Category Archives: tv reviews

Big Finish Reviews: The Crooked Man, The Evil One, The Last of the Colophon

Doctor Who: The Crooked Man (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.03)The Crooked Man

Given that The Crooked Man is from the pen of John Dorney, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I enjoyed it as much as I did. And that’s despite having an reveal in the last five or so minutes that I guessed long before the Doctor and company deduced it (or at least that they confirmed it in the course of the story).

The Doctor and Leela arrive in a sea-side town for a holiday but discover that a macabre series of murders is taking place. Investigating further, they soon discover there’s a link between these murders and a local family — the sinister and creepy Crooked Man of the title.

The idea of world of fiction having the ability to crossover into reality is nothing new for Doctor Who (see the Troughton era serial “The Mind Robber”) so it’s a huge credit to Dorney’s script that it manages to feel interesting when done here. And while there’s a twist in the last five or so minutes of the script that’s telegraphed fairly early on by the story, it’s still one that is entirely earned by the story. Continue reading

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Big Finish Thoughts: White Ghosts, The Elite & Hexagora

Doctor Who: White Ghosts (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.02)

White Ghosts  by Alan Barnes 

After the promising ending to “The Kings of Sontar” I’ll admit I had high expectations for the next fourth Doctor adventure.

And I’ll admit upon first blush, I was a bit disappointed by how easily it seemed certain developments from “Sontar” were swept aside. But pondering it further and taking the opportunity to listen to the story again, I feel like my first feelings of disappointment were misplaced and that maybe, must maybe I’d missed what this series of audio stories are trying to do in terms of the fourth Doctor and Leela. And if the stories can pay this off (and if that pay off can come without the Daleks being involved), I could see myself being a lot more pleased than I was after my initial assessment.

Avoiding a close run-in with a missile, the TARDIS materializes on board a planet that is kept in perpetual darkness. A scientific research team is there, studying a newly created species of plant life. But there’s a reason the team is doing so on a planet where there is little or no light — a secret that quickly comes to light (pun not intended, but it works). Before you know it, the story unfolds as a fast-paced, two-part base-under-siege story as the Doctor struggles to understand the implications of what’s going on and Leela fights to defend herself and the rapidly dwindling supporting cast from becoming what plant vampires.

Barnes’ story works well enough on the surface. Like another story I recently listened to, the ending comes a bit out of left field and feels a bit too rushed and like Barnes is trying to wrap things up too quickly or within the time constraints placed upon him. It’s a shame because had the story been given another five minutes to breath, it might have worked a lot better.

And there are some interesting implications to the philosophical disagreement that came up between the Doctor and Leela in the last story and the role the Time Lords play in sending the Doctor on this mission. If this season of stories is about exploring Leela’s reaction to how the Time Lords use the Doctor to do their dirty work, this could be a very interesting turn of events.

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Review: Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris

Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel

Following in the footsteps of the fiftieth anniversary re-release of original, printed Doctor Who adventures comes the Monsters Editions. Each of these reprinted stories features one of the Doctor’s classic adversaries from the printed page.

Representing the Weeping Angels is Jonathan Morris’ “Touched by an Angel.”

And just like the episode “Blink” that introduced the angels to Doctor Who lore, this novel is one that I’d consider a Doctor-light story. The eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory are present throughout much of the story, but the real star of this books is Mark Whitacker.

Mark is attacked by the Weeping Angels but sent back in time only a few years instead of across an entire lifetime. The Angels have identified Mark as having the potential to create a huge time paradox upon which they can feed and recharge. Mark is still hurting from the death of his wife a few years earlier and sees his being zapped back in time as an opportunity to save her from what he sees as her untimely death. Mark even went so far as to write himself a note detailing certain events and while he never crosses paths directly with himself, he does push his younger self along at certain points in his life (one instance involves a lost wallet in Rome).

The Doctor is forced to allow Mark to do this since what he’s done is already history and to go against it would create the paradox the Angels so desperately want to feed on. But Mark is hiding his ultimate agenda from the Doctor and his companions, who follow his exploits through time in the TARDIS, dropping in at pivotal occasions to hold Mark to his word and to keep history on course.

In some ways, “Touched by An Angel” feels like a Doctor Who take on The Time Traveller’s Wife. Morris makes Mark and Rebecca work well on the page and allows us to see inside Mark’s reasoning and desire to save Rebecca’s life, even if we agree with the Doctor that it can’t and shouldn’t be done. The creepiness of the Angels that worked so well in “Blink” is captured here on the printed page. In many ways, this feels like it could easily be adapted into a story for the new series, assuming they had the time and budget to do it.

