Big Finish made headlines when they finally convinced Christopher Eccleston that returning to his role as the ninth Doctor was something that could and should happen. The result is a couple of box-sets of stories with Eccleston in the role — which is probably as close to him playing the Doctor again as we’ll ever get.
The first box-set is out now and I finally got around to listening to it. I reviewed each installment after listening. So, if you notice some kind of horrible error or oversight in my thoughts on part one or two, please know I had no idea what was coming….
1. Sphere of Freedom
Christopher Eccleston effortlessly steps back into his role as the ninth Doctor in this introduction to the series. The first installment is all about setting up things for what’s to come, including establishing a new character called Nova, who serves as a de-facto companion. Give the drama a bit of credit for having Nova call out the Doctor for issuing forth technobabble for his own sake and not because she understands a word of it. Continue reading
This is one of the few novels from the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson era of classic Doctor Who I had in my original Target books collection. It was only because I somehow kept missing the serial — whether it was my PBS station skipping it in the rotation or just plain not setting the VCR right to catch it when it was repeated (ask your parents, kids).
So, for a long time, my only impression of this story came from Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts. And that probably helped things a good bit because, quite frankly, Dicks seems a bit more invested in this fourth Doctor story than he is in many of the others he adapted. Continue reading
For the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary, Doctor Who took a moment to offer up a satire of the series and its fans with “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” Set at the Psychic Circus, the serial sees various parties trying to keep a trio of ever-hungering god-like beings entertained with varying degrees of success. In many ways, the serial is a predictor of the ever-increasing hunger that the world seems to have to consume pop-culture and then how quickly it can be and is forgotten. The Gods of Ragna Rock use up various acts, quickly moving on to the next one with the constant chorus of “Entertain us.”
It’s a brilliant, subversive bit of Doctor Who and one that sits in my top ten.
But, it wasn’t the first time that Doctor Who would be so subversive. The series would offer up a satire of itself fifteen years early to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary. But as with everything involving the late, great Robert Holmes, not only would the serial be subversive and point out the current state of Doctor Who, but it would also create a template for the next decade or so of our favorite program. Continue reading
Like many of the fifth Doctor stories in the Target range, this is one that I simply skipped in my earlier collecting years and never got around to reading. Listening to the audio version, I can see why.
Arc of Infinity is a solid example of Terrance Dicks taking the shooting script and adapting it for the printed page with ease and professionalism. But for a story that’s a sequel to one that Dicks himself worked on during his tenure as script editor, it feels a bit wanting and thin at times. The story goes to great lengths to keep the identity of various villains secret during its four-episode run time. And translated to the printed page, it feels like there’s a lot of treading water taking place from the Doctor’s being almost taken over by Omega in episode one until Omega is dispatched in episode four. In between, there is some running up and down corridors and later along the streets of Amsterdam.
Dicks is able to consolidate much of the running about via his prose, but somehow it makes the story feel thinner than it did on-screen. I couldn’t help but find myself wishing for the Dicks who gave us “The Auton Invasion” or even “The Three Doctors” to fill in some gaps here or to give us some other reason Omega is still lurking about other than “well, we wanted to bring him back for the twentieth anniversary.”
All that said, the saving grace for the audiobook is the performance by Geoffrey Beavers. As I’ve said before, Beavers could read a take-out menu and hit the right notes of menace for a Doctor Who villain — and that is certainly the case here. Beavers does his best with the material he’s given, elevating it a bit and making the entire experience a bit more enjoyable.
You have to admire the sheer audacity of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. A mere three stories after “Spearhead from Space,” the team not only brings back the Autons to invade Earth yet again, but they’re brought back in virtually the same story as we saw in “Spearhead from Space.” Just substitute the Master in the role of Channing from “Spearhead” and the two serials are remarkably similar.
The Nestene, using the Autons, have decided it’s time to invade Earth again. Though this time, the attempt to take over our world features a different ally and is a bit more subversive. Whereas “Spearhead” is a full fledged frontal assault (complete with the memorable image of the Autons coming to life as shop dummies), this invasion comes more from within with the Master spearheading (pardon fully intended) the wiping out of a great number of the population and then invading in the chaos.
The Nestene appear to have decided — or possibly been persuaded by the Master — that taking over Earth is easier if you plunge the world into chaos by killing off large chunks of the population via plastic chairs or daffodils. The invasion plot continues a theme from Robert Holmes’ “Spearhead from Space” of taking the everyday, mundane, or even safe things of life and making them scary somehow. In this case, you can be killed by authority figures like the police or struck down in the safety of your home by a plastic daffodil cutting off your ability to breathe.
It’s a pretty chilling invasion plot, if you step back and think about it. And the idea of your final moments being given over to fear as you’re attacked by a plastic doll or daffodil is one that’s pretty chilling. Continue reading
Nostalgically, “Time-Flight” holds a special place in my heart as the first Doctor Who serial I watched one warm summer evening on San Jose’s KTEH. The story of a Concorde vanishing into pre-historical times hooked me on Doctor Who for life. And since I didn’t have much to compare it to, I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen.
