Friday, 24 December 2010

Audio Review 2: Farewell Great Macedon, by Moris Farhi (2010) – 8/10

Released: November 2010

Main Production Credits

Producer and Script Editor - David Richardson

Story Summary (SPOILERS!):

The TARDIS arrives in the city of Babylon, amongst the famous Hanging Gardens, in the year 323 BC. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are soon welcomed as visitors to the camp of the legendary Alexander the Great, who is also visiting the great city. Over time, the time travellers befriend the Macedonian King and his loyal generals, revelling in each other’s company. However, the rest and enjoyment is short-lived, as Alexander’s loyal friends are mysteriously murdered one-by-one. A plot is afoot to bring down Alexander the Great, but Barbara realises that this History has already been written, and there is nothing that they can do to change it.

Story Placement
Between The Reign of Terror and The Witch Hunters

The Lost Stories have been a fascinating side project for Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios. Each successive series of lost stories seems to be even more ambitious than the last. First, they started with the abandoned Season 23 for Colin Baker’s 6th Doctor, which itself was a gamble because many Doctor Who fans (not me I hasten to add) seem to have a supreme dislike of Season 22, the 6th Doctor’s first season on Television. Despite this challenge though, I feel Big Finish succeeded admirably, so it was interesting to see them raise their heights even further with the second series, by recreating a few stories dropped in the 1960’s, and by recreating the original Season 27 if the TV Show had not been cancelled in 1989. The big feat with the 1960’s stories however, is that most would have to be produced similarly to one of Big Finish’s other successful Doctor Who ranges – the Companion Chronicles, because of the obvious absence of some of the original cast, particularly the long since departed William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.
The First Doctor Boxset is the first couple of audio Lost Stories in this series, and although I have yet to listen to the aforementioned Companion Chronicles range, if they are all as well produced as these ‘Lost Stories’, then they will be a joy to visit in future. The aural atmosphere and background are delivered with Big Finish’s typical aplomb, and immediately transport you into the stories with ease. The regular and supporting characters are all well portrayed by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, who clearly have fun acting out all the different characterisations, both the unfamiliar as well the characters they know and love. William Russell gives a cracking impersonation of William Hartnell in particular, and if you just close your eyes, sometimes you can almost imagine its Hartnell talking. Although the narration, particularly in Farewell, Great Macedon is slightly marred by the fact that it couldn’t decide what tense it should be in, moving from past to present tenses on numerous occasions.
For the purposes of story and plot review though, I have decided to examine the two stories separately.
Farewell, Great Macedon was one of the few rejected Doctor Who stories that nearly made it onto the small screen. Written by Moris Farhi for David Whitaker, it was only rejected because of outside criticism of featuring key historical characters in Doctor Who after the transmission of Marco Polo. Teachers had complained about Doctor Who distorting children’s views of real historical events, and for the time that Farhi was pitching his script for production, the BBC were reluctant to commit to any creative risk. Moris Farhi decided to abandon the idea altogether after he was asked to dramatically change the emphasis of his scripts by the BBC, and Doctor Who lost another potential classic. Thanks to both Farhi and Big Finish we can now at last experience Farewell, Great Macedon as a production.
Farewell, Great Macedon is a highly enjoyable, but simple adventure, where in the style of many an early Doctor Who historical, the 1st Doctor and his companions come across the legendary Greek leader, Alexander the Great, amongst the equally legendary backdrop of the city of Babylon. In fact the travellers arrive in the fabled Hanging Gardens, no less. The story that pans out seems to be an expertly-written mix of two of Doctor Who’s most successful historical – Marco Polo and The Aztecs. A plot has been hatched to kill Alexander and his closest allies in a bid for both power and wealth, however the Doctor and his companions are helpless to prevent it, because these events have already been recorded and determined by history. In an additional entertaining subplot, the Time Travellers have to prove themselves in challenging sporting events, after they have been falsely accused of being at the centre of the conspiracy.
