The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the category “audio reviews”

Audio Review: Scherzo

Doctor Who Big Finish Scherzo“Scherzo” (Big Finish #52)
Written by Robert Shearman
Directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor and Charley

Although a bit of a disappointment coming from the writer of The Chimes of Midnight, Scherzo at the very least continues to show Paul McGann’s and India Fisher’s excellence in the Big Finish productions. Robert Shearman has obviously written better audios, but Scherzo isn’t completely without merit.

Scherzo is definitely firmly in the “Doctor Who dabbles in horror” section of the mythos, and recalls The Edge of Destruction in that the only cast members are the the Doctor and his companion. It’s not TARDIS centric the way that television story was, but it is a creepy horror story with an unseen enemy. There are some genuinely unsettling moments, but most of the scares come from sudden waves of noise that make you jump. Essentially, cheap thrills.

Luckily, this audio play doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Adding up to a tidy 90 minutes, it might have been pretty bad if it were stretched out any more. It manages to be enjoyable on the strength of the performances, as the team of the Eighth Doctor and Charley is quickly rocketing up my list of favorite TARDIS teams. Being that they only have each other to act against, this would be one of the bigger challenges they have had so far. In the end, Scherzo is not one of the best audio plays Big Finish has produced, but it is solid and worthwhile for McGann and Fisher.

Rating: C


Audio Review: Neverland

“Neverland” (Big Finish #33)
Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Charley, and Romana II

Rating: B

After traveling through space and time for about ten adventures (that we know of) with Charley Pollard, the girl who was supposed to die at the crash of the R101 in the early 20th century, time has finally caught up with the TARDIS team. The Doctor is forced to accept that perhaps the only way to restore time to its own rightful order is to kill Charley and fulfill her unfortunate destiny. The pair go to Gallifrey where Paul McGann’s Doctor must answer for breaking the laws of time to none other than the President of Gallifrey and former Doctor companion Romana.

Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of the overly Gallifrey-centric stories. Things like “The Deadly Assassin” just don’t appeal to me that much, and before this, I didn’t really have much feeling for anything Gallifrey related outside of the last two episodes of the Patrick Troughton serial “The War Games”. Although this story gets a bit bogged down in wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey towards the end, I actually ended up really enjoying “Neverland”.

The Eighth Doctor and Charley as a pair are one of my favorite TARDIS teams ever, and probably my favorite of the audios (though it may be a tie with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe). I’m one of the few people who really enjoys the 1996 TV movie, and I’m a big fan of Paul McGann’s interpretation of the Doctor. That being said, I don’t feel like up to this point that McGann’s Doctor had gotten particularly good scripts in the audios. Aside from the really phenomenal “The Chimes of Midnight” and the enjoyable “The Sword of Orion”, I could take or leave the rest of his up to this point. That said, the chemistry between India Fisher and McGann is so strong that it makes even the weaker stories listenable and enjoyable (with the exception of the completely unsalvageable “Invaders from Mars”). Luckily, “Neverland” proves to be a damn good story. Compounding the enjoyability of India Fisher and Paul McGann as a team, Lalla Ward makes a great appearance as one of the cooler Fourth Doctor era companions, Romana (in her second incarnation).

Although there are times in “Neverland” where the plot is a bit hard to follow, and the solution didn’t really register in my head (probably my fault), I really enjoyed the ride in this one. It is a bit odd that this one features two hour-long parts rather than the standard four, the story flies by so it doesn’t bug me. Lalla Ward was phenomenal in “The Apocalypse Element” (featuring the Sixth Doctor) and once again kicks ass and takes names in “Neverland”. The dialogue throughout is strong, and using India Fisher ina double role suits the story’s flow and gives it more gravity. Also quite interesting to see the return of an important Time Lord (not counting Romana and the Doctor), but I won’t spoil it in case there are readers here who haven’t taken a listen. Although not in the same category as “The Chimes of Midnight” or the aforementioned “Spare Parts”, I seriously enjoyed “Neverland” and look forward to getting to the further adventures of the Eighth Doctor.

