Tag: audio drama

The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part Two

Continued from Part One

5) Lies in Ruin by James Goss starring Paul McGann, Alex Kingston, Lisa Bowerman, and Alexandra Riley from the Legacy of Time

This is the first story in Big Finish’s big 20th Anniversary box set. It opens with two Doctor Who archaeologists River Song (Kingston) and Bernice Summerfield (Bowerman) meeting on the ruins of a destroyed world. The Doctor (McGann) arrives and they realize what the ruins are (or think they do.)

While this is a big story with huge sci-fi concepts, it also works well as a character piece. Most of the story is the Doctor, River, Bernice, and the Doctor’s new companion Ria (Riley) interacting and it plays out beautifully. It’d have been tempting in bring River Song and Bernice Summerfield together to turn the entire story into a tit for tat verbal battle. Lies in Ruin doe have such moments, but the story moves on. McGann’s performance is marvelous, bringing his most melancholy and sad take on the Eighth Doctor late in his life. It helps even elevate Ria and give her annoying character some pathos.

4) Space 1999: Breakaway by Nicholas Briggs, Starring Mark Bonnar and Maria Teresa Creasey

I did a full review on two hour pilot episode last year (see here). This was a great re-imagining of the Gerry Anderson classic about a Moon Base about to launch a major space mission, but also dealing with a mysterious illness. Great acting, superb sound design, and definitely an intriguing story that whet my appetite for more.

3) The Sacrifice of Jo Grant by Guy Adams, Starring Katy Manning, Tim Treloar, Jemma Redgrave, and Ingrid Oliver from The Legacy of Time 

While observing a time anomaly,  UNIT leader Kate Stewart (Redgrave) and former Unit Agent Jo Grant-Jones (Manning) are sucked back in time to the 1970s where they meet the incarnation of the Doctor Jo traveled with, played by Tim Treloar.

This story works on a number of levels. There’s humorous moments, but it’s a great character piece, particularly in the focus on the relationship between the Doctor and Jo. It’s sweet to see how they interact and how the much older version of Jo relates to the Doctor she knew as a young woman. It’s a well-paced, fun, and emotionally satisfying listen.

2. Doctor Who and the Star Beast written by Alan Barnes from a comic strip by Pat Mills and John Wegner, starring Tom Baker and Rhianne Starbuck from Doctor Who, the Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 1

This  was adapted from a Doctor Who Magazine Comic strip from 1980. In this story, a teenage foster child (Starbuck) decides to protect a cute alien from authorities. whose spaceship crashed. The Doctor (Tom Baker) gets caught in the middle as another group of aliens are hunting the cute alien and have mis-identified the Doctor as an accomplice.  However, another wrinkle is thrown in as we learn that the cute alien named Beep the Meep (Bethan Dixon Bate) is nowhere near as innocent as he appears.

In some ways, this comes off as a bit of a twisted send-up of E.T. (even though E.T. wasn’t produced until years after the comic strip.) It’s Doctor Who at its most wacky and insane, but it’s cleverly written and does work in a few emotional beats. The cast is great and it sounds like Baker is having fun with the material, which makes for a delightful listen.

1) No Place, Written by James Goss, Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, and Jacqueline King

This story finds the Doctor (Tennant) pretending to be married to his companion Donna (Tate). They’re traveling with her grandfather Wilf (Cribbins) and her mother Sylvia (King) as they’re remodeling a haunted house for a reality TV show.

This story has a lot going for it. There are multiple mysteries including what’s going on in the house and why the Doctor and why the Doctor and friends are even doing this. There are scary moments and fun moments. The characters play well off each other as everyone picks right up from where they left off on television a decade ago without a missing a beat. 

It’s enjoyable from start to finish and my favorite Big Finish story of 2019.

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The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part One

I’m a huge fan of Big Finish Audio Dramas. Mostly the ones I listen to feature stories with the past stars of Doctor Who reprising their original roles in new science fiction adventures as well as several Doctor Who spin-offs featuring other characters.