As historical Doctor Who adventures go, we have experienced a lot of these ideas and plots before, not least in Marco Polo and The Aztecs, but to Moris Farhi’s credit, nothing ever feels tired or derivative. In fact it’s a delight to experience a brand new adventure that revisits a much neglected style of storytelling in Doctor Who, and feels all the better for it. Instead of being traditional (which it isn’t in comparison to Doctor Who over the last 30 years), it comes across as fresh and vibrant both in terms of the suggested imagery, as well as the raw characterisation that I do so miss from early 1960’s Doctor Who. It is also worth noting at this point, that I was lucky enough to read a copy of the reproduced script of Farewell, Great Macedon when it was lovingly reprinted back in 2009, and even then the creative potential just leapt off the pages. Sure some of the dialogue was a bit rusty and dull, but even that has been respectfully adapted by writer Nigel Robinson. And on audio, the quality off the source material is even more obvious. This is perhaps illustrated best by the beautiful realising of Babylon’s Hanging Gardens and the wonderful characterisation of Alexander the Great.
Moris Farhi paints an interesting portrait of Alexander the Great. He is portrayed as a visionary, a man before his time, who wants to join the World into one peaceful collective of kingdoms that co-exist together in support of each other – a global community living and working in harmony. Of course Alexander is still the brave and learned warrior leader that history teaches us of, but Farhi creates a fascinating new slant and dimension to his character, that perhaps you could argue makes him an amoral leader if he genuinely believes his past battles are a worthy means to a peaceful end. Of course there is a flipside to Alexander seemingly being the ultimate humanitarian of the Ancient World. He is in danger of becoming purely an audience identification character to serve the needs of the story, instead of a believable historical figure that the audience can relate to, which does actually occur a few times in the story. The best example of this is that for most (95%) of the story he is unswervingly strong in his support for the Time Travellers. With the listener (or supposed viewer) he fervently cheers Ian on in the sporting challenges, and even once ‘our heroes’ have been accused of engineering murder, doesn’t take much persuading that they are innocent. Although they do undoubtedly deserve some of Alexander’s loyalty, it seems a little contrived that he is so dedicated to people he only could have known for up to two weeks. However, this is only a small complaint given how interesting the character is to explore. After all, it makes a welcome change to have a key historical figure from early Doctor Who that is both kind and open-minded as opposed to the various tyrannies of Nero, Robespierre and British Colonialism.
The other supporting characters are also of merit, particularly the real conspirators of the story, as they are an interesting variation on a centuries old standard. Seleucus maybe your typical bloodthirsty power-grabber, but he is also a self-serving weasel-like character who ducks and dives away from active participation merely to save himself from possible outside accusations if they are discovered. The other three conspirators are using Seleucus as a figure head, as their motive is not power, but wealth and greed to acquire Alexander’s riches. However, they also seek revenge on Alexander for his global campaigns which they see as costly an unnecessary when they are just as happy back in Greece. Iolla, a priest, and Glaucias, are perhaps the two conspirators who desire for this revenge the most, as they take the most joy out of murdering Alexander’s loyal friends, but it is Antipater who is the most interesting of them all. Antipater is the strategist, the thinker, and although wishes for Alexander’s death as much as the others, he is much more of a devious politician than a bloodthirsty killer. Antipater reveals his cold-blooded nature in other ways, as unlike the other three conspirators, he has a heartfelt desire to humiliate and dishonour Alexander and his friends as well as murder them.
However, characterisation is not always a strong point in this story. As interesting as the four conspirators are, ultimately they are still just conspirators and little dimension reveals itself. What surprises the most though is how slightly irregular some of the characterisation of the regulars are. Susan in particular, has an extremely odd panic attack at the beginning of the story, bizarrely fearing they have all gone to heaven when she first hears the music of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the TARDIS. The Doctor himself is also surprisingly disrespectful and ignorant of the local customs of the Greek people in Babylon, unlike in Marco Polo and The Aztecs. Even if this is the first time the Doctor has encountered the Greeks, you’d think after spending a week or two with the natives, he would seek to maintain the wise, respectful and dignified image that he always seeks to maintain in all the other