Tag: Doctor Who

My Big Finish Twenty, Part Two

We continue our look at twenty great Big Finish releases in celebration of Big Finish’s Twentieth Anniversary. This week we’ll cover numbers 15-11. See Part One for numbers 20-16.

15) Dan Dare, Volume 2

Being an American, I never grew up with Colonel Dan Dare of Space Fleet as portrayed in Britain’s Eagle Comics, but Big Finish’s two Dan Dare releases in association with B7 helped me fall in love with this iconic British character. He begins as a bit of a cynic but quickly shows his stuff as a tough, principled, courageous, and tenacious hero as he battles his arch-enemy The Mekon as well as a few other baddies. This is imaginative, swashbuckling space fun with great moments. At the same time, Dare has to deal with corruption and political skullduggery that often undermines his mission. For me, this volume stands out because of the final story as Dare’s mental battle with The Mekon.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

14) Doctor Who Unbound:  Masters of War:

For the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Unbound range took a look at and altered several key concepts and events of the Doctor Who Universe. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Emmy award-winning actor David Warner was introduced as an alternate version of the Third Doctor  (played on television by Jon Pertwee) who arrived on the earth in 1996 rather than in the 1970s as happened on TV.

This release was a sequel released five years later as this alternative universe Doctor is now traveling with his new companion, retired Brigadier Alastir Lethbridge-Stewart  (Nicholas Courtney) as they land on Skaro, the homeworld of the Daleks, the Doctor’s most iconic enemies where they are lording over the Thals. The Doctor being the Doctor, he is here to liberate the Thals from the Daleks. In our Universe, the Daleks are out to “exterminate,” to “conquer and destroy.” But in this Unbound Universe, the Daleks want peace.

This raises a lot of questions. How did this other Universe’s Daleks develop differently? What did their creator Davros do differently?  How will they interact with the Daleks? This story offers a different spin on one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, Genesis of the Daleks, and it holds up. It’s a massive audio story at two and a half hours long, but in my opinion, well worth it as we get great acting from Warner, Courtney, and Terry Malloy (Davros), and a solid script. This is the type of story that’s best enjoyed by fans who’ve seen the original stories that these are based on, but it could also be enjoyed as a sci-fi epic in its own right.

Warner would reprise his role as the Unbound Doctor in two box sets in 2016 and 2017 alongside Big Finish’s first dramatic hero Bernice Summerfield and those are both good solid collections, though not quite as epic as this.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

13) Death and the Queen

The chronically single Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is swept off her feet by the prince of a distant land which the Doctor (David Tennant) had never heard of. The prince asks Donna to marry him, but of course, Donna learns there’s a catch.

The story has some great comedic moments and is a bit of a fractured fairy tale with a science fiction twist. Tennant and Tate are one of most beloved pairings of Doctor and Companion in the revived series and this story is a great example of how charming these characters are together and how well the actors play off each other. The script moves at a fast pace while providing good dramatic scenes and a great resolution. This makes a great audio drama and would have worked very well on television.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

12) 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men

The Fifth Doctor and his companion Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) arrive in 1963 with the Doctor determined to show Nyssa the Beatles. The Doctor is in for a surprise as he discovers the Beatles have been replaced in time by another band known as the Common Men.

The story’s premise, the mystery, and its solution are perfect. The gorgeous Abbey Road-theme cover art is a delight. The music is well-done and really creates a 1960s feels for the world of the story’s wannabe Beatles.

Beyond that, the story makes an effective use of Nyssa not being from Earth as well as having her own separate storyline. The entire cast performed well, and the story has the added bonus of being easily accessible even to those who haven’t listened to Big Finish before.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

11) Solitaire

The Companion Chronicles range at Big Finish are typically dramatized audiobooks featuring an actor who played a companion of the Doctor telling a story of one of their adventures with the aide of another actor. This one is instead a two-handed audio drama without narration.

Eighth Doctor companion Charlotte “Charley” Pollard (India Fisher) arrives in a toy shop with amnesia, not even remembering who she is at first. She quickly finds the shopkeeper of this Toy Store is the Celestial Toymaker (David Bailie)who gives her no choice but to play a mysterious game that the player doesn’t realize they’re playing, and the game rules are unknown.

At its core, this feels like an old Twilight Zone story as the tension builds throughout towards the twist ending. The two-voice radio drama works brilliantly.  The actors are perfect, Fisher plays Charley as unnerved and confused at first, but whose intelligence leads her closer to the truth. Bailie manages to imbue the Toymaker with a sinister sense of mystery.  The story grows increasingly claustrophobic, and we get great interactions between these two actors and a wonderful payoff.