I’ve read a lot of Doctor Who tie-in fiction in my life and I’ve got to admit that some of it is better than others. I’d put this one squarely in the category of the better stories told in the printed range.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles — Council of War

Doctor Who: Council of War

For the first fifty or so minutes, Council of War is an entertaining, compelling story. Then suddenly, the entire story hinges on what can only be called a deus ex Doctor and the entire thing collapses under its own weight.

Benton is sent by the Doctor and the Brigadier to a town of Kettering to investigate ghost sightings and disappearances by members of the town council. Posing as just-appointed councilmember, Benton attends the council Christmas party, meeting Margery Philips, self-proclaimed feminist and recently elected fellow councilmember.

An alien ship appears above the town and before you know it, Benton and Margery are swept up to an alien world, where Margery is on trial for (as of yet) unexplained crimes. It appears that Margery’s career in politics was a successful one, leading to her writing a book heralding the value of peace and non-violence. The alien race in question stumbled across said book, adopted it as the cornerstone of their society and had a decade or so of peaceful existence. And then an alien race with weapons showed up and demanded their subservience. The original aliens blame Margery for this and have put her on trial for the alleged crimes against their species.

Margery and Benton (each takes turn narrating the story and, for the most part, it works) argue that whether or not she’s to blame is irrelevant and that the alien race needs to stand up for themselves. However, the only weapons they have are show pieces in a museum and Benton’s walther-PPK. Benton hatches a plan to use the museum pieces to distract the aliens while he uses a device the Doctor whipped up to stow away on board the alien craft and create some havoc.

To this point, the story is going well though I will admit I started to become concerned the longer the story continued as to whether or not there would be enough time to properly wrap up the story in an interesting, believable way. And, unfortunately, these fears are realized when the story takes the easiest way possible out of the situation and left me feeling a bit empty and like I’d just wasted an hour or so listening to the story.

At several points in the story, allusions are made to the Bond stories and movies (there’s even a reference to Benton looking a bit like George Lazanby). It seems like the authors may have been trying to go for a Bond-like feel to this entry in the Companion Chronicles range. I’m guessing that makes the Brig M and the Doctor Q on some level…but I digress. Like I said before, the story works well until the last five or so minutes where instead of sticking the landing, it feels like the authors realized that had five minutes left to wrap this all up and went for the most convenient, easy, get-out-of-alien-invasion-free card they could find.

I know that several single disc releases have run three episodes and perhaps Council of War might have benefited from a bit longer running time.

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Animated Star Trek Round-Up: Episodes Five Through Ten

startrekheaderSix more episodes down in my quest to watch all of the animated episodes of Star Trek.  And it feels like this half-dozen episodes contain a lot of sequels and call backs to classic Star Trek.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to a bit of an exposition dump in certain installments.

One thing I’ve noticed in watching these episodes is that they’re lean and mean when it comes to the storyline.  With half the running time of original series installments, there is no time for side tangents, filler or padding.   This set also includes an episode I have vague memories of watching on a  Saturday morning growing up and thinking it was interesting.  At this time, my awareness of Star Trek came mostly from ads on the back of comic books for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and from the series of Power Records that were out at the time.*

* I think a whole post on the Power Records series could be coming in the near future since those really helped cement my early interest in all things Trek.

And so, here are my thoughts on the next six installments of animated Trek.

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Star Trek: The Animated Series Round-Up: The First Four Episodes

startrekheaderThese days there’s a lot of Star Trek out there.   At last count, there were over 700 episodes from the various series plus a dozen movies.*

*If you add in the fan-made productions, it only increases the number.

I guess you could say that if you’re a Star Trek fan, you have a lot to choose from.   Given the size of the buffet, it’s easy to get caught up in only going back for your favorite course again and again — in my case, this would be the original (and still the best) Star Trek.   Even within the original three year run, there are  certain runs that I’m more familiar with or re-visit more often than others.**  And as with an smorguboard, there are going to be some areas that you neglect, don’t visit or maybe overlook.

**To combat this, I did a re-watch of the third season a few years ago and found I enjoyed it.

One of those blind spots in my Star Trek fandom is the Animated Series.   I’ve seen a sampling of episodes in repeats and from picking up the commercial VHS releases on clearance back in the day.  And like the completist that I am, I’ve purchased the DVD set and have it sitting on my shelf with the rest of episodic Trek.   When it first came out, I had every intention of watching the entire run, though that quickly got sidetracked.

I’ve read a smattering of the Alan Dean Foster adaptations of the episodes and found them a bit more satisfying than than the actual episodes themselves.

And so, I’ve had this gap in my Trek fandom for a while now.

Enter the Mission Log Podcast, which for the past year and a half has been turning a critical eye to every episode of the original series and determining the morals, messages and meanings as well as looking at whether or not the episodes stand the test of time.    With the original series in the books, the podcast has turned to looking at the animated series and it’s given me a good excuse to sit down and finally take in the animated series.

So far, we’re two Mission Logs into the lookback at animated Trek and four episodes into the animated run.

And, of course, I’ve got a few thoughts on things.

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Thoughts on A Couple of Big Finish Doctor Who Releases

Doctor Who: The Final Phase (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures, #2.7)Doctor Who: The Final Phase by Nicholas Briggs

Why must every run of Big Finish stories end with the Daleks?

When the range first brought the Doctor’s greatest nemesis back in audio form all those years ago, I was excited, intrigued and couldn’t wait to hear them. Now I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “The Daleks again?!?”

Perhaps the classic series knew what it was doing when it operated under the less is more theory of Dalek stories. Having a bit of space in between stories featuring the Daleks (or even the perception that there is some space between them) helps make the Dalek stories seem a little more special.

I get that Nicholas Briggs loves the Daleks and I get that he’s really good at doing their voices. I just find myself wishing that every Big Finish arc I listened to didn’t all end up with the Daleks somehow behind the plot.

And so it is that we end the latest round of Tom Baker audio dramas with a whimper and not a bang. I can see what the stories are trying to do by trying together a lot of threads from the course of the seven installments that make up the Tom Baker/Mary Tamm season together. But honestly, looking back over the stories the ones I enjoyed the most were the stand-alone titles and not the ones that attempted to give the season an overall theme or arc. Baker quickly settles back into his role as the Doctor with a flourish and Mary Tamm does a fine job as the first Romana. This comes as little surprise me to me since I’ve listened to the two bounce off each other on the DVD commentaries for season 16 and they’ve still got chemistry in spades).

“The Final Phase” tries hard to wrap things up but I can’t help but feel like it would have been better served if this story and the preceding “The Dalek Contract” had been done as either an extended run two-part story or possibly three episodes. The events that take place here feel padded at four episodes and like there’s a lot of verbal running up and down corridors taking place to fill time. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t necessarily find the a verbal sparring match with the Daleks all that interesting. (Terry Nation was on to something when he realizes that long exchanges of dialogue by Daleks can become inherently uninteresting after a certain point. Hence why he have Davros and the superlative “Genesis of the Daleks.”)

Tying in threads from the earlier two-disc release, this two part story doesn’t have anything revelatory or new to say. The Daleks are going to betray Cuthbert and their alliance? Check and saw that coming. The Daleks want to lure the Doctor into a trap and will hold various people prisoner to do so? Check and again, saw it coming. In the end, this wrap up to the season feels more like “been there, done that” that in really bringing any closure or wrapping up the season.

It’s a shame that this is the final time Tamm will reprise her role as the original Romana. As I said before, Tamm is great. It’s just the material that lets her down.

Doctor Who: The King Of Sontar (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.01)Doctor Who: The King Of Sontar by John Dorney

While I was disappointed by how the previous season of fourth Doctor adventures ended, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued the start of a new run of fourth Doctor and Leela stories. I guess since John Dorney is behind the script for the first installment, “The Kings of Sontar,” that shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Dorney is one of the most consistent writers for the Big Finish range and this latest story continues his streak.

The fourth Doctor and Leela are sent by the Time Lords to Dowcra base, where an elite group of Sontarans led by augmented Sontaran Strang has aspirations of ending the war with the Rutans and setting about conquering the universe. There’s a threat to the universe as we know it with the Doctor squarely caught in the middle, trying to figure out if and how he can and should stop it.

The story itself unfolds in a fairly expected fashion for the first fifty or so minutes. And then characters make a few decisions that lead up to a electric scene in the TARDIS and some intriguing conflict between the Doctor and Leela. Dorney builds on some of the established conflicts between these two from their television days and gives this run of stories the potential to be something interesting and special. Whether or not the range can pay-off what’s put in place here remains to be seen but it certainly has this listener intrigued and interested in a way I haven’t been since the initial excitement of Tom Baker coming to the range wore off.

Baker and Louise Jameson slip easily back into the familiar roles of the Doctor and Leela and it’s nice to hear David Collins back in Doctor Who.

I can only hope that Dorney will be on board to help wrap up this run of Big Finish stories. Or that maybe, just maybe we can have a run of stories that don’t feature the Daleks as the pivotal enemy behind things. AT this point, I’m scared to look ahead at the upcoming installments and art work for fear of having things given away — or being disappointed to see a season-ending Briggs story.

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Review: Doctor Who: Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.

After reading Stephen Baxter’s Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn’t sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds’ The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.

Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of “The Sea Devils” and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.

Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor’s tenure — assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it’s clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels — tie-in or otherwise — that I’ve read this year.

It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds’ non-Who offerings.

Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who’d love a chance to read it.

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Review: Star Trek: Allegiance in Exile by David R. George II

Allegiance in Exile

Lately I’ve been revisiting the Star Trek universe via a combination of DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming video as well as listening to the great Mission Log podcast.

All of that, plus reading a few heavier books (both in terms of content and page count) put me in the mood for a light, fun palate cleanser tie-in novel. And so it was that after a year of languishing on my to-be-read pile, I finally decided it was time to give David R. George III’s Allegiance in Exile a look.

Set in the final year of the original five year mission, the novel finds Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise discovering an apparently deserted planet that holds a deadly cache of self-defense weapons. After the ship and landing party are attacked (including the destruction of a shuttle or two), Kirk and company discover a way to detect and disable the installations.

While Kirk struggles with what the future could hold and the next step in his career (he’s not ready to leave the bridge of the Enterprise just yet), Sulu meets and falls for a member of the crew, who was part of the landing party with him. Of course, this can only mean one thing — the crew member in question’s life span is reduced to about twenty or so minute (or in this case about 100 pages).
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Thoughts on Bosch

boschJust as they did last year, Amazon is allowing the audience to decide which of several new pilots will go to series.  But unlike last year, this time around there were two pilots that immediately caught my eye and I added to my “to watch” list sooner rather than later.

The first is Chris Carter’s new series The After and the other Bosch, which is based on the best-selling mystery series by Michael Connelly.

I had some free time this afternoon and enough time to watch one of the two series.  After much debating, I decided to go with Bosch first.

First of all, I will admit that I’m a big fan of Connelly”s mysteries and the Bosch novels in particular.  So, I had some fairly high hopes and expectations heading into the series.

And while it did take me a few minutes to reconcile how the various actors involved in the series differed from my own mental casting (for some reason, my mental image of Bosch is closer to Ron Pearlman), overall I like what I’ve seen so far.

The series has a couple of things going for it right up front.  First is that Connelly is involved as a producer — he even co-wrote the pilot episode.  In addition, some of the creative team in front of and behind the camera gave us The Wire, which I’ve heard nothing but great things about and is on my bucket list of TV shows to watch when time permits.

As the pilot begins, Bosch is stuck in court, facing charges in a civil trial related to a perp that he took out two years before.   While Bosch was exonerated by Los Angeles police department, he’s still facing civil penalties from the family of the man who was shot.   Bosch is going a bit stir crazy being stuck in court all day and pulled off regular duty rotation — so much so that he trades Laker tickets to a couple of guys on the force to cover their weekend shift.

While doing this, Bosch uncovers a case of a child’s bones buried in the hills.   Bosch manipulates the system and his partner, Jerry Edgar, to stay on the case while he’s in court facing trial.

As an introduction to the universe of all things Harry Bosch, the pilot works extremely well. And while I’ll readily admit that Titus Weliver wasn’t the actor I had mentally cast as Bosch, it only took a few minutes for me to get past this and to really like Weliver in the role.  The series has softened Bosch a bit — in the books, he’s a bit of jerk to people — so that we’ll at least root for him as a hero, or possibly an anti-hero.

I’ve read that should the pilot get ordered to series, it will follow Connelly’s “City of Bones” as the backbone of the season.  Interestingly, I believe this is next in line of the Bosch novels I haven’t ready yet and it’s sitting on my to-be-read pile.  It may have to make a move up the pile a bit since the mystery intrigued me enough that I wanted to know more once the fifty or so minutes has finished streaming to my set.

As for the rest of Bosch’s world, it’s all there — from his love of jazz to his taste in food and liquor.  There are also several familiar faces from the novels that crop up.

So far, I’m sold.  If Amazon decides to move forward on this one, I’ll watch.  And given that Bosch has a good sized catalog of books, this is a show that has ample material for a long and fascinating run.

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