historical outings of his era. He even seems to forget his previous stance about non-interference in historical events. Happily, Ian and Barbara do remain true to their original characters. Ian has a great moment in particular when he nobly reproaches himself for Cleitus’ death, even when it was not his fault. Barbara also shines, cleverly talking Alexander round at a time of mourning, and defending all of the Time Travellers against the false accusation of murder, as does Ian. Also, rather interestingly, it is Barbara who knows that history, and Alexander’s inevitable death cannot be changed, and wants to leave as soon as possible, after working out the real date of their arrival in Babylon. Therefore, because of Barbara’s newfound wisdom, this story can only happen after The Aztecs, and because Ian and Susan have yet to truly learn this wisdom of non-interference in history; it has to take place before The Witch Hunters novel.
Of course, I’m guessing that had Farewell, Great Macedon gone into production, David Whitaker would have edited out many of the erroneous aspects of characterisation so the regulars would more closely feel like the ones portrayed on-screen, but Nigel Robinson obviously must have decided to leave many of these curious oddities in his script adaption so others could also note these interesting diversions. Although to be fair, when comparing to the original script, you can tell Robinson has taken out a lot of the clunky dialogue that would have made the audio production less enjoyable to listen too. What Nigel Robinson did edit out though was the interesting sequence where the Time Travellers try out a language-learning machine, which I’m guessing was taken out due to the established continuity that the TARDIS automatically translates different languages telepathically. Other notable oddities include the suggestion that the Doctor and Susan believe in God. Although this of course goes against what many other later Doctors and writers for the show tell us, it is interestingly (and perhaps fortunately) left ambiguous. Also of note is the amusing fact that the TARDIS requires petrol (or raw hydrogen as the Doctor tells us) to function. Again, none of these developments need to be taken as gospel in Doctor Who continuity, but they’re fun to deliberate on.
I’ve already mentioned how great the performances of William Russell and Carole Ann Ford were throughout this production, but they were both eclipsed by the consummate portrayal of Alexander by recent Big Finish regular John Dorney. Dorney’s plays the Greek leader with great energy and emotion, investing the character with authority and humility. However, what made the character stand out for me was the wonderful sense of pathos that John Dorney imbues him with, particularly at the climax of second episode, in what is surely the best scene of the entire story – the death of Cleitus.
However, despite how fascinating and enjoyable this production has been, there’s no getting past how simple the story is. The imaginative wonders of Babylon only really last till the end of episode one, so it is up to the murder plot to carry the story. Although the conspiracy is just as interesting and well-written as that of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (and probably based upon it too), it was never going to have the momentum to last all of the six episodes of the story, and does in fact run out of steam at the end of episode four. Thoughtfully, Moris Farhi did introduce the tried and tested subplot of putting the Time Travellers through a ‘Trial by Fire’ (which was more literal then you may think), but this still doesn’t get past the sense that the story is just passing the time for another couple of episodes till Alexander’s inevitable death. And since we (the audience) have already known all the details of the plot since episode one, the story ends up having a feeling of predictability about it. Still, that doesn’t stop some brilliant drama being made. Although the story peaks early at the end of episode two, the dramatic climax it gives, produces one of Doctor Who’s best ever cliff-hangers, as Alexander prepares to commit suicide and impale himself on his sword after the supposed ‘accidental’ death of Cleitus only moments earlier. This scene grabbed me more than any other in the whole production, and is definitely a true example of Big Finish at their best. I just wish the rest the story lived up to the brilliance it had achieved up to this point. Alexander’s death was also very poignant, but I feel its impact would’ve been much stronger had the story been an episode shorter, or if the conspiracy had been given more mystery and depth than it had.
In short then, Farewell, Great Macedon is a fabulous and great recreation of a genuine lost Doctor Who classic. Sure it may be simple and perhaps overlong too, but it is definitely another strong entry in Big Finish’s impressive Doctor Who range and I recommend all fans to give it a try, as there’s always something to enjoy in this ambitious production.