Buy on Amazon
Buy at Big Finish

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

My Big Finish 20, Part One

My Big Finish Twenty

September is the 20th Anniversary of Big Finish productions turning out audio dramas and this month we’re celebrating with a series of articles looking at twenty great releases from Big Finish.

I should say that this is NOT a “Top 20 Big Finish” releases article, since I’ve not listened to every single Big Finish release. Some are only available on CD and shipping rates from the UK can be prohibitive. Some are for series that I’ve never gotten into like Blake’s 7 or Dark Shadows. Others I’d like to listen to someday but haven’t gotten around to. In addition, Big Finish has lost the license for some other properties such as Sapphire and Steel.

It’s also not my top twenty favorite releases. That would be heavily skewed towards Sci-Fi and certain Doctor Who actors. Rather this is a list of twenty great Big Finish releases. There’s still a lot of Science Fiction and Doctor Who on the list, but my aim is to cover a bit of the breadth of Big Finish’s catalog and offerings. I do have these in an order of quality. Comparing vintage mystery show revivals to madcap Science Fiction is a bit of a challenge, but we try.

20) Hound of the Baskervilles:

There have been many adaptations of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but this may be my favorite. Director/Star Nicholas Briggs and writer Richard Dinnick decided to do an absolutely faithful adaptation, which is impressive as most writers can’t seem to resist to tinkering with one of the greatest mystery novels of all time. What we get is the richness of the story, along with super but not intrusive sound effects. The cast is superb and professional, Briggs is a solid Holmes, and Richard Earl does a great job bringing Watson to life. One of the most remarkable facts about this is that the entire recording was done in a single day. It’s a must-listen-to for Holmes fans.

Buy from Big Finish
Buy from Amazon

19) Light at the End:

For the Fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who, on television, the Tenth and Eleventh known regenerations of the Doctor joined forces with the previously unknown War Doctor (played by John Hurt.) Yet, that left a lot of Doctors out. One of the key premises of Doctor Who is that when his life is in mortal jeopardy, the Doctor can regenerate into another human form.

Light at the End is the Anniversary special for all the other Doctors (save Christopher Eccleston, who took part in neither.) The five living Doctors from before the revived series (Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann) star along with one of their companions, with three now-deceased Doctors played by appropriate substitutes but only making brief appearances as they battle their long-time foe, The Master.

The most surprising thing about this story is that despite all these characters, the story is coherent. Writer Nicholas Briggs (who didn’t want to do a multi-Doctor story) wrote a script that managed to keep everything in balance and give each Doctor something to do, and give the script a coherent plot. Light at the End is a superb celebration of fifty years for the Doctor Who Series that still manages to hold up as a well-written, beautifully scored and directed production.

Buy from Big Finish
Buy from Amazon

18) Doctor Who:The Lost Stories The First Doctor Box Set

This was from Big Finish’s range of “Lost Stories,” which were adaptations of Doctor Who scripts that were written or proposed but never made for a variety of reasons. While the initial series focused on Colin Banker’s canceled second season as the Doctor, this expanded to the rest of the classic Doctors.

The First Doctor Box Set focused on two scripts written for William Hartnell’s First Doctor by Turkish writer Moris Farhi in 1964. During Hartnell’s time on Doctor Who, the series was split half between Science Fiction stories and historicals. The bulk of the box set is taken up by the story, Farewell Great Macedon, an epic script that puts the Doctor and his companions into the thick of events as they meet Alexander the Great just before his death.

Surviving cast members Carole Ann Ford and William Russell return as the companions Susan and Ian and voice the roles of their departed co-stars and provide narration in a brilliantly written story that manages to capture the feel of Early Doctor Who as well as pulling readers into the midst of this key time in history.

The second story, “The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance” is good but a bit high-concept and it’s hard to see how it ever would have worked on television. At less than an hour long, it doesn’t have time to be fully developed. Still, if the second story is largely forgettable, the first story makes this box set well worth listening to.

Buy from Big Finish
Buy From Amazon

17)The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3

When Americans think of the British TV series, The Avengers, they think of Emma Peel and John Steed bringing their larger-than-life adventures to America. They aired over the ABC TV network in Prime Time. Yet, before the Avengers came to America, there were three seasons of the series shot in the U.K. The first season of the series from 1961 was almost completely lost with only three episodes and part of another surviving.

