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Lots of Who (mostly audio)

It's been a good few weeks for us Who fans who follow audio as well as TV. The last two parts of BBC audio The Hornet's Nest, starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, shipped at the start of the month; for Fifth Doctor fans, we have had the last two of the three Big Finish audios set in Stockbridge and co-starring Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and also a Companion Chronicle told by Mark Strickson as Turlough; the Sixth and Eighth Doctors both went to Blackpool, and the Eighth Doctor also went back to a future Earth to see his granddaughter; and for good measure I'm throwing in the animated story "Dreamland" and the audiobook "Day of the Troll", both featuring David Tennant in his closing days as the Tenth Doctor. To put you out of your agony of suspense, I will reveal now that I thought the best and worst of these were the two Eight Doctor stories; read on to discover which was which. I believe I have avoided significant spoilers - though this is not always true of the reviews I have linked to.

I'm afraid my feelings about the five episodes of The Hornets' Nest became steadily less enthusiastic as the story went on. Part 4, A Sting In The Tale sees Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor investigating funny goings-on in a medieval convent. The plot was OK (no more than that) but I found some of the descriptions rather disgusting, and not in a fun way. My lapsed medievalist hackles did not particularly rise, but perhaps I wasn't listening hard enough. The final episode, Hive of Horrors, explains why the Doctor chose Mike Yates, of all previous companions, to join him on this adventure as they join forces with the sinister Mrs Wibbsey to deal with the hornets. There was lots of potentially good stuff here and maybe it will have worked for some people, but I was not one of them. Somehow Baker's performance and Paul Magrs' script ended up as less than the sum of their parts; Richard Franklin doesn't bring much to it as Yates (but I am not his biggest fan anyway). I think Baker needs a full cast to perform with and to; The Hornets' Nest too often reminded me of Doctor Who and the Pescatons, which similarly had him doing both Doctor and narrator and other voices when necessary, and was the weaker for it.

Of the three Fifth Doctor audios in this batch, the best is the first in internal chronology, The Eternal Summer, the second of a trilogy of Doctor / Nyssa plays set in Stockbridge, which was the setting for a number of the Fifth Doctor comic strips in Doctor Who Monthly (and also for the wonderful "Autumn" segment of the Circular Time audio play). I only dimly remember the strips, but like Peter Davison I will now see if I can buy them; Jonathan Morris' script combines nostalgia for those half-remembered stories with a decent sfnal plot which, even if it has been done several times before by Big Finish, is done well here. Particularly good also is Mark Walliams as UFOlogist Maxwell Edison, who falls in love with someone who is a fellow fan of Terry Pratchett. (Obviously that could never happen in real life, he said, waiting for the reactions of various parts of my friends list.)

The concluding part of the trilogy, Plague of the Daleks by Mark Morris, doesn't really rise to the same heights. There's a mysterious village with Something Going On, but the clue is in the title of the story. As wshaffer cruelly comments, it might have been a better story without the actual Daleks.

The latest Companion Chronicle, Ringpullworld (another by Paul Magrs), stars Mark Strickson as Turlough telling a tale of travelling with the Fifth Doctor and Tegan. There is a very nice narrative device, with Alex Lowe oplaying one of the novelizers of Verbatim Six, telling, narrating and even shaping Turlough's story. I was less overwhelmed by the actual plot, and poor Tegan gets a rough deal from Magrs' script and Strickson's imitation. The extra track of interview with Strickson, who now makes nature documentaries in New Zealand, is interesting though.

I was not hugely impressed by The Nightmare Fair, by Graham Williams, when I read the novelisation back in the summer, and I was not hugely impressed by Big Finish's audio production of this unbroadcast Sixth Doctor script. parrot_knight has analysed why this doesn't work in greater detail, but basically, the plot doesn't make a lot of sense, the Toymaker's own problems are puzzling and his fate rather incomprehensible, and I just couldn't really care what was going on.

I'm going to save An Earthly Child for a separate post because I can't properly discuss my reasons for not liking it without spoilers. But Death in Blackpool is very good, and I hope the new series of Eighth Doctor plays keeps up the standard. Alan Barnes has written some of the best Big Finish audios, and he is on form here again: this is a sort-of sequel to The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, which was for my money the best of the second season of Eight / Lucie plays and which ended with the revelation that Lucie's beloved Auntie Pat was actually a Zygon. Death in Blackpool picks up the story years later, with veteran Helen Lederer turning in a storming performance as Auntie Pat, and Sheridan Smith doing Lucie's departure beautifully. For a Christmas-themed play it is surprisingly bleak - not one to play to friends and family to get them in a good mood - but very effective, and gets my vote ahead of Eternal Summer and Day of the Troll as the best of this lot.

I haven't seen The Infinite Quest, the first animated Tenth Doctor story, so was intrigued by the concept of Dreamland, with Tennant as the Doctor and Georgia Moffett as his girl sidekick. I was a bit disappointed. The quality of animation is not very much advanced from the Hanna Barbera shows of forty years ago. Phil Ford's story is a fairly basic aliens-in-Nevada one; I guess for kids who are excited or excitable by the whole Roswell mythos it is fun to see Who going there, but it didn't really grab me. I was particularly sorry that Moffett, whose acting presence is rather gripping in both The Doctor's Daughter and the early Big Finish play Red Dawn, seemed a bit subdued here.

Famous Scottish actor David Tennant reads Simon Messingham's story The Day of the Troll. Messingham is a good writer, Tennant is a good reader, and the story pushes lots of buttons and does it well - creepy monster under the bridge (the troll of the title), evil plant intelligence, freezing future Britain (listening to this during this week's snow was a bit uncomfortable), European government which has originated as a response to crisis, vulnerable kid who the Doctor has to try and save. All very good and recommended.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
deborah_c
Dec. 19th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
Radio 7's iPlayer also has Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf at the moment -- the first part has dropped off the schedule now, but the second half is there until Friday evening.
nwhyte
Dec. 19th, 2009 11:46 am (UTC)
That's a lovely piece - I cried!
strange_complex
Dec. 19th, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
The Infinite Quest is worth tracking down if you can. The story still isn't outstanding, though I think it is a few notches above Dreamland. But the animation is a lot better - more like what was used for the animated sections of The Invasion. I felt that the actors' performances were severely dampened by their clunky, expressionless avatars in Dreamland.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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