Score: 8/10

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Book Review 2: Prisoner of the Daleks, by Trevor Baxendale (2009) – 10/10

Story Summary (SPOILERS!):

After the TARDIS skips a time-track, The Doctor finds himself in a period before the Time War on the planet Hurala. After escaping from a Dalek trap, The Doctor finds himself stranded with some Dalek-hunting mercenaries, amidst the Dalek-Earth wars. In the process of fleeing from the Daleks at Hurala, the group manage to immobilise a live Dalek that successfully penetrated into their ship. After being tortured by the crew, the Dalek later tricks The Doctor into going to the planet Arkheon, which features a Time-Rift that the Daleks themselves are intending to control. However, it is another trap. The Daleks have been there studying the Time-Rift all along, as well as set up a high security prison and slave base there, to help clear away the rock around the molten core of the planet in which the Time-Rift is situated. The Daleks hope to gain the power of Time travel, once they have access to the Time-Rift, and use The Doctor’s TARDIS to help stabilise the entry into the Time Vortex. The Doctor, after interrogation, tempts the Daleks into taking him and the remaining mercenaries back to Hurala to search for his TARDIS, but he in turn sets up his own trap – by setting alight the astronic fuel on the planet’s refuelling station. The resulting explosion destroys the superior and command Daleks that followed him to Hurala. The Doctor successfully escapes, along with two of the remaining mercenaries.

Story Placement
TV Episodes: Between The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead.

