Monday, April 22, 2013

Big Finish - Eldred must die!

The latest release from the Big Finish monthly release range is Eldred must Die! by Marc Platt and directed by Ken Bentley.

A simple stroll on a beach becomes a desperate battle to prevent an old foe taking over the earth as the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Turlough and Tegan take on the crystalline maniac Eldrad who first appeared in The Hand of Fear. The silicon based life form from the planet Kastria is slowly taking over any humans it comes into contact with and the Doctor is running out of time.

By a coincidence of timing this was next up on my iPod playlist after The Cradle of the Snake, which was perhaps unfortunate  There are certain similarities in the stories about old villains who are slowly taking over the Doctor and his companions, so it felt like I was listening to a repeat. The usual tropes of the companions wandering off and getting into trouble, along with the same old suspicions about Turlough's character meant this one didn't really stand out for me.

As ever the cast were excellent and there was some pleasant music and sound design to make it a reasonably easy listen. I didn't have any major problems with Platt's script or Bentley's direction, I just wanted something a bit different. I will have to add Eldrad must Die! to the list of Big Finish releases that might deserve a re-listen if I can find the time.

For the moment it gets 2.5 out of 5 deadly crystals. Next up will be some short stories for the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in The Demons of Red Lodge.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Big Finish - The Cradle of the Snake

Completing the Fifth Doctor mini-series that began with Cobwebs and The Whispering Forest, here comes The Cradle of the Snake by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards.

Tegan has been possessed (again) by the evil snake spirit the Mara (again). In order to save her the Tardis crew travel to the planet Manusa but when the Doctor drives the snake out of Tegan's mind it enters his brain. Have they unintentionally unleashed the evil that will go on to destroy Manusa?

I'm not familiar with the Mara from the TV show, and I should be. However the idea of a malevolent psychic force that can infect other brains is a familiar one from science fiction writing and this is a pretty good variant on that theme. There's some fun and suspense to be had from not knowing quite who is possessed at any one time, and having the Doctor as the bad guy is a nice twist which allows Peter Davison to do some convincingly evil acting.

Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson and Janet Fielding are all pretty good here, and it certainly sounds like they have fun together if the CD extras are to be believed. Strangely there isn't a full cast list on the Big Finish page but the other characters were all fine as well.

It wasn't quite as exciting as The Whispering Forest but at least an audio drama saves us from a dodgy giant snake special effect. 3.5 out of 5 snake tattoos.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Big Finish - Holmes and the Ripper

In 2010 Big Finish produced their own version of the stage play Holmes and the Ripper by Brian Clemens, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

From the Big Finish synopsis: Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are drawn into one of the darkest plots ever to shake the foundations of England. There are freemasons, conspiracies and intrigues at the highest level of the establishment. But for Holmes, there is a uniquely personal element to this new and terrifying case.

Holmes and Watson up against the perpetrator of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in criminal history? Sounds too good to miss doesn't it? Brian Clemens has had a long and illustrious career in television writing, probably best known for The Avengers. This is a stage play he wrote although I can't find out if or when it was originally produced. All the usual suspects from Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution are here: John Netley, Sir William Gull, Walter Sickert, the Freemasons and the British Royal family. Alan Moore covered much of the same ground in From Hell. Clemens adds a new character, a medium called Kate Mead who becomes something of a romantic interest for Holmes.

So there are lots of characters, lots of suspects and the creepy backdrop of those gruesome murders in the shadowy alleyways of Victorian London. But this didn't quite do it for me I'm afraid. The problem was that Holmes and Watson didn't sound right. There is nothing wrong with Briggs and Earl's typically excellent performances, but the writing didn't seem to get the characters the way that Conan Doyle originally wrote them, or how they have been portrayed in other Big Finish plays. Holmes does little of his usual intuitive deduction and seems to fall under the spell of Mrs Mead for too easily. Meanwhile Watson is written as much more bumbling and noisy than usual. He is less of the thoughtful and loyal retired soldier, and more like the Nigel Bruce version from the Basil Rathbone films which didn't work for me. The plot has to take some liberties with known facts. Obviously we can't have Holmes and Watson alter actual history so this results in some far fetched scenes where our detectives visit crime scenes and then leave them abruptly before the police arrive.

The cast are all fine and I enjoyed hearing India Fisher as Kate Mead. The direction and sound design are lovely with lots of atmospheric noises from those foggy London streets. I should also add that the theme music for these Sherlock Holmes stories is a lovely piece of music composed, I think, by Simon Slater and Jamie Robertson. I enjoyed it but the character problems kept jarring against me. So it gets another middling 3 out of 5 bloody knives. Series three of Sherlock Holmes is on the way so I may wait for that unless any of the second series stories tempt me first.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Big Finish - Terror Firma

This was another pick-up from Big Finish Day, Terror Firma by Joseph Lidster, directed by Gary Russell.

The Eighth Doctor and Davros meet for another of their philosophical battles. Meanwhile his companions Charley, the reptilian humanoid from another dimension called C'Rizz, and two other humans Gemma and Samson, have to deal with the Daleks and an apparently conquered Earth where the survivors just want to have drinks parties and show no signs of any resistance. Desperate days on planet earth.

Davros is one of the best opponents for the Doctor. Their grim verbal confrontations work perfectly in an audio play. It's all very well using the theatre of the mind to summon up the image of a horde of deadly Daleks, but when you hear Paul McGann and the marvellous Terry Molloy do battle with their voices it's just splendid. There is a particular edge here as Davros believes he is dying and he may also have interfered with the Doctor's memories. So the playing field is not level, and all is not what it seems. Terrific stuff.

