Friday, February 22, 2013

Big Finish - Get Karter!

This was the seventh Big Finish 2000AD release. Get Karter! from October 2002, written by David Bishop and directed by John Ainsworth.

Judge Dredd is heading for Brit-Cit on a revenge trip, after crime boss Harry Karter sent the assassin Erebus to murder Mega-City One's toughest lawman. A precog said Dredd would cause problems for Karter in the future - now Dredd wants to make that prophecy come true! And Judge Amy Steel is going with him, with her own score to settle with Karter, he's her step-father and she suspects him of murdering her real father.

David Bishop has a better grip on Dredd's character and this a much better story than my recent encounters with Dreddline and I Love Judge Dredd. The title is an obvious nod the the classic Michael Caine movie and there's even a short parody of the fantastic theme tune from that film. In keeping with its source this has a hard edged, noir feel to it. Dredd has to team up with a British Detective Judge called Armitage who has appeared in the Megazine, and as a plain clothes detective he gets to wear the archetypal private eye's trenchcoat. Meanwhile Amy Steel is investigating her past and trying to discover who actually shot her father. It's a voyage of discovery with a major impact on her character. Sadly this is the last story she appears in which is a shame. The episodes where she acted as on our way into the stories worked best for me.

Keeping this story serious and dark produces terrific results. There is a lot of humour in the comic strips but it is very difficult to get that humour into a radio play without descending into campiness  Playing it straight works much better and this is the best Dredd story I have listened to since Death Trap.

Longworth, Buckfield and Trevor Littledale as Armitage are all very good, as is Steven Wickham as the Brit-Cit crime boss Karter. The production is great and I was pleased to find the first CD extras for a 2000AD story with an episode called "Big Finish Talks Back" at the end. I was delighted to learn that Toby Longworth has been reading 2000AD since Prog 1.

This is a 4 star story that is right up there with Death Trap and the two Strontium Dog stories featuring Simon Pegg. 4 out of 5 green elbow pads to the chest for Get Karter!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Big Finish - Spaceport Fear

Big Finish's latest monthly range release is Spaceport Fear by William Gallagher, directed by Barnaby Edwards.

From the Big Finish synopsis: Welcome to Tantane Spaceport – where the tribes of Business and Economy have been at war for all of four hundred years, where a terrible creature called the Wailer prowls the corridors around the Control Tower, looking to eat the unwary, and where there is one Arrival: a battered blue Police Box containing the time-travelling Doctor and his companion, Mel.
This story feels like one of those generational spaceship science fiction stories such as Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop. The tribes of Business and Economy know no other world than this strange Spaceport. And with the power supply limited there is a lot of wandering around in dark corridors with the spooky sounds of the mysterious Wailer creature punctuating the silence. The Sixth Doctor is in fairly robust form, although this is not quite the spiky persona of his early stories. Similarly Mel Bush is an older, more experienced (and less irritating) character who uses her computer skills to good advantage. There's some clever trickery with using handheld computer games as a form of communication. Although this does beg the question as to why the Doctor with his technical know-how, and his tendency to get separated from his companions, doesn't come up with some form of communicator to use when they step out of the Tardis.
The stand out vocal performance in this adventure comes from the distinguished actor Ronald Pickup who appeared in the very first season of Doctor Who on television. Bonnie Langford and Big Finish regular Beth Chalmers are very good, and Colin Baker seems on better form than he was in The Wrong Doctors. It's another example of a skilled audio production from Big Finish but it still didn't quite do it for me. At the moment I'm getting more fun from the Big Finish special releases such as Unit:Dominion and The Memory Box.
It's better than the Wrong Doctors but still not up to the best that Big Finish can do. Although the Doctor gets a high score within this story I can only give it 3 out of 5 extra lives.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Big Finish - Chimes of Midnight

A recent Big Finish special offer got me Chimes at Midnight for £3! Released back in 2002 and written by Rob Shearman with direction by Barnaby Edwards.

The Eighth Doctor and Charley arrive in a mysterious house and soon find themselves caught up in a nightmarish variant of Upstairs Downstairs. Someone is murdering the servants and unless they can solve the mystery they may find themselves trapped in this house forever.

Steven Moffat picked this story as his favourite Eighth Doctor adventure in a recent Doctor Who magazine article and the description sounded just perfect for me. It's a spooky tale of murders and ghosts in a haunted house with a clock ticking away in the background. And it turns out to be a little gem of a story. The Doctor soon gets cast as the great amateur detective who will sort out what is going on, while Charley gets to do that empathising with the working class victims that Doctor Who companions have been so good at in recent years.

Like many other Big Finish productions it has a small cast but they are used perfectly by Barnaby Edwards and even though the script requires them to repeat certain phrases over and over again they managed to do it in such a way that never becomes tiresome. McGann and Fisher lead things with aplomb. I prefer Charley as an Eighth Doctor companion rather than a Sixth and I am delighted that she will be coming back in the Big Finish 50th anniversary release The Light at the End.

I would single out one other member of the cast but that might be too much of a spoiler, let me just say that the actor who is revealed as the baddie does a a marvellous job. As do the sound design crew who turn in a lovely haunted house full of creaks, groans and that ticking and chiming clock.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play, I do like a good haunted house story. My marking might have been a bit generous of late so let's give this 4 out of 5 Edwardian adventuresses and then head for a rendezvous at Spaceport Fear. In the meantime if you know of any other good spooky Big Finish stories please let me know.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Big Finish - Dreddline

Released in March 2003: Dreddline by James Swallow, directed by John Ainsworth.

