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M. Wilberforce "mwilberforce" (Bristol, England)
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The Fearmonger (Doctor Who)
The Fearmonger (Doctor Who)
by Jonathan Blum
Edition: Audio CD

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An inventive story with a dark edge, 11 April 2006
"One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another's on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda.
"Everyone's got someone they want you to be afraid of. It'll only take a little push for the situation to erupt - and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can't you?"
The Fearmonger is a well-crafted story set some time after Survival, and pairs a moody Seventh Doctor with a more mature Ace. I've always enjoyed the pairing, and Jonathan Blum's script quickly reminds one of the darker atmosphere of the later TV stories.
Without going into too much detail on the plot, The Fearmonger features several well-acted supporting characters, including a smooth turn by Jacqueline Pearce (who played Chessene in the TV series' The Two Doctors) as the leader of a hard-line political party, backed up well by Hugh Walters as her aide and with a successful turn by Vince Henderson as an obnoxious talk radio presenter, among others. All have their part to play in a scenario in which fear is the ultimate political weapon. And amidst all this, there's the Fearmonger, which is lapping it up.
I like the way the story is styled. The Fearmonger remains mysterious throughout, and often one is left wondering where it is really hiding, if it even exists at all, or if it's just a figment of the characters' imaginations. If I had any complaints around the mid-point of the story (some shocking cliff-hangers by the way!) they would have been that the Fearmonger is a little too intangible, but it is well paid off in episode four in a final twist that you probably won't have been expecting.
The usual high standard of sound design is present, although as the story is set in near-contemporary London it requires less outlandish sound effects and the atmosphere is achieved through subtler effects such as the sound of passing cars or the echoing accoustics of an empty warehouse.
The Fearmonger is definitely one of Big Finish's most stylish stories to date, but then this is only number five...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 20, 2014 11:37 AM BST


The Genocide Machine (Doctor Who)
The Genocide Machine (Doctor Who)
by Mike Tucker
Edition: Audio CD

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Daleks, a rainforest and a double Ace, 11 April 2006
"The library on Kar-Charrat is one of the wonders of the Universe. It is also hidden from all but a few select species. The Doctor and Ace discover that the librarians have found a new way of storing data - a wetworks facility - but the machine has attracted unwanted attention, and the Doctor soon finds himself pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies - the Daleks!"
So, the Daleks make their first appearance in a Big Finish audio adventure... and I'm pleased to say that the Doctor's oldest and deadlies foes make the translation to the new format with considerable aplomb!
Mike Tucker's The Genocide Machine is a classic Doctor Who story, with quirky characters such as Bruce Montague's Chief Librarian Elgin and the unfortunate, ever-silent Cataloguer Prink, a random element (Louise Faulkner's mercenary Bev Tarrant) and a suitably villainous foe in the form of the Daleks. The rainforest planet of Kar-Cherat is conveyed excellently by the story's use of atmospheric sound effects (this is rapidly becoming a habitual trait of the Big Finish stories). The Daleks sound excellent, voiced with a harsh edge by director and composer Nicholas Briggs, who also provided Dalek voices for the new TV series with Christopher Eccleston.
The Daleks in The Genocide Machine seem to fit the timeline of the new TV series more than anything else, being commanded from Skaro by an apparently massive Emperor Dalek that sounds a lot like that revealed in The Parting of the Ways. However, to please the crowd, The Genocide Machine also features a Dalek Supreme and, in a triumphantly recogniseable appearance using the original sound effects, a Special Weapons Dalek. The Daleks are also up to their usual tricks, duplicating humanoids and taking over planets.
The cast are good, although Sophie Aldred sometimes doesn't convince as the robot Ace. The running joke of Prink as a supposed chatterbox who never manages to get a word in edgeways is somewhat predictable, but overall The Genocide Machine is well scripted and performed. An entertaining turn; the Big Finish series continues to impress.


Doctor Who - Remembrance Of The Daleks [DVD] [1987]
Doctor Who - Remembrance Of The Daleks [DVD] [1987]
Dvd ~ Sylvester McCoy

