Book Review – Doctor Who: House of Cards

  • Title: House of Cards
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jamie, Polly, Second Doctor, Ben
  • Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/12/2018

House of Cards is another story in Big Finish’s Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles line, which features stories from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions, often with two actors performing the parts as if it was a two-hander play. This story is mostly from Polly’s point of view, but also includes parts performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon. The story features the Second Doctor (as played on television in Doctor Who by Patrick Troughton), Ben, Jamie, and Polly.

The story opens with the foursome already split up, and the Doctor is absent for much of the story, the TARDIS crew has landed in an intergalactic casino. The enforcers in the casino are snake-like beings called the Sidewinders, and the casino is owned by Miss Fortune. Polly is appalled by the Sidewinders. No sooner than she complains to Ben about them being split up than the casino’s slot machines go haywire and start spitting out chips. Patrons rush the machine for free chips, even with the Sidewinders urging them to turn in the casino’s money.

Ben picks up enough chips to start playing one of the games – badly. Jamie watches Ben play while striking up a conversation with a red-haired girl named Hope. Across the table from Ben, Jamie and Hope, a mysterious woman in a red cloak and china mask is the only person at the table who seems to win. Jamie tells Ben to copy her, and he does, winning back some of his losses.

Polly, meanwhile, tries to find the Doctor – passing a pit where robot dogs are viciously fighting each other, and meeting a gambler down on his luck named “Lucky Bill”. She catches up with the Doctor and ends up with a time bangle, which someone had slipped in his pocket. Time travel is absolutely forbidden in the casino. Taken to meet Miss Fortune, Polly is informed of the rules against time travel and finds out Ben has lost his stake and the money he borrowed from the casino. He and Lucky Bill must now play the Game of Life – Miss Fortune tells Polly she must press one of two buttons – which will either allow Ben to go free but kill Lucky Bill or the reverse. Miss Fortune coldly tells Polly that because the buttons are randomized even she doesn’t know which button will kill Ben and which will save him. But when the time comes Polly doesn’t push that button – she grabs the time bangle and activates it.

Polly arrives a bit earlier and meets Hope – the redhead from Ben’s gambling table. Hope is a time traveler and the woman in the China mask too. Polly tries to explain it was her and her companions who set off the time travel alarm but it doesn’t go well. She tries to save Ben by getting him some money so he doesn’t have to borrow money and to find the Doctor for help. Plus, Polly wants to help Hope too – knowing she’s stuck in a bad situation.

Ben avoids the Game of Life – but the Doctor gets stuck in a game of life of his own – playing a winner takes all card game against Miss Fortune for Polly’s life and their freedom. The Doctor chooses the game and produces “Happy Family” cards. He wins by laying down all his cards at once. Miss Fortune disappears in a red mist. The Sidewinders take over the casino and the Game of Life is shut down. Having won his amnesty – Lucky Bill starts over, trying to win again. The time travelers leave the casino.

This story seems to take place immediately after The Selachian Gambit since that story is mentioned. It’s a fun story, somewhat basic (most of the little stories going on are similar to what you’d find in any story about a casino) and the setting is very confined. I did like the fighting robot dogs – they reminded me of K-9. And the robot croupiers who look like playing cards were very cool. But there’s not much meat to the story itself. It starts with the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie already in the casino. They meet people, do stuff, then leave. I liked that Polly got to do a lot in this story – but Jamie seemed under-used, especially as Frazer is narrating. So it’s like the reverse of Selachian Gambit which had a lot of Jamie and less of Polly. Still, it’s fun, it’s light, it’s enjoyable and it’s a good adventure – so if you’re looking for an enjoyable Second Doctor story, this is a good place to start. Recommended.

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

Click to order House of Cards on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Selachian Gambit

  • Title: The Selachian Gambit
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jamie, Polly, Second Doctor, Ben
  • Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/05/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Space sharks robbing an intergalactic bank vault? The Second Doctor (as played by Patrick Troughton on the long-running British SF series Doctor Who) and his companions Ben, Polly, and Jamie get caught up in a bank robbery. The Selachian Gambit is an audio play in Big Finish’s Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles series, with Frazer Hines as Jamie, the Doctor, the Selachians, and other voices, and Anneke Wills as Polly.

The Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly return to the TARDIS, only to find it clamped and covered by a force-field with a notice saying 10 credits is due for parking fees. As they are outside a bank, Ben, Polly, and Jamie convince the Doctor to go inside to get the money. But the Doctor is unable to fill in the form to open an account – refusing to provide a name or address because “he can’t”. However, there isn’t much time for anyone to argue about this as three sharks in space suits enter the bank to rob the vault.

