Yes, I listened to most of these in the last fortnight. Because reasons.
The Emerald Tiger (main range)
The new range of Fifth Doctor plays with Tegan, Turlough and an older post-Terminus Nyssa are the ones I associate most closely with my transition from occasional listener to serious subscriber. Which is odd because while I have enjoyed them and what they had to offer, I haven’t adored them with the fierce passions I feel for the plays featuring Seven-Ace-Hex or Eight-Charley, Eight-Lucie, Six-Charley, Six-Evelyn and Five-Peri-Erimem. Instead, I’ve viewed them more as an intellectual enjoyment, revisiting one of “my” classic periods of the show.
Not so with this latest (the third) trio of this particular TARDIS team. I adored all three plays, enjoying the characters and their interactions, and the excellent, excellent scripts. Sure, Janet Fielding is still dialling up the ocker about 3 notches too high compared to her 80’s accent, but she’s still putting in a more restrained performance than either Old Tom or Paul Darrow in the Blake’s 7s, so I’m going to give her a pass on that.
The Emerald Tiger is a wild Kiplingesque adventure romp which namechecks or references just about every classic jungle adventure writer, and provides exciting adventures with big cats, steam trains and mysterious aliens. All of the characters are given great material to work with, Tegan and Turlough taking turns to play the hero while Nyssa has a more esoteric, psychic storyline (with some very unexpected twists!) and the Doctor gets to be funny and tragic at the same time. Tegan’s best bit happens while riding an elephant.
Energy of the Daleks (The Fourth Doctor Adventures)
I enjoyed listening to this one, and the novelty of seeing Leela deal with the Daleks for the first and only time (it’s always odd to realise a companion didn’t face them, especially one who was around for a while like Leela) but I don’t remember much about it now. Not the most dynamic of this month’s stories, certainly!
The Jupiter Conjunction (main range)
Space age goodness! The energetic, dynamic TARDIS Fifth Doctor team with Tegan, Turlough and Old Nyssa (in mind if not body) now apply themselves to a great SF suspense story with politics, battles, intrigue and espionage. I love the fact that the story takes place on the back of a comet, and that the city built upon it is there purely to use it as a cheap, second class delivery service, following an elliptical orbit between Jupiter and Earth.
I also love that all of the characters are given plenty to do, and people to care about, and the way that the threads all start tangling together more and more (and characters keep getting killed off) as the plot intensifies. Eddie Robson is one of my favourite Big Finish writers and he excels at this kind of suspense/action storyline.
The Guardians of Prophecy (Lost Stories)
Some of the Lost Stories do have a bit of a feel of being just an audio version of a story that could have been written in the era it was intended for – which is fine, if dull. The really great ones are able to have a dual existence, giving a greater narrative weight and complexity and utilising the audio format more effectively than a mere adaptation could. The Sixth Doctor seems to benefit from many excellent Lost Stories (I recently also listened to the Nightmare Fair which is great fun) largely I suppose because he had so MANY stories cancelled before they could be made – a whole season in one go, for a start.
This one, adapted by Jonathan Morris from a screenplay by Johnny Byrne, writer of the original Keeper of Traken serial, is a sequel to that story (one of my favourites), set on the planet of Serenity, the last surviving planet of the peaceful Traken union, and goes a long way towards explaining who and what the Melkur statue/creatures were beyond a sneaky thing for the Master to manipulate. Having a sequel to the Keeper of Traken which features neither Nyssa nor the Master seemed odd at first but it works really well. The script manages to feel like a “real” Six-and-Peri story without them wanting to kill each other, or me wanting to kill either of them, so it’s like a marvellous imaginary world in which the Sixth Doctor actually got good scripts back in the 80’s.
The whole story is great, but I particularly liked Graham Cole’s performance as Ebbko, the greatest safecracker in the universe (who feels totally like a first draft version of Sabbalom Glitz). He also voices the Melkur, which is a call back to the fact that he played the physical role of the original Melkur back in the day. Did any of you know that Tony Stamp from the Bill was the Melkur?? Because I didn’t! The Extras interviews are usually worth listening to in Big Finish audios anyway, but I can thoroughly recommend them in this one because of all the value-added material of the story behind the story, and why they made the choices they did. If you’ve a hankering for the old days of mid-80’s Doctor Who (or if you think Doctor Who from this era can’t POSSIBLY be any good) then this could be the one for you.
Trail of the White Worm (The Fourth Doctor Adventures)
This is a fun, bizarre romp through the English countryside, and includes some great comic moments as well as weird, dark and creepy ones. Geoffrey Beevers is the guest star who brings it for this one, returning to his role as the scarred, angry, slimy, broken Master of the Tom Baker run, and expanding marvellously on this version of the character, often forgotten between gland reminiscences of the Delgado-Ainley variety. Also of note is another guest star, Rachael Stirling (aka Diana Rigg’s daughter) whom I remember fondly from Tipping the Velvet. She has an utterly wacked out character to bring to life in this one, and does it with great pulp fiction aplomb. (not a complete story – has a cliffhanger that leads into The Oseidon Adventure next month)
The Revenants (DWM Special Giveaway)
The download code for this one was available with Doctor Who Magazine 448 – though by past experience it will probably be available at a fairly cheap price in around a year. I didn’t have overly high hopes for this one, which features a very elderly William Russell talking about an adventure he and Barbara had (only partly with the Doctor) between the loss of Susan and acquisition of Vicki. But I was pleasantly surprised! It’s a sweet story which looks at the two schoolteachers and how uncomfortable it is for them in the TARDIS as they figure out whether or not the Doctor really wants them there, now that Susan (whom they had been dragged on board to entertain. There’s also a lot of near-fatal wading through Orkney bogland, and a clever two strand storyline based on a woman they met there, long ago, and her niece, to whom Ian is telling the story (Jeannie and Janet are both played by the excellent Sharon Small). Also some rather cool examination about where the Doctor stands on the subject of magic – and what he’s prepared to do in order to save Ian and Barbara, who really are his people now. Lovely all around.
