Book Review – Doctor Who: Ringpullworld

  • Title: Ringpullworld
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Neil Roberts
  • Characters: Turlough, Huxley, Fifth Doctor, Tegan
  • Cast: Mark Strickson, Alex Lowe
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/30/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I usually enjoy Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series, and Ringpullworld is no exception. The Companion Chronicles feature stories told from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions, and are closer to a traditional audiobook format, often with the main character telling the story to someone else. In the case of Ringpullworld, the narration of the story is split between Turlough, the Fifth Doctor’s Companion, and Huxley, the novelizer from Verbatim 6. The story actually opens with Turlough being quite cross or angry at Huxley, who is irritating him by constantly describing everything Turlough does and sees.

The Fifth Doctor, as played on the long-running BBC series, Doctor Who by Peter Davison, Turlough and Tegan had landed on the planet of Must, where they were latched on to by the three novelizers – Huxley, Wolf, and Joyce. The six explore the one building on the planet and find a strange artifact. Tegan dismisses it as a “tin of beans” but Turlough notices the Doctor seems oddly unsettled by the object.

Investigating the object, it is Tegan who also gives it a name, The Ringpull, as in, the ring used to pull open a tin can or a can of pop (soda for those of you outside the Midwestern US). When investigating, the three are shrunk and drawn into the micro universe inside the tin. The story then cycles back to it’s beginning. Turlough, empathetic with the Ringpull Universe, a whole galaxy that because of the natives war-like nature has been trapped on it’s own and cut off from the rest of the civilized universe, decides to steal a ship and free the Ringpull Galaxy. So Turlough, with his novelizer, Huxley, along for the ride, steals a ship and intends to open the Ringpull using a backpack of the Doctor’s tools.

The Doctor had already told Turlough that it would be a bad idea, and as Turlough heads off to open the Ringpull he is pursued by the Doctor and by the local aliens that he stole the ship from. Turlough and Huxley are captured, and as part two opens they are stuck in a cell. Huxley reveals he can telepathically communicate with his fellow novelizers through the Great Narrative. So, Turlough discovers the Doctor and Tegan are on the bridge of the ship, and the Doctor is pleading for Turlough’s life. Then Huxley reveals something else; as a narrator, not only can he reveal the past and narrate the present, he can provide a flash forward – reveal possible futures from the current moment.

Turlough is talked in to learning these futures. Huxley tells him one straight off – Turlough will be executed by the aliens – keel hauled and thrown into space with no protective suit. But, Turlough doesn’t accept this, so Huxley continues with another – The Doctor and Tegan rescue Turlough, but during their escape, they are forced to open the Ringpull, leading to catastrophe. Turlough, understandably, isn’t too pleased by this idea either. Then Huxley tells him he can provide the best possible future possibility. Not only that, he can link up with Turlough mentally and let Turlough read his thoughts and see the future for himself. Turlough takes him up on it. Turlough then narrates his own story. In this last version, he is again released, and he and the Doctor talk the aliens in to opening the Ringpull themselves. This happens, and the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough escape in a ship, riding out the explosion that destroys the warlike invaders, frees the Ringpull Universe, and even returns the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough to Planet Must, where their novelizers decide their adventures are too dangerous and release them from their parasitic relationship.

Then Turlough realizes he is back in his cell. The third possibility, which had felt so real, was, like the others, only a possible outcome. Turlough begs Huxley to tell him what would happen, but Huxley says he must wait and see, that to find out which possibility actually happens – he must live it. This frustrates Turlough to no end, then the door begins to open, bringing with it the future – and the ending music.

