Big Finish’s ‘Doctor Who’ audio stories: October 2016 reviews round-up

In another busy month from the Doctor Who audio producers, we celebrate Torchwood’s Tenth Anniversary with the special release ‘The Torchwood Archive’ and John Hurt returns in another trio of adventures for the ‘The War Doctor Volume 3: Agents of Chaos’.

Also, those stalwart Victorian investigators of the infernal, Jago & Litefoot notch up their twelfth box set of astonishing adventures.

In the main range, a break from the norm offers a quartet of single episode adventures for the Fifth Doctor and Turlough, while the Short Trips features an early outing for Peri and the Early Adventures brings us a tale for the First Doctor and friends, who supplement their number with a new companion in ‘The Fifth Traveller’.

 

Main Range #217: ‘The Memory Bank and Other Stories’

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This month it is the turn of the occasional main range set of four stories, and this year it is the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) with Turlough (Mark Strickson) in tow. These collections make a welcome break from the regular trilogies, and even thought the stories are short, they still find time to pack a punch.

First up Chris Chapman brings us the title story, ‘The Memory Bank’ (in case you’ve already forgotten!) in which the Doctor and Turlough visit a planet where to be forgotten is to cease to exist. Here they encounter various people in the throes of being forgotten and learn what it is not to feature in memory.

Of course there’s a foe at the centre of things, but that aside this story sets out the stall for the set – there are themes of identity and meaning woven in amongst the tales. Not overdone but there nonetheless.

Paul Magrs takes us to the world of fairy stories in ‘The Last Fairy Tale’ and this is more a study in bias and perception. Underneath an amusing tale of witches, evil dwarves and princesses there are some lessons to be drawn about taking what we read and hear with a pinch of salt. There’s prejudice and self-aggrandisement as well as plenty of fun. If ever Big Finish produces a version of Shrek, I want Paul Magrs to write it.

Eddie Robson next with ‘Repeat Offender’ and a mystery in 22nd century Reykjavik. There’s paradox, deception as well as some interesting local characters in a story set in a small apartment playing out as one long scene.

The set ends with the Ian Potter story ‘The Becoming’, a tale of strange creatures, alien values and monsters. In a few short minutes Ian Potter has produced a truly alien race and a haunting tale. A great end to a fun set of stories.

The ensemble cast (Suzann McLean, Ian Brooker, Mandi Symonds, Duncan Wisbey and Kae Alexander) all deliver the kind of top notch performances we are regularly treated to and this is a great advertisement for an underused TARDIS combination. Great stuff!

 

Early Adventures 3.02: ‘The Fifth Traveller’

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Big Finish spend a good deal of their time telling new tales with old TARDIS teams. On occasion, they have chosen to spice things up with the addition of a further companion, such as the Egyptian Pharaoh Erimem, history professor Evelyn Smythe or nurse Hex.

This time, the 1965 line-up of the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki is bolstered with the addition of Jospa, Brought to life confidently by James Joyce, Jospa is a futuristic pick-pocket rescued from 30th century Earth by the Doctor and he provides a smart counterpoint to Maureen O’Brien’s space orphan Vicki, as well as removing some of the heavy lifting from the shoulders of William Russell who is already doing double-duty as both Ian Chesterton and the Doctor.

Bringing the TARDIS to the jungle planet of the Arunde, an intelligent, telepathic ape species, our heroes soon become pawns in the tribe’s internal battle for survival after the death of their Matriar. Fighting to prove her place as their new leader, Sharna seeks to master her abilities while dealing with an insidious threat.

Writer Phillip Lawrence presents an immersive world, rich with a distinctive alien culture. Redolent of the era which brought us ‘The Web Planet’, though doubtless far beyond the television show’s capabilities at the time, this is an involving and clever tale providing plenty for the regulars, who now include Jemma Powell as Barbara, to get their teeth into.

 

Short Trips 6.10: ‘Rulebook’

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Set early on in her adventures, in the fertile gap between Sarn and Androzani, Peri and the Fifth Doctor happy to come to the aid of the Ellani, seeing off the cyborg threat of the Valtor with aplomb.

Trouble begins however in the aftermath of that victory, as the pair find themselves up against a seemingly inflexible system of rules and regulations which has confiscated the TARDIS and deemed the pair dead – and continues to do so despite all physical evidence to the contrary.

It is at this point that we ought to point out that ‘Rulebook’ is the Big Finish debut for CultBox’s own reviewer Tony Jones, poacher turned gamekeeper.

Telling the tale from the perspective of Yorvel, a minor Ellani functionary, this is a well-observed piece of satire, familiar to anyone who has jumped through the hoops of low level bureaucracy to achieve something relatively simple like reporting a pothole or a failed traffic light.

With a charming take on the early days of the relationship between Peri and the Doctor, the story gives Nicola Bryant plenty to do as she not only effortlessly recreates a volatile Peri, but also brings Yorvel to life, as well as the diverse levels of the fastidious, and at times maddening, Ellani culture.

It also demonstrates the disruption that the Time Lord’s arrival can cause to a well-regimented society, as he unknowingly sows the seeds for a quiet revolution while challenging the system and bending the rules.

 

What was your favourite Doctor Who release from Big Finish this month? Let us know below…

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