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining original series swansong for the Daleks, 11 April 2006
Story: 4/5 - Extras: 2/5
This 1988 story is the almighty swan song of the Daleks as seen in the original television series. Featuring not only the show's most popular and enduring villains but also a feast of continuity references for the well-informed, Remembrance of the Daleks does an awful lot of things right.
Novice writer Ben Aaronovitch takes to the series' lore with a will and produces an intriguing script that gives the Daleks a lot more to do than just roll around exterminating people, as well as finally returning some mystery to Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor (whose first season had often been so much camp nonsense). New companion Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, also acquits herself very well in the face of such show-stealing bad guys. The stunts and fight scenes are entertaining, and the supporting cast are strong; Pamela Salem, who played pilot Toos in The Robots of Death, returns as Professor Rachel Jensen, and there's a creepy turn by Jasmine Breaks as a sinister schoolgirl. The cast is joined by George Sewell as the fascist Ratcliffe and Simon Williams as Group Captain Gilmore.
In the original series, the Daleks have never looked better. We finally see that stairs are not an obstacle to a Dalek invasion, and the final smackdown between the Imperial and Renegade Daleks in episode four is well worth watching, introducing the Special Weapon Dalek (which is impressive even if it was constructed out of a dustbin). The story also features some very impressive explosions and model shots that are surprisingly convincing given the show's age and minimal budget.
It's not all perfect, though. Whilst the pacing is normally excellent, the show sags badly at times in episode four, particularly around the Doctor's entry of the Imperial Dalek shuttle and around the mess of loose ends that have to be tied up in the final act. The supporting cast are also let down by Dursley McLinden as Sergeant Mike Smith, whose performance varies from okay to embarassingly bad. The musical score has dated more badly than many of the era, although it still has its moments.
The fourth release in the Doctor Who DVD series, the extras are on the rise, and the DVD features some entertaining deleted scenes and outtakes, a few trailers, a couple of multi-angle shots and a photo gallery. Most interesting, as ever, though, are the commentary (with Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy) and the on-screen production notes. There is also the option to play Keff McCulloch's specially composed musical score in isolation.


Doctor Who: Fires of Vulcan
Doctor Who: Fires of Vulcan
by Steve Lyons
Edition: Audio CD

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The re-evaluation of Melanie Bush begins, 11 April 2006
"Two thousand years ago, a cataclysmic volcanic eruption wiped the Roman city of Pompeii from the face of he Earth. It also buried the Doctor's TARDIS...
"Arriving in Pompeii one day before the disaster, the Doctor and Mel find themselves separated from their ship and entangled in local politics. With time running out, they fight to escape from the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. But how can they succeed when history itself is working against them?"
Who'd have thought that Bonnie Langford's Mel could ever be anything but an annoying screamer? But with The Fires of Vulcan, writer Steve Lyons achieves the remarkable - he writes a well-conceived story in which Mel stays true to character but doesn't scream once. It makes you realise how badly put together much of Season 24 really was while the series was still running on television. Instead, Mel becomes a plucky soul who refuses to give up even when a depressed Doctor believes them to be doomed. At the end of the day, it's due to Mel's tenacity that the duo manage to escape Mount Vesuvius without being buried in the pyroclastic explosion.
Astonishing transformation of Mel aside, The Fires of Vulcan is an enjoyable Hartnell-style historical with a variety of suitably decadent but also human characters. Apart from the rather pointless addition of the gladiator Murranus, the characters and performances all hit the right notes (with the best support coming from Gemma Bissix as the slave girl Aglae). The portrayal of Pompeii as a thriving Roman city is interesting to hear and there is, as ever, excellent and atmospheric sound design and a decent score.
Historicals can be dull, but The Fires of Vulcan keeps the listener interested and to hear Mel as she should have been written is refreshing.


The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Doctor Who)
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Doctor Who)
by Nicholas Pegg
Edition: Audio CD

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sixth Doctor meets the Brigadier, 11 April 2006
"In a desolate Cornish landscape littered with relics of prehistoric man, the Doctor and Evelyn uncover a catalogue of mysteries.
"What is the secret of the fogou? Can the moor be haunted by a demonic host of imps? And what is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doing in Pengriffen?
"Teaming up with his old friend, the Doctor realises that an ancient conflict is nearing its conclusion - and Lanyon Moor is set to be the final battleground."
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, written and directed by Nicholas Pegg, is another strong outing for Big Finish's mellower version of Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and his new middle-aged companion Dr. Evelyn Smythe. Set on the bracken-filled expanses of the Cornish moorlands (which are portrayed well by Big Finish's signature use of good sound effects), the story puts on an initially creepy turn before eventually resolving itself in the manner of traditional Doctor Who sci-fi.
It's a little disappointing that the story couldn't retain a creepier atmosphere from start to finish, but this is made up for my the excellent supporting cast, not least of which is the plummy Nicholas Courtney returning to his role as the Brigadier (now retired). Other performances of note would be Toby Longworth as the gruff Professor Morgan and Susan Jameson in a marvellously over the top turn as the eccentric Mrs. Moynihan, who walks across the moor with her army of dogs.
All the characters play their part in the story, but props to the Brig for the pivotal role he plays in the final act!


