Monday, December 31, 2012

Big Finish - Night of the Stormcrow

Subscribers get more at Big Finish and this Christmas the bonus release was Night of the Stormcrow, written by Marc Platt and directed by Nicholas Briggs. At the moment it is only available with a subscription and won't be available to buy for another year.

The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive at a remote observatory on Mount McKerry. The Tardis has misbehaved and this seems to be related to a power surge that has damaged the astronomers' instruments. The clue to the mystery may be a strange signal that the scientists were scanning before all their equipment failed. Have they discovered a new life form? Or has it discovered them?

This is classic Doctor Who territory. A remote base in peril, a group of scientists who are pushing things a bit far, some lurking danger outside, and a splendidly eccentric Doctor who wades into the middle of things with scarf and teeth flowing in the wind. The first act of this two part story is wonderfully creepy as something dark and nasty starts to pick off members of the group. I was reminded of Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape which has the same mixture of old and new, and science coming up against an ancient evil which it believes it can control until events spiral out of control.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are on top form and are ably matched by Ann Bell, and by another Big Finish appearance from Chase Masterson. Both of them play characters who are not completely sympathetic  but whose actions are understandable. Their scientific curiosity drives them towards things they don't comprehend and it may be asking too much for even the Doctor to save them.

After a sinister and compelling first part the second chapter has a lot to live up to and perhaps inevitably it falls short as Marc Platt has to explain what is going on and provide some resolution. The air of menace from earlier is dispelled by some of the techno-babble. It's not bad and the music and sound design by Jamie Robertson are fantastic, but it doesn't quite reach the five star standard set by the opening.

Let's give it 4 out of 5 Janus thorns and applaud Big Finish for such a high standard in its recent releases.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Big Finish - 1001 Nights

The latest Big Finish monthly release is 1001 Nights by Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie, Jonathan Barnes, Catherine Harvey. Directed by Barnaby Edwards.

This is one of Big Finish's releases which features four single stories. However this time they are linked by a back story which places Nyssa in the role of Scheherazade telling the stories to entertain a bored Sultan while the Doctor languishes in the palace dungeons. And there are stories within the stories and a deeper fiction which will be resolved by the end of the tale. The Doctor himself is involved in an escape attempt which reminded me of the Count of Monte Cristo.

Unfortunately the four stories in one format doesn't quite work for me. I have grown used to the four act structure of the monthly releases. There is nothing wrong with any of the adventures that Nyssa relates to the Sultan, they just seemed a bit short and inconsequential. The first is a variant of the Prisoner's Dilemma, the next puts Nyssa in a Victorian version of the Exorcist, and the last story does that inn at the end of the world where stories are currency that Neil Gaiman and others have covered in comics. I am getting quite picky about these audio dramas aren't I?

On the plus side Sarah Sutton is much better than she was in Castle of Fear, I could listen to Peter Davison's Doctor nearly all day, and Alexander Siddig and Nadim Sawalha have excellent voices. The music and sound design by Jamie Robertson are very good, particularly in the dungeons with the incarcerated Doctor scratching at walls and shifting large stones.

December is turning out to be a packed month of releases for Big Finish and I suspect most of the others are going to overshadow this one. Fairly middle of the road so 2.5 out of 5 regenerations.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Big Finish - Wreck of the Titan

The second story in the Jamie trilogy, 134 - Wreck of the Titan. Written and directed by Barnaby Edwards.

The Doctor decides to give Jamie a trip on the Queen Mary but his navigational skills seem to have betrayed him again and they end up on the Titanic. As they struggle to get off the ship before the Iceberg strikes, reality shifts around them and they find another doomed vessel, the Titan from the novel Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. As the world of fiction bleeds over into the real the Doctor and Jamie struggle to uncover the true villain behind all of this.

Sounds great doesn't it? Add in the submarine Nautilus from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and this should be a recipe for a great adventure but it left me rather perplexed. Part of the problem may be the character of Captain Nemo. After his strong portrayal in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels I was expecting something similar here. However, at one point somebody says "Captain Nemo? What a disappointment", and that was how I felt. He seemed a rather anonymous nobody, although that does fit with his name.

At least the Doctor and Jamie are forming a good relationship, although the 18th century Highlander still seems to be too much at ease with all the technology he encounters. This was similar to the issue I had with Charley Pollard in Sword of Orion, the plot requires that the companion be fully immersed in the Doctor's world right from the start and we don't see any of the future shock that might actually happen.

The rest of the cast just passed my by apart from one dodgy accent which stood out for the wrong reasons. At least it all sounds very good and the music and post-production by Howard Carter are great. A middling 2.5 out of 5 Giant Squids for Wreck of the Titan.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Big Finish - City of Spires

Big Finish release 133 - City of Spires by Simon Bovey, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Sixth Doctor visits the highlands of Scotland and finds himself in the middle of a battle between English Redcoats and Black Donald's Highlanders. Except Black Donald turns out to be Jamie McGrimmon who travelled with the Second Doctor and whose memory was wiped by the Time Lords at the end of the War Games. Something very strange and anachronistic is happening and the Doctor must discover who is the mysterious Overlord and why he is pumping oil from wells at least 100 years before the industrial revolution.

Phew! This is more like it. It is not an absolute classic but it felt reassuringly more like the norm for Big Finish Doctor Who. Colin Baker gives us a good Sixth Doctor, and it was great to hear Frazer Hines as no older Jamie who has no idea why this strange traveller knows so much about him. Their double act is impressive and one of the best things in this story. Perhaps Jamie adapts too quickly to all the time travel and technology stuff but the story sort of demands it, and there is a suggestion that Jamie's previous experiences are starting to come back to him.

There is also a bit too much of that standard trope of capture, escape and then recapture, but that is classic Doctor Who and I can forgive them that for now. I was slightly confused by all the different time periods in this story but that may be explained in the next two parts of this Jamie trilogy. As will the big villain behind all this. For the moment the monsters in this story had a suitably creepy voice, and all the actors were pretty good.

A quick enjoyable story which gets a just above average 3 out of 5 Dirks from me.

Big Finish - Castle of Fear

Big Finish monthly release 127 - Castle of Fear by Alan Barnes, directed by Barnaby Edwards.

After the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa encounter a traditional Mummers play in 1899 they travel back to Stockbridge in 1199 to discover why the Doctor himself has become part of the George and the Dragon story. And to solve the mystery of the Castle of Fear itself.

Oh dear, oh dear. What a disappointment. The title itself had me excited, Castle of Fear is just a brilliant name for a Doctor Who story, and written by Alan Barnes himself. I was really looking forward to something spooky and unsettling, but instead I heard a weak attempt at recreating the humour of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There are puns, strange bits of word play, silly accents and scenes and lines that are either a knowing homage, or just a straight steal from the film. None of it worked for me I'm afraid. I once had the misfortune of getting stuck on a school bus next to someone who recited entire Monty Python sketches to me word for word, and this reminded me of that long and painful journey. The original sketches and films are indeed funny, but don't try to recreate them. They are what they are and any attempt to copy them has to be extremely good or it falls flat.