The sharks wave around guns, Ben manages to hide before anyone sees him, and Polly is sent to make tea for twenty in the kitchen. The Doctor tries to defuse the situation. When Polly heads off to the kitchen, she runs into Ben who has been crawling around in the bank’s ductwork, trying to find a way to help. The two discover some glue that hardens quickly until it’s rock-hard. They make three “glue bombs” to attack the robbers. Polly is able to pass one to Jamie, but when she tries to tell him the details of the plan she’s made with Ben – they get caught and she has to shush.

The sharks demand the bank manager open the vault, but he says he doesn’t have the combination. The sharks then open the vault with a combination they have – but instead of a bank vault, all they see is a blank void. The vault is dimensionally transcendental (“Like the TARDIS!”, Jamie points out) and without the proper combination, it remains hidden in a pocket dimension. Next, the sharks try to blow the vault door – this doesn’t work.

Seeing that the sharks may be violent but not particularly smart, the Doctor offers to “help” them if they stop killing hostages (they kill one woman when they first enter the bank). Very soon Tartarus Security contacts the bank – and the Doctor becomes the negotiator. He manages to get six hostages released including Polly, despite the sharks’ complaints. But they also threaten Jamie. A bomb is discovered, but Jamie uses his glue bomb to gum up the works.

The Doctor is able to convince the sharks that the only way into the vault is the hoppers used to deposit and remove valuables. Polly reaches the Tartarus Security ship with the other hostages and soon discovers the captain intends to storm or even blow-up the bank, hostages included, to stop the Selachians.

Things come to a head, and Polly thinks the bank including the Doctor, Ben, Jamie, and all the hostages have been destroyed by Tartarus. But the Doctor managed to get everyone inside the dimensionally transcendental bank vault. He then opens a bridge, so the door can be opened on the Tartarus ship. The Doctor also discovers that Galatibank had made a series of bad investments, losing their investors’ money and valuables, and lied about it. The bank had hired the Selachians and Tartarus to ensure that the bank itself was destroyed. As a result, the embezzlement would remain hidden and the bank’s investors would be paid off by insurance companies. The bank’s manager is so disgusted he decides to offer bonuses to everyone affected by the robbery with higher rewards to the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly for rescuing everyone from certain death. Ben is surprised the Doctor takes the money but finds out from Jamie that he asked for his reward to be given to charity, except 10 Credits – which the Doctor uses to pay the parking fee on the TARDIS which the Tartarus captain found floating in space and claimed as salvage.

Moral of the story? Always pay your parking fees!

The Selachian Gambit is an action-packed story, very much in the flavor of Classic Doctor Who though it feels a bit more like a Third or Fourth Doctor story than a Second Doctor story, even though it features the early Second Doctor cast of Ben, Polly, and Jamie. Frazer Hines is brilliant – handling a number of different voices, including the monsters (which I didn’t realize was Frazer – I thought it was an uncredited Nicholas Briggs. I learned it was Frazer when it was mentioned in the after the story interviews/commentary). I liked Polly in this too. She’s often an under-used companion, but even though she’s sent “to make the tea” it’s clear that both the Doctor and Polly know that’s code for, “See if you can find anything to get us out of this mess”. This is a recommended and fun story.

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

Click to order The Selachian Gambit on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Rocket Men

  • Title: The Rocket Men
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: John Dorney
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, Barbara, Vicki
  • Cast: William Russell, Gus Brown (as Ashman)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/27/2018

**Spoiler Alert** John Dorney’s The Rocket Men very cleverly starts in the middle of the story and then uses flashbacks to fill in what’s going on. But unlike the normal “start with an exciting bit and flashback to explain it” technique, The Rocket Men flashes back and forth between the near “past” and the present, using a word, phrase or action to move from one time to the other and back again. It’s a very effective technique and the story flows extremely well – without being overly confusing.

The Rocket Men is a volume in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles series, and features William Russell as the First Doctor’s companion, Ian and Gus Brown, as the Leader of the Rocket Men, Ashman. The First Doctor (as played by William Hartnell on the long-running BBC television series, Doctor Who), Barbara, and Vicki are also featured in the story. The Companion Chronicles feature a story told from one of the Doctor’s companions’ point of views and are often more wordy, framed as a two-hander play.