My first full-length new series Doctor Who book and considering it was chosen at random, I can’t believe I struck gold first time. Until recently, I’d never really tried reading ‘new series’ Doctor Who, but if they’re all as good as this then I can see I’ll be having a great time catching up on these over the next few years.
Rather surprisingly, this is only the third original Dalek novel ever written, but it more than makes up for it. Although, fans of the Dalek Empire Big Finish audios will be used to the idea, this book feels like the first official Doctor Who adventure to be part of the great Dalek-Earth wars for some time, and feels very reminiscent of a cross between Frontier in Space and Resurrection of the Daleks, only on a far more epic scale. As to how this war fits into Dalek continuity is anyone’s guess. It’s before the Daleks have mastered Time travel, but clearly set after all the ‘Classic Series’ Dalek adventures as these are meant to be the bronze Daleks of the ‘New Series’. Perhaps the Daleks lost the secret of ‘Time corridor’ technology, or deemed it too inefficient. It’s clear that the Dalek Time Ships of The Chase and The Daleks’ Masterplan were only prototypes that were later abandoned or lost, and the Big Finish audio – The Time of the Daleks, seems to hint that like in that story, the Daleks’ Time travel capabilities in The Evil of the Daleks were purely experimental too.
Back to Prisoner of the Daleks though, I was very impressed with the characterisations, not just of the Daleks, but also the Tenth Doctor himself. All the wit and silliness, the wonder and the compassion, the excitement and unswerving authority – a flawless depiction of David Tennant’s much loved incarnation. And the other characters are interesting to read too, particularly the war-weary Bowman, the leader of the mercenaries, who at times appears to be a more aged and well-crafted homage to the Dalek Hunter, Abslom Daak from the comic strips of what is now Doctor Who Magazine. What is also interesting, is how Trevor Baxendale uses these supporting characters, and puts each through an emotional journey in the crews’ struggles against the Daleks. Furthermore, not all of them make it out alive by the end of the story. The Daleks here are also great to read. Completely true to character, the Daleks here are both exciting and fascinating in equal measure, like in all of their best adventures. Trevor Baxendale achieves this by revealing more depths to their malevolence, showing us that Daleks delight in torturing other life forms, by turning down the level of the death ray so that their victims die as slow and painful a death as possible. We even read about Daleks ‘scientifically’ determining this by experimenting on prisoners in laboratories, just so this sick aim can be achieved. Baxendale also creates a new Dalek – Dalek X, the Inquisitor General. Deliberately different from a Supreme Dalek, Baxendale successfully conveys a much more ruthless, but important addition to the Dalek hierarchy, just as Army of Ghosts did with the ‘Cult of Skaro’.
What impresses most though is Trevor Baxendale’s glorious descriptive prose. The dark and slightly graphic descriptions help paint the Daleks’ powerful menace onto the page, and give a sense of scale to their machinations. However, the scale of Baxendale’s imagery is also a joy to behold. The presentation of the battle-scarred planet of Arkheon is a testament to the power of Baxendale’s imagination – an Earth-like planet split open by a powerful Dalek weapon many years ago. Only half of Arkheon still survives, but only as desolate remains, with the molten core burning out into space, and the remaining surface full of devolved primal and cannibalistic humanoids. It almost feels like a combination of Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings, such is the epic majesty and bleakness that Baxendale conveys beautifully.
However, the only thing that spoilt Prisoner of the Daleks for me a bit was the somewhat disjointed and simplistic plotting. Although I don’t mind the TARDIS breaking the Time War time lock (or jumping a Time Track as the Doctor glibly puts it), the trap the Doctor falls into at the start seems awfully contrived. After all, who is supposed to have made it in the first place? It doesn’t make sense for the Daleks to make it, as the book seems to suggest, because it seems to be so far away from any of their operations. Furthermore, Hurula is supposedly a long abandoned refuelling station, only seldom visited by humans, so it would seem very unlikely that a trap would have any real positive impact on the Daleks’ war effort against the human race. The Trap makes more sense as a device to catch out Space Pirates, looting the station, but even then it still doesn’t explain how and why the Daleks seemed to conveniently turn up at Hurula at just the right dramatic moment. It just seems an easy way of getting the Doctor mixed up with the Waylander mercenaries, and attacked by Daleks early on. Although, it does result in an exciting escape sequence from the planet Hurula, so it didn’t take long for me to be sucked back into the story again. The impressive use and setting up of Hurula for the story’s conclusion, also partly make up for this oversight.
In addition to this plot device, it was also jarring how tacked on the Arkheon subplot was. After seeing a Dalek ambush and very vague last words from a dying captive Dalek mutant, the Doctor seems to clock on from nowhere that the Daleks’ plan is really to acquire the powers of Time travel, through manipulating a Time Rift in the core of the planet Arkheon. Of course he is right, but there seems to be a sizeable lack of genuine deduction and progression in the story for the reader to work out for themselves. Quite a few developments seem to arise without any hints or explanation, and are just spoon fed to the reader. Although, because of how solid a plot the Arkheon storyline is when connected to the adventure’s conclusion, perhaps it is the earlier subplots that are tacked on for dramatic effect and convenience. The subplot about the Auros Dalek ambush, for instance, could easily have disappeared without having any adverse effect on the main plots, but it adds a further tragic layer to both the loss of one of the mercenaries, but also helps to emphasise the humans’ sense of helplessness when trying to fight the Dalek menace. The Doctor helps the mercenaries to eventually overcome this helplessness, even if he fails to save many of them by the end.
So despite these small (but not insignificant) conceptual flaws, Prisoner of the Daleks is still a complete revelation to me. It throws a brilliantly realised 10th Doctor back into the infamous Dalek-Human wars, of which Trevor Baxendale paints a vivid and fascinating portrait that captivates throughout. In some ways, it’s so good, I almost wish it had been made for television as it’s certainly more preferable to parts of the corny Journey’s End or the light-weight Planet of the Dead.
Score: 10/10

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Audio Review 1: The Sirens of Time, by Nicholas Briggs (1999) – 8/10

Story Summary (Spoilers!):
Gallifrey is under siege by a powerful force known as ‘The Knights of Velyshaa’. This cataclysm has been made possible by the mysterious ‘Sirens of Time’ – temporal beings who thrive on energies released when the course of history and web of time is altered. To sustain themselves, they have manipulated the 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors at various points in time to
unwittingly do precisely that. However, the three Doctors are aided and enlightened to this by another trans-temporal species – the Temperon. Once they know the truth, the Doctors set the Temperon free to contain the Sirens at the beginning of Time, saving both Gallifrey, and preventing the destruction of history.

