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
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.
If you didn’t know that all the performances for Shadow of the Sun were recorded at home instead of in the Big Finish studio, you’d never be able to tell. This is a credit not only the actors but also the technical crew who mixed together this delightful entry in the Fourth Doctor Adventures to help give us a break from the less than thrilling reality facing us today.
When the TARDIS materializes on-board a luxury starliner, the Doctor, Leela, and K-9 encounter a group of people under the influence of Professor Nicely. Nicely has sold his followers that the answers to all their problems lie within the sun and has chartered a ship to prove his theories correct (aka hurtling into the sun). Separated from the TARDIS, the Doctor must find a way to avert disaster and get his beloved time travel vehicle back before things get too hot to handle.
Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and John Leeson all slip back into their on-screen roles easily and the guest cast is also great. There’s even an autopilot that seems to be a distant relative of the Heart of Gold from Douglas Adams.
The great thing about the fourth Doctor range is their shorter running time and not allowing you to get bored or feeling like the story is treading water. These are compact, well-told stories, that capture their era well (even if the incidental music may seem incongruous at times).
Shadow of the Sun is another stellar entry from the range.
Spot-on impressions of the eleventh and twelfth Doctor are just one of the highlights of this entertaining entry in the Short Trips range.
Two Doctors are caught in a death trap and working together must find a way out of it. Alfie Shaw’s script is a delight, channeling the spirit of the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi Doctors. It almost makes me wish I could see these two Doctors bicker on-screen together, though odds are it wouldn’t be half as clever as it is here.
If you’re looking for a fun, short story to help you escape for a few minutes, Regneration Impossible is one to add to your must-listen-to list.
While Molly Pescan-Suso has experienced 26 crushes in her life, she’s rarely acted on them. Entering the summer before her senior year, Molly yearns to find the right person to share a first kiss with and possibly take things from being a crush to actually being her significant other.
Now, Molly has two possible new crushes on her radar — the popular guy Wil and the fantasy t-shirt wearing, Reed. Which one, if either, will Molly chose makes up most of the drama and teen angst of The Upside of Unrequited.
Becky Albertalli caught my attention last year with the funny, entertaining and thought-provoking Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And while Simon has an Easter egg cameo in this book, overall Upside ranks as one of the more disappointing stories I’ve read lately. Much of my frustration with the novel comes from its first-person narrator, Molly. Albertalli tries her best to make Molly self-deprecating about her lack of romantic experience, chalking a lot of it up to a lack of confidence because of her body type. Molly’s own self-image isn’t necessarily the most positive as she repeatedly refuses to believe that anyone else would find her attractive, despite there being signs from that two potential crushes might be interested in more than just being an unrequited object of her affection.
I get what Albertalli is trying to do with Molly and giving us the perspective of someone who is an outsider, looking in at what the “popular” kids (including her own twin sister) are doing. But it felt like Unrequited was getting a bit redundant and hitting all the expected romantic comedy touchstones for Molly instead of giving us an authentic journey for her. In the end, it feels only like Molly comes out of her shell because a boy likes her and not because she realizes that she has inherent worth as a person regardless of her external appearance.
Albertalli fills Upside with a diverse group of characters, many of whom feel one-dimensional. Too many of them feel like they’re summed up by one or two characteristics instead of being fully realized characters.
It all adds up to a disappointing sophomore effort by Albertalli. Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. But I can’t help but feel like this one had potential that it never quite lived up to.
One of the things that keeps me from embracing the Big Finish range more than I do is that it seems too determined to maintain the sensibility of the classic Doctor Who serials from which it springs. No where is that more evident than in Andrew Smith’s latest offering to the range, Mistfall.
A sequel to Smith’s own Full Circle, the story finds the fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough heading back to Alzarius, just in time for Mistfall to happen again. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, mind you, except that Alzarius is in a separate universe and the story spends a good bit of the first episode negotiating the TARDIS and our heroes back into e-space. Once we get there, we head to Alazarius where the Marshmen are rising from the swamps and people are trapped on the planet. There’s also a nefarious agenda involving the Marshmen thrown in for good measure.
Smith incorporates some aspects from his novelization of Full Circle here, but I just couldn’t quite get past the feeling that we’d been here before that pervades the first two installments. Things pick up a bit in the third part when the story begins to go in different directions, leading to a hurried fourth installment that tries to wrap up things a bit too quickly and neatly for my liking. The pacing for this one is entirely off and the story as a whole suffers for it.
And, of course, this being the current state of the main range for Big Finish, this one has to be the start of a trilogy of stories. Again, we’ve had a trilogy of stories in e-space and they were fairly successful the first time around. I can’t help but get the feeling of “here we go again” from the inevitable cliffanger to end the story, but dammit, if they don’t make it just intriguing enough that I want to come back and see how it all unfolds.
Doctor Who: Masters of Earth by Cavan Scott
One of the problems with an audio drama featuring the Daleks is they aren’t exactly the most exciting aliens to listen to for any length of time. Or heaven forbid you have two or even three Daleks carrying on a lengthy conversation that includes plot details or developments.
It’s not to say that I don’t like the Daleks. They’re my favorite Doctor Who adversary, but I think that in order to do them right in the audio dramas, you have to be a bit more creative than you would on TV.
Give props to Masters of Earth for at least trying to do something creative with the Daleks in the realm of Big Finish audio dramas. Arriving on Earth during the Dalek occupation, the sixth Doctor is ready to jump back into the TARDIS and leave to prevent himself or Peri contaminating his own personal time line. Seems he’s arrived a couple of years before his first incarnation will help overthrow the Daleks and liberate the planet.
But before you say “Exterminate,” the TARDIS sinks into a bog and the Doctor and Peri are caught up with the resistance on a cross-country trip that will include encounters with RoboMen, Varga plants and the Slyther. If you’re a fan of 60’s Who and in particular the Dalek stories from those early days, there are a lot of nice homages to that era.
But homages to an era do not a story make and it’s in the story that Masters of Earth really feels like it let me down. Because the Doctor can’t affect any change, there’s not a lot for he and Peri to do, besides avoid changing history and letting the Daleks know he’s on the scene. There are some interesting chases involving Daleks on gliders (an homage to the 60’s comics), but overall I can’t help but feel the story had more potential than was realized in what we got here. Continue reading