I enjoyed Ringpullworld and listened to it twice in my car. This is one of the few audios Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough) has done, and I enjoyed it. The story moves at a fast clip, and actually has a great deal of humor, as Turlough and Huxley have a great double act relationship. They irritate each other, but Turlough has a certain affection for Huxley, who reminds him of his friend from school, Hippo. In fact, during the audio, Turlough actually calls Huxley, Hippo on several occasions. The story, of a trapped galaxy, gives one food for thought. The only thing I didn’t like about the audio was it’s lack of a definitive ending. Still this story is recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Ringpullworld on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Pyralis Effect

  • Title: The Pyralis Effect
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: George Mann
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Romana II, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Lalla Ward, Jess Robinson
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I usually really enjoy listening to Big Finish’s audio plays and the Companion Chronicles is one of my favorite lines, especially as the stories are told from the companion’s point-of-view, and they are often like Missing Adventures that would be impossible to do otherwise. However, The Pyralis Effect is very flat. Lalla Ward pretty much just reads the story, which seems to often have her cowering in a corner, ready to scream at a monster.

The plot has the TARDIS land on a huge spaceship. The Doctor and Romana II immediately go out exploring. The ship seems deserted. They find a control room with a growth chamber – and get separated as the Doctor wanders off. Romana of course gets herself lost, but hears a whimpering from a locked room. She opens the door and releases CAIN – an insane AI with a malfunctioning fungal brain. This catches the attention of the few people aboard the colony ship. Romana finds out that the ship is the Myriad, a colony ship, that left it’s home planet after a series of environmental disasters destroyed it. The planet’s people are held in a DNA bank, and the ship contains cloning equipment – once they find a new home, or return to their original one when it’s habitable, the colonists will be grown and start life anew. But for now, the ship has a very small crew and they seek The Doctor, a legendary and even mythic figure who helped their planet once before.

Romana and the Doctor are soon on the bridge, as the captain has sent three crew members to a nearby moon to investigate a strange obelisk they think might actually belong to the Doctor.

As Romana watches, she suddenly realizes that she recognizes the obelisk. It’s the gate to a dimensionally transcedental gateway – a prison, created by the Time Lords, to hold the Pyralis – fierce, conquering, beings of light, parasites that once threatened the entire galaxy, before being defeated by the Time Lords in a war. Romana rushes to stop Suri, the captain, but she is too late. The gate is opened, the entire moon implodes, a rift is born in space, and the Pyralis released. On the ship, one by one the crew is killed. At first, suspicion falls on the Doctor and Romana. When the second murder occurs while the two are locked up – suspicion falls on CAIN, the AI, whom Romana had accidentally released. Eventually, Romana figures out who the real murderer is – but not before nearly the entire crew is dead.

To finally defeat the Pyralis, the rift must be closed again. One of Suri’s few remaining crew sacrifices himself to close the rift (he was dying anyway). He’s successful. Before leaving, the Doctor gives Captain Suri the co-ordinates of a new planet where she can take the Myriad, and start her civilization anew. But he denies being The Doctor of their stories, and tells Suri she should forget about myth.

This story is pretty flat. Lalla Ward reads the story, rather than performing it. The story itself could have been an atmospheric English Manor House Mystery in Space (similar to the aired story, “Robots of Death”) but it misses the mark. The interesting concept of the Doctor dealing with the fallout of his actions to save a civilization – centuries later, and how that civilization now sees him is completely wasted, as the Doctor simply denies that he was the Doctor who saved Suri’s people before – calling such stories, “myth and poppycock”. Even though this is Romana’s story, she’s often portrayed not as strong and clever but screaming in corners, and simply pushed along by the plot.

Overall, the story is OK, but only a 3 out of 5, and a bit disappointing. There are much better stories in this range of Big Finish audios.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Pyralis Effect on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Sapphire & Steel: The Passenger

  • Title: The Passenger
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Jason Haigh-Ellery
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel, Gold
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/22/2014

I just listened to this story for the second time (I’ve purchased the entire series of Sapphire and Steel audios from Big Finish, so I’m now listening to them in order. Big Finish audio plays are full featured plays – with music, sound effects, and actors playing the parts.