Audio Review: The Chimes of Midnight

“The Chimes of Midnight” (Big Finish #29)
Written by Robert Shearman, directed by Barnaby Edwards
Featuring the Doctor, Charley, and a haunted house

Rating: A+

Audio plays as a medium for Doctor Who are generally at their best when they take best advantage of the way they are telling their story. Horror as a genre is the perfect area for Doctor Who in audio form to dabble in because horror as a genre in any medium is always more scary when you can’t see what you’re being afraid of. When it is left up to your imagination to generate the evil, it is much more affecting. By virtue of audio being just audio, you’re forced to imagine the scary parts in your head, which is actually a positive for the medium in this case rather than a negative.

The Doctor and Charley find themselves in a house that is experiencing a strange sort of time dilation. People who apparently die seem to vanish from everyone’s collective memory, while likewise everything seems connected in a strange and incomprehensible way. The Doctor is particularly confused in this one, and it all starts with a mysterious message in dust from a time passed, or yet to come.

I’ve previously enjoyed the Eighth Doctor in audio form (and in the TV movie, for that matter), but this is really the first excellent audio from his era. After the godawful “Invaders from Mars”, I was so pleased to see that things managed to pick up right away. Both Paul McGann and India Fisher are frankly fantastic in this audio, who are helped in no small part by really excellent writing and solid direction. I’ve never actually been scared by anything in horror, much less Doctor Who horror, but I would say that “The Chimes of Midnight” came closer to it than even television stories like “Blink” that are outstanding but didn’t manage to scare me.

Aside from brilliant acting and perfect atmosphere, one of the things that I think made this audio play better than the rest is that there are actually characters here that are worth liking. There is a subplot involving Charley and one of the workers at the old house that is pretty heartbreaking, with India Fisher totally knocking it out of the park. I feel like I have less interesting things to say when a story succeeds on every level, but audios like this are the reason I am such a fan of Big Finish. If I were to try to convert someone to the audios I would have to pick either this or “Spare Parts”. Being that it was written by the guy responsible for the first actually good episode of the new series (“Dalek”), I expected something at least solid, but I adored it.

Audio Review: Invaders From Mars

“Invaders From Mars” (Big Finish #28)
Written & Directed by Mark Gatiss
Featuring the Doctor, Charley, and bad American accents

Rating: F

“Invaders from Mars” is the perfect example of why I should never get my hopes up about anything when it comes to Doctor Who. I tend to like stuff a lot of people don’t, and when I expect to like something, I am quite disappointed. This was the case with “Invaders from Mars,” which may very well be my least favorite of the Big Finish audios so far.

The idea is great: The Doctor and Charley arrive in New York just in time for Orson Welles’ famous radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. As the story goes, there was mass panic as people tuned in to the radio in the middle of the story and thought the events being described were real. In typical Doctor Who fashion, aliens actually WERE invading, and the Doctor showed up to sort things out.

I’m not a huge fan of Paul McGann as the Doctor but I do like him, and he has a strong chemistry with India Fisher (Charley Pollard), which makes most of their work together listenable on that level alone. Unfortunately, this is pretty much pure shit.

I tend to like stuff set in the 1930s, as I love the “noir” feel of most of the stuff set in that era, but in this case, it fails pretty miserably. The voice acting is here pretty much the worst thing I’ve ever heard; almost all of the American accents are so unbelievable that I think the casting director behind this story should be fired, and then taken out back to be drawn & quartered. How do people who can’t do American accents keep getting roles like this in Doctor Who?

On top of the subpar voicing, the story is just slow. It takes ages to get rolling, and once it reaches its peak, it still isn’t good. I have trouble saying anything nice at all about his story. It fails for me on every possible level. It’s the “The Monster of Peladon” of audios. I even preferred “Minuet in Hell.” It’s a shame Simon Pegg is one of the voices in this… Nobody could have saved this garbage.

Audio Review: Colditz

“Colditz” (Big Finish #25)
Written by Steve Lyons, directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Ace, and Nazis

Rating: C+

If asked who my favorite Doctor Who writer was, I would not have to hesitate much to say Steve Lyons. Sure, he has never written a story for the show; his work is entirely in audios and novels, but up until “Colditz,” I had never given a single thing he has written anything less than four out of five stars, or in the case of this blog, a B. Unfortunately, that streak comes to an end with this audio, which is still slightly above average.

The Doctor fighting the Nazis is something that happens A LOT in Doctor Who. Even the novel Illegal Alien that I reviewed recently featured the same cast fighting Nazis in the same war. This same wonderful TARDIS team also tackled the Nazis in Timewyrm: Exodus by Uncle Terry, in a very strong novel. and there are likely at least a dozen others that aren’t immediately coming to mind. Unfortunately, this one isn’t as good as either Timewyrm: Exodus or Illegal Alien.