Big Finish brought all 26 episodes of the first season to life in their Avengers: The Lost Episodes series which starred Julian Wadham as John Steed and Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel, a general practitioner who joined Steed on missions after his fiancee is murdered by a gangster in the first episode.

The Lost Episodes are a much more straightforward 1960s crime drama, although later episodes do get into espionage. Big Finish does a great job creating the feel of the 1960s through sound effect, music, and the type of performances given, and several of these lost episodes show the first season of Avengers was good even in its early days.

For me, Series 3 is the best set of the series. Click here my full review of Series 3.

Buy from Big Finish
Buy from Amazon

16) How to Win Planets and Influence People

Not only can the Doctor regenerate, but so can his foes from his own race. Big Finish has added some new regenerations for some of the Doctor’s Time Lord enemies. Big Finish cast comedian Rufus Hound as a new version of the Meddling Monk and he’s had some great stories. However, my favorite thing Rufus Hound has done for Big Finish is the short trip, “How to Win Planets and Influence People.” This is part of the Doctor Who Short Trip range. Those usually feature a short Doctor Who story of between 25-40 minutes that’s available as a download only. However, this is a bit different.

In this story, the meddling monk is giving a speech to a corporate convention as a motivational speaker, giving attendees a crash course in supervillainy and detailing how to defeat the Doctor with his many examples of how he failed to defeat the Doctor.

The production does a great job playing off of Hound’s stand up skills, while also poking fun at Ted Talks, as well Sci-Fi genre conventions for both Doctor Who villains and supervillains in general. Yet, it becomes clear more is going on than just a speech as the story goes on. Overall, this release is just a hoot and a great showcase for Mister Hound’s talent.

Buy from Big Finish

 

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

A Look at Jago and Litefoot, Part Four (Series 9-Series 11)

See Parts One, Two, and Three


Series Nine of Jago & Litefoot came out in April 2015 and finds Jago and Litefoot on a cruise, trying to enjoy some R&R after the ordeals of Series Eight.

The Series kicks off with, “The Flying Frenchmen,” Jago and Litefoot where they’re quickly thrown into mystery as the ship becomes trapped in a mysterious fog and they begin to encounter familiar faces–their own, however alternate universe versions where London has fallen under the different countries so there’s a German Jago and Litefoot, a Russian Jago and Litefoot, and a French Jago and Litefoot among others.

Overall, the story is interesting but mainly in the way it sets the stage for the rest of the series. There are clever elements thrown in that make these more than “Jago and Litefoot with different accents.” A lot about this story is unresolved by the end of it but it does set the stage for the subsequent episodes quite nicely.

In “The Devil’s Dicemen”, Jago and Litefoot disembark their ship and stumble on a series of mysterious deaths while Jago is led into a high stakes casino where winning requires forfeiting his soul. The story and features a great guest appearance by David Warner as a man who joins Litefoot in investigating the deaths. Though why he’s investigating is an open question.

Jago is a little too dense to how really dangerous the people who are inviting him to gamble at the Dark Casino are. After eight series, such credulity seemed way out of character. This is made up for at the end where Jago’s intelligence does re-emerge in a surprising twist. Plus, the mystery of what Doctor Betterman is up to is interesting throughout.

The “Isle of Death,” is another atmospheric diversion for Jago and Litefoot as they disembark from their ship to explore an uncharted isle. It’s got a nice Isle of Doctor Moreau feel with a mysterious monster causing mischief. A major highlight was the humorous twist in the reveal of the villain.

Finally, “Return of the Nightmare” is a thoroughly exciting finale as Jago and Litefoot find themselves in danger on the boat and have to confront the cause of the trouble that occurred in the series opener and has been in the background all along. What follows is an action-packed and exciting race to the finish. It’s probably the fastest paced episode of Jago and Litefoot I’ve heard. The plot is solid but is let down slightly by an ending that’s too predictable.

Overall, this is an enjoyable series even though it’s not one of Jago & Litefoot’s best. The third tale, “Isle of Death,” is probably the highlight of the box set like good Victorian Science Fiction.

In between Series 9 and 10, Jago and Litefoot appeared in the Doctor Who: Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure. Due to contract difficulties with the BBC, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor was not given an appropriate final exit and regeneration story, so Big Finish decided to fill in that gap in the Sixth Doctor’s history which they do with a four episode box set. Jago and Litefoot appear in the third story, “Stage Fright.”