The TARDIS lands on Jobis, an idyllic gas giant and tourist destination, with cities built on platforms in the air, floating luxury hotels, and even beautiful creatures to watch – such as giant flying Manta Rays in the skies, and insects that sparkle like diamonds. After a few days, the Doctor goes off to another platform to visit and share ideas with some local scientists. Ian books a tourist trip on a glass-bottomed boat. Barbara isn’t feeling well and decides to stay at the hotel. Ian checks to make sure he doesn’t need to look after her, but Barbara decides she’s okay and Vicki really wants to try the boat ride, so the three split up. On the boat ride, the tourists, including Ian and Vicki, are attacked. Ashman leads his fierce Rocket Men, a group of pirates who want to steal the “diamonds” from the sky. The Rocket Men wear brown leather and rocket packs on their backs – and they attack the barge. Once the attack is winding down, Ian is able to attack one of the guards, knock him out and steal his uniform and pack.

Later, and the first scene in the story as one listens to it, the Rocket Men have attacked the hotel and gathered up the people they haven’t killed. They demand that the companions of “The Doctor” turn themselves over. When Ashman starts to threaten innocent tourists – Vicki and Barbara turn themselves over. Ian struggles to not admit who he is and seems to be waiting for his chance for something. When Barbara is thrown out an airlock, he rushes the door and follows, then uses the jetpack he’s wearing to control his descent and direction. He rescues the terrified Barbara and takes her to a nearby platform. She cries. They hug.

But Ian and Barbara aren’t completely safe. Ashton attacks and he and Ian start to fight each other in midair. Ian gains advantage, but then Ashton deactivates his rocket pack and Ian starts falling. He’s rescued by a Manta Ray. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s been working with the local scientists. They manage to break through the Rocket Men’s jamming signals and get out a call for help. The local authorities wrap things up and defeat the Rocket Men.

This an awesome story – it’s full of adventure and fun, but the core of the story is Ian’s feelings for Barbara and her feelings for him. It’s a very romantic story – both in the traditional sense in terms of the adventure and the scope – with men with rockets strapped to their backs running around, gas giant planets, giant manta rays, and a floating hotel. It’s awesome. But it’s also romantic in it shows a relationship between Ian and Barbara. That’s extremely fun.

Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the Ian-Barbara relationship from early Doctor Who.

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

Click to order The Rocket Men on CD or download.

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

Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: The Surest Poison

  • Title: The Surest Poison
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: Richard Dinnick
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, Richard Franklin
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/20/2018

The Surest Poison is a full-cast audio play and an original story set in the Sapphire and Steel universe. Sapphire and Steel was a British SF drama from the late 1970s / early 1980s starring Joanna Lumley as Sapphire and David McCallum as Steel. The show was known for its atmospheric storytelling and spooky haunting stories. Big Finish creates original dramas both original and ones like The Surest Poison based on other licensed universes (such as Doctor Who). This is a full-cast drama with music, sound effects, and actors playing the parts. David Warner plays Steel, sounding very much like David McCallum, and Susannah Harker plays Sapphire – and although she sounds a bit younger than Lumley, she still does a brilliant job.

The Surest Poison begins with an auction of antique and extremely valuable watches. Sapphire and Steel arrive after the auction has concluded and speak with the man whose collection was being auctioned. Sapphire immediately realizes that the man (Mr. Webb) is 156 years old. He admits he’s selling his collection because he knows the watches are responsible for his extraordinarily long life. Sapphire also detects residual time in the watches. Webb is an expert on Breguet – a master watchmaker and had auctioned off Breguet watches in his personal collection. Webb fills Sapphire in on Breguet’s history and his influence in fine watch-making including some of his inventions. Sapphire uses one of the watches as a means of travel for herself and Steel. In the past, they meet Breguet’s assistant and apprentice, Breguet himself, and an apparition who resembles Breguet’s deceased wife. When confronting the ghost – Sapphire and Steel are thrown forward in time to 1986 Jerusalem – a time and place infamous in horology circles because a large collection of Breguet watches was stolen from a museum there. Sapphire and Steel return to the past, find another watch, and then return to the future – and Webb. Knowing how the watches work – Sapphire tries to return to the past, but she is blocked. Sapphire tries other years but is continuously blocked.

Then Sapphire has an inspiration – maybe if she focuses on a specific event instead of a full year she’ll be able to get through. She quizzes Webb on Breguet’s inventions. He tells her about them, and for the rest of the story, Sapphire and Steel travel to specific instances in Breguet’s life.

The second time Sapphire and Steel travel back – they go to the instant of Breguet inventing the pