Tag Archives: listening

Marriages and Stopped Clocks

I was excited this week that the new Ood Cast album was released.

The Ood Cast are one of my favourite Doctor Who podcasts – you may remember me talking about them before! They not only discuss the show with a positive & upbeat attitude (which is something I find essential in first-week-reviews these days, with so much complaining and browbeating filling the airwaves within only hours of each episode being released.

The Oods also have a tendency to discuss Doctor Who through comedy sketches, which is a far more fun way to express dissent or poke plot holes in an episode, and thanks to the astounding, chameleonic skills of Laura Sigma, they also produce a high quality song parody with every episode. (including when the show isn’t actually on which is why there were about four songs about the Gallifrey convention last year, one of which, Dirty Little Geeks, is one of my absolute favourites) Raeli isn’t quite the avid listener that she used to be, but she still loves the songs, and it’s great whenever a new album turns up so they can be enjoyed as separate files.

Which is my way of saying – much though I liked the Dinosaurs on a Spaceship review episode, I’m quite relieved not to have to listen to it AGAIN just so Raeli can hear the ‘Flirts Like an Egyptian’ song in the car. Yes, she is getting my half of her musical education largely through Doctor Who parodies. That’s okay, right?

You can download the album for free here.

Big Finish in (the second half of) 2011

Back in June, I reviewed all of the Big Finish plays I had listened to that were released in the first half of 2011. It was a pretty full on time for me as I wasn’t just a subscriber to the main monthly Doctor Who range, but also to the Sylvester McCoy Lost Stories and the 8th Doctor Adventures. Things were a little quieter for me in the second half of the year, but we’re about to ramp up into a year with new Blake’s 7, Fourth Doctor Adventures, and a whole bunch of other extras that I may or may not have ALREADY subscribed to. So I’d like to keep these posts going!

I’m trying to focus particularly in these recommendations on pointing out the jumping on points for new listeners, because lots of people have indicated they’ve either started listening to Big Finish because of my recs, or they want to and are still not sure where to jump aboard.

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On my iPod: Science Fiction Podcasty Goodness

The Coode Street podcast invite on special guest Ursula Le Guin to discuss the good, the bad and the “oh no she didn’t” contained within the pages of Margaret Atwood’s recent collection of essays about science fiction In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011). It’s especially interesting because Le Guin not only considers herself a friend of Atwood, but is often a subject in the essays themselves – but she pulls no punches when it comes to casting a critical eye over the book – and, with equal sharpness, the fans who have contributed to Atwood’s often misguided image of what SF readers are like. If there was a literary canon of SF-themed podcasts, this one would have to be pretty high on the list.

I also very much enjoyed the latest, 12th episode of The Outer Alliance podcast – these have been going from strength to strength with some wonderful interviews (and I’m not just saying that because they namecheck Galactic Suburbia!) and the latest one has host Julia Rios discussing all manner of gleeful and squeeful things with Lynne M Thomas – Hugo-award winning co-editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords, co-editor also of Whedonistas and the upcoming Chicks Dig Comics, incoming editor of Apex Magazine, podcaster of the SF Squeecast, archivist extraordinaire, etc. Oh yes, and she’s my fellow Tiptree juror this year too! Getting a chance to eavesdrop on the conversation between these two bouncy, enthusiastic and smart women was a great pleasure today, and they cover all kinds of issues, from behind the scenes podcasting gossip to third wave feminism, and how talking about shoes can be a subversive act.

I checked on a new discovery, the Anomaly podcast this week, with mixed results. I had been linked to their special two part Women of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Fandom episode, and found that inspiring and illuminating in some places, and deeply irritating in others. I liked that it was a group of women discussing their interests in SF, fandom, etc. and tackling questions like who writes strong female authors best, and whether ‘slave Leia’ costumes are problematic or empowering.

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This is what Feminist SF looks like: Big Finish, and Gallifrey

I know, I know. You’re sick of me raving about how good Big Finish is. But this isn’t a review, as such. There are some comments that regularly get thrown at feminist critics: you’re so negative, it’s all about tearing people down, why don’t you ever give cookies when we get it right? (It was particularly tragi-amusing to hear these comments in reaction to Nicola Griffiths proposing the Russ pledge, which is entirely positive)

So this is me talking about a bunch of blokes who get it so, so right.

There’s a thing I’ve been noticing, and I was reminded of it again recently while listening my way through season two of Gallifrey, an audio series produced by Big Finish. This series, now into its fourth season, has been produced on and off over the last decade, and was intended by its creators to be an SF version of The West Wing – political drama set on the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey.

Our protagonists are Romana, the Lord President, and her alien bodyguard Leela, who comes from a primitive warrior culture. Both characters are played by the same actresses, Lalla Ward and Louise Jamieson, who portrayed them in 1970’s Doctor Who as companions to the Fourth Doctor. I always thought this series was an awesome idea, taking two really interesting characters and giving them a further life than Doctor Who itself allowed them. But then I listened to a story which involved a plot point where the two characters had their brain patterns crossed over – so that Leela suddenly had the President’s cool, ruthless and logical way of thinking, while Romana was overwhelmed with the instincts and uncontrollable emotions of the Sevateem warrior.

And it suddenly occurred to me – how often in science fiction do we get a story in which the two main characters are women, and in which the main conflict between them is how very different they are in personality? Never mind science fiction, actually, how often do we get that in STORIES? YA is probably the only genre where this might be a regular occurence. What Gallifrey does is demonstrate that you can tell interesting, crunchy science fiction stories in which the most important characters happen to be women (most importantly, more than one woman), without it necessarily having to be a story about traditionally female concerns.

A regular character gets killed off in season two, in a very underplayed sort of way at first, which seemed to cut off a plotline in mid-stream. I was shocked and confused by this, waiting for the reveal that it was a fake out. Instead, the reveal was something important about that death, something which rocked the most important relationship in the show: the friendship and alliance between Romana and Leela. Only then did I realise what had happened. The character had been women-in-refrigeratored, his own burgeoning plotline sacrificed to further the story of the women.

Hell, yes!

This is not an isolated incident. As you all know, I’ve been inhaling Big Finish audio plays at a rate of knots all year, and it has interested me how much I am adoring them considering that the majority are written and directed by men. I have a solid history of finding it easier to love works written by women, and I’m not convinced that it’s just my love of Doctor Who that’s making me love Big Finish so hard.

The fact is, they’re all a great big bunch of lefty feminists.

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On My iPod: UNIT & Robophobia

UNIT 1.1 Time Heals [Big Finish Productions]
UNIT 1.2 Snake Head [Big Finish Productions]
UNIT 1.3 The Longest Night [Big Finish Productions]
UNIT 1.4 The Wasting [Big Finish Productions]

A while back, when Nicholas Courtney died, I recommended UNIT: The Coup, a freebie Big Finish audioplay which showed a 21st Century version of UNIT, dealing with one of those loose threads the Doctor left behind him, the pesky Silurians and their need to make an actual peace with humanity.

As well as showcasing Sir Alastair himself, the play introduced Colonel Emily Chaudhry (Siri O’Neal), a media liason working with UNIT. It serves as an introduction to the whole UNIT miniseries (2004), revolving around Chaudhry as she deals with a missing CEO, his replacement Col. Robert Dalton (who is, pleasingly, a skeptic of the Scully variety), the soulless media as personified by reporter Francis Currie, and some serious threats to humanity. The first two are mostly standalone adventures, and very enjoyable largely for the chemistry between the two leads, and the weirdness of their investigations. The style of the dramas anticipate some of the themes and ideas that came up in Torchwood, and I got more of a sense of UNIT as a real, modern organisation with ties back to the Pertwee Years than I ever got from the sparce UNIT appearances in New Who.

The third and fourth stories, The Longest Night and The Wasting, are impressively bleak political dramas, with far more in common with Torchwood: Children of Earth than anything else in the Whoniverse. It’s brilliant stuff. Of special note is the appearance of David Tennant in The Wasting as the long-missing-in-action CEO of UNIT, along with his Scottish accent. It’s a feisty performance, packed with personality, and his scenes with Chaudry are electric. Siri O’Neal’s performance is also brilliant in this final appearance (sadly there was only one series of UNIT, sniff) and every time Tennant looks likely to steal the scene, she kicks him in the kneecap and takes it right back. There’s an amazing hero moment for her which made me very emotional. It also doesn’t hurt that Nicholas Courtney, who made a fairly tame appearance in Episode 1, returns in this final ep with some serious firepower and good old boy action.

These episodes are all available from Big Finish right now at the outrageously cheap price of $5 Australian per download & $8-9 each for the CD including shipping. Definitely worth checking out!