Apart from the title and the cover image I cannot find anything good to say about this one. Peter Davison is his usual amiable self but Sarah Sutton seems wooden and the rest of the cast just ham it up. John Sessions is in there and his performance is even more bizarre than anything he did in Gormenghast. Oh, it was all disappointing. Maybe Alan Barnes is better as a script editor.

Shudder. My current favourite Big Finish Doctor gets a mere 1 out of 5 electric knights. Here's hoping that the Sixth and Jamie can restore my faith.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Big Finish - Blue Forgotten Planet

From September 2009 comes the main range monthly release number 126 Blue Forgotten Planet, written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard arrive on Earth but all is, as ever, not well. A documentary film team may hold the solution to a terrible sickness that plagues the last humans, and the mysterious Viyrans are back with a deadly plan of their own. The Doctor will need all his wits about him to get through this, and what will be the final fate of Charley?

This is a bit like reviewing the final chapter of Great Expectations without having read the rest of the book first. The rather nifty companions search function at the Big Finish website tells me that there are 34 titles featuring Charley Pollard, and I have only listened to a handful of them. Which is a shame because I like the character and love India Fisher's feisty performances. And here is her last appearance and she bows out with grace and characteristic courage.

Whether this is a fitting adventure for her final Tardis journey is perhaps beyond my critical faculties. It is clearly the conclusion of something which has been building up for some time but it all left me feeling a bit puzzled. And I can't make up mind about the Viyrans who seem to switch between behind the scenes benevolence and direct menacing villainy. I know that they were created by a very young Nicholas Briggs and I'm a big fan of his, also it's good for Big Finish to have their very own monsters to add to the Doctor Who bestiary.

I suspect that this was a story that meant quite a lot to regular listeners at the time so I'm going to limit my comments and give it a middle of the road 3 out of 5 question marked collars.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Big Finish - Death Trap

Getting these slightly out of order but the second 2000AD release from Big Finish was Judge Dredd: Death Trap, written by David Bishop and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

As Mega-City One is commemorating the twelfth anniversary of the events of Necropolis Dredd makes as annual visit to check that his nemesis Judge Death is still safely imprisoned. Meanwhile Amy Steel is investigating the actions of a cult of Death's followers who are campaigning for the fiend's release.

Now this adventure is much better. Dredd's encounter with his infamous enemy in the iso-cubes is fantastic. That "geek made good" Mark Gatiss plays Judge Dredd with sibilant relish, and their meeting has a real Hannibal Lector feel to it. There are also nice little comic cameos from Walter the Wobot and Mrs Gunderson, both of whom are characters from the comics. Having Death locked up in maximum security does rather limit where the story can go, so no great surprise when he escapes to wreak havoc in MC1 all over again.

David Bishop has a nice feel for that balance of action and humour that characterises the best of 2000AD. I'm looking forward to his other stories in this series. Longworth, Gatiss, Buckfield and Reagan all give great performances and the whole thing cracks along nicely. Death Trap just edges out the Simon Pegg Johnny Alpha adventures as my favourite of the Big Finish 2000AD stories so far. 4.5 out of 5 suction traps.

Big Finish - The Killing Zone

The fourth 2000AD release from Big Finish, back in 2002, was Judge Dredd: The Killing Zone. Written by Dave Stone and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

Dredd investigates a secret underground killing game that has become an internet and gambling sensation in Mega-City One. To find those responsible he will have to team up with an undercover member of the  "Wally Squad" and a rogue Psi-Judge. And it won't come as too much of a surprise to learn that Dredd will eventually end up in the Killing Zone himself, although strangely that is a sequence that doesn't work very well in a radio play.

This one didn't engage me as much as the opener Wanted: Dredd or Alive. Amy Steel is absent and Judges Traven and Janus seem less interesting by comparison  Fortunately Toby Longworth is as good as ever and I enjoyed Regina Reagan as the newscaster Enigma Smith, who is a regular in these stories and again helps to fill in the background for listeners unused to the comics. Dredd descending into the Killing Zone would work well in comic format, and there is a similar storyline going on in the Megazine at the moment, but in an audio drama it is just a series of bangs and crashes with little idea what is actually going on.

It all ends fairly abruptly with a bit of a cliffhanger that won't pay off until the twelfth release War Planet, and it seemed rather short. Just 2.5 out of 5 belt pouches and onwards to Death Trap.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big Finish - The Chaos Pool

Released in March 2009 the final part of the Key 2 Time trilogy was The Chaos Pool, written by Peter Anghelides and directed again by Lisa Bowerman.

There's a spaceship crewed by evolved and highly aggressive Slugs. On another ship there is a President who looks and sounds just like Romana but isn't. The Doctor has two companions now called Amy and Zara, or possibly just one of them at a time. There's a weird old professor who spends a lot of time moaning about his hip. And somewhere in the middle of all this confusion there is a satchel holding the parts of the Key, and something called the Chaos Pool which may end the Universe, or save it, or something. I wasn't really paying attention was I?

Good points first: Amy is more interesting in this one, as is her evil twin Zara. Peter Davison sounds like he is having fun, Lalla Ward does good voice acting for someone who is more or less retired, and Toby Longworth does great monster voices. But I was not really engaged with the story or bothered about the outcome.

I prefer my Doctor Who stories on a slightly smaller scale with more human consequences from the action. If there could be some spooky stuff as well, or a good monster, then so much the better. These bigger stories with some cosmic quest and nearly invulnerable super-beings arguing about an artefact that does everything or nothing just don't grab me. It would be interesting to go back to the Big Finish forums and try and dig up the thread about these stories when they first came out. I know a lot of Doctor Who fans love stuff like this and I would like to read what they said at the time. I still consider myself somewhat of an outsider looking in at the Doctor Who universe, although I am getting pretty well versed in the Big Finish stuff. But I have seen so few of the original serials, and can't really remember the ones I watched in the 1970s that I still feel like a bit of a newbie here. And some of my views are clearly out of step with the majority. Love and War got rave reviews from just about everyone but I hated it.

2 out of 5 pools of chaos for this story. My decision not to buy Unit: Dominion is looking more and more dodgy. I may crack in the New year. Now I need something to cleanse my palate and relight my listening pleasure.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Big Finish - The Destroyer of Delights

Second in the Key 2 Time series is The Destroyer of Delights, written by Jonathan Clements and directed by Big Finish's very own Lisa Bowerman.

Continuing their quest for the missing segments of the Key Amy and the Fifth Doctor find themselves in 9th century Sudan and caught up in a battle between Lord Cassim and the Caliph. Plus there is the almost inevitable crashed spaceship and the beginnings of several legends from the Arabian Nights including blue skinned Genies, caves of wonders and magic words which open doors. And somewhere in all of this are both the Black and the White Guardians who both want the key for themselves.

Hmmm. I'm not sure this is the series for me. I do like Peter Davison's Doctor and he almost matches Paul McGann for his naturalistic radio performances. David Troughton and Jason Watkins have great fun as the two Guardians, they inject a great deal of comedy into their parts. They are both good British character actors and it is particularly nice to hear the son of Patrick Troughton in a Doctor Who adventure.

