Big Finish - April Round-up

April was a reasonably good month for Big Finish - there was nothing outstanding, but there were two excellent examples of the company's expertise in period settings and only one below-par release.

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City of Spires by Simon Bovey
Number: 133
TARDIS Team: The Sixth Doctor... and Jamie?
Running Time: 124:11
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Released: April 2010
Buy: Here.

I'll be absolutely honest about this, I hate the idea of pairing off Jamie with the Sixth Doctor. It's an understandable decision from a commercial point of view, putting together arguably BF's strongest performer in Colin Baker with one of their most popular companions (and who has given equally fine performances in various Companion Chronicles) but from a story point-of-view, it feels totally wrong. Not only does it repeat a trick already done once in teaming up with the Sixth Doctor with a "wrong companion" following his adventures with Charley, but the fact it's Jamie just compounds the sin. Jamie and the Second Doctor are as inextricably linked as the Third Doctor and Jo, the Fourth Doctor and Romana, or the Tenth Doctor and Rose. In their way, they loved each other as much as any of those other pairings (in a strictly platonic way, of course), and it was the greatest tragedy of the Second Doctor's era when his best friend's memory was wiped, leaving him with no recollection of their time together or the close friendship they had. A reunion, no matter how deftly handled, betrays that moment (I know the two have met up before in the comic strip, but - YES I'LL SAY IT - it's not the same). It doesn't sit right with me, and I wasn't looking forward to this audio one little bit.

The Powers That Be seem to be aware that careful handling is needed, and it's a very different Jamie whom the Doctor meets up with the second time around. There are very strong parallels with the current television series, with a Mysterious Force altering the timeline so that his former companion not only doesn't recall travelling with the Doctor, but doesn't even seem to remember the events of The Highlanders, the one adventures the Time Lords didn't take from his memory. It's a surprising move, and while for once I would welcome the possibility of a giant reset button at the end of the trilogy, that could render the whole thing pointless - it will be fascinating to see how these issues are handled in the next two stories. It doesn't help that here Jamie, recast as "Black Donald" fighting an insurgency against the mythical creature Red Cap and an Overlord who is draining the Highlands of its oil reserves, isn't especially similar to the original television character - even given the altered circumstances here, he isn't nearly as close as The Companion Chronicles regularly get him. The plot, which has the pair investigating the titular city, built with advanced technology and drilling the oil while seemingly conflating multiple timelines, is a fairly long capture-escape-repeat runaround that is neither sufficiently mysterious nor witty to merit the long running time. Both Baker and Hines are on good form, and the period is done nicely, but even aside from my qualms about Jamie's presence this is a very bland audio which won't linger long in the memory. 4/10.


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Point of Entry by Barbara Clegg and Marc Platt
Number: 1.06
TARDIS Team: The Sixth Doctor and Peri
Running Time: 129:30
Directed by: John Ainsworth
Released: April 2010
Buy: Here.

It hadn't particularly occurred to me before listening to this audio, but one thing BF do very well are stories set in ye olden days. I've listened to Medicinal Purposes far more than that story merits solely for the spooky 19th-Century Edinburgh atmosphere it conjures up, while the likes of The Marian Conspiracy, The Haunting of Thomas Brewster and even the otherwise supremely daft The Kingmaker all sound wholly authentic. So it is with Point of Entry, set in a late 16th Century London which hustles and bustles and comes across as the BF equivalent of Shakespeare in Love, except with Kit Marlowe and a sinister Spaniard called Velez rather than Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow. Adapted by Marc Platt from an original script by Barbara "Enlightenment" Clegg, it's another splendidly entertaining entry in this range, an Elizabethean romp with shades of Hartnell - it would be spoiling it too much to say more, other than Nicola Bryant gets more to do than in most of these adventures in a manner not dissimilar to The Church and the Crown. Bryant is on good form, and with good performances by Matt Addis as Marlowe and Luis Soto as Velez, and a script that works well in audio (not something that can be said for all these Lost Stories) this is probably the most successful one yet. 7/10.


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Shadow of the Past by Simon Guerrier
Number: 4.09
Starring: Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Lex Shrapnel (Marshall)
Running Time: 64:16
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Released: April 2010
Buy: Here.

These days there's a case to be made that the strongest Doctor Who range at Big Finish is the Companion Chronicles, with Simon Guerrier's Sara Kingdom plays Home Truths and The Drowned World being two of the strongest reasons why. Guerrier's latest, which sees the return of Johns as Liz Shaw for only the second time in the range's history, following The Blue Tooth, is not in the same league as those two, but is still another above par release for the fourth season. After last month's tedious The Emperor of Eternity it's a return to form, featuring the first recorded encounter between the Doctor and the Mim, a sponge-like monster which first appeared in BF's Benny range. Guerrier captures the feeling of Season Seven well, showing an antagonistic relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier far more cautious than the cosy one we're used to, which adds some spice to proceedings, especially as this is a Doctor as concerned with trying to escape his recently imposed exile on Earth as helping UNIT along. When a Mim spacecraft crashes into the Pennines, it looks like he might have a chance to break free of his shackles, but will he do it? While of course we know the answer to that, it's an intelligent, thoughtful treatment of the Season Seven set-up which works well, and thematically is far richer than either of the two full cast audios above. The best audio of the month. 8/10.

Sherlock Holmes



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Holmes and the Ripper by Brian Clemens
Number: 1.03
Starring: Nicholas Briggs (Sherlock Holmes), Richard Earl (Dr John H. Watson), India Fisher (Katherine Mead)
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Running Time: 118:25
Released: April 2010
Buy: Buy.

There's one big problem with this release: it's come out at completely the wrong time of year. This is the sort of play that works best listened to in the depths of winter, in front of a fire with a glass of brandy by one's side and a pair of comfy slippers to rest on a footstool. Unlike the first two Sherlock plays from BF, this is an absolutely traditional, smog-and-gas-light incarnation of the Great Detective, albeit one which is quite happy to expand the Holmes mythos in ways his creator never would have imagined. Based on Clemens's stage play, just the title is enough to bring joy into a Sherlockian's heart - even though Conan Doyle never himself pitched his hero against the Ripper, so many others have since down the years that the plot feels almost as much part of the Canon as any the original 56 short stories or four novels. In fairness, this latest version of the well-worn theme doesn't do anything particularly new with the idea, but that is part of its charm, this being as warmly indulgent in its approach as the best filmed versions. Briggs' interpretation of the role is stereotypical without being caricatured, and he strikes up a good relationship with Earl's Watson in a story which underlines the Masonic angle to the Ripper mystery as well as daring to introduce some romance into the mix. In contrast to the two earlier, aurally austere plays it's also a far more atmospheric production - it's another example of what I was saying above, BF's superb ability to evoke a period, with Victorian London coming to life here both in 221B and the dark, dank slums Holmes and co have to venture down to investigate. It feels a bit odd being part of the same series as the two experimental audios that preceed it, but on its own it's great fun, and in its way as enjoyable as the BBC Merrison/Sachs plays. 7/10.

As ever, many thanks to Big Finish for their help with these reviews.

Last updated: 19/04/2018 23:25:11

Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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