The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the tag “gary russell”

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

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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: 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.

Book Review: New Series Adventures – The Glamour Chase by Gary Russell

The Glamour Chase by Gary Russell
New Series Adventures #36 – Eleventh Doctor (#6)
Featuring the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and the Tahnn

Rating: C

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves on England, 1936, where an archeological dig has unearthed a space ship that has rested dormant for thousands of years, with its inhabitants in stasis. The Doctor and his companions’ memories seem to be affected by some strange force, with Amy thinking the Doctor is from Mars, for some reason.

Trouble is to be had when another alien race of people who were chasing this ship show up looking for them. They wreck havoc along the way, and a pretty much big ol’ meanie heads. Pretty standard story overall, but I still quite liked it because of excellent characterization of Rory as a companion. Gary Russell actually seems to write Rory better than the TV writers do, which makes this something of a breath of fresh air in the world of Doctor Who companion characterization. There are a lot of references to other things in Doctor Who lore (Bernice Summerfield, a past incarnation of the Doctor, among other things) that will keep tie-in nerds happy, which is kinda neato.

Book Review: Virgin Missing Adventures – The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell

The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell
Virgin Missing Adventures #24 – Third Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Liz, the Brig, & the Silurians

Rating: B+

Although not a Doctor Who novel I would have picked randomly, I ended up reading it because of it being chosen as the next discussion book for The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast, which I have recently become infatuated with. As it turns out, I ended up enjoying The Scales of Injustice greatly, and I really can’t figure out why I didn’t think I would.

“The Silurians” and “The Sea Devils” are two of my absolute favorite Doctor Who serials. I love the idea of an alien whose role as a villain or a friend is ambiguous. The Earth Reptiles (as they refer to themselves in this novel) are neither good nor bad; there are some among them who think that an alliance with humans is the right thing to do, and others who, much like the humans, believe the only answer is to eradicate their opposition. This conflict in the television serials and in this novel throw away the standard “good vs. evil” mentality of a lot of Doctor Who stories. The ambiguity is really what makes it interesting.

Not long after the events of “Inferno,” the Silurians appear to be causing trouble around England again. A handful of people suddenly go missing, and naturally, the Doctor and UNIT spring into action to find the source of the disappearances. It quickly becomes apparent what is behind the incidences, and the Doctor once again tries to negotiate a peace between the humans and the reptilian humanoids who previously ruled the planet.

The Scales of Injustice goes a long way to fix some perceived continuity errors that would pop up in the later Fifth Doctor serial “Warriors of the Deep.” Although I haven’t seen the Fifth Doctor story in question, there are apparently some issues in that the Doctor in “Warriors of the Deep” appears to already have a previous relationship with characters that hadn’t previous appeared on the show. In this novel, the first meeting of the Doctor and some of the characters later in that serial is shown, thus fixing the problem. It is a good example of a tie-in working to benefit continuity, rather than mess it up.

Gary Russell’s greatest strength is his quality of characters. He has a perfect grasp of who everyone is, including both the characters that had already existed in the show, and his own characters are as interesting and three-dimensional as the ones we are already familiar with. Among his created characters are the villains, who I won’t go into detail about for spoilery reasons, and the Brigadier’s secretary Maisie Hawke, a headstrong and intelligent woman who is written in such a way that she feels like a character we’ve known all along. Although apparently she is based on an unnamed character who has a minor appearance in “Day of the Daleks,” this is for all intents and purposes her creation. She, and the aforementioned villains, are well-written and interesting characters that I found myself wanting to know more about.

The best part of the novel is the character development of Liz Shaw and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. In Liz’s storyline, we get to know a lot more about what is going on inside of her head, especially in the events leading to her departure from UNIT. Russell is loyal to who she is in the television show, with adding just enough to make her an even more likable character than she already was. It makes me wish even more that we had a chance to see more of her on the show.

In the Brigadier’s storyline, Russell writes a bit of his private life. We see him interact with his wife and daughter, as his marriage slowly begins to fall apart as the result of the strange hours he is required to keep in his role as UNIT. It is a common story of a working man whose focus is perhaps in the wrong place, but it is made all the more poignant to see it happening to a character who most Doctor Who fans have some affection for, and who is seen mostly as just the military man with occasional moments of affability.

Perhaps most important of any part of the novel, is that we get a departure scene for Liz Shaw. Her farewell in the final chapter of the book is perfectly done and memorable, as good as any of the departures we have seen on the screen. Although there are occasional issues in this novel with the plot getting a bit jumbled, and perhaps too many characters to keep track of, it is still a worthwhile and quite great novel because it adds so much to the story without getting in the way. We get to know the characters better because of the book, and that’s really what these sort of books should be about.

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