But apart from that there wasn't much for me here. I was especially bothered by the scripting for Amy who is a constructed person with little character as yet. Unfortunately this gives us a rather flat emotionless performance  I look to the Doctor's companions for some normal reactions to the madness around them, and for some decent character development. Big Finish have done this so well with Evelyn Smythe, Hex, Charley  Pollard and many others. So this was a real disappointment. Maybe they will let her develop a bit of a personality in the third episode.

I am also bothered that every famous work of fiction in the history of Earth turns out to have been influenced by the Doctor and a conveniently new Alien race. Could we have a few more historicals like the Marian Conspiracy where the Doctor has to deal with the locals and not another random race from space?

Slightly better than The Judgement of Isskar so a middling 2.5 out 5 ( or maybe that should be 40?) thieves.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big Finish - Paper Cuts

I've got a lot of past Big Finish releases to catch up on. Here is Paper Cuts, written by Marc Platt and directed by Nicholas Briggs, all the way back from September 2009.

The Doctor and Charley answer a summons from his old friend the Draconian Emperor, but their timing may be a bit off as the Emperor is dead and the battle for succession is taking place on board a floating space tomb. The Sixth Doctor has to put aside the mystery of Charley's identity because an army of Origami paper warriors are hacking their way in.

I like the Draconians, a race of reptilian space warriors whose culture is based on Japanese samurai, and the idea of a folded paper army was quite fun. It works well as an audio drama but might be a bit hard to pull off on television. After the disappointment of the first instalment of the Key 2 Time series I was hoping for a more straight forward romp and this was not too bad. It mixed a political intrigue with a classic base in peril scenario to good effect, although the rapid jumps from one aspect of the story to the other was a little jarring at times.

The other thing that jarred a bit was Colin Baker's performance. This story asks a lot of his Doctor and some of his outbursts and exclamations seemed unusually forced. Normally he is very good indeed, maybe he was having an off day. Or maybe it is that the other actors are all a little flat as well. There was nothing terrible but it just didn't stand out for me.

A solid middle of the road 3 out of 5 Origami warriors for Paper Cuts.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Big Finish - The Judgement of Isskar

Back catalogue time again as I start on the Key 2 Time series from Big Finish. First up from January 2009 is The Judgement of Isskar by Simon Guerrier, directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery.

Some background information for me as much as anything. The original Key to Time was a story arc that linked six serials featuring the Fourth Doctor on television in the late 1970s. The Key itself is an artefact that stabilises the Universe but can also destroy it. The hunt for the pieces of this powerful cube involved the Doctor going up against representatives of order and chaos known, respectively, as the White and Black Guardians.

Big Finish returns to that story in this Key 2 Time series, and that numeral 2 is deliberate. The Fifth Doctor is on Mars with a new companion, a young woman called Amy who also seems to be a form of tracking device for pieces of the Key. Their hunt across time and space brings them into contact, and conflict, with the creatures who will go on to become the Ice Warriors of Mars.

Now I love the Ice Warriors and their creepy, whispering voices. This was the first Big Finish story I have listened to that features them so I was quite excited by the prospect. And that's the problem, I should stop getting my hopes up too high for some of these adventures because this just seemed like a confused mess to me. I couldn't understand why the Doctor was so quick to abandon looking for Peri at the start of the story and happily head off with Amy on the hunt for the missing pieces which his earlier self had deliberately scattered across time and space. On top of this the goodies and baddies kept changing, I didn't warm to the character of Amy at all, and all the female actors sounded the same to me. The only plus points were Nicholas Briggs' marvellous Ice Warrior voices, and the cheerful enthusiasm of Peter Davison during the CD extras interviews.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about jumping on points for Big Finish, well this is not one of them. Hopefully the rest of the series will get me back on track and explain what is going on, but at the moment the Key 2 time leaves me puzzled and as cold as an Ice Warrior's breath.
2 out of 5 Cosmic cubes I'm afraid.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bond Under Covers

A quick word about the cover images I am using to illustrate my posts about the Bond novels. I've chosen my favourite paperback editions, the iconic Pan covers which were designed by Raymond Hawkey, who also did the famous covers for the Harry Palmer novels by Len Deighton.

There are a host of sites devoted to the various editions of Fleming's novels. For me it is these colourful but understated covers for the Pan editions that stand out. They were the face of the Bond books at the peak of his popularity in the 60s. At the moment I have collected seven of the fifteen and continue to scour second hand book stalls for the rest. Beautiful things.

James Bond - Goldfinger

Back to the complete Bond-thru with the seventh book, Goldfinger from 1959.

M assigns 007 to investigate the gold smuggling activities of one of Fleming's best villains, Auric Goldfinger. Before long Bond is catching him cheating at cards, beating him in a memorable golf match, and coming up against the definitive henchman, Oddjob.

This is Fleming at the height of his powers and of the Bond novel's popularity. The format is well established: we get not one but two sporting encounters, some racy Bond girls including Pussy Galore, and Bond is strapped to the table to be tortured with a circular saw (it was changed to the Laser for the movie version). There is quit a lot of dialogue to wad through with lengthy exchanges between Bond and Goldfinger, but these do include my favourite lines from any of the novels when Goldfinger declares: "Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

Having acquired his signature weapon in the last book Bond changes his Bentley for the famous Aston Martin in this one. Not that he gets to use either the gun or the car very much as once again he has to rely on his wits and his physical resilience to get him out of trouble. It's another cracking example of the 007 books, perhaps the best section is the golf match with Fleming demonstrating his knowledge of the intricacies, and the dirty tricks, of the game.

One memorable villain, no medical conditions (other than his lust for gold), one nasty henchman, several Bond girls, two sporting encounters and one torture scene. All this plus death by gold paint!

James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Big Finish - Wanted: Dredd or Alive

From all the way back in March 2002 comes the first of Big Finish's 2000AD audio dramas. Wanted: Dredd or Alive by David Bishop, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Judges of Mega-City One are trying to deal with a deadly crime syndicate but Judge Dredd seems to be suffering the effects of something called Sleep Machine Psychosis and is going off the rails in a big way. Meanwhile a new batch of cadets are coming out of the Academy of Law and must face their final assessment on those mean streets as they try to earn their full Eagle badge.

As Big Finish brought 2000AD into their range of licensed audio dramas they needed a story that could introduce listeners to the world of Dredd. David Bishop uses the reasonably familiar device of a new character, British rookie Judge Amy Steel, who can guide us through the bizarre world of Mega-City One. She doesn't appear in the comics so she follows in the Big Finish tradition of introducing new companions and supporting characters for their Doctor Who adventures. Claire Buckfield plays her with gusto and a nice rebellious streak.

Meanwhile Toby Longworth gives us his first performance as Dredd and straight away he just fills the green boots as if he had been playing the part for many years already. If you are a 2000AD reader and listen to the Everything Comes Back to 2000AD podcast then you will recognise their opening clip of Dredd's voice which is taken from this audio adventure.

