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

Tom Baker

In another busy month from the Doctor Who audio producers, the main range brought the Seventh Doctor back to face the consequences of a previous adventure, while the third ‘Early Adventures’ season kicked off with a space-faring epic for the First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara.

The second volume of ‘Philip Hinchcliffe Presents’ tales saw the former producer turn his attentions to the future, in a tale concerned with the fate of a far flung human colony, while the Short Trips range brought us Adric and the Fourth Doctor.

Thanks to a scheduling shuffle, September also saw the release of ‘Doom Coalition 3’, continuing the current Eighth Doctor saga, while the third volume of ‘The War Doctor’ has been pushed back to October.

Finally, a much celebrated classic is re-released as ‘The Chimes of Midnight’ reappears in a Limited Vinyl Edition.

 

Main Range #216: ‘Maker of Demons’

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Concluding the current trilogy with the Seventh Doctor, Ace and the post-‘Dragonfire’ Mel, this story sees the TARDIS return to the planet Prosper, some one hundred years since its first visit.

Having left human settlers and the indigenous mole-like Mogera in peaceful accord, as well as finding then an apparently limitless and adaptable source of energy, the Doctor is shocked to find the planet at war; humans pitted against hideously mutated Mogera and surviving in the remnants of their ships with low resources and seemingly little hope.

Splitting the TARDIS team promptly, the story sees Ace captured by one of the Mogera, while Mel and the Doctor become the guests of the Minister of Fate on the remains of his ship, the Duke of Milan.

Having fashioned the humans into an Elizabethan-style civilisation, Matthew J Elliott’s tale is suffused with references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from the setting to the character names. Of course, this is nothing new for Doctor Who and the script nods its head to Anthony Read’s mythical re-workings from the Tom Baker era.

Elliot manages to give the TARDIS team plenty to do, with the Doctor facing up to us responsibilities, while Mel is contacted by the resistance movement. Ace’s journey, while mostly peripheral to the main plot, reminded us of Martha’s doomed trek with that lone Hath in ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, albeit far more informative and enjoyable.

It was interesting to see a tale where the Doctor taken to task for his habit of disappearing, and for the apparent consequences of his actions, while wrapped up in the hidden agendas of others.

 

Subscriber Bonus Short Trip: ‘The Shrine of Sorrows’

This month also provides a bonus short trip for subscribers; an adventure for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, penned by Julian Richards.

Feeling very much in the vein of his ‘Time Lord Fairy Tales’, the story follows a girl called Nut – one of three villagers on the cusp on adulthood who enter a forest on a “pilgrimage” knowing that one of them will be sacrificed.

Unlike the fate of many before her, including her sister, Nut’s pilgrimage is aided by the arrival of the Seventh Doctor who promptly demystifies the Godly powers of the shrine.

Told from the point of view of the villagers, this is a pleasantly creepy little tale with some good imagery.

 

Early Adventures 3.01: ‘Age of Endurance’

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A four month run of Early Adventures stories starts with Nick Wallace’s ‘Age of Endurance’. A mix of narration and action, this series is all about the first Doctor, and in this story we go right back to the original TARDIS team of Susan, Ian and Barbara.

In this case Barbara is very much present and played by Jemma Powell (who played the deceased Jacqueline Hill in Mark Gatiss’s ‘An Adventure in Time and Space’).

This two-disc adventure is very much a classic war time submarine story shifted to space; think Das Boot with aliens and spacesuits. There are massive spaceships still curiously powered by piston engines and other nods to dated technology. While curious (perhaps) this is very much in the style of how the story would have been made back in the early 1960s. And that’s the point; these stories celebrate and recreate the era, they don’t retcon it to look more like contemporary Doctor Who.

As ever William Russell does a sterling job of recreating the Doctor and reliving the role of Ian Chesterton. The story has two antagonist races, and Nick Wallace does a good job of cutting them both from a grey cloth. While the Doctor and his friends do take sides, neither party is whiter than white by any means. Under the drama and claustrophobia of a well-written and performed story is the lesson that neither side in war is without blame, nor is war itself the best long-term solution to society’s problems. All very sobering.

