Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Big Finish catchup

I'm way way behind with these, so can't really put time into doing them justice. As usual I'm posting in order of internal Who chronology rather than either release order or listening order, which means the one I listened to most recently actually comes first.

In John Dorney's Companion Chronicle, The Rocket Men, William Russell tells the story of how Ian Chesterton saves Barbara from certain death when space pirates with jet packs attack the holiday resort where they are staying with the Doctor and Vicki. I was a bit underwhelmed by it, to be honest; for some reason the plot was chopped between two different time lines, and would I think have worked just as well as a linear narrative; also Russell carries more than 90% of the story, which he is great at, but makes bringing in another actor to speak the villain's few lines seem rather a waste.

A triumphant return for Victorian heroes Jago and Litefoot, as played by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, with added energy from Louise Jameson as Leela, sent to 19th century London from Gallifrey to heal mysterious time rifts. The four stories are rather different in format, with Justin Richards' Dead Men's Tales a fairly standard horror adventure (with nice character moments for our heroes), Matthew Sweet's The Man at the End of the Garden typically dense with literary references (particularly to E. Nesbit) and intricately constructed (with an excellent guest performance by child actor Eden Monteath who was also in The Eleventh Hour with her sister), and John Dorney's Swan Song also nesting narratives between our present day and Jago and Litefoot's era. Sad to say I was a little disappointed with Andy Lane's finale, Chronoclasm, which seemed to me to be camping it up without really delivering a coherent plot - Nikola Tesla? Turkish baths? what??? Lane is usually much better than this. But the casts's heart is fully in it, with shouts especially to Lisa Bowerman as Elly, Philip Bretherton (who played Judi Dench's son-in-law in As Time Goes By) as Professor Payne and Joanna Monro in a couple of different roles.

I assumed at first that from Leela's point of view this story is set not very long after her first recruitment by Romana as a security expert; but the brief appearance of an actor from Classic Who in what may or may not be a new role at the end of Chronoclasm may indicate that in fact these stories follow the end of the most recent Gallifrey mini-series. Looking forward to finding out anyway.

I very much enjoyed Tony Lee's Rat Trap. Lee has written some excellent Who comic strips, but I think this may have been his first audio script, and I hope it will not be his last. It's a claustrophobic tale of Five, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough exploring tunnels under an English fortress, and encountering two rival groups of humans and for added excitement some superevolved intelligent telepathic rats. The plot is decent enough but what really makes the audio is the sound design, which superbly conveys the inhumanity of the rats (brilliantly brought to life by former Davros Terry Molloy) without making them incomprehensible. A great example of what audios can do.

Big Finish's 150th regular release was a set of four short stories by different writers, all of whom I think are new to Who audios, and all with a common theme of loss of identity for the Sixth Doctor, Peri or both. In Recorded Time by Catherine Harvey, Peri falls into the clutches of Henry VIII who is incidentally trying to rewrite history; Paradoxicide by Richard Dinnick is a more standard space opera tale but with some interesting twists; in A Most Excellent Match by Matt Fitton our heroes find themselves both battling a telepathic parasite and trapped in classic nineteenth-century literature; and in Philip Lawrence's Question Marks, what appears at first to be a case of mass amnesia on an endangered spaceship turns out to be much worse. The four stories are all individually good but become very strong as a group; the whole is even better than the parts. The rotating cast includes Philip Bretherton (again) and Raquel Cassidy who I have been enjoying as the Labour minister in Party Animals.

The Big Finish seasons of 'Lost Stories' have often struggled a bit, and unfortunately Animal by Andrew Cartmel and Earth Aid by Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch, the latest two Seventh Doctor tales with Ace and new companion Raine Creevy, are not exceptional in this regard. Animal does bring back Angela Bruce as Brigadier Winifred Bambera from the TV story Battlefield, but suffers from having a very similar story line to Rat Trap without being as good. Also the risk of having aliens who are simultaneously boring and menacing is that the boredom will win out. Earth Aid had some serious internal improbabilities (one character turns out to have been shut in a box for a long period of time; how they got there and how they survived was not explained to my satisfaction) and my unsuspended disbelief overwhelmed my interest in the story; poor Paterson Joseph seemed wasted in his role. It is surprising that Cartmel, who must take a lot of the credit for the marked upswing in quality of the last couple of seasons of Old Who, has not really been able to transfer that magic to the audios, and unfortunate that Beth Chalmers, who I think has potential as companion Raine Creevy, hasn't hjad better material.

Last in chronological sequence, but definitely not least, Nicholas Briggs' Robophobia is an excellent sequel to Robots of Death, whose events are only dimly known to the crew of the robot freighter where the Seventh Doctor lands. It's an sfnal murder mystery, with a good script and excellent delivery, the cast including Nicola Walker from Spooks, Big Finish regular (and TV Dalek operator) Nicholas Pegg, and Toby Hadoke of Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf; strongly recommended.

That leaves Jonathan Morris's Tales from the Vault, difficult to fit neatly into Who chronology, which has two UNIT officers played by Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso explore an archive of material which includes stories told by Peter Purves as Steven, Wendy Padbury as Zoe, Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Mary Tamm as Romana. Nicely done but not spectacular.

Probably nobody rushes out and buys these audios on my recommendation. But I think that both Rat Trap and the Recorded Time stories are accessible and will be enjoyed even by non-Who fans, whereas most of the Jago and Litefoot stories, and also Robophobia, will particularly appeal to fellow children of the Fourth Doctor era.
Tags: doctor who, doctor who: 01, doctor who: 02, doctor who: 03, doctor who: 04, doctor who: 05, doctor who: 06, doctor who: 07, doctor who: audio, doctor who: jago and litefoot, writer: andrew cartmel, writer: andy lane, writer: ben aaronovitch, writer: john dorney, writer: jonathan morris, writer: justin richards, writer: matthew sweet, writer: nicholas briggs, writer: tony lee

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