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Pratchett’s Women: The Boobs, the Bad and the Broomsticks

[SPOILER ALERT for several older Discworld novels and one key scene in recent release I Shall Wear Midnight]

Some time ago, I talked on Galactic Suburbia about how I felt Pratchett was one of those writers who you can see noticeably improving and honing his craft as he goes, and that one of the elements he hugely improved in over the years was his treatment of female characters. Someone commented that they hoped we would elaborate on that at some point, and I have always intended to, though I don’t know that Galactic Suburbia is the best place for that discussion – largely because I think I’m the only one of the three who is a huge reader of Pratchett.

I started reading the Discworld books in the early 90’s, when Small Gods was the latest release. This meant that I read all the books before that in (mostly) the wrong order, and all of the books after that in (mostly) the right order. So it took me some time to figure out what was going on with Pratchett’s women, and the chronology of those early books is still a little muddled in my head.

The first ten books of the Discworld series are quite problematic in their portrayal of female characters, particularly the younger women. I certainly don’t think this was intentional on Pratchett’s part, but an unfortunate result of the fact that in these early books he was largely writing parody of various fantasy worlds and tropes, just beginning to develop the Discworld into something more substantial and complex. I also feel that Pratchett was very much aware of some of the dreadful sexism in his source material, and the female characters he wrote were often in direct response to what he saw in the fantasy genre.

His intentions to point out the silliness of the portrayal of women in fantasy, sadly, backfired somewhat.

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The Social Habits of Forsytes

Thrown into a tizzy at the lack of new Downton Abbey in my life, I fell back on one of my favourite costume drama stories of all time, by listening to the audio dramatisation of The Forsyte Saga. The down side of Audible is that there is often little/misleading information on the as to the source of the material – I guessed this was a radio production, and also that it wasn’t produced at ALL in 2010 as the copyright info suggested, thanks to the presence of Sir Michael Hordern (died fifteen years ago), Dirk Bogarde (died ten years ago) and an unrecognisably young Amanda Redman as Fleur. I eventually pinned it down as this 1990 production, which at the time was the most expensive radio series ever made. My favourite bit of the article is where Dirk Bogarde came in thinking his role as Galsworthy (the author and narrator) would just involve a bit of “topping and tailing” but it turned out to be a major performance. He is lovely in it. I adore Galsworthy’s prose, which I think is third only to Austen’s and Pratchett’s for sophisticated, dry observational humour, and it was nice that despite it being a dramatisation, an awful lot of the original text appeared.

As a side note, why is it with so many major radio dramatisations of big classic books and serials such as this, there are so few of fantasy novels? I know there’s a well-regarded audio dramatisation of Lord of the Rings, but surely the serial and substantial nature of epic fantasy, as well as the incredible popularity of some series and authors, PLUS the crazy expense of adapting them to visual media like film or TV, would make them ideal for audio? I find it interesting that there’s such a strong history of science fiction in radio/audio plays, from Hitchhiker’s Guide and Earthsearch all the way through to today’s Big Finish. I first encountered Asimov’s Foundation through a radio play… so where are the radio dramatisations of Pratchett and Gaiman and David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey and… okay, let’s scrub the Americans as they don’t have the cultural history of modern radio drama like the Brits, but where is the 24 part radio serial of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, or Lord Dunsany or HARRY POTTER?

Ahem, anyway.

I love the Forsyte Saga. Like, crazy, adoring love. I first discovered it through the 2002 TV adaptation with Damien Lewis and Rupert Graves, then read the books at least twice through, then got hold of the epic black and white “TV event” version from the 60’s, thanks to my university library. Finding another fully dramatised version was a delight, especially as it turned out to be a very good one. Old Jolyon was played by Sir Michael Hordern, an actor I came to through many classic British movies, notably A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Young Jolyon, who is my favourite and my best, was played by Anton Lesser, who also won my heart as Falco in the audio dramatisations of Lindsey Davis’ novels. Diana Quick is a gentle and affecting Irene, Alan Howard is a suitably creepy and horrifically compelling Soames, and when she finally turns up, Amanda Redman captures the caprice of Fleur with that perfect balance of adorable and oh-I-want-to-slap-her.

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Half A Year of Big Finish

Big Finish has a huge back catalogue of plays – more than 12 years worth – and it’s hard for people to know how and where to jump on board. I recently discovered the Little Finish podcast, which is great, but probably of limited value to casual listeners, as they review that month’s plays, spoilers and all. If you’re not keeping up with the latest ones, you’re likely to not get much out of it, which is a shame because it’s a very fun podcast! Anyone wanting to check it out might want to pick the Nicholas Courtney memorial episode, which reviews every Courtney appearance in Big Finish, and has some lovely recommendations and clips.

Anyway, in listening to Little Finish I came to the (not overly shocking) realisation that I actually am one of those listeners now – I subscribe to multiple streams of plays, and have caught up so substantially that I’m in a pretty good position to review, say, the Doctor Who releases for the entire first half of this year.

So here we go!

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Science Fiction on the Radio

After years of flirtation, I have descended into a full blown love affair with Big Finish audio plays. I’m completely crazed about them, and acquiring one hell of a collection. Naturally, me being me, I also feel the need to analyse this new obsession to within an inch of its life.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to really good audio books. I spent large chunks of my teens performing the more dull tasks in life to the soundtrack of Tony Robinson reading Discworld novels, Jon Pertwee and Leslie Phillips in the Navy Lark, or the pre-Goodies in I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again. I still remember the deep and abiding joy of receiving a Christmas gift that I had requested but not quite expected to get – a lovely shiny box set of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy original radio series, glossy cassettes wrapped in cellophane. I still don’t have digital versions of those, though I love them beyond all reason (far more than the TV series or bleh, the books) because I am so personally attached to my pretty cassette box set.

There was Doctor Who, too. My mum had got hold of Slipback, and Doctor Who and the Pescatons, and Tom Baker reading “his own” adventures in audio versions of Genesis of the Daleks, and State of Decay. I also first experienced Asimov’s Foundation as an audio presentation which I found by accident on the radio – and, like Hitchhiker’s Guide, the books came as a disappointment in comparison. Later, my honey introduced me to Earthsearch, a truly marvellous original SF radio play. Still later, when I was pregnant with Raeli, he took me on a very memorable birthday date: we drove up to the top of the hill where we lived, sat in the backseat of his car, and had a picnic while listening to the original Orson Welles War of the Worlds.

There’s something really special about science fiction on the radio. The easy explanation for this is the one about how the imagination provides the best special effects, and that’s absolutely true. But there are other reasons, too. The claustrophobia of space can be expressed marvellously through sound. Also, as Sylvester McCoy said in an ‘Extras’ interview I heard recently, audio allows for us to hear what the characters are thinking, which gives it an advantage over television for the actors. It’s a very enjoyable medium between the book, which is all words, and TV or film, which is all visuals and performance. Writing matters in audio – every word counts – and yet it’s a very collaborative medium, and quite a theatrical one.

I do wonder if the success of the form in the case of Big Finish is because I’m already highly invested in the Doctor Who universe and characters. On the other hand, many of my favourite characters (Charley, Hex, Evelyn) are original to Big Finish, and there are many others (Nyssa, Peri, Benny) whom I like much better in audio than I did in their original media. The Doctor Who format combined with audio is just magic, as it allows for so many different kinds of stories: space opera, mystery, pure historical, war, adventure.

Something else that interests me, and which only occurred to me recently, is that Doctor who is predominantly a universe written and created by men. There are less than a handful of women writing for the new series or the audio range. This is of note because of the high hit rate for me in enjoying the stories – in books and stories I usually gravitate towards work written by women and I have a higher success rate when I include gender in my filters. In science fiction in particular, I struggle to enjoy or even access so many stories by men.

So there’s something about Doctor Who, or audio plays, or both, which transcends my normal filters. Or there’s something that the (male) Doctor Who writers are doing right, and so many ‘straight’ (male) science fiction writers are doing wrong. Or I’m generally not finding the stuff I love when it’s written by men in the literary side of SF, and tripping over all this brilliant audio stuff because of the Doctor Who brand.

Or something. But for whatever reason, Big Finish is hitting all my fictional buttons right now, to the point where I am neglecting books. It’s giving me intense, interesting characterisation, plenty of strong and complex female characters, lots of crunchy science fictional and historical backgrounds, and… let’s face it…

It’s all about the dialogue. And I’m a dialogue junkie. It’s difficult to convey quite how much of a dialogue junkie I am. I’m a total slut for banter, and repartee, and conversation, and chat. Audio is all about people talking to each other in interesting, clever revealing ways, while running away from monsters. I’m in heaven.

No End In Sight for Big Finish

Okay, my Big Finish addiction is getting a little out of hand. Luckily it has coincided with my newfound financial need to budget, in order to make a lump sum of money last all year rather than having a nice little fortnightly sum be replenished every week SO THAT MORE BOOKS CAN BE BOUGHT.

Anyway, I decided I would repeat my two months of not buying books at the beginning of the year, as I did last year, since I have a groaning shelf of books to read and not actually a lot of inclination to read them. Meanwhile, I’m churning up audio plays like nobody’s business. My excuse was initially that there weren’t as many podcasts out over the holiday period, but now I’m just plain hooked.

Listening to the Big Finish Podcast didn’t help. It was bad enough when they were an anonymous bunch, but after listening in to a year’s worth of their office antics and discussions of creative decisions, I feel entirely invested in the entire business. That, and I now have a very specific and detailed list of the many, many plays I desperately want but can’t have yet because of This Thing, It Is a BUDGET, It Has A Specific Clause Regarding Online Shopping.

A few people have mentioned being keen to get in on Big Finish but not sure where to start, which is very understandable as they have been going for more than a decade. In the interest of getting other people to join my current obsession, here are some recs of bits and pieces I’ve listened to lately, which don’t require a decade’s back story to get into:

The Settling (May 2006)
[Seventh Doctor, Ace & Hex]

A pure historical, dealing with that old chestnut about how you can’t change the past. Hex has been in the TARDIS for a while now but you get everything you need to know about him as a character, and how Ace has grown up, through scenes in the TARDIS that show the two of them recovering after a far-too-intense visit to a bloody period of Ireland’s history, indispersed with scenes of what they witnessed.

An Earthly Child (Dec 2009)
[Eighth Doctor, Susan Foreman, Alex Campbell]

A story that many Doctor Who fans have been waiting for a long time, in which we get to see the future that Susan made for herself in the post-Dalek-invaded-Earth. Now a widow, and the mother of a university student, Susan is frustrated by the xenophobic and technophobic attitude that has become so culturally entrenched since the end of the war. She is certain that the only way humanity will survive to become the great empire she visited in her youth is by seeking help from other alien races… but her rebellious son has other ideas, and is less than impressed at the appearance of his utterly alien great grandfather! I really enjoyed this one, especially the scenes between the Doctor, Susan and Alex – my only complaint was that the story wound up far too fast, and I wanted to see more of this particular version of the future. The good news is that Susan and Alex have returned in recent episodes, but the bad news is that I *think* I have to listen to four seasons of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie before I can get to them. This one is very much a self-contained story, though.

Solitaire (June 2010)
[Charley, the Celestial Toymaker]

The Companion Chronicles are a great series of monologues and two-hander plays which have allowed Big Finish to explore new stories even for those era for whom the actor playing the Doctor is no longer with us, or in the case of Tom Baker, not participating (though this has changed, apparently, and plans are afoot for Baker to join the monthly range along with some of his companions). These stories have involved some really clever and innovative storytelling – and this one breaks the mould again, being mostly an excuse for Big Finish to tell another Charley story even though she has been retired as an active companion.

India Fisher is always compelling to listen to, and this is an excellent short play in which she finds herself trapped in a toyshop with a mysterious stranger, a marionette that looks like the Doctor, and no memory of her former life. You don’t need to know anything about her, or indeed the Toymaker (a villain from the 1960’s) to understand to the story.

Home Truths (2008), The Drowned World (2009) and The Guardian of the Solar System (2010)
[Sara Kingdom]

While not a single standalone, this self-contained trilogy of plays by Simon Guerrier is very clever and innovative as far as getting some extra stories out of a companion who had such a limited run. Like Solitaire, these are two-hander plays, though they also involve long periods of descriptive storytelling in Jean Marsh’s rich, emotional voice. I’m not sure if these would mean much to anyone who didn’t know Sara Kingdom’s character, but they are just lovely.


I was also very tempted by the Big Finish Textbook Stuff range, which pairs great voice actors with classic stories and poetry on the British Exams Syllabus. Couldn’t resist Miriam Margolyes reading Christina Rossetti, which has become my favourite casual listening on my phone. I’ve never been a poetry sort of person, but I make all exceptions for Christina Rossetti.