It's not a perfect story possibly because it has so much back story to get over. If you are familiar with the comic then you may find some of this boring, and it is pretty obvious what Dredd is up to as he appears to go rogue. But it's not a bad introductory piece, and it does feature brief appearances from Chief Judge Hershey and Max Normal. All this and it is available for free on the BBC site. 3 out of 5 Lawgivers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Big Finish - The Shadow Heart

The latest main range monthly release is The Shadow Heart, written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Ken Bentley.

The conclusion to the Drashani trilogy arrives and it is time for the Seventh Doctor to return and face the consequences of the actions of his earlier selves. In the last episode the monsters from The Burning Prince, the Wrath, were transformed into an intergalactic police force, but their programming seems to have gone wrong and now they are at war with the Earth empire. Meanwhile there is a price on the Doctor's head and he has to face the music for what he has wrought.

This is a big story that leaps from one world to another. Along the way it involves some roguish scrap traders, a heroic starship crew and a giant space snail! And on top of this it introduces the impossibly glamorous mercenary Vienna Salvatori, played by Chase Masterston, who is set to get her own spin off story. Several of the actors return from the previous episodes and there isn't a dud performance to worry about. It does sound like they all had a lot of fun recording this story. The production hits the usual high standards of Big Finish  I think I preferred the music in The Acheron Pulse but otherwise this story has the slight edge. It never quite hits the frenetic heights of The Burning Prince but not many stories do.

4 out of 5 astronomical ammonites for The Shadow Heart.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Big Finish - Patient Zero

Digging through the Big Finish back catalogue brings me to Patient Zero from August 2009. Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs with yet more Daleks!

The Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard arrive in the mysterious Amethyst Viral Containment station, and their timing is not great because the Daleks are on their way. On top of that the Tardis seems to have picked up a stowaway, and then there are the enigmatic Viyrans. It's quite a heady mix for the Doctor who is also trying to solve the riddle of Charley's true identity.

Listening to two Dalek stories in a row was tempting fate for a disappointment but this was actually very good. Trying to figure out what is going on with Charley suits the Sixth Doctor's somewhat abrasive demeanour. And while he is kept busy by the Daleks and Viyrans, and has to ensure that a host of deadly viruses are not released on an unsuspecting universe, his enquiring mind means that things are set up quite nicely by the end of this story. The mystery continues and I look forward to the next instalment.

I have temporarily run out of superlatives for Nick Briggs' performances as the Daleks. I presume he does the Viyran voices as well, and they are equally impressive. Colin Baker and India Fisher spark off each other nicely, and the cast is rounded out with enjoyable turns by Michael Maloney and Jess Robinson.

It seemed like a short story after the sprawling epics of Love and War and Dark Eyes but I enjoyed it. A shorter review and a score of 3.5 out of 5 viral nasties.

Big Finish - Dark Eyes

The Eighth Doctor returns in Big Finish's latest special release box set - Dark Eyes, written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The Doctor arrives in the middle of a World War One gas attack. As ever all is not as it seems and soon he and a young Irish volunteer nurse called Molly O'Sullivan are on the run across space and time, pursued by the implacable Daleks, and trying to unravel a strange plot involving another rogue Time Lord.

Phew! After the disappointment of Love and War I really needed a good Big Finish story to restore my faith. Thankfully Dark Eyes delivers. It helps that it mainly focuses on the Doctor and Molly and their headlong dash across the universe. There is some back story involving the Time Lords but the story doesn't try to cover too many different plot strands. And, of course, it has the Daleks in it, which is almost guaranteed to keep me entertained.

Paul McGann continues to impress me with his natural performance as the Doctor. Ruth Bradley is nicely feisty as Molly and I liked the way she refers to our hero as "THE Doctor", and the Tardis as his "Tardy-box". Peter Egan and Toby Jones are great actors with fantastic voices and I hope they do more Big Finish stories in the future. Having recently watched some classic Doctor Who I know that the original Dalek voices were not as good as I remember them, but Nicholas Briggs makes them sound like they do in my memories, mechanical and menacing.

I had one or two reservations about the scripting of Molly in the first episode where there were a few too many Irish colloquialisms used just to make sure we knew she was a working class Irish chambermaid. I was worried that she was going to say "to be sure" at the end of every sentence but fortunately this settles down as the pace of the story picks up. The background noises and special effects were top notch, and the CD extras were much more interesting than Love and War, although they did include another Big Finish lunch anecdote.

Despite my minor quibbles this is a fantastic adventure which justifies the special release tag. 4.5 out of 5 steampunk screwdrivers. Recommended.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Big Finish - Love and War

Hot off the presses this month is the long awaited Big Finish adaptation of Paul Cornell's Love and War.

There is an awful lot happening on a planet called Heaven. The Seventh Doctor is looking for a mysterious book, Ace is off falling in love, there's the strange Church of the Vacuum, some adventures in cyberspace, an evil fungal menace, and finally an attack of the Zombies! All this and the first appearance of Professor Bernice Summerfield. When Paul Cornell wrote the original novel for the Virgin New Adventures line back in 1992 "Bennie" Summerfield was introduced as a new companion for the Doctor, and over the years she has gone on to be an extremely popular character. She is a template for the success that Big Finish has had with introducing other companions such as Evelyn Smythe, Charlie Pollard and Lucie Miller. Summerfield also predates Lara Croft as an adventurous female archaeologist, which leads to a little in-joke in this production when she refers to herself as a "Tomb Raider".

I am a big fan of Paul Cornell's writing, particularly his work on Captain Britain, and the episodes he has written for new Doctor Who. I haven't read the original novel so I was really looking forward to this production which has been adapted by Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Gary Russell. It comes on three CDs with the third disc featuring a couple of prelude pieces and lots of interviews with all the people involved. The story itself is split into two acts on the first two CDs. I did miss the usual four act structure with the episode ending leading straight into the musical scream of the theme tune, but that is just a minor niggle.

Instead let me start with some positives. Lisa Bowerman just inhabits the role of Bennie Summerfield. She has played the part for so long that it is difficult to imagine anyone else doing it. She also directs for Big Finish and she may even have written for them although the search function on their website makes it difficult to tell. Anyway, she has a long association with both the character and Big Finish, and she is very good here. The other actor who stands out in this story is Sophie Aldred. I confess that I have had problems with a few of her previous performances. She occasionally does that thing of hitting her lines a bit too quickly without giving her character the time to react to what has just been said. It makes the script sound more like a reading than an audio drama and it is something I have complained about before. I suspect that it is just one of those things that my ears are sensitive to. However, here she does a marvellous job as the younger version of Ace, the one from the television stories of the 1980s. She manages that actor's trick of making her voice sound young again in much the same way that Louise Jameson has been doing as Leela in her Big Finish stories. I didn't quite believe Ace's love story with Jan but that is more to do with the script than with Aldred's performance, which is very good.