Judge Dredd is sent to Brit-Cit to pick up an extradited criminal and accompany him back on the Trans-Atlantic zoom train. A gang of terrorists seize control of the train and only Dredd can stop them from destroying Mega-City One.

This is a story that borrows heavily and wears its sources on its sleeve. Die Hard, Speed and Under Siege all get referenced, or ripped off depending on your point of view. It also happens to be the scond Big Finish story in a row to mention Flux Capacitors, weird! There are also certain problems with its portrayal of Dredd. First of all the job of accompanying a minor criminal back to MC1 seems a bit beneath a senior Judge of his stature. Then there is the ease with which he gets surprised and over powered by the terrorists. And there are several moments when he doesn't behave as we have heard him do in other Big Finish stories. This is the first story written by James Swallow and maybe he just hadn't grasped the essentials of Dredd yet.

Toby Longworth even sounds a bit more cartoonish in this adventure which may be down to the writing, and the rest of the cast are just caricatures, and somewhat offensive ones at that. All in all a bit of a drawn out disappointment. 1 star only. However if I haven't put you off it is still free over on the BBC's cult comics site.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Big Finish - Lucie Miller - To the Death

Two Eighth Doctor stories that have to go together: Lucie Miller and To the Death, both written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.


The Daleks have returned to invade Earth again. First they bring a viral plague to weaken humanity, then they begin to mine into the Earth's core in a repeat of the events from the original Dalek Invasion of Earth. With the Eighth Doctor missing it is left to Lucie, Susan and Adam to lead the resistance  Meanwhile there's another Time Lord on the scene, the meddling Monk who appears to have struck a deal with the Daleks.

These two titles were also in the Big Finish Christmas sale and and they mark the end of a long story arc featuring the Eighth Doctor's companion Lucie Miller. They also set up some of the events, and the Doctor's feelings of hopelessness, at the start of Dark Eyes.

Like most stories Doctor Who can be reduced to the essentials of heroes and villains. The Daleks are the ultimate villains of these tales and, as ever, are brought to life with mechanical malevolence by Nicholas Brigggs and his ring modulator. They are assisted by Graeme Garden as the rogue Time Lord, the Monk, who adds some humour to the grim proceedings. Alongside him is his own conflicted companion Tamsin Drew, played by Niky Wardley. Tamsin believes she is working for the good guys and her gradual realisation that the Monk is not to be trusted leads to some powerful moments.

On the side of the resistance we have Susan who witnessed the original Invasion with the First Doctor. In previous stories I had some problems with Carole Ann Ford's performances but here she is on fine form, and is ably assisted by Paul McGann's son Jake playing Adam. McGann himself eventually turns up as we always knew he would, but even he cannot save the day this time. The Eighth Doctor may be my current favourite Big Finish incarnation, I like how natural Paul McGann sounds in the role. But here he is up against an insoluble problem which is directly related to events from one of his previous adventures in Patient Zero.

So that just leaves Lucie Miller. Sheridan Smith has played a companion to Jonathan Creek, Gavin and Stacey, and even Ronnie Biggs, but her best role may be here in these audio dramas. Lucie's narration has to carry much of the story until the Doctor's return, and as the enormity of the Daleks' plan threatens to defeat even him it falls to Lucie to save the day. I generally try to avoid spoilers in these reviews but the clue is in the title. Everyone knows what is coming and the resolute Lucie Miller goes out screaming her defiance against the Daleks. It is a powerful moment that comes at the end of a tremendous build up.

Nicholas Briggs writing and direction are perfect. There is a real sense of menace as the Daleks finally make good on all those electronic threats to "Exterminate!". People die in this story, they die at unexpected moments, and with unexpected poignancy. This invasion story restores the Daleks to their rightful place as the Doctor's most terrifying enemies, and it gives us one of the their most memorable opponents in Lucie Miller.

As you can tell I was impressed. It's a 5 star production all round. That's two top scores from the Big Finish Christmas sale. Good value indeed.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big Finish - Vienna: the Memory Box

A new release from Big Finish - The Memory Box, featuring Chase Masterson as Vienna Salvatori. Written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley.

This is a spin off from the Doctor Who story The Shadow Heart featuring the impossibly glamorous bounty hunter Vienna. Someone has killed one of the richest men in the galaxy and the twists and turns revealing who did it and how lead to a fast and furious planet-hopping chase.

This is a good science fiction story with deliberate nods to the works of Philip K Dick. The central idea that someone can lock away parts of their memory and only recover them when they hear a certain key phrase is an interesting one and allows for several reveals as the plot thickens. And at the heart of it all is the ruthless and determined character of Salvatori played with considerable relish and panache by Masterson. She may seem a little over the top at times but it is a great radio performance and she certainly carries the story along with gusto. The whole thing reminded me of the sort of adventure that was possible in the role-playing game Traveller.

Th rest of the small cast were also very enjoyable and it was nice to hear Torchwood's PC Andy cropping up to play a supporting role. As this is a smaller production for Big Finish it is perhaps a bit too easy to spot the baddie but it was still great fun. The theme music by Jamie Robertson is also very good and hopefully we will hear more of it in the future.

The Memory Box is certainly better than a lot of the radio plays I hear on Radio 4 Extra. Maybe it will got an airing there at some point. At the moment it is only £5 on the Big Finish site and it gets 5 stars from me. Let's hope we can have some more Vienna soon.