big Finish - The Feast of Axos

The Feast of Axos by Mike Maddox, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

Continuing the arc of stories featuring the Sixth Doctor, Evelyn Smythe and Thomas Brewster. This harks back to an adventure from the Third Doctor's time on television. The space parasite Axos was left deactivated in orbit around the Earth by the Doctor, but now humanity is facing a power crisis and have sent up a mission to restart Axos and harness its power for Earth. Well we know that's not going to go well don't we?

The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn continue to be one of my favourite Big Finish combinations. It seems that the grumpy Doctor meets his match with an older, no-nonsense companion. I just love a Dr Smythe story, her brief but eventful space walk is a highlight of this audio drama. Sadly Maggie Stables is not very well at the present so we may not get any more stories with her. I shall have to look at the back catalogue and see if I have missed any of her adventures while hoping that Ms Stables feels better soon.

On the other hand I am still unsure about Thomas Brewster. John Pickard's performance is fine but for some reason the character does nothing for me. He's just there and I could take him or leave him. Maybe I will be more convinced by Industrial Evolution.

The rest of the production is pretty good and it was nice to see a France space mission depicted as brave and resourceful for a change. But, apart from the Evelyn scenes this story didn't do a great deal for me. Middle of the road 2.5 out of 5 claws of Axos for this one.