And I'm afraid that is about it for the positives. I did enjoy the monster voices but apart from that this was a disappointment. Part of the problem was the weight of expectation. On top of that there was just too much going on and too many plot lines. Just when I was getting into the story of the Doctor and Bennie it switched to Ace and Jan, or into Cyberspace with a strange character called Christopher, or sitting around a camp-fire with a group of new age, Dalek killing travellers. Meanwhile the bad guys are doing whatever the bad guys do. And at the end the Seventh Doctor, the master manipulator, the Trickster God does ... well, he does something. I am not sure what it was but he wins, and everybody who is still alive gets a sort of happy ending and quite frankly I was bored.

Even the extra features were a let down. This may come across as bit of a jaded review but I am getting a little tired of hearing the actors talking about how everyone they work with is "lovely". I wanted to hear more about the story and the novel, or more about Professor Summerfield. They do sort of get to that eventually but first they have to remind us of how "lovely" it was, and how much fun they all had together, and what a splendid lunch Big Finish lays on.

It is strange that some of the Big Finish special releases that I have looked forward to hearing turn out to be a bit of a disappointment like Zagreus. And then something unexpected like The Burning Prince or Voyage to Venus can come along and really surprise me. As I said earlier it is the high hopes that may be the problem for me. Love and War gets a miserable 1 out of 5 fungal spores. My lowest mark yet. I hear good things about the new Unit: Dominion stories, maybe I should have gone for them instead?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Big Finish - Voyage to Venus

A bit of a bonus from Big Finish in the shape of a special release featuring the Sixth Doctor, and Messrs Jago and Litefoot in Voyage to Venus. And it's available to download for only £1!

It's embarrassing confession time again. I still haven't seen The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I know! I am going directly to Amazon and placing it on my wish list as soon as I have finished this review. Anyway here are two characters from that story that have spun off into some successful adventures with Big Finish. Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago are a pair of remarkable Victorian gentlemen played with considerable relish by Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin respectively. Having previously encountered the Fourth Doctor here they are with number six and stepping into the Tardis for the first time. Before they can make the usual exclamations he has whisked them off to the far future when Earth is a dead planet and humans have settled on Venus. As ever there are strange events and a mystery, which our heroes can only solve with a fine bit of showmanship which links back to the Third Doctor and his adventures on Peladon.

Jago and Litefoot are very popular characters with Big Finish listeners and this is really their adventure. The Doctor is almost playing their companion, albeit one who can control their means of transport and offer them vital clues at critical moments. Baxter and Benjamin both have marvellous theatrical voices and use them to good effect both in the story and in the interview special features. I also enjoyed the touches of Victorian Imperialism and the use of Venus as their destination which reminded me of the science fiction of  H.G.Wells.

It's a short story which I listened to on download. I presume it is a single CD release which makes it the equivalent of a two part story. However it is the most entertaining Big Finish I have listened to since The Burning Prince. A very cheerful palate cleanser which gets 4 out of 5 Perigosto sticks. Now I really must start the Key 2 Time.

Big Finish - Fire from Heaven

Another 2000AD adventure from Big Finish - Fire from Heaven by Jonathan Clements, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

Johnny Alpha, Wulf and Middenface McNulty are on the trail of fugitive conman Oswald Mega, who is passing himself off as a prophet on a backwater planet. The bounty hunters are on their way but Mega has persuaded the locals that they are demons who must be destroyed at all costs.

I recorded this story from the BBC site using freecorder (ahem) and was glad to hear it again. There is some clever stuff involving time travel as a form of teleportation. Plus there are various bits of Strontium Dog kit which work with varying degrees of success, and the Gronk is in it, which is always fun. Pegg and Longworth are good as Alpha and Wulf but it's Mark McDonnell as McNulty who is the stand out in this adventure. Middenface McNulty has always been one of the more entertaining characters in the comics and his feisty Scottish humour comes out very well here with McDonnell giving a great performance.

Probably the best of the 2000AD adventures so far and you get listen to it for free at the BBC!

4 out of 5 Electronux and on to some more Judge Dredd.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Big Finish - The Acheron Pulse

Hot off the presses with Big Finish monthly release 166 - The Acheron Pulse by Rick Briggs, directed by Ken Bentley.

So I haven't really been paying attention. I raved about release 165 The Burning Prince partly because it worked so well as a stand alone story. In fact it would make a very good jumping on point if you want to get into some Big Finish. However, it turns out that was just the first part of a mini series involving three of the Doctors and the Drashani Empire, and here is SawbonesHex picking up events 30 years since his last encounter with them. The warring factions within the Empire have been brought together but are now threatened by the mysterious warlord, Tenebris, and his powerful alien army, the Wrath. The Doctor is destined for a battle of wills with the villainous Tenebris which may decide the fate of millions.

This was always going to be a tough sell after the heights of The Burning Prince. In fact most of my recent Big Finish listening has seemed a little disappointing in comparison. However, Colin Baker is always entertaining to listen to, and James Wilby makes a suitably menacing villain with a mechanically enhanced voice as Tenebris. There is a surprise reveal that happens fairly early on and is not too surprising. Perhaps more unusual was what Rick Briggs did with The Wrath at the end of the story, which nicely sets up what is to come with the third part of the trilogy.

The sound effects are the up to the usual high Big Finish standard and the incidental music has that nice Hitch-Hiker's Guide feel again. It's all pretty good and I didn't dislike it, I just wasn't as excited as I was during the previous adventure. 3.5 out of 5 new blue coats. Next up will be a Jago and Lightfoot adventure.

Living the Low Life

With Low Life currently running in 2000AD it was good timing to pick up the first two volumes of Mega-City Undercover in a Cardiff comic shop recently.

As the name suggests these stories are about plain-clothes Judges from the undercover Wally Squad. First up is Lenny Zero written by Andy Diggle with art by Jock. Zero is a fast talking, undercover cop mixed up in sting operation aimed at a powerful gangster. There is also an alien bounty hunter on the loose, and another Judge with a score to settle with Zero. It's all delivered at a frenetic pace with lots of cool one-liners and shoot outs. Imagine a 2000AD story filmed by Quentin Tarantino and you get the picture. Jock's artwork perfectly suits the tone of the story and his use of heavy black shadows is particularly atmospheric.

Next Rob Williams and Henry Flint bring us a group of undercover Judges in the roughest and most deprived area of Mega-City One, the Low Life of the title. From the fast Pulp Fiction feel of Lenny Zero the tone switches to Sci-Fi Noir. The lead character Judge Aimee Nixon is a punk rock heroine with a robotic arm, she reminds me of Halo Jones but with more more violence. Nixon has to find out who framed her for murder while trying to protect her fellow Wally squad Judges from a hired assassin.

Rob Williams gives us a dark and twisted story with a serious tone and it's beautifully illustrated by Henry Flint. Andy Diggle's introduction to the first volume discusses how the original idea for his story followed the suggestion that Frank Miller draw a cover for the Megazine. That cover never happened but it doesn't matter because here Flint seems to be channelling the very best aspects of Miller's artwork. Characters meet in darkened rooms, or on moon-lit rooftops, and wear long trench-coats that hark back to Ronin or the expressionist illustrations of Sin City. In fact I prefer Flint's work here to anything that Miller has done recently, these pages are just beautiful to look at. Later on Simon Coleby takes over as artist and does a very good job with a classic 2000AD look for his Low Life stories, but Henry Flint steals the show in Volume 1.