“Colditz” is essentially the story of the Doctor and Ace showing up in World War II, and the Nazis see that they have a time machine and want it, so they capture the Doctor and Ace so that they can use the TARDIS to turn the tide of the war in its waning days. There is more to it than that, but the meat of the story is that. It’s not a bad plot, but having previously been floored with enthusiasm over my previous readings and listening of Lyons, I have come to expect something more awe-inspiring.

There are some good performances. As always, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are brilliant with perfect chemistry, and it is also pretty cool to hear David Tennant perform in a Doctor Who role several years before he would become a very solid Tenth Doctor. Beyond the above average performances, though, I think this was really just an average story. Hardly as good as everyone else seems to think, but certainly enjoyable. I still love Steve Lyons.

Audio Review: The Eye of the Scorpion

“The Eye of the Scorpion” (Big Finish #24)
Written by Iain McLaughlin, directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Peri, and Erimem

Rating: D+

I was so pleased in listening to “The Marian Conspiracy” and finding that the Sixth Doctor was finally given a good companion. Evelyn Smythe is great, and the chemistry Maggie Stables has with Colin Baker is just perfect. Naturally, when I saw that Big Finish was giving the Fifth Doctor a new companion, I was pretty excited there too. Unfortunately, “The Eye of the Scorpion” was pretty much entirely a let down.

The Doctor and Peri find themselves in ancient Egypt, just in time for a pharoah called Erimem to take her throne. The Doctor and Peri rescue Erimen from someone trying to have her killed, as apparently there are a lot of people who aren’t too crazy about the idea of a female pharoah (although she wouldn’t have been the first). There’s a lot of assassination attempts and general ne’er-do-welling going on, including conveniently writing the Doctor out of part two to give Peri a time to shine.

It is kind of ironic to be listening to an audio featuring a companion who, on the television show, was essentially just eye candy. I don’t think Peri is the worst companion in the show’s history, but she is hardly upper echelon. I do think she is slightly better in the audios than she had been on television, but I’m not singing the praises of her audio performances the way I am Colin Baker and Peter Davison.

The new companion, Erimem, just didn’t compel me at all. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I don’t like or like about her, but she lacks the chemistry with the Doctor and Peri that makes the aforementioned Sixth Doctor & Evelyn Smythe pair so great. Her performance is above average, but she’s not a particularly interesting character.

The story itself was pretty weak, too. It drags a bit and even when stuff is happening I never felt particularly interested by what was going on. It didn’t transfix me the way some of the previous audios had. It’s not offensively bad, but there was just nothing to like here. Meh.

Audio Review: Project Twilight

“Project: Twilight” (Big Finish #23)
Written by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright, directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Evelyn Smythe, and vampires

Rating: B

I’ve mentioned before in the Doctor Who podcast I co-host, The Raggedy Podcast, that Joss Whedon really has a lot to answer for. Since the introduction of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show in 1997, vampires seem to be consistently “in.” Every fantasy and science fiction story delves into the idea of vampires at one time or another, and with crap like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries releasing their various plagues on the entertainment world, it seems like the genre-spanning trope is here to stay.

Doctor Who has ventured into vampire territory several times, including on television (Fourth Doctor story “State of Decay,” new Series Five’s “The Vampires of Venice”), novels (Virgin New Adventures Blood Harvest, Paul Cornell’s Missing Adventure Goth Opera, Eighth Doctor Adventures Vampire Science and The Eight Doctors), and as of “Project: Twilight,” the audios as well. These various stories have been met varying receptions, but I think generally Doctor Who has managed to handle vampires pretty well.

The Doctor and Evelyn Smythe (a far superior companion to either of Colin Baker’s television sidekicks) find themselves in southeast London, on the bank of the river Thames, looking for a good Chinese takeout place. Some kind of inhuman stalker is killing a bunch of locals in the nearby streets, and the Doctor realizes something strange is going on when the bodies appear to be not only mutilated, but eaten.

“Project: Twilight” is a really brilliantly paced story; the way the first part is written, I was very quickly engaged in how the story was rolling. I knew right away that vampires were involved, and it took the Doctor and friends the first half of the story to figure it out, but I really enjoyed the ride, despite getting a little irritated that it took the Doctor so long to figure it out.