Big Finish releases a ton of new stories packaged together in box sets. I haven’t heard them all, so I can’t consider this a definitive list by any means of the best of the Big Finish. It is only the best of what I’ve heard of their 2019 releases.

10. The Perfect Prisoners by John Dorney starring Tom Baker and Jane Slavin from the Fourth Doctor Adventures, Series 8, Volume 2

This two episode story wraps up an eight episode two box set story where the Fourth Doctor (Baker) is joined by 1970s Police Woman Ann Kelso (Slavin) as they investigate a crime syndicate with schemes that stretch across time and space. This is a very complicated plot involving a sinister mind control scheme as well as multiple layers to the mystery of who is running the syndicate. We also get some big revelations about Ann that have an emotionally powerful impact on the Doctor.

9) Day of the Master written by John Dorney, starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Moran, Michelle Gomez, Derek Jacoby, Eric Roberts, Geoffrey Beevers, and Mark Bonnar from Ravenous 4:

This is the big finale to the four box set Ravenous series and it is an epic story with multiple things going on. The Doctor (McGann) and Companions (Walker and Moran) have to stop the Ravenous from destroying the universe after the Master (Beavers) was apparently killed by them in the previous story. Like the Doctor, the Master is a Time Lord with multiple regenerations and three of these (Gomez, Jacobi, and Roberts) begin to get in the way of the Doctor and companions but eventually come together and team up. The series does a lot. Its an exciting two hour adventure with so many twists. It provides some real fun to hear these many iterations of the Master play off each other. At the same time, the story doesn’t forget that the Doctor is the hero and still gives him plenty to do. The deeper you are into Big Finish, the more you get out of this story as it not only provides the payoff for four box sets of the Ravenous story, but also pays off and answers questions that go back years before.  However, it doesn’t require a deep knowledge of the continuity to enjoy it.

8. The Vardan Invasion of Mirth written by Paul Morris and Ian Atkins, starring Peter Purves and Steven Critchlow from the Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 3

Steven Taylor (Purves) finds himself separated from the First Doctor and seemingly stranded on Earth in the 1950s and working in a TV repair shop. However, he receives a mysterious message via television from the Doctor that leads him on a path to playing straight man to old time comic Teddy Baxter (Critchlow). The idea of Taylor (one of the Doctor’s more serious and no-nonsense companions) appearing in a comedy act is funny itself. However, the story is a charming and heart-warming tribute to the comedy of that era which Purves requested and the sincerity really shines through. Critchlow is great as Baxter as there’s some laughs to add but also a lot of sadness. The story has a nice mystery with a few good twists and this is a really fun hour of entertainment.

7. Companion Piece written by John Dorney, starring Nicola Walker, Hattie Moran, India Fisher, Alex Kingston, Rahkee Thakrar, John Heffernan, and Paul McGann from Ravenous 3:

This is an unusual story set during the Ravenous saga as the Doctor’s main companions for this series (Walker and Moran) are kidnapped from the events of Ravenous series by the Nine (Heffernan), a kleptomaniac Time Lord who decides to go about collecting all of the Doctor’s companions. There are cameos by a lot of different companions but the focus is on the companions of the Eighth Doctor (McGann): past (Pollard), present, and future (Thakrar) as well as River Song (Kingston.) They’ve got to come together to thwart the Nine and get back to their own place in time. It’s ultimately a distraction from the on-going story arc, but what a fun distraction.

6. The Bekdel Test written by Jonathan Morris, starring Alex Kingston and Michelle Gomez from the Diary of the River Song, Volume 5

This is set during the time that River Song (Kingston) was imprisoned for murdering the Doctor. She’s transferred to the Bekdel Institute, a prison filled with dangerous inmates, and most dangerous of all is Missy (Michelle Gomez), one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies. This story delivers on so many levels. Kingston and Gomez play off each other with some hilariously witty banter and a few really good character moments. The idea of the Bekdel institute is incredibly well-executed as a concept. Its name is a clever play on words for the so-called Bechdel test for female characters in fiction which also plays into the main plot of the story. This one has some really clever twists and nice surprises. It’s a superbly written piece that really lets these characters play off each other and the result is a delight.