It didn’t take me long to realize that “Time-Flight” wasn’t necessarily the best offering for not just the Peter Davison era but also Doctor Who as a whole. That’s probably why I skipped the Target book during my teenage years.
Forty years later, I’ve finally experienced the Target version of the story in audiobook form. And it was about as disappointing as I thought it might be forty or so years ago.
Freed of the limitations of an overstretched budget, I’d hoped that author Peter Grimwade might use the printed page to enhance and expand the story a bit. Instead, Grimwade seems to follow the Terrance Dicks of the Tom Baker era model and just translate the script to the page with a few descriptions of items, sets, and characters thrown in for good measure. The story of a Concorde being stolen down a time corridor in order to help out the Master’s latest nefarious scheme doesn’t even come close to making one lick more of sense on the printed page. It really does make one yearn for the days of Roger Delgado as the Master when the villain’s schemes felt like they had a bit more planning behind them.
The audio version of this one tries its best with Peter Davison in there giving it his all and the story full of sound effects that try their darnedest to make it all a bit more palatable. Alas, it never quite all gels and I can’t help but feel that this one was a bit of a disappointment.
Chris Chibnall owes James Goss a thank-you note for giving Doctor Who fans something besides the implications of the Timeless Child to focus on during (yet another) gap year in new installments.
The second installment in the Paul McGann entry of the “Time Lord Victorious” arc features the Daleks (because, of course, we can’t not have the Daleks in there somehow) and builds on the foundation provided by “He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not.” “The Enemy of My Enemy” is a bit more successful and entertaining of a story than the previous installment, though I couldn’t help but feel there was some potential overlooked here. Some of the connections to the larger story come through here — especially the weapon held by the Wrax. There are probably Easter eggs to other installments of this series that I’m either not getting because I haven’t experienced them yet or I wasn’t taking notes as I listened to/read other parts.
McGann is up to his usual standard of excellence here, proving once again that he would have been a great on-screen Doctor if he’d been given the chance. Nicholas Briggs once again gives us an impressive array of Dalek voices and he even manages to make most of them distinctive enough that this listener could tell which Dalek was speaking. I will admit that years of watching classic Who has me expecting Davros to turn up at some point, but I am thinking that’s more and more unlikely.
The story builds to a point and then ends of a cliffhanger. As the middle installment of a trilogy, a lot of what we’re getting here is moving pieces into place for the end game to come. I’m interested enough that I will listen to part three.
For its first six seasons, Doctor Who featured call-backs to its past but hadn’t really started building any significant amount of mythology. That all changed with the introduction of the Time Lords in the last installment of “The War Games” and solidified for the next five years under the leadership of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.
The Jon Pertwee years were the time when the show began to establish precedents that would continue not only for the rest of the classic series run but are still being used and built on today. It even extends as far as when the series decided to come out of retirement that Russell T. Davies borrowed heavily from Pertwee’s first four-part serial “Spearhead from Space.”
During the wilderness years, a fellow Whovian and I were discussing what it would be like if the show came back and it was pointed out that a great monster to bring back the show wouldn’t necessarily by the Daleks or the Cybermen but the Autons. The Autons are significant in the series, appearing twice in the original series run, and the sequence of them breaking out of shop windows in episode four is one that is indelibly burned into the minds of the viewing public. But the Autons don’t have the same level of backstory, expectation, and baggage as some of the more popular foes the Doctor has squared off against. Continue reading
Robert Holmes inherited “Return of the Cybermen” from the previous production team and hastily re-wrote it as “Revenge of the Cybermen” for Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor. If you’ve ever wondered if the original version might have been superior or inferior to “Revenge,” those questions can finally be laid to rest with the latest addition to Big Finish’s The Lost Stories line.
“Return of the Cybermen” uses most of the same building blocks as “Revenge” did — Cybermats, Cybermen, Nerva beacon used as a bomb to crash into a source of gold — but spins them in an entirely different way. Gone is the subplot involving Voga and its politics and in its place is a third-episode diversion to a lost colony of miners sitting on a stockpile of gold. “Return” eschews to the 60’s version of a Cybermen story with the metal monsters lurking around for much of the first portion of the story before finally arriving en mass to effect whatever nefarious plot they’ve cooked up this time. Each story introduces a new weakness for the Cybermen based on whatever the story decides is in abundance — in this case, it’s x-rays and gold. Continue reading
What if I told you there was a Doctor Who serial written by the great Robert Holmes in which the presence of the Doctor and his companions wouldn’t alter the outcome of the story one bit?
You’d probably think I was talking about the classic serial, “The Caves of Androzani.”
And you’d be correct.
But I could also be talking about “The Space Pirates,” Holmes’ second offering for the series.
At this point in the Patrick Troughton era, scripts kept falling through and there was a behind-the-scenes scramble to get something on the screens to fill time. And “The Space Pirates” sure feels like it’s doing a lot of filing time over the course of its six episodes.
The story has a pretty dodgy reputation among Doctor Who fans. Part of that is that the single surviving episode features the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe locked in a room with little or no impact on the story unfolding. Another part of it is that there’s a lack of visual materials to go with the surviving audio, making viewing the telesnap version of this story a bit of a slog at times. Continue reading