I think some of the performances in this story are particularly strong, even from the supporting cast. The bad guys are clearly bad guys from square one, but I don’t think Doctor Who has ever been really known for ambiguity in its villainy. Maggie Stables is awesome as Evelyn Smythe; it really makes me wish Colin Baker had been allowed to actually have a decent companion on screen. This isn’t an awe-inspiring story, but I really enjoyed it anyway.

Audio Review: Bloodtide

“Bloodtide” (Big Finish #22)
Written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Gary Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Evelyn, and Silurians

Rating: B

Being a fan of the Silurians in general, I was pretty excited when I saw a story featuring them was coming up as I go through the Big Finish audios in order. My excitement was compounded when I saw that it was a Sixth Doctor/Evelyn story, being that I think, although I love Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker is really the best Doctor when it comes to the audio adventures. As weak as his scripts were on television, Baker has really vindicated himself in the audios, constantly turning in brilliant performances that show what his Doctor could and should have been on screen.

“Bloodtide” is a realitivly normal Silurians story for the first half or so. The Doctor and Evelyn arrive on the Galapagos Islands, just in time to meet Charles Darwin as he begins to develop the theory of evolution. Meanwhile, the Doctor becomes distracted by a distraught woman who claims her brother was falsely accused of treason, and had been acting strangely only over the past few days. The Doctor quickly realizes the Silurians are the cause of his troubles, and naturally he jumps in to investigate, while Evelyn looks into where the Doctor has disappeared to.

There’s a pretty crazy twist in the second half that I thought was great (though I could see it being controversial), and it turns out to be an above average story. Everyone in the voice acting cast brings their A game, aside from an absolutely hammy performance from the actress potraying the woman concerned over her missing brother. Maggie Stables is as brilliant as always as Evelyn Smythe, and it is much the same from Colin Baker. I generally think the supporting cast in these audios can be a bit weak, but aside from the one aforementioned exception, I think this one was pretty well acted.

Although I wouldn’t consider this an essential Silurians story, I still enjoyed it. I tend to give most of those stories the benefit of the doubt, and in this case I don’t think I needed to. It isn’t one of the best audios I’ve heard so far (Loups-Garoux, The Fires of Vulcan, The Holy Terror, The Fearmonger), but it was enjoyable, and I have to reiterate that I love the twist.

Audio Review: Loup-Garoux

“Loups-Garoux” (Big Finish #20)
Written by Marc Platt, directed by Nicholas Pegg
Featuring the Doctor, Turlough, and werewolves

Rating: B+

In one of the few adventures to feature only the Doctor and Turlough, Peter Davison as his Doctor and in my opinion his only really worthwhile companion find themselves in not-so-far future Rio de Janiero, just in time for the festival known as Carnival. If it wasn’t obvious enough from the title, there be werewolves in them tharr Portuguese-speaking hills.

I quite enjoyed the first Fifth Doctor & Turlough audio adventure, “Phantasmagoria,” and ended up thinking this one was better. Strickson and Davison have a really great chemistry that I don’t think Davison has with any of his various other companions. I generally don’t feel one way or another about werewolves, but I thought the story of this one was very strong, as well as being well acted.

Aside from being just fun, which it is, and having some good character moments for the Doctor and Turlough, which it does, it raises some interesting questions about morality. In the story, not to spoil anything too heavily, the Doctor comes down against a scientist trying to force a cure for the werewolf genetic anomaly on those who have the gene, claiming that they have a right to be as they are.I don’t think this is as black and white a moral dilemma as is often presented in Doctor Who, because obviously werewolves have been detrimental to people in practically every media they are portrayed in.

In the case of this story, not all werewolves are evil. Much like the Silurians, one of my favorite Doctor Who races, there are some good and some bad among them. But does it really make sense to be “against” a cure for it? It seems to me that it is similar to being against someone finding a cure for down syndrome. I absolutely think that people with down syndrome have nothing to be ashamed of, but I don’t know that it makes sense to say that there shouldn’t be a cure for it. I’m usually someone who manages to have a distinct opinion on every subject, but on this one I just don’t know. Neither side feels right. I think that kind of makes this a brilliant story, because it asks questions that there are no easy answers for.

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