The Marian Conspiracy (Doctor Who)
The Marian Conspiracy (Doctor Who)
by Jacqueline Rayner
Edition: Audio CD

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable debut of a new audio companion, 11 April 2006
"Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing.
"The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilise the nexus and save Evelyn's life. But there he meets the Queen of England - and must use all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman's block."
Big Finish's second Sixth Doctor audio adventure distances itself somewhat from the TV series, with a brand new companion in Evelyn Smythe and a less cantankerous version of Colin Baker's character. The Marian Conspiracy, written by Jacqueline Rayner, is the Big Finish series' first true Hartnell-style historical, with a bare minimum of sci-fi being used as the premise for the Doctor and Evelyn to get into trouble in Tudor England, here under the rein of the fanatical Catholic Queen Mary (in a sound reading by Anah Ruddin).
Maggie Stables' Evelyn Smythe is completely different from any of the Doctor's previous companions: at fifty-five, Evelyn is a middle-aged busybody whose ability to witter on and willpower is a match for even the Doctor himself. Evelyn is able to cope with anything events throw at her, apart of course from her near encounters with oblivion as her history begins to unravel. She is an entertaining character that could equally become tiresome; I will be interested to see what path Big Finish take with her in future stories.
The story of The Marian Conspiracy is simple but entertaining. An able cast play the supporting characters with no particular standouts but good performances all round. As mentioned, Colin Baker's Doctor has mellowed, but he still has many of the mannerisms familiar from the TV series. The Doctor spends rather a lot of the story attending the Queen, but the interplay between them is well-written as the Doctor attempts to convince her highness to reconsider her hard-line stance on Protestants. Evelyn, meanwhile, a great supporter of Elizabeth I, does a good job of nearly getting her head cut off and then falling in with the Protestant rebels. The rebels themselves are very human characters, and neither side of the theological divide is presented as having bad motives. That honour is reserved for the self-serving Frenchman François de Noailles, played by Barnaby Edwards (who also appeared, with a different accent, in Storm Warning).
Overall, The Marian Conspiracy is a successful attempt at a historical story from Big Finish.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 20, 2014 11:13 AM BST


The Holy Terror (Doctor Who)
The Holy Terror (Doctor Who)
by Robert Shearman
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £11.68

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All hail Frobisher! All hail the big talking bird!, 11 April 2006
Robert Shearman's "The Holy Terror" isn't perfect, but it's a very entertaining ride. As part of Big Finish's second year, the producers of the series chose to take a couple of "Side Steps" out of established continuity (The Shadow of the Scourge being the first of these), and as such The Holy Terror ventures into the territory of the 1980s comic strips, and gives voice for the first time to 2D companion Frobisher, the giant penguin-shaped shape-shifting companion.
Robert Jezek's performance as Frobisher is smart and snappy, and adds a great deal to the light-hearted feel of the first part of this story. However, Doctor Who is very seldom entirely predictable, and by the end of episode four the story is pretty dark in feel. The four lengthy episodes are well scripted and supporting performances, particularly Sam Kelly as the scribe Eugene Tacitus, are all excellent.
The story only lets itself down a bit in some of the sound effects and in the voice of the Boy. The reason for the Boy sounding as he does becomes apparent very quickly, but there's just no escaping the fact that this supposedly five-year-old character sounds like an old man talking in a high voice.
Minor criticisms notwithstanding, The Holy Terror is Big Finish at their best and loses nothing by existing in the audio format. Recommended.


Whispers of Terror (Dr Who Big Finish)
Whispers of Terror (Dr Who Big Finish)
by Justin Richards
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting exploration of the audio medium, 11 April 2006
"The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the Museum of Aural Antiquities, where every sound is stored for posterity - from the speeches of Visteen Krane to security service wire taps and interrogation tapes. But they also find an intruder, mysteriously changed recordings, and a dead body.
"Before long the Doctor realises that there is more going on than a simple break-in or murder. How can he defeat a creature that is made of pure sound?"
Colin Baker's solo debut on the Big Finish audio series is a curious one. Writer Justin Richards inventively comes up with a story concept that could only suit the audio format - and it almost works.
I say almost, because it doesn't quite. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are both on good form, but Peri isn't given an awful lot to do, and the cliffhangers are on the cheesy side (even extending to Colin Baker shouting "Nooooooooooo...!" in an extremely comic-book way). There's also an awful lot of talking while not much that actually happens. You might say that this is inevitable with the audio format, but Big Finish's first release The Sirens of Time proved that this doesn't have to be the case.
None the less, the idea of a murderous creature that is made of pure sound is a creepy concept that is carried off pretty well. The twists and turns keep you on your toes, and the story has a gratifying ending. Finally, a word must go out to Nicholas' Briggs stripped-down synthesised musical score, which effortlessly recreates the sound of the real incidental music of 1980s Doctor Who. An enjoyable if patchy tale.


Doctor Who - Vengeance on Varos [DVD] [1985]
Doctor Who - Vengeance on Varos [DVD] [1985]
Dvd ~ Colin Baker
Price: £8.72

4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overrated, but with a cool slug thing, 11 April 2006
Story: 3/5 - Extras: 3/5
I'm going to go against the grain with what is generally a popular entry in the Doctor Who canon. In my opinion, Vengeance on Varos is an enjoyable story, but it's not really that brilliant.
Vengeance on Varos is a not-so-subtle commentary on the "telly addiction" of the 1980s, with the events of the story watched from start to finish by a fighting couple, Arak and Etta, who regularly vote on the fate of the reigning Governor of Varos (played calmly by Martin Jarvis). If they vote to oppose his proposals, then the Governor's life is forfeit. In a way, Varos foreshadows the era of 21st century "reality" television, also tackled in an even less subtle way by the new series' "Bad Wolf". And in this respect, Varos works well.
However, Varos is entirely studio-shot, and is let down somewhat by the dreary and repetitive design of the corridors of the Punishment Dome (needless to say, budgetary constraints will have necessitated the repeated re-use of the same stretch of corridor). Perhaps much of the budget for the story was blown on the elaborate make up for Sil, the slug-like Galatron Mining delegate from Thoros Beta, who with his evil gurgling laugh as played by disabled actor Nabil Shaban is admittedly one of Who's most entertaining and memorable villains.
At the end of the day, Varos just feels a little flat, with a lot of time spent running around the drab metal corridors, which the designers attempt to make unique by dressing them up with different lighting effects and props. The ending, including Sil's come-uppance, feels somewhat contrived, with the Doctor being thanked graciously by the Governor for, frankly, not doing an awful lot. On the whole, the most successful aspects of the story are its satire elements.
Features-wise, we have a similar payload to The Caves of Androzani. A fun commentary is provided by Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban - although after the successful mix of Androzani, I missed the production-side input that the director had provided in that case. The on-screen production notes are also present as usual, but due to en encoding error on the DVD they disappear ten minutes into episode two. Aside from that, there's another slightly aimless behind the scenes feature, a couple of extended or deleted scenes, trailers and a photo gallery. An average package.


Doctor Who - The Caves Of Androzani [1984] [DVD] [1963]
Doctor Who - The Caves Of Androzani [1984] [DVD] [1963]
Dvd ~ Peter Davison
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £11.91

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark but entralling swansong for the Fifth Doctor, 11 April 2006
Story: 5/5 - Extras: 3/5
Watching this story with a critical eye makes you realise just how well-crafted veteran Who writer Robert Holmes' The Caves of Androzani really is. Peter Davison's final appearance as the Doctor, accompanied by Nicola Bryant as Peri, carries an air of desperation almost from the very beginning, aided by strong direction from Graeme Harper.
Almost from the very moment the Doctor and Peri arrive on Androzani Minor, they are taken prisoner by military forces who believe they are the gun runners aiding Sharaz Jek. On the way they encounter a raw Spectrox nest, and contract the lethal condition known as Spectrox Toxaemia. For the rest of the story, as they move from one dire situation to the next, the question becomes whether either or both of them will survive. Peter Davison's Doctor runs the gamut of emotions from compassion and defiance through hope, desperation and eventually to despair. His last moments in episode four carry a positively funereal atmosphere, aided by the sound of a bell tolling in the background of Roger Limb's excellent score.
An exceptionally strong supporting cast completes the picture. Christopher Gable perfectly conveys the insane Sharaz Jek's affection for Peri and eventually becomes one of the series' most sympathetic villains. John Normington oozes insincerity with every line as the corrupt Morgus, complete with shakesperian asides, and the mad-eyed Robert Glenister as Salateen effectively dupes Martin Cochrane's Commander Chellak. The gun runners led by Maurice Roëves' Stotz add a further unpleasant variable to the mix.
The only disappointment is the absolutely awful Magma Creature (a.k.a. man in a rubber suit who can't see where he's going), but that minor plot device is easily forgiven in the face of such an excellent whole.
The special features are somewhat average. There's a behind the scenes feature on the regeneration scene that really could have done with an optional commentary; a photo gallery; a few trailers; a couple of interesting 1980s news features on Davison's decision to leave the show; and an option to listen to the musical score as an isolated soundtrack. However, as ever with the Doctor Who DVD releases, there are excellent on-screen production subtitles and a full commentary. This time, the commentary is by Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper, which proves to be a particularly lively and entertaining mix (Davison's commentary on the regeneration scene is hilarious). Overall, better features than in the previous DVD releases.


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