The Doctor and his companion Flip arrive in Victorian London where Jago is taking it easy after Mr. Yardvale (an anagram for the Doctor’s enemy The Valeyard) has rented Henry’s theater at a very high rate so he can stage auditions for his own play behind closed doors. However, all the scenes played are those of the Doctor’s past regenerations. The Doctor is set on their trail when Litefoot asks his help on examining bodies that appear to be aged to death–the actors who played in the Valeyard’s sick little drama.

“Stage Fight” has a great sense of terror as well as suspense. It features the first direct confrontation between the Valeyard and the Doctor in the box set and it’s a memorable one. The supporting cast is superb. Jago, Litefoot, and Inspector Quick are top notch, and Colin Baker really has some strong moments. Flip is a fun character, but her best moment was towards the end of the story when she faced her stage fright in a powerful way.

Series Ten begins with “The Case of the Missing Gasogene” with introduces Jago and Litefoot’s biographer Carruthers Summerton as the two try to one up each other and investigate a locked room mystery separately in order to impress Summerton. The story is full of fun and excitement, and I found it to be one of their most amusing tales.

In “The Year of the Bat,” Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor interacts with Jago and Litefoot, albeit indirectly, through the Yesterday Box, a device that allows letters to be sent back in time, altering the current time line. This is good because they find themselves facing a foe they’d each fought thirty years before (without knowing the other party had fought their foe.) The story is one of Jonathan Morris’ most madcap Jago and Litefoot tales as we get some key highlights including the first meeting between Jago and Litefoot (which neither knew about.) This is a solid plot gimmick that works for an entertaining episode.

In “The Mourning After, ” Henry Gordon Jago is dead, or so Professor Litefoot believes. But after the coffin is lowered, we learn Jago is still alive even as his coffin is being buried.

This story is beautifully orchestrated as Henry finds himself in an apocalyptic future with the last member of the Jago and Litefoot Society while Litefoot faces the threat of zombies in the present. The story is clever and while you have an inkling of what might be going on, there are some amazing twists and turns. The scenes with Jago in the coffin are probably the most tense in the series’s history. The story also does a great job setting up the finale.

The set concludes with, “The Museum of Curiosities” where a series of bizarre murders rocks London and demands Jago and Litefoot’s attention as they have to deal with the “help” of Carruthers Summerton and muse about whether the mysterious Doctor Betterman is involved.

The story works brilliantly as a mystery. While I guessed the solution, the story didn’t let me be sure until the very last ten minutes. In addition, this clever mystery leads into a nice celebration of all the mischief and mayhem, Jago and Litefoot have faced in the course of ten series without going overboard or undermining the plot.

This is probably my favorite series of adventures. The individual episodes are superb with the finale serving as a capstone to the first Ten Series of Jago & Litefoot.

Big Finish obtained the rights to do audio dramas using characters from the revived series of Doctor Who that began in 2005. A natural fit would be to combine Victorian Age characters from the Classic and Revived Series, thus in November 2015, Jago and Litefoot were teamed with Strax the Sontaran butler in the feature length: Jago & Litefoot, & Strax: The Haunting.

The plot finds Strax, having lost his memory and moving in with Jago and Litefoot to hunt a creature that steals brains. This story is a delightful and lighthearted tale that while being fun, never crosses the line into being absurd or campy. Strax fits right into world of Jago and Litefoot, and there’s fantastic chemistry between the three leads.

The one thing I was nervous about listening to the trailer (and having seen Strax on TV) is that the entire story would be one big joke about Strax’s tendency to be unable to distinguish gender in humans. Yet, I needn’t have worried, while Justin Richards played to this suggestion from Stephen Moffat, he didn’t overplay it, thanks to a very clever scene with Ellie in the Red Tavern.

While the plot is a bit simple, the highlight is the fun character interactions. Overall, this wonderful production does a great job bringing Classic Who and New Who together.

This eleventh Jago and Litefoot series brings them face to face with the Master (played by Geoffrey Beevers) who remains in the background throughout the series before coming to the fore in the Series finale. Below is a look at each story:

Jago & Son: A fun romp that introduces us to a potential son of Jago as well as an old friend of Professor Litefoot’s. There’s plenty happening, but this story feels far less self-contained than the previous Jago & Litefoot lead off stories. It lays out a lot of threads that will be connected in later stories, with suspense and spookiness around a Satanic cult thrown into the mix.

Maurice: Probably my least favorite Jago and Litefoot episode and a bit of a disappointment from writer Matthew Sweet. The story seems almost like a generic Jago and Litefoot story, but without anything to really make it stand out. There are a few confusing points and the regulars, while still good, aren’t really given the material they need to shine.