The Butcher of Brisbane (main range)
It’s been a great threesome of stories, but this one is an absolute blinder. Written by Marc Platt, the king of bonkers storylines, the TARDIS crew (5, Tegan, Turlough, very youthful looking old Nyssa) arrive in a rather horrendous 51st century post-apocalyptic Earth, in which Magnus Greel (who will some day travel back in a Time Cabinet to Victorian London, taking on the alias Weng-Chiang) is a powerful politician entanged in some very nasty business.
The clever twist in the tale happens up front, when an accident with the TARDIS leads Tegan and the Doctor to arrive three years later than Nyssa and Turlough – who upon being unceremoniously dumped in a snowy wasteland found themselves surrounded by falling bodies which had been sent back three years in time. Got that?
Tegan is devastated to see what has become of her beloved Brisbane in this horrible future, and both she and the Doctor are very alarmed to find that in their time apart, Nyssa has managed to get herself engaged to, um, Magnus Greel himself. But nothing is what it seems!
This is a twisty, turny, espionage-heavy story, with plenty of time dilation kinks, a mad scientist, and a few hefty doses of Chinoiserie to explain away Greel’s weird obsession with antique Chinese artefacts once he gets back to the 1970’s interpretation of Victorian London in The Talons of Weng Chiang. It’s all cleverly pieced together, with more villains than one might expect, some earnest freedom fighters, and the rather worrying revelations about Nyssa and Magnus’ relationship.
So many, many things to like in this! Turlough as a civil servant is marvellous, and I am enjoying the way that the show is building up his friendship with Nyssa, whom he barely got to overlap with in the original series. The Doctor gets some great material opposite not Greel at all, whom he is mostly kept apart from, but the sinister and morally repugnant Dr Findecker, who is responsible for some nasty time experiments. The post-apocalyptic Brisbane has its… problematic moments, speaking as an Australian, with the ocker dingo soldiers possibly the hardest aspect to swallow (but probably fair enough considering the race issues with the original Weng Chiang story – obviously Greel comes from a weird future where racial stereotyping is the norm), but I still enjoyed those parts very much.
Also the fact that they travel all over the place, from Peking (named back from Beijing, I imagine to make a quirk of Talons make sense) to Finland and back to Australia again, giving a real sense that they are visiting a world, not just one set. There should be more of this in the audio stories, given that they don’t have to pay for all the different settings!
My only quibble is that Tegan is obviously still keeping Nyssa’s marriage a secret from the Doctor, as mentioned I think back in one of the previous trilogies, as if it’s this Big Thing, and I think it has been over telegraphed as A Shocking Secret when in fact it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Certainly not enough for Tegan to be talking about it in such an Ominous Tone of Voice.
Still, I’m delighted they don’t seem to be stopping this run any time soon. More please!
Power Play (Lost Stories)
Another Sixth Doctor story that was supposed to happen at some point but didn’t, this reunites the Doctor with old companion Victoria, played by Deborah Watling. It’s an odd duck, and I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to say about nuclear energy (it’s probably fairer to nuclear power sources than any other Doctor Who story, but tries to cover all perspectives, which leaves it feeling a bit odd and fence-sitting). Peri gets a reasonable amount to do, for a Lost Story, but it’s really not one of her showcase pieces. Victoria’s plot is just plain weird. I like that she’s involved in power protestors etc. and that much is made of the fact that she’s not only old now, but was born far earlier than someone of her age should have been – she’s from the Age of Steam, now dealing with the Nuclear and Information Age, which is quite fun. And I appreciate the fact that it’s about who her character might be now, not whom she might have been in the 80’s. Her relationship with the much younger protesters who think of her as a Mum figure and call her “Vic” is all very cute.
But… she spends most of the story either hypnotised, or trying to kill the Doctor, or generally befuddled, and I feel like the character was a bit wasted considering what a big deal it is (or should be) to see the Doctor again. I’m particularly skeptical that the Doctor should convince her to recognise him by looking in his eyes rather than, you know, talking her into it like he normally does when reuniting with people. I also feel like the writer didn’t want to go out on a limb and give us any hint as to what Victoria’s life had been like for the last 40 years or so, which was disappointing. I enjoyed the story while listening to it, but ended up feeling a bit flat about the whole thing.
The Oseidon Adventure (The Fourth Doctor Adventures)
IT’S THE KRAALS! I think I’m the only Doctor Who fan who counts The Android Invasion amongst my very favourite stories, and it should be of no surprise to anyone that they work very well over audio. Of course the Master would work with them. This is the second of the two parter including Trail of the White Worm, although the two stories don’t have a lot to do with each other. The best part of this is the psychological depth given to the various android replicas of the Doctor and the Master, and the idea that once you put enough of the history and knowledge of someone into an android figure, it’s going to take on a lot of their personality and attributes too. So making androids of your enemies? Not such a great plan! Making androids of yourself when you’re an untrusting, slightly evil megalomaniac? Even WORSE plan. Possibly this one edges too much towards the silly which is a problem when dealing with the Master, but he is rather ruffled and adorable, and I love the vibe between Tom Baker and Geoffrey Beevers.
HOTTEST RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE QUARTER:
The Emerald Tiger
The Jupiter Conjunction
The Butcher of Brisbane
The Guardians of Prophecy