Story Placement:
5th Doctor: Between The Five Doctors and Ringpullworld (TV Episodes: Between The Five Doctors and Warriors of the Deep)
6th Doctor: Between The Spectre of Lanyon Moor and The Apocalypse Element (in Instruments of Darkness, it is implied that Evelyn was trapped in the TARDIS while The Doctor visited the Kurgon Wonder) (TV Episodes: Between The Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani)
7th Doctor: Between Return of the Daleks and Master (TV Episodes: Between Survival and The TV Movie)

As far as Doctor Who on audio is concerned, The Sirens of Time is as good a place to start as any other. Although it wasn’t the first official Doctor Who audio adventure I heard, I still have strong memories of going into the Forbidden Planet London Sci-fi shop for the very first time, and seeing brand new Doctor Who to buy for the first time in ages, albeit in CD form. The date was September 1999, and it was The Sirens of Time that had entranced me. Of course for fans who have only known Doctor Who as it is today, with regular new episodes both on TV and audio CD, it may not seem as big a deal. For me however, I first became a fan in 1995, and grew up with Doctor Who in what is now termed as ‘The Wilderness Years’. The 1996 TV Movie, and The Ghosts of N-Space were the first brand new Doctor Who I had ever experienced on transmission, so before The Sirens of Time was released, it seemed like Doctor Who would never come back. Of course there were multiple fiction books too – the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, and the BBC’s own book ranges, but it just wasn’t the same as experiencing an actual production of Doctor Who. So when the newly-formed BIG Finish Productions announced The Sirens of Time back in July 1999, there was a justifiable amount of hype amongst the Doctor Who community, not least because of the returning Doctors – Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, who was my favourite Doctor at the time.
Looking back in retrospect, it’s surprising quite how much strong criticism The Sirens of Time has come under since its initial release, and I for one can’t quite see why. While it may be true that The Sirens of Time is a very simplistic story that helps Nicholas Briggs and the BIG Finish team to find their feet in producing new Doctor Who adventures, as it is also true that they would all write and produce numerous magnificent and superior audios in the future, I believe it stands reasonably well on its own as a good work in its own right.
Firstly, the story itself is, for the most part, quite imaginative and captures the attention from the very beginning. As well as that, the story is also intelligently and well-structured, with each of the three Doctors having an episode to themselves, before they all join up to share the limelight in the final part.
Sadly, the first episode greatly lacks the promise of the later ones, with a seemingly irrelevant assassination of an old Velyshaan war criminal - Sancroff, which The Doctor just happens to be stuck in the middle of, with which what seems to be at first, a promising new companion – Elenya. This could have worked if it had been a character piece around Sancroff, exploring what had brought him to his imminent terminal fate. Instead, we’re treated to the usual clichéd Doctor-assistant antics (damsel in distress, running away from crashing spacecraft/advancing robot assassins, etc), and paper-thin, one-dimensional characters that nearly verge into pantomime. Still, it’s entertaining, and the 7th Doctor is thankfully not as zany as some of his early TV appearances.
The second episode focuses on the 5th Doctor, who finds himself stranded on a German Submarine in the First World War, and urged by the desperate besieged Time Lords of the future to return to the TARDIS as fast as possible. Here at last the story starts to engage with more substantial plotting, as The Doctor has to at first dupe, and then force the crew the Submarine to take him back to the TARDIS. In between attempts though, he suffers mysterious assassination attempts by the Time Lords. The introduction of a little action and mystery into the continuing storyline certainly makes this episode more interesting than the last, but it never really takes off beyond showing how well the production can recreate the period, and the 5th Doctor on audio.