The Passenger is a good story and I liked it. The story opens with a man complaining about a train not arriving on time. We don’t hear who he’s talking to. Suddenly, a train arrives, an old-fashioned steam train, and he gets on.

Sapphire (Susannah Harker) and Steel (David Warner) arrive and talk with the man. They are soon trying to find out what’s going on, what Time is trying to do. Sapphire discovers it’s a different time period in each car of the train – and outside, there’s nothing. Steel discovers the passengers are ghosts. Steel calls in Gold (Mark Gatiss), a technician, for help. The three work to figure out what’s going on and it becomes an excellent mystery. The train gives a spooky sense of atmosphere to the story.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t say more – but I liked this, and it’s an excellent introduction to the series. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Sadly, it looks like the Sapphire and Steel range is no longer available from the Big Finish website. But be sure to check out their other audio ranges.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

  • Title: The Chimes of Midnight
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Author: Robert Shearman
  • Director: Barnaby Edwards
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/27/2016

I originally listened to this Big Finish Eighth Doctor Audio Play when it came out in 2002. I decided to re-listen to it over Christmas, and I’m glad I did – it is a very good story to listen to around Christmas.

The Chimes of Midnight features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as his companion, Charlotte (Charley) Pollard. The play feels like Upstairs, Downstairs (the original from the 1970s featuring Jean Marsh as the Lady’s Maid, Rose) crossed with Sapphire and Steel with a dash of a 1920s British Murder Mystery thrown in. The story takes place on Christmas Eve as well. It’s one of the best conceived and realised audio plays that Big Finish have done. It’s also full-cast audio drama, not an audiobook.

The Doctor and Charley land at what appears to be an abandoned Edwardian House. But soon they are pulled into the House in an earlier period: 1906. In 1906, the staff below stairs are busily getting ready for Christmas. The scullery maid, Edith, is murdered and the staff quickly assume that The Doctor, as a guest of his Lordship, is from Scotland Yard. Or maybe he’s a famous amateur sleuth. And the servants think Edith’s death was suicide – when it was clearly murder.

As the story develops – a death occurs every hour as the Grandfather Clock chimes; but at midnight the entire story loops around and resets. Edith is always the first victim, but other servants are murdered as the loop goes around and around again. The murders also always represent the particular servant’s job and become more and more bizarre as the loop goes around and around.

But the top of the loop is always different, allowing the Doctor and Charley to gain more information about just what is going on – and to learn from it. The Doctor even gets so frightened by the paradox and time loop that he tries to leave – only to be caught in the trap again.

I won’t reveal exactly what’s happening, because I don’t want to spoil it – but it’s an excellent story, with a wonderful conclusion, and I recommend it. Also, the atmosphere really works. It’s helpful to have listened to Charley’s first story, Storm Warning prior to listening to Chimes of Midnight. Still, very highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Chimes of Midnight on on Download, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: For this release only, a Limited (collector’s) edition on vinyl is also available, The Chimes of Midnight Special Edition.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Invaders from Mars

  • Title: Invaders from Mars
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Director: Mark Gatiss
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Katy Manning
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/26/2017

Big Finish’s audio CD, Invaders from Mars is one of my favorites of the Eighth Doctor range CDs that I’ve listened to. It features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley, with guest appearances by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. This is a full-cast audio play; with music, sound effects, and the actors performing their roles – it is not a audio book read by a celebrity.

Although Charley has an appointment to make in Singapore 1930, the TARDIS lands her and the Doctor in New York in 1938. They almost immediately stumble upon a dead body of a private detective, and are caught-up in a plot involving mobsters. The Doctor quickly takes on the role of the dead detective, only to discover the woman who hires him to find her uncle isn’t his niece after all, but rather, a Russian assassin out to kill or return to Russia a defecting scientist and expert in atomic power.