The story doesn’t make a lot of use of Jemma Powell whose Barbara gets side-tracked quite early on. This means it is difficult to form a view as to how well she is realising the part. Hopefully future releases will make more of her character and she will have the chance to demonstrate her talents further.

 

Short Trips 6.09: ‘A Full Life’

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Just when you thought you understood Adric’s character and the tragedy of his demise, along comes writer Joseph Lidster to make you think again in this month Short Trips: ‘A Full Life’.

This 40-plus-minute tale is narrated by Matthew Waterhouse and reminds us all of a young man, teenager even, and how he experienced life with the Fourth Doctor and Romana.

The setting for ‘A Full Life’ is Veredis, a world where the dead can come back. Adric is no stranger to death; his parents died when he was a child, his brother had but recently died and every place he visits in the TARDIS leaves behind its own litany of the dead.

All very grim yet on this backdrop Joe Lidster has crafted a poignant tale covering the whole of human existence while giving us a chance to see Adric through a different lens. It’s a marvellous, touching story and Matthew narrates with gravitas and dignity, and clearly prepared a lot before reading the story in studio.

Joe had written for Matthew before on the Big Finish Dark Shadows range and producer Ian Atkins’s instinct to put them together for this story has paid off. Once again the Short Trips range has delivered a poignant story with several moments that will make the listener take stock of the character of Adric with new insight.

 

Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Vol 2: ‘The Genesis Chamber’

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The second volume in the ‘Philip Hinchcliffe Presents’ is comprised of a single six-part story, with the celebrated former producer (in collaboration with Marc Platt) turning his attentions to the future of humanity and its fight for survival.

When the Doctor and Leela arrive on a colony planet, they find the people split into two factions. Living under the protection of the colony ship’s computer system “Inscape”, the city dwellers are cosseted and provided for. Some have even begun to worship the system on which they are so dependant.

Meanwhile the outsiders, so-called savages who have forsaken technology for the most part, scrape a living through farming and keeping the local wildlife as cattle.

What begins as a Romeo and Juliet tale, with the City President’s daughter falling for the son of the Outsider’s leader, soon spins into another direction when it transpires there is a third faction at play – represented by a charismatic stranger named Volor.

Thrown in the midst of an attack, the Doctor instantly mistrusts Volor but has trouble making anyone else see his duplicity. Meanwhile, Leela becomes the object of an outsider’s affections, neatly foreshadowing her eventual exit from the show.

Tom Baker is on top form throughout, ably supported by Louise Jameson and an impressive guest cast which includes Jon Culshaw as President DeRosa Janz (and other roles), the remarkably unsettling Gyuri Sarossy as Volor and Vernon Dobtcheff as city father Jorenzo Zorn.

Offering something more substantial than the regular two-part offerings of the monthly Fourth Doctor series, there is ample story here to fill the six episodes. With personal agendas and political ambition woven into the tale of an insidious alien threat, ‘The Genesis Chamber’ provides a real treat; an in-depth story which draws you into a whole world’s fight for survival.

 

Limited Vinyl Edition: ‘The Chimes of Midnight’

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Consistently topping polls of the best Big Finish audio, and indeed one poll of the best Doctor Who story ever, Robert Shearman’s Edwardian ghost story from 2002 is the ideal tale to be granted a special vinyl release.

The endlessly popular Christmas set story brings the Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor and Charlie Pollard (India Fisher) to the “downstairs” of a house which becomes the setting for a murder mystery with a temporal twist.

Perfectly cast, both creepy and amusing at the same time, it plays with time loops building tension thought the repetition of events.

While perhaps only for the most ardent enthusiast, given its £79 price tag, this release is limited to 500 copies. The 4 LP set contains the story, restructured into six parts of this special release, as well as a brand new documentary and fresh artwork.

The documentary discusses the enduring success of the story, as well as looking at the writing and production with contributions from Rob Shearman, director Barnaby Edwards and producer Gary Russell as well as Andy Hardwick and Russell Stone, who provided the drama’s memorable music and sound design.

 

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

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  • Dr. Moo

    Some SERIOUSLY good stuff there. I’m an especially big fan of The Chimes of Midnight my all time number two favourite Who story ever!