The Woman in White: A solid installment that finds Jago meeting up with his friend Bram Stoker in response to Sir Henry Irving behaving oddly. In addition, the most recent production has been plagued by a series of disappearances and strange happenings. The professor’s end of the investigation is a little less interesting, but taken together, this is an exciting and suspenseful story.

Masterpiece: The episode suffers from a lot of waiting and repetition. A body is dropped off at the morgue drained-just like in the previous episode, although there is a difference in what it has been drained of. The focus of the episode is Jago and Litefoot trying to solve a mystery that’s already been revealed to the audience. We also spend much of the episode waiting for the Doctor to arrive.

What does make this work are the solid performances, most notably from Geoffrey Beevers as the Master. The Master isn’t content to wreak havoc for his purposes, but also sets up Ellie for danger and disaster in Series Twelve. The story deserves credit for how it gets the Doctor in. You spend most of the episode expecting the Doctor’s arrival (for that’s the whole point of the Master’s plan) only to realize the truth. Of course, once you realize the truth, the rest of the plot becomes obvious.

Overall, this is probably my least favorite Jago and Litefoot outing. The stories aren’t bad by any means but most of them call to mind prior stories, and recent ones in many cases. Jag & Son uses a satanic cult after one had just been featured featured in Series Nine’s “The Devil’s Dicemen.” Even the best story in the set, “The Woman in White,” has a similar to solution to Jago, Litefoot, and Strax: The Haunting, and I’ve noted my problems with “Maurice” above.

The problem may be the Master. Don’t get me wrong. Geoffrey Beevers is great but this may be a case of mixing two great ingredients and not getting a good finished product. Jago and Litefoot, two mystery-solving paranormal detectives matched against Beevers’ Master, the skulking and the obvious ultimate bad guy really doesn’t work as well as you’d think.

Even though the most recent series was disappointing, Jago & Litefoot has a strong track record and will bounce back with Series Twelve, which will be released later on this month.

Over the course of the last seven years, they’ve had an amazing variety of fantastic adventures. The entire series is a testament to the power of audio and imagination as two Octagenerian actors play characters who embody the spirit of adventure through one vigorous case after another, something that just couldn’t be done on television.

Big Finish has created a series that has an established brand and feel but still manages to come up with new twists and new facets to their characters. Jago and Litefoot have had an incredible run and I hope they carry on for many years to come.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

Audio Drama Review: All Consuming Fire


Despite both series being produced by Stephen Moffat, BBC’s hit shows Sherlock and Doctor Who are unlikely to crossover despite the desire of many fans to see such an event. However, with its adaptation of Andy Lane’s novel All Consuming Fire, Big Finish gives listeners a chance to hear a meeting of the two great heroes with Sylvester McCoy reprising his role as the Seventh Doctor and Nicholas Briggs taking on the role of Holmes (one he has played quite well in Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range.)Books stolen from a church library set Sherlock Holmes on a collision course with the Doctor. We’re given a very intriguing concept involving spooky ancient spirits, and a planned human invasion of alien worlds from Victorian England.

The plot is fun, if a bit dense, which often happens when novel plots are heavily condensed. The key to enjoying this is to properly set expectations. This is definitely a Doctor Who story guest-starring Sherlock Holmes as opposed to a story where the two are equals. Things really go beyond Holmes’ experience in the last two parts, although he does a relatively good job of rolling with the punches.

While the actors are the same as for Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the characterization is different both because the novel was written independent of other Holmes pastiches and the story was set prior to the seminal events of the the last two Sherlock Holmes box sets and therefore the characters are younger.

Still, this story is quite enjoyable. There’s a great mix of suspense, mystery, and atmospheric moments, as well as some comedic ones such as Holmes’ response to the Doctor’s compliment at the end of the story. And there are enjoyable interactions between the Seventh Doctor’s companion Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) and Dr. Watson (Richard Earl).

One complaint is the role of the Doctor’s other companion Ace (Sophia Allred). She only plays a part in Episode 4 in helping the Doctor and a friend stay alive on an alien planet but makes cameos in the prior episodes to remind us that she is eventually in this story. It’s an odd use of a popular companion and the cut scenes throughout the other episodes are a bit jarring.

Still, despite some minor production errors, this was a satisfying and entertaining audio drama that delivers a fun story worthy of these iconic characters.

Rating: 4.0 stars out of 5.0

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase