Category Archives: Doctor who

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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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: Doctor Who: The Trial of the Valeyard by Alan Barnes (Big Finish Audio Drama)

Doctor Who: Trial of the Valeyard

This year’s Big Finish extra release explores one of the more controversial and debate-worthy characters from the original run of Doctor Who — The Valeyard..

The Doctor is recalled to the station and asked to defend the Valeyard on a series of charges. But has the High Council stacked the deck against the Valeyard even before the trial begins and does that answer tie into the “true” identity of the Valeyard?

For years, the Valeyard was declared off-limits by the BBC for further explanation. But with the series continuation, the question of if or when the series might be allowed to delve into the Doctor’s darker side has been one that has cropped up from time to time (especially after the Dream Lord made his appearance in series five).

“The Trial of the Valeyard” is geared directly at hard-core classic Who fans, full of speculation and piecing threads together along with winks, nods and Easter eggs galore for long-time fans. I’m not sure if writer Alan Barnes was aware of how things would play out with the 50th anniversary special and the Doctor’s regeneration order, but if he wasn’t, he and Moffat must be on the same wave length or drinking some of the same Kool-Aid.

And yet for all the answers and connecting the dots, Barnes still leaves us with new questions about the identity of the Valeyard and just how the revelations here could or should play out within the establishing continuity of the show. With the recently released “Night of the Doctor” bringing some of the Big Finish continuity into the official canon of the series, I can’t help but wonder if some of the ideas put forth here might not be included in future installments.

If they are or if they aren’t, this is still a fun audio adventures with plenty of rewards for the obsessed Who fan in me.

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Doctor Who: “The Three Doctors”

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To celebrate fifty years of Doctor Who, I’m taking a look back at how the series celebrated its anniversary in the past.   First up is the four part opening to season ten, “The Three Doctors.”

Threedoctors_title“We’re the same Time Lord.”

During the Jon Pertwee era, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks felt that each season of Doctor Who should get off to a raising and easy-to-publicize start.   This was easy to do in the first year of Pertwee’s tenure since a new Doctor was coming on board and the show was being made in color for the first time.  The next two years saw the introduction of a new adversary for the good Doctor and then the long-awaited return of the Daleks (after a multi-year absence from screens).

For the tenth anniversary season, Letts and Dicks decided to kick things off with a story that saw the Doctor joining forces with his previous selves.    In the DVD extras, Letts claims that fans had been asking for a multi-Doctor story since he took the reigns as producer in season seven.   After three seasons of punting on a multi-Doctor story, Letts and Dicks finally decided it was time to pull the trigger and bring everyone back for a celebration of ten years of the Doctor.

And so it was that “The Three Doctors” was born.

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, “The Three Doctors” is less a celebration of the show’s first decade and more of a fairly standard Pertwee era story with the first two Doctors thrown in as glorified sidekicks.   It helps that one of those sidekicks is Patrick Troughton, who (as he does in all multi-Doctor stories) steals the show right out from under Jon Pertwee and the rest of the regular cast.    William Harntell’s role is even more limited, largely due to his decline in health.  Hartnell was in a stage of his life that he had good days and bad days.  It was on a good day that Letts spoke to him and the actor agreed to reprise the role.  His failing health led to large portions of the script having to be hastily rewritten (there had already been a publicity photo shoot with all three actors that was hanging over the heads of the creative team…so you couldn’t cut Hartnell out completely).  Instead, the actor appeared in pre-filmed shots that could be looped into the studio on the TARDIS viewing screen.

Overall, the story isn’t one of the greatest of the third Doctor era, nor is it necessarily one of the worst.  In my mind, the Pertwee years breaks down into two distinct halves.  The first twelve stories of the era are more hit than miss with a lot of the stories hitting the mark of being a classic or near classic status.  There are some standout stories like “Inferno,” “Mind of Evil” and “The Daemons” in there and the duds (“Claws of Axos” and “Colony in Space”) still have enough to recommend about them to make them worth visiting again.  It’s once you get past “The Sea Devils” that things take a turn and you get more duds thrown into the mix.

“The Three Doctors” isn’t necessarily a dud, but it’s not necessarily a classic era.  It’s a more middle of the road story from the anniversary season.

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And the new Doctor is…

Peter Capaldi Doctor WhoEarlier today, I tuned into the BBC’s world-wide extravaganza, celebrating the revelation of the actor who will play the 12th Doctor.

In many ways, the event reminded me of the season finale of a lot of reality shows — lots of celebratory clips and looks back, all the while keeping the reason for tuning in under wraps until the last possible moment.*

*I enjoyed the reflections by Peter Davison and the first set of panelists.  The second set, not so much.  But then again, I grew a bit tired of Wilf in the overbaked “The End of Time.”  And while it would be easy to go Comic Book guy on the Who fan on the panel, I can’t honestly say that I’d do any better, knowing every word and utterance would be broken down and dissected by a world-wide fan boy audience.

And then finally, the news broke that it’s Peter Capaldi is taking on the role.

At first, my thought was “Who?”  (no irony intended).  Thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to do some research and find out a bit more.  And, so far, I’m sold on Capaldi as a solid choice to follow-up my favorite Doctor of the modern era.**

**He’s got a Scottish accent…as does my all time favorite Doctor.   Already in good company there!

As I thought about the half-hour celebration and revelation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time years ago when I found out that Colin Baker had given way to Sylvester McCoy.  I recall that it was mentioned during a pledge break on the local PBS station and I was completely shocked by the news.  Part of it was because I’d just read an interview with Colin Baker days before saying he wanted to break Tom Baker’s seven-year tenure as the Doctor and part of it was that was in the days before the Internet and connecting with fellow Who fans wasn’t as easy as it is today.

I also recall that my local PBS station (KTEH in San Jose) quickly got hold of a press conference with McCoy, John-Nathan Turner and a couple of other Who dignitaries and aired it one evening as part of a pledge break special.  (I think it took the place of or pushed back an interview with Patrick Troughton, but this was over 25 years ago and my memory is probably not all that reliable).

The difference between then and now struck me.  Back then, the press conference was relatively low-key with little or no production values.  Today’s announcement was over the top with all the bells and whistles.  The McCoy reveal was done early, while today it took 25 minutes of build-up to get to the reason everyone was tuning in.

It’s the difference between fandom then and now.   Back then, I never thought I’d see young people wearing t-shirts proclaiming their love of the show nor did I think there would be all the sheer plethora of tie-in items that I see on the market today.   I see these fans with a mixture of envy because it’s cool to like Doctor Who these days and bitterness since I was a fan when being a fan wasn’t cool.  I also wonder how many of them will be fans of the show ten years from now or a couple of years after it retires again.    Or how many of them will abandon the show with an older actor in the role who isn’t young, hip and fits the profile of sexy?

Oh I’m sure they’ll continue to swoon over David Tennant (the most overrated Doctor of all time) but I wonder how long that will continue and when they’ll move on to the next flavor of the month….

Update:  A quick search of YouTube turns of this video, which I think is the interview/press conference in question.

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Audio Book Reviews: Doctor Who

Doctor Who and the Visitation: An Unabridged Classic Doctor Who NovelDoctor Who and the Visitation by Eric Saward, read by Matthew Waterhouse

Eric Saward’s adaptation of his own fifth Doctor script is very much in the mid-level Terrance Dicks mode of transcribing the television story with little or no embellishment.

In the day and age in which the Doctor Who novels were originally published, I suppose this is good enough. But thirty years out when we can easily stream the episodes of this popular story or pick it up brilliantly remastered on DVD, it only makes “The Visitation” as a novel that much more disappointing.

That means heading into the audio release of the story, it had a strike against it. Strike two comes from Matthew Waterhouse’s rather uninspired reading of the story. Waterhouse’s choice for the voices of Richard Mace and the Terraleptils is uninspired at best and distracting at its worst. I’m not saying that an audio reader has to exactly capture the performance given by another actor on screen, but doing a complete 180 of the performance in the case of Mace and the alien invaders really takes you out of the story. Add to it that Waterhouse puts little or no effort into distinguishing the voices of the rest of the main cast and you’ve got a disappointing release in what is generally a great line of audio books.

Doctor Who: The GunfightersDoctor Who: The Gunfighters by Donald Cotton, read by Shane Rimmer

 

“The Gunfighters” is not one of the more well-regarded serials from the first Doctor’s era.

So this could be why I skipped Donald Cotton’s adaptation of the serial in my Target novel collecting days.

I will also admit it’s been a long while since I’ve seen the original serial, though it sits on my DVD shelf. Call me a slave to my completest tendencies.

When I saw that the story was coming out as an audio book, I decided I’d take the plunge on it, figuring it would be a nice way to spend a few hours while working out or working around the house.

Unfortunately, the old saying that “the horses get the best lines” in this story is further evidenced by Cotton’s adaptation of the story.

Seeking a cure to a toothache, the Doctor sends the TARDIS to the wild, wild west, around the time of the historic gunfight at the OK Corral. Before long, the Doctor, Stephen and Dodo are caught up cases of mistaken identity and the events leading up to the infamous gun battle.

On the printed page, Cotton is freed from the limitations of a TV budget and allowed to let the story roam a bit more freely. And thank heavens he doesn’t try to incorporate the infamous song from the television serial into his novel. But the novel does tend to ramble a bit and while some of the asides and alleys are humorous, often times I found the humor falling a bit flat.

The novel is read by Shane Rimmer, who was part of the guest cast in the original serial. His deep Western drawl gets a bit tedious and quickly wears out its welcome.

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