Thankfully, that changes greatly with the next episode, in which the adventure raises its game significantly. The 6th Doctor, also mysteriously stranded from his TARDIS, finds himself caught up in a disaster, as a space delegation investigating the “Kurgon Wonder” is suddenly swept up in massive waves of Time distortion, and The Doctor has to solve the mystery of the Legend of the Temperon, before the Time distortion finishes them off. Furthermore, not everybody is who they appear. This is a delightful little short adventure that feels very traditional for Doctor Who, and has a touch of ‘base-under-siege’ about it.
Of course, the solutions and truths behind these mini-adventures are only revealed in the final episode, and it is here where The Sirens of Time reaches its stride. In many ways this is due to the coming together of the 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors, who liven up the production enormously, and between them create the most engaging multi-Doctor ensemble since the days when Patrick Troughton verbally-sparred with Jon Pertwee in The Three Doctors. This successful ensemble would be reunited again in Zagreus, and prove how brilliantly they go together once more. Uniquely for a multi-Doctor adventure, the three Doctors all share the lead in the story, but the 6th Doctor ultimately shines through best. I suppose you could argue that would be because of how badly the character was treated in his respective TV Episodes, but I would suggest it’s more complicated than that. However, I will leave that discussion for a future 6th Doctor audio. In short, the 6th Doctor will prove himself a much better Doctor than many have given him credit for.
Despite all the interesting ideas and entertaining episodes however, The Sirens of Time still partly suffers from being the first, and perhaps most inexperienced production of the Doctor Who range produced by BIG Finish. The script is as simplistic as the story itself, and many of the supporting characters feel as one-dimensional as they are clichéd. The dialogue also seems rather basic too. Although to Nicholas Briggs’ credit, the script is very well structured, despite the padding in the first episode, and all the Doctors feel just right. However, this script is/was also a massive positive step for Nicholas Briggs, and he should be congratulated for coming a long way from his other earlier written work for both BBV Productions, and his own Audio Visuals Doctor Who fan audio productions, all of which didn’t come close to the good standard written here. Of course, since The Sirens of Time, Nicholas Briggs has developed and written much better and greater scripts for Doctor Who on audio, but for both his and BIG Finish’s official debut Doctor Who adventure, you couldn’t ask for a more assured entrance.
What helps glaze over some of the script’s faults though, is firstly the professional sound design, which makes the whole production have such an interesting and believable aural landscape, but as BIG Finish fans know, the sound design would only get better, and even more amazing in future releases. Secondly, and most importantly though, the whole production is greatly strengthened by the wonderful performances of the cast. Although it proves to be Colin Baker’s show overall, and Sylvester McCoy is still feeling his way back into the 7th Doctor, there isn’t any bad or average performance among them. Even Maggie Stables as the witch-like Ruthley excels. And in a way it’s this magnificent team effort that makes The Sirens of Time such a joy to dip into. Sure, it’s not perfect, but with such enthusiasm and hard work behind it, The Sirens of Time set the foundations (that today we very much take for granted) for what good Doctor Who should be like on audio.
Although the first episode with the 7th Doctor is rather basic and dull, each successive episode is a big improvement on the last, with the final episode being the highlight of the entire story. So if you do have the patience to stick it out, The Sirens of Time is really quite a satisfying, and greatly entertaining listen. I just wish more people felt that way.