Volume 2 continues with Rob Williams' Low Life but the stories start to shift away from Aimee Nixon and bring one of the supporting characters to the forefront. Dirty Frank is a Wally squad Judge who has been undercover for so long that he has become somewhat eccentric. In fact Dirty Frank is barking mad, with very questionable hygiene, an interesting way of referring to himself in the third person, and a rather familiar appearance. Rob Williams states in his introduction to the Low Life stories that it was Henry Flint who decided to make Dirty Frank resemble comics' most infamous beardy-weirdy Alan Moore. The switch from Nixon to Frank allows Williams to write stories with more of the characteristic 2000AD dark humour that drives their best creations. In the first volume Williams has Aimee go undercover as a fattie in what is supposed to be a funny story but it doesn't seem to work the way Dirty Frank does. Aimee Nixon is best as a serious punk rock Noir heroine. It's Frank that allows Williams to inject some comedy into the Low Life.

The second volume begins with Nixon investigating corruption in a dock workers' union. It is illustrated by Rufus Dayglo and his work if perfectly good but I missed Henry Flint. Then one of my favourite 2000AD artists D'Israeli takes over for a Dirty Frank tale involving Yakuza gangsters, laser wielding Samurai, and giant robots! By this stage Rob Williams has nailed the character of Frank. He gives us that 2000AD humour while at the same time being an almost implacable force of nature who just drives on against the odds in much the same way that Dredd does. D'Israeli's illustrations are beautifully detailed and my only slight gripe with these two books is the fact that artwork has been shrunk down from the pages of the progs to the standard trade paperback size. This is most noticeable with the D'Israeli art where I am sure there are details I am missing on the smaller page.

I can't leave off without turning on my internal medic-droid and giving these stories a quick medical once over. Let's leave aside Dirty Frank's dubious personal habits, or the effects of the designer drug "Creation" which features in one of the stories, and instead look at Aimee's robotic arm. This makes her incredibly strong, particularly in the scene where she lifts a large dock-side container off a crushed worker. This raises the same problem that I always had with the Six Million Dollar Man, namely what is the arm attached to? Surely the arm can only be as strong as the body it is fiited to? When Aimee lifts that container all the pressure is being transmitted through her normal human body. Surely the robotic arm would rip off or she would collapse under the force, either way I am not sure a bionic arm would let her do what she is doing in this panel. Fortunately the rest of the stories don't rely on her arm to do anything too superhuman.

Medical nit-picks aside these are two terrific volumes of 2000AD goodness. They are currently dirt cheap on Amazon (other booksellers exist apparently) or in your local comic store (if you are lucky enough to have one). I can't quite decide whether I prefer the Dirty Frank stories or the earlier beautiful Noir artwork by Henry Flint, but either way these are must-read collections. And especially useful to help understand what is going on in current 2000AD story lines. A rousing 4 out of 5 stars for Mega-City Undercover. "Dirty Frank says check these volumes out or it's Bye-bye, Mr Teddy!"

Big Finish - Trapped on Titan

All the way back from September 2002 Trapped on Titan was written by Jonathan Clements and directed by John Ainsworth.

Dredd has to go undercover as a criminal on the penal colony on Jupiter's moon, Titan. He has had a face change procedure so none of the perps will recognise that distinctive chin, and so the writers can get round him not wearing his helmet. Titan, of course, has special significance for Dredd because it was where his clone brother Rico was sent after he became a corrupt Judge. And much of the plot centres around the prisoners searching for the mythical Rico's rock which is seen as their ticket back to Earth. Before that mystery can be solved we get plenty of prison drama as Dredd tries to fit in and survive in a tough jail.

Toby Longworth still provides the best voice of Dredd there is, and there is a nice turn by Nicola Bryant as Judge Mordin. I didn't see what was coming with this adventure but it is another shortish Big Finish drama and doesn't quite meet the high standards of the Johnny Alpha story so 3 out of 5 legal Eagles for Trapped on Titan. Now for the latest Doctor Who release.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

James Bond - Dr. No

The sixth 007 novel, Dr. No published in 1958.

Bond has recovered from his ordeal at the end of From Russia to Love and is sent to Jamaica to investigate a couple of missing persons connected to the secret service. Both M and Bond seem to regard it as a bit of a holiday assignment but before long 007 is sneaking onto Crab Key island and encountering both Honeychile Ryder and the infamous Dr. No.

It is fairly easy to see why they chose this one for the first film. Bond does a lot more than in Casino Royale, and, of course, there is some exotic travel, a creepy villain and the Bond girl to beat all Bond girls. 007 also receives his signature weapon in this book. Fleming, who confessed he knew nothing about guns, had received a letter from a firearms expert called Major Boothroyd who put him right about Bond's Beretta. Fleming rewarded his correspondent by having him appear as the armourer who suggests Bond switch away from this "ladies' gun" to the more powerful and reliable Walther PPK. Not that Bond gets to fire it, he does use a Smith & Wesson .38 against Dr. No's dragon vehicle but with little effect. Bond's personal friends continue to do badly and the loyal Quarrel dies horribly when their plan to disable the dragon fails.

After this setback we get a memorable encounter with the sadistic Dr. No, complete with mechanical hands and thick glass contact lenses, who explains his plans to Bond before forcing him through his torture tunnel (not a euphemism) and staking Honeychile out to be eaten by crabs. Inevitably Bond survives to turn the tables on the bad guy and dispose of him in such a suitably ironic way that I wonder why they didn't keep that in the film version. Although on reflection it would perhaps have been more appropriate for the Roger Moore Bond era.

This is a terrific Bond adventure spoiled only by the period's view of the "Yellow Peril" and the Chinese in particular. Apart from this 21st century anachronistic quibble this is Fleming in a purple patch, with From Russia to Love behind him and Goldfinger to come. Again it easy to see why the James Bond novels were generating such excitement at the time.

One villain with several medical conditions (including Dextrocardia), the most memorable Bond girl ever, no sporting encounter but one torture sequence and several gruesome deaths.

James Bond will return in ... Goldfinger

Monday, October 22, 2012

Big Finish - The Company of Friends

From July 2009, Big Finish release 123 - The Company of Friends. Written by Lance Parkin, Stephen Cole, Alan Barnes and Jonathan Morris, and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

This is one of the regular releases which has four short individual stories instead of a longer multi-part drama. Four of the Eighth Doctor's companions introduce adventures they had with the Doctor. Let's consider them in turn.

Benny's story by Lance Parkin has the famous archaeologist Bernice Summerfield running into the Doctor while on a dig. Benny is a long running Big Finish character who was originally created by Paul Cornell in the Virgin new adventures books. This is a fast and furious adventure which involves a little jiggery-pokery with time travel to make it all fit. So fast that it sort of blurred past me. 2.5 stars and on to the next.