As ever I was less concerned about the fate of the companions. India Fisher does her usual marvellous job, I don't really have much experience with C'Rizz although he did turn up in another story I've reviewed, Memory Lane. The Daleks have marvellous Nicholas Briggs' voices but they don't do much. These are the all bark and no bite variety with lots of "Exterminates!" but no actual pressing the button. Unlike the much more menacing creatures we encountered in Dark Eyes or To the Death.

So McGann and Molloy get 5 stars but the rest is a bit dull although it is nice to hear Julia Deakin in there. There were one of two moments of dodgy sound quality but that might just be the discs I listened to. 3 out of 5 withered, claw like hands. Everything is a bit middle of the road at the moment. Can Sherlock Holmes or the Fifth Doctor ramp things up a bit?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Big Finish - The Condemned

From 2008 The Condemned by Eddie Robson, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

It's Charlie Pollard's first encounter with the Sixth Doctor. He doesn't know her yet and her answers to his questions are somewhat evasive. Meanwhile they have bigger problems when they land in a Manchester tower block right in the middle of a murder scene. Soon the Doctor is down at the police station helping Detective Inspector Menzies with her enquiries, and Charlie has been captured by less legal forces and is being held prisoner somewhere in the tower. Can she free herself and the mysterious Sam who speaks to her on the telephone?

Good stuff first. D.I. Menzies is a tough, no-nonsense police officer played with Mancunian relish by Anna Hope. She's not quite as enjoyable as she was in The Raincloud Man, possibly because she initially suspects the Doctor is the murderer, and it takes some time before they are working together. Colin Baker and India Fisher are both on strong form in this one and their suspicious and strained relationship is evident right from the start. The Doctor knows there is something strange about Ms Pollard but she's not telling.

The twin mysteries of the murder and the strange goings on in the rest of the tower block play out nicely, although the conclusion was perhaps a bit obvious even to me. There are, of course, aliens involved and I would have been quite happy without them. A straightforward police procedural murder mystery for the Doctor and Menzies to solve would have been fun. Instead we get another new alien race, another new technology that we haven't seen before, and a plot that is too familiar from too many Doctor Who stories.

Still the rest of the cast, direction and the cover and sound design are all fine. I wasn't convinced by the Doctor's escape method, or taken in for that matter, but I can probably let that one slip by. About on a par with The Raincloud Man so 3 out of 5 DNA patches from me. More Menzies would be nice.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Big Finish - The Girl who Never Was

From 2007 The Girl who Never Was by Alan Barnes, directed by Barnaby Edwards.

A ghost ship. A girl with no memory, adrift in time. An old enemy. This could be Charlotte Pollard's finest hour - or her last. Set course for Singapore, 1931. Journey's end.

This is the finale of Charlie Pollard's time with the Eighth Doctor and my habit of listening to Big Finish releases in completely the wrong order continues. In my defence I can say that I am a subscriber now I keep up with current story arcs, but I'm still sampling their back catalogue here and there. And this is the second Charlie end story I've listened to after Blue Forgotten Planet which finished her run with the Sixth Doctor. 

The script by Alan Barnes is much more solid than the last one of his stories I listened to. It has a nice eerie setting on a ghost ship that seems lost in time and may contain a great treasure or a terrible threat. The setting reminded me of a strange little horror film called Triangle which is worth checking out. I enjoyed the unstuck in time aspects of this drama and it helps to have an older version of Charlie played with such distinction by Anna Massey. There's quite a big cast for a Big Finish production here, and they are all very good. There is even another small role for Jake McGann.

Paul McGann continues to rival Peter Davison as my favourite Big Finish Doctor. I don't think this is my favourite Charlie Pollard story but India Fisher is as likeable as ever. And the whole thing is brought together nicely by Barnaby Edwards' direction.

The Girl who Never Was is a Cyberman story which is given away by the above cover image, and that's a problem. Big Finish are caught in a cleft stick here, they know that putting certain enemies on the cover will increase sales, but that will also upset fans who don't like spoilers. It is the same on television show, we all know which baddies are returning this season before the Doctor does, and I can't remember the last time the series surprised me in the way that something like Unit: Dominion did. Anyway when the Cybermen are finally revealed here at the end of episode two it shocks everyone apart from the listener. Sword of Orion had the same problem.

I enjoyed the story despite all that, and the final post credits scene was good fun. Pity about the cover though. 3 out of 5 ghost ships.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Big Finish - The Speckled Band

Having enjoyed the Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner so much I went back and found my copy of The Speckled Band from 2011, directed by Nicholas Briggs.

Holmes and Watson receive a visit from Miss Helen Stoner who fears that she is danger after the death of her sister. After hearing her strange story the detectives are soon on their way to the house of her stepfather, Dr Grimesby Roylott, but can Holmes crack the mystery of the Speckled Band in time to save her?

This is a fairly short story from early on in Holmes' career and Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl do a good job of conveying the younger, more enthusiastic characters. Quite different to the world weary figures they portrayed in the Perfidious Mariner. Most of the action is narrated by Dr Watson so this is more like an enhanced audiobook than a full cast radio play. However they both have marvellous voices so it is an enjoyable but fairly quick listen.

At the heart of the story is a classic locked room mystery but unfortunately it is perhaps one of Conan Doyle's less convincing solutions. The lengths that the murderer has to go to in order to achieve their aims are somewhat far fetched to say the least, although this does allow for some very striking moments. And all delivered with pitch perfect performances by Briggs and Earl.

As it is not my favourite Holmes adventure it gets a mere 3 out of 5 twisted pokers, not up to the heights of the Mariner or The Hound of the Baskervilles. However, I am not deterred and think I will check out Holmes and the Ripper next.