Score: 8/10

Friday, 10 September 2010

Book Review 1: Revenge of the Judoon by Terrance Dicks (2008) – 5/10

Story Summary (Spoilers!):

The 10th Doctor and Martha arrive at Balmoral in 1902, only to discover that both the Castle and the recently crowned Edward VII have disappeared, by means of Judoon technology. With the aid of Carruthers, a friend of the missing King, The Doctor and Martha uncover a plot by an alien-lizard cult known as the Cosmic Peacemakers to conquer the World by wiping out its main cities with Temporal Reversal devices. Led by a Professor Challoner, the Peacemakers have tricked the Judoon via a faked legal document, in order to avoid galactic opposition, and use the Judoon as a form of military support. The King is also being held to ransom by the Peacemakers, via a Temporal Reversal device in London, so he can give their attack a public face in the form of the British Empire to hide behind. After The Doctor reveals the forged document, the Judoon turn against the Pacemakers, and The Doctor disables the Temporal Reversal Generator.


It’s easy to see why Terrance Dicks was chosen for the ‘easy reads’ book range, as his simplistic and visually poetic style of writing is famous amongst WHO fandom. However, it’s a shame that on this occasion, Dicks’ instinct and imagination for telling great stories seems to be running dry.

The story presented here is even more contrived and blasé than one usually expects to find even in the revived Television incarnation of Doctor Who. The Cosmic Peacemakers seem to be an intriguing group at first, but Challoner is just another dull megalomaniac wanting to take over the World. Even the Temporal Reversal Devices, which sound powerful and important to start off with, are easily and casually deactivated by a quick flick with the Sonic Screwdriver. The worst contrivance though, is the inclusion of the Judoon in the adventure - not because they are, but how and why.

Although the Judoon presence allows Dicks an interesting opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the monsters’ character, it is merely a gimmick to get children to pick up the book. For the Judoon to be involved on the basis of a forged document by a generic galactic authority is just so deplorable, I imagine even younger readers would be disappointed at not having a more direct encounter with such a fun character. So in fact, any lesser monsters could have played in their role as apparent henchmen. Other characters get the short straw too.

The 10th Doctor is actually surprisingly well-written by Terrance Dicks considering he’s far from part of the new Doctor Who team, either on books or TV. Martha, on the other-hand is as paper-thin a character as you could get, being portrayed as the stereotypical gutsy sidekick; but then as this was also a partial problem for her character on the TV Series, it’s easy to see how Dicks maybe couldn’t pin her down. Famous names like Arthur Conan Doyle, and Baden-Powell are also given somewhat feature-less cameos (also maybe to wow the kids), although this also could maybe be forgiven due to the short word count available to such a release. Carruthers however, thankfully bucks the trend with a modest and likeable Edwardian gentleman, who seems to be more interesting than Martha. Above all though, Dicks continues to excel in his trademark writing style of prose.

Fortunately, Terrance Dicks’ beautiful descriptions are equally present in this book, as they are in most of his others. His realisation of Balmoral in particular, is by far the best written part of the book; and Dicks always gives us a clear and believable portrayal of what Edwardian times felt like, even if it was more of a snapshot than a portrait.

As much as I understand that this range needs to have simpler and more accessible stories for young readers, I’m sure that a much better class of story than what we have could have been achieved. Instead of an interesting idea that sparks the imagination; we have a basic and dull story with very little life and imagination, written to spec, and squanders an opportunity to use the Judoon more effectively. Although Terrance Dicks dresses up the tale well in prose, and the occasional interesting characterisation; Revenge of the Judoon is a forgettable adventure just to pass the time.

Score: 5/10

Introduction to the New Blog

Welcome to my new Doctor Who Review Blog. I've decided to separate it from my usual blog ( so I've got room to go into more detail in my reviews here.

Although, it may be more neat to review things chronologically, I've decided to be more haphazard in my selections. Why? well it allows me to cover new releases as well as very old ones, without taking years to get from one Doctor to the next. Also, realistically, most people, even fans, don't start or approach the Doctor Who book series chronologically either. They pick and chose random selections from either the local bookshop or Library.

Also for that reason, I've decided to start with a book from the 'easy reads' range, so I don't have to start in the deep end.

My first review is the 'easy read' book - Revenge of the Judoon, featuring the 10th Doctor.