Fitz's story by Stephen Cole. Fitz Kreiner is another Eighth Doctor companion who originally started in a novel and this is his first appearance in a Big Finish story as far as I know. On the planet Entusso a new alien protection organisation is setting itself up a commercial business which is apparently promoted by the Doctor. Again this tale shot by me and probably needs another listen. Maybe It is because I have no familiarity with Fitz that it just seemed a blur. 2 stars

Izzy's story by Alan Barnes. Sticking with the theme of taking companions from other media Izzy Sinclair was the Eighth Doctor's companion in many of his comic strip adventures. Appropriately enough this story concerns Izzy's attempt to use time travel to secure a copy of the infamous missing last issue of Aggrotron, the most dangerous comic in the galaxy. Alan Barnes has edited the Judge Dredd Megazine and Aggrotron is a thinly disguised version of the greatest comic in the galaxy, 2000AD. Izzy desperately wants the last issue because it revealed the secret identity of the lead character Courtmaster Cruel, another thinly disguised nod to Judge Dredd whose face is never seen in the comic.

Izzy's story was a much more engaging story for me as a 2000AD fan, particularly as I am currently reading Thrill Power Overload - a history of the first 30 years of the comic. Izzy herself may be slightly annoying but the story is great fun. 3.5 stars

And finally, Mary's story by Jonathan Morris is the pick of the bunch. And it was the first Big Finish story I reviewed on this blog all the way back here. The way Morris introduces the Doctor to Mary Shelley and the other guests at the Villa Diodati while also showing her to elements of the Frankenstein story she will go to write is just fantastic. And it is backed up by the best all round cast of the four stories. Great stuff and still 4 stars.

Overall The Company of Friends averages out at 3 out of 5 precious back issues of Doctor Who Magazine. Next up will be some more 2000AD before I embark on the Key 2 Time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Big Finish - The Big Shot

From July 2002 comes The Big Shot by David Bishop, directed by Ken Ainsworth.

A foppish Brit-Cit film director arrives in Mega-City One for a retrospective of his work, but there are rumours of a big money contract on him and a legendary assassin who may have arrived to gun him down. Much to his irritation Dredd is assigned to the protect the target by Chief Judge Hershey and Mega-City mayhem ensues! Interestingly the exchanges between Dredd and Hershey are very similar to those being played out in the pages of 2000AD right now.

I have heard this 2000AD audio drama before and knew what was coming. The twist is fairly easy to spot but it doesn't stop this from being another enjoyable short story in the Judge Dredd universe. Toby Longworth is even better as Dredd than he is as Wulf in the Strontium Dog stories. I was less convinced by the character of Judge Amy Steel who is, as far as I know, a Big Finish creation and does not appear in the comics. She doesn't sound tough enough to be a Mega-City Judge but maybe David Bishop decided we needed a more human character to introduce us to this violent world, in much the same way as Alex Garland does with Anderson in the Dredd 3D movie.

It's a quickie story and gets a quickie review. 3 out of 5 legal eagles for The Big Shot. Now back to Doctor Who and The Company of Friends.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Big Finish - Down to Earth

I recently indulged myself with a special offer of 2000AD audios from Big Finish. First up from June 2002 is Down to Earth, written by Jonathan Clements and directed by John Ainsworth.

Simon Pegg plays the mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha from the 2000AD Strontium Dog comic strip, and Toby Longworth is his partner Wulf Sternhammer. In this episode Johnny has to return to Earth to rescue Wulf who has been wrongly arrested and subjected to some weird experimentation. Other regular 2000AD characters like the Gronk and Middenface McNulty also appear and there is a fun cameo by Servalan herself, Jacqueline Pearce as the villain of the piece.

One of the great strengths of 2000AD over the years has been the humour that features in even the grimmest of stories, and Jonathan Clements does a good job of carrying that across to this audio drama. He is also well served in this by his cast. Simon Pegg is perhaps a bit too famous now and I tended to see him rather than Alpha when I heard his voice. Toby Longworth has the advantage of us not knowing what he looks like and his voice is perfect for Wulf, and as Dredd in the other 2000AD audios.

The only thing wrong with this story is that it is rather short. I have become accustomed to Big Finish stories being four episodes and I could have done with a bit more here. Otherwise it is just lovely to hear some of my favourite comic book characters brought to life. 4 out of 5 for the first of these 2000AD reviews. You can listen to this and four other stories on the BBC site (if you can tolerate Real player).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alienating your audience

I should be doing other stuff. There is a lot of real world stuff going on but I need to get something off my chest (or out of it?). Last night I finally got to see Prometheus and complete my Alien marathon. The reviews were all fairly poor so my expectations were set very low and this film still managed to get below them.

The budget for this film was $130 million. Really? Couldn't they have spent some of that money on checking that the script made sense? I suppose with one of the writers from Lost we can expect some confusion. I watched every episode of Lost and that was a load of nonsense, and so is Prometheus.

For starters let us consider the shuttle medical pod that gets used in the ridiculous self administered surgery scene. Charlize Theron has her own shuttle/life-boat on the Prometheus with its own special medical pod, so why when Noomi Rapace tries to use it for an emergency caesarean does the computer state it is set for male procedures only? Are they trying to give us some sort of weird clue about Theron's character? Seeing as how she spends most of the movie wearing a skin tight bodysuit because, well because she can, there doesn't seem to be any doubt about her gender.

All the medicine in this film was terrible. Rapace performs her own emergency caesarean alien-ectomy and delivers a squid baby. She then pulls out the umbilical cord, but what was that attached to? You need to remove the placenta as well, Ms Rapace, or you're going to bleed to death. And another thing, let us assume that there is some good reason for wearing bandage boob wraps when in hyper-sleep but surely when you wake up you would put some more functional underwear on?

What do alien squid babies eat? There has always been a problem in the Alien franchise about how the beasties go from pretty small to enormous without apparently consuming anything, but this example is particularly extreme. Maybe it has been munching all the bandages they use for underwear while it has been in the medical pod.

But by far the biggest problem with Prometheus is that the highly paid, brain-box scientists act like such morons. The examples are too numerous to mention. It is left to Idris Elba and his fly-boy crew to act with a bit of sense, at least when he's not trying to do his own gender test on Charlize Theron.

This film is truly terrible, but you have probably seen it yourself by now and know that already. £130 million to make and takings in excess of $400 million. Meanwhile Dredd 3D cost £50 million and is currently struggling to make even half of that back. There is no justice.

At the time of writing life is being particularly unfair to someone I love so the fortunes of multi-million dollar Hollywood movies are mere trivia, but what rubbish trivia this is. Even the AVP films were better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Big Finish - The Angel of Scutari

Big Finish release 122 from June 2009 - The Angel of Scutari. Written by Paul Sutton and directed by Ken Bentley.

This completes the Ace and Hex miniseries and sets up a cliff-hanger which would not pay off until over a year later in Project: Destiny. The Tardis crew arrive in the Crimea in October 1854 and get caught in the middle of the terrible clash between the British and Russian empires.  As ever the trio get separated, while the Doctor is off manipulating events and trying to fix a few problems in the time-stream Hex gets to meet the woman who inspired him to take up nursing, and Ace encounters a young Russian writer.