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Audio Drama Review: The Holly Tree Inn

While Charles Dickens is beloved for his novel A Christmas Carol, that’s far from his only Christmas work. He wrote several Christmas stories. This is the fifth one that Colonial Radio Theater has adapted.

“The Holly Tree Inn” is a short story about a man caught in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and taking refuge at the Holly Tree Inn where he wiles away time talking with the people at the Inn. As soon as the storm lifts, he’s continuing on his efforts to leave the country as he believes his sweetheart has jilted him for his best friend..

The Holly Tree Inn is a dialogue-heavy story. There’s little movement which can be a challenge with an audio drama. However, this is helped by the fact that the dialogue is by Charles Dickens which means there are some fun turns of phrases, stories told within the story, etc. In addition, Colonial does a superb job adapting it with its typical professionalism and a nice score.

The Holly Tree Inn is a sweet little story. It’s not much more than people sitting around during a snowstorm talking but it has a moral that is well-taken, if not earth-shattering. If you’d enjoy a relaxing story while wrapping presents or de-stressing from the Holidays, this is a bit of comfort listening.

Rating:3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Six Review

After five seasons and thirty-six episodes, Black Jack Justice had established  the main characters of Jack Justice (Christopher Mott) and Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (Andrea Lyons). Season six features a fair share of experimental episodes.

“Cops and Robbers” is a story told mostly by the supporting cast, “The Sky’s the Limit” is a story of a Poker game where the players try to suss out what happened on a case where no one has all the facts. “Man’s Best Friend is told from the perspective of the office dog, King.

Of the three, I think “Sky’s the Limit” was probably the best. It’s definitely fun to hear the story pieced together and to be learning details as the characters are. The ending is a bit ambiguous but it’s still a lot of fun. The other two stories have their moments but don’t work as well. The side characters are not as interesting as Jack and Trixie so that limited my enjoyment of “Cops and Robbers.” As for, “Man’s Best Friend,” the dog narration part landed flat. The approach seemed to be, “I’m a dog who thinks he’s a detective.” I think it would have been funnier had he been thinking more like an actual dog.

I personally preferred the other three episodes which were more traditional Justice and Dixon mysteries. “The Albatross” was my favorite as Lieutenant Sabian (Gregg Taylor) hires them to look into the murder of a black girl in a tenement which his superiors want him to lay off of. The episode examines the idea that certain unresolved cases haunt detectives, whether official or otherwise.  It’s a well-done episode.

Overall, while I’m not crazy about all the experimental episodes in this season, I still enjoyed it pretty well.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

You can download Black Justice Season Six from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Audio Drama Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

In Colonial Radio Theater’s 2007 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, a carnival arrives in a small Midwestern town in late October. Two thirteen year old boys, Jim and Will, discover something sinister is behind the carnival and its leader Mr. Dark.

The story itself is pure Bradbury at his best. Superficially, it’s about a couple of kids in a small town and a scary carnival. But there’s a lot of depths and themes here such as age and youth, innocence, and evil. Yet Something Wicked This Way Comes never seems like it’s trying to be profound and it never forgets to be an entertaining and scary story.

The dialogue is not typically the way most people talk either now or then. It has a stylized, almost lyrical quality.

The production qualities are solid. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of Audio Drama from many companies. So far, Colonial has the best sound design this side of the Atlantic. Even though it was recorded twelve years ago, the sound design and music hold up and build that creepy small-town atmosphere. Colonial’s talented team of actors delivers good performances all around and manage to handle Bradbury’s unique style of dialogue.

Overall, this is a fun and well-done take on a Bradbury classic that’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating:4.5 out of 5