Meanwhile, Orson Welles and his Mercury Players are preparing to present HG Wells “War of the Worlds” as a radio play. Yes, that infamous broadcast. And just to keep things interesting, a couple of aliens have invaded Brooklyn, but only to threaten Earth with an intergalactic protection racket that isn’t that far off from how the local mobsters work.

The guest characters in this play speak with harsh New York/New Jersey accents and use slang straight out of pulp novels and really bad films from the 1930s. It would be annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire play is just so much fun. Somehow, when the entire thing is a parody anyway – little errors can be noticed but it’s not as upsetting. The major error is “the CIA” plays a major factor in this story, which is set in the US in 1938. However, and I checked this to make sure, the CIA wasn’t founded until 1947 (I knew it grew out of the World War II spies). Second, the CIA is the foreign intelligence service, not the domestic one, that’s the FBI. The CIA isn’t supposed to even operate on US soil. The FBI did exist in the 1930s (think of the Untouchables) and was mostly involved in tracking down bootleggers and chasing mobsters. If the story had simply substituted FBI for CIA, the plot would have made a lot more sense. Also, at one point a female character tells a male character, “Why don’t you stand for Congress?” You don’t “stand for” Congress, you run for Congress. (You stand for MP, apparently, but the US doesn’t have MPs.) It caught my ear as a basic mistake. So, yeah, there are some grammatical and usage terms that just aren’t correct – and it makes no sense for an agency that didn’t even exist until nearly ten years after the story is set to play such a big part in the story.

However, that can be forgiven considering just how much fun this audio is. I will go with it and say, yeah, OK, so this is like one of those bad historical Hollywood films that gets everything wrong – because its fun. So still highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Invaders from Mars on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice

  • Title: The Stones of Venice
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 1)
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Gary Russell
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Michael Sheard, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/19/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Charley and the Doctor decide to take a nice relaxing vacation to get away from all the running down corridors and people trying to kill them, so the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Venice. However, this is a Venice about to sink under the sea. It’s a Venice under the control of a pompous, uncaring Duke, that is under a curse that would see the entire city destroyed due to an unhappy marriage, and the “death” of the Duchess – throw in a mysterious cult, amphibian gondoliers, and a curator of the royal museum and it’s not the vacation the Doctor and Charlie seek but more of a Busman’s Holiday.

The Doctor and Charlie arrive and discover the city is about to be destroyed and sink in to the sea. However, revelers are partying instead of trying to leave. The Doctor meets the Curator, who shows him part of the Royal Collection of art. The Doctor recognizes works of art that shouldn’t be in Venice, as they aren’t even from Earth. Meanwhile, Charlie meets a gondolier with webbed hands. She attempts to learn about the Gondoliers who are the underclass of Venice. However, she ends up in the clutches of a cult that worships the dead Lady Estella, wife to the Duke, whom they believe will rise from the dead to reverse the curse she set upon the city.

As the death of Venice approaches these elements come together. The Doctor and Charley meet up with first Charley impersonating the risen Estella, and then introducing the Doctor both to the plight of the Gondoliers and the Cult. The Doctor, meanwhile, starts to realize something more than a curse is going on.

He’s proven correct when Mrs. Lavish turns out to be Estella, and an alien, and in possession (well, once her jewels are returned) of very powerful objects that she used to cast the curse. The Duke, finally doing something heroic and for his people, takes the jewels and reverses the curse, though it costs himself and Estella their lives. Venice is saved and even the damage the city has already suffered is reversed.

Overall, this was a somewhat average Eighth Doctor story. It features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley. It is a full-cast audio, with music, sound effects, and the cast performing their roles. Even though it’s a bit average, I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Stones of Venice on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Storm Warning

  • Title: Storm Warning
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 1)
  • Author: Alan Barnes
  • Director: Gary Russell
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Gareth Thomas, Nicholas Pegg, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/02/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Storm Warning is the first Big Finish audio play featuring the Eighth Doctor, as played by Paul McGann and his companion Charlotte Pollard (Charley) as played by India Fisher. The Big Finish audios are full audio plays with music, sound effects, and actors playing their roles – not audio books with a single person reading the story. This is also one of the first audios from Big Finish that I ever listened to, way back in 2001. I just listened to it again for this review, and it’s still a very good story.