I am on record as not liking the historical Doctor Who adventures either on television or in the audio dramas but this was actually very enjoyable. Paul Sutton makes the wise decision to have this story concentrate on Hex who is left to get on with providing medical and nursing care for the wounded in the British army barracks at Scutari. In a neat twist the changes in basic care that he introduces inspire the Lady with the Lamp herself. I confess that when I first heard Philip Olivier as Hex I was bothered by his Liverpudlian accent, but just like Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe Olivier's performance has won me over. It has been interesting to have a companion who is less than impressed with the Seventh Doctor's manipulations. He has also become increasingly disillusioned by the numbers of deaths he has witnessed since first entering the Tardis. The Angel of Scutari leaves Hex alone in the Crimea long enough for him to make a difference, and to do something positive to balance the scales.

On the other hand this story was a bit of a backward step for the character of Ace. Big Finish should decide whether they are going with the baseball bat Ace from the television show, or the battle hardened warrior Ace from the New Adventures books. In Enemy of the Daleks we clearly had the older, warrior Ace who can quickly take charge in a combat situation. But in the early parts of this tale we are back to the petulant, whiny Ace, although she does morph into a different, more mature character when she travels with that famous Russian writer.

All in all an enjoyable story and the best of this mini-series for me. The extras were pretty good as well and I was surprised to hear Hugh Bonneville in there who I hadn't spotted during the drama itself. 4 out of 5 misplaced musket balls for The Angel of Scutari. Now for some 2000AD!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Big Finish - Enemy of the Daleks

Big Finish main range release 121 from May 2009 - Enemy of the Daleks by David Bishop and directed by Ken Bentley.

I got it wrong at the end of my Burning Prince review. Enemy of the Daleks is the middle part of an Ace, Seven and Hex mini-series that began with The Magic Mousetrap and will conclude with The Angel of Scutari. The trio arrive on the planet of Bliss expecting just that, but finding a classic base under siege and a scientist with a terrible plan to defeat the Daleks. Something bad is about to happen and the Doctor thinks it is his job to make sure it does.

You can't beat the Doctor Who combination of Daleks and a remote base in peril. Especially not when you have Nicholas Briggs' Dalek voices and another creepy monster voiced by Jeremy James who can do remarkable things with his larynx. This is an enjoyable production with all the right elements and it is nice to hear more of Hex developing his doubts about the Doctor's motivations, sowing seeds that would not pay off for another 3 years. Philip Olivier is growing on me. Meanwhile Kate Ashfield gives an interesting performance as Lieutenant Stokes, swapping Zombies, in Shaun of the Dead, for Daleks here but still in as much trouble. We recently watched her in a rather good adaptation of John Wyndham's Random Quest for the British Invaders podcast.

I also enjoyed listening to the CD extras on this release but I'm glad that Big Finish subsequently decided to shift them from the end of the first disc to the second disc. Much easier to listen to the interviews without fear of spoilers when you have heard the whole production rather than half-way through it.

In summary, great Dalek and monster voices, interesting Zulu references and some good Hex and Ace moments. 3.5 out of 5 Dalek eye-stalks. The Angel of Scutari is next.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Big Finish - The Burning Prince

Big Finish 165 - The Burning Prince by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley.

Now this was terrific. The Fifth Doctor is travelling by himself and hoping to meet up with Tegan and Turlough in Amsterdam. As ever he drifts rather off course and ends up on board a spaceship where ... well let's just say that events accelerate rapidly and the story reaches a frenetic pace. It cracks along so rapidly for the first two episodes that I wondered whether the writer could possibly keep it up. Things do slow down a bit in the third part to allow for some exposition before it picks up again for a dramatic final act.

This was a good old-fashioned Doctor Who adventure. Unlike recent stories there is no back story or continuity to worry about, although there may be some stuff here that will carry forward in the future. This is just the Doctor on his own, mistrusted by the people he meets but still doing his level best to save their lives. He doesn't always succeed and The Burning Prince has a spectacularly high body count.

It's old school Doctor Who and tremendous fun. I really can't fault it at all. Writer and director do a great job as do the sound designers and composer, I particularly liked the monster sound effects. All the performances are great, I didn't spot Clive Mantle in an unusual role for him but he's really good.

I have looked back at my marking for all previous Big Finish stories and thought hard about what grade to give this one. I have had a suggestion that I am over grading some of the lesser releases and there may be some truth in that. However I enjoyed the Burning Prince so much that I cannot resist giving it the full 5 stars making this only the second story to get this grade, the previous one Spare Parts was also a fifth Doctor story.

Phew, what a scorcher that was. Next I will be jumping back in time to catch up with an earlier Ace, Hex and Seven mini series starting with Enemy of the Daleks.

The Art of Judge Dredd

Hot off the press this week is a large format, coffee table style art book which reproduces classic covers from 35 years of 2000AD.

After a short introduction from John Wagner the book starts working through the different eras of the prog. Each cover is reproduced in full colour on the right hand page with comments and recollections from various creators on the left hand page. Pat Mills, Brian Bolland, Steve Dillon, Henry Flint, D'Israeli, Alan Grant, Ben Willsher, Matt Smith, Pete Wells and many, many more chip in along the way. The result is a verbal history of the prog and, in particular, the art design decisions about the covers, and some of the techniques artists used to stunning effect.

This book concentrates on Judge Dredd and is obviously tied into the launch of the movie and the (hopefully) increased interest in Dredd. So you won't find covers from other 2000AD stories. What you do get is just about every iconic Dredd cover you can think of reproduced in all its glory. All the great artists are represented from Bolland, McMahon, Ezquerra, Dillon, Gibson and Smith to newer stars like Jock, Henry Flint, Greg Staples, Cliff Robinson and Ben Willsher.

There are about 130 full size colour pages including some of the wraparound covers. Other Dredd covers are reproduced as smaller images on the left hand pages. Inevitably there will be one or two of your favourites which you would have preferred to see full size instead of in miniature, but reproducing all the covers would presumably have been prohibitive in terms of cost and weight. But you do get to see small versions of the infamous Jolly Green Giant and Burger Wars covers.

Comic book fans are naturally drawn to visual imagery and the brilliant combination of the covers with short comments from the creators gives a real feel of how the comic and Dredd in particular have developed over the 35 years. The result is a book that acts as a history of 2000AD. You can read it straight through as I did or you can just dip into it from time to time. You won't have to flick through many pages before you find an image that makes you wish you had that prog or the original art.

Over on the 2000AD forums there was a plea for movie tie-in products. Well here's one. It's a lovely, hard-bound book which you can proudly show to anyone with an interest in art and design, or in Judge Joseph Dredd himself. I can't possibly give it any less that a full 5 star rating. It's a thing of beauty. Pop over to the 2000AD site and order a copy, you may even still be able to get one of the enhanced special editions. Or if funds are limited go to Amazon where you can save yourself a few pounds. Zarjaz!