The story opens with the Doctor in the TARDIS, going through books in his library as the TARDIS moves through the Vortex. He sees another timeship that is stranded – doomed to die over and over. The ship is then attacked by Vortexsaurs, bird-bat-dinosaur things that live in the vortex. The Doctor uses his TARDIS to attack the Vortexsaurs and free the other ship. After the encounter the TARDIS is knocked free and must materialize.

The TARDIS materializes and the Doctor must find out where he is. Unfortunately, the TARDIS has landed in a ballast tank of an airship. And not just any airship, but the doomed R101. The Doctor gets very involved with activities on the ship. He finds Charley – a stowaway out for adventure. He discovers that rather than a normal shake down cruise to India, the ship is on a special mission. It’s returning a crashed alien (from outer space) survivor to a rendezvous with it’s alien ship. But all sides have secrets. The former military commander from India wants nothing more than to retire. He’s tired of war, but thinks alien technology will help enforce the peace in the Empire. The aliens are a fascinating race called the Triskenee. Like Freud’s theory of Id, Ego, and SuperEgo, the Triskenee had been a warring people – bent on destroying each other. To save their race – they split themselves into two sub-races: the war-like, angry, violent “Uncreators” (those who make death and destruction) and the intelligent, scientific, logical builders known as the “Engineers”, ruling the two races is the Law-giver. And while there are many Engineers who have built-up the race for centuries, and many “Uncreators” who are chained by the bonds of the Law-giver, there is only one Law-giver who rules both sides of this race. However, after centuries, the law-giver is dying. The Triskenee have come to Earth to find a new Law-giver. This is why, during the rendezvous, they invite only three to their ship, rather than the large group of dignitaries on the R101.

Things don’t go as planned though. The Doctor, brought on as a potential Law-giver isn’t human. The military commander, brought on as “Uncreator” is sick of war and death after The Great War.

Another member on the crew breaks in to the ship, thinking he can steal it for the glory of the British Empire. Yeah, he’s a bit arrogant – and stupid. He actually threatens the Law-Giver, trying to get him to surrender. Charley, and several troops and miscellaneous people follow this person into the ship.

There is a fracas. There are laser beam attacks. And in the mess – the Law-giver is mostly accidentally killed. This frees the Uncreator Prime. This Uncreator wants to do what they do, become leader of the Triskenee and wage war. But the Commander, with help from the Doctor, and even Charley tries to stop everything. In the end, the guy who attacked the aliens is knocked-out, the Doctor realizes the Uncreators are way out of practice – and scares them into retreat by having everyone roar at them. The Commander becomes the new Law-giver. Everyone escapes back to the R101. But Charley, the Doctor, and a German spy end-up amongst the hydrogen-filled gas bags of the airship. As the ship is being buffeted by the storm outside, the spy reveals he picked-up the Trikenee laser weapon. The Doctor tries to convince him to throw the device overboard. There’s an altercation. The Vortexsaur shows up and attacks. (It had shown up before at the beginning of the story having followed the Doctor and his TARDIS.) The R101 begins to crash as history says it will. The Doctor and Charley escape by riding the Vortexsaur that Charley has tamed somewhat. They land safely in France. At first the Vortexsaur, now called Ramsey, is afraid of Charley – and the Doctor realizes she was supposed to die on the R101. But then, Ramsey becomes more relaxed and happy. The Doctor agrees to let Charley accompany him in the TARDIS. The TARDIS having been ejected with the airship ballast, is somewhere in France, so he and Charley will need to find it.

This is an excellent story, well performed, and it introduces Charley, who is one of my favorite Doctor Who companions, and an excellent partner for McGann’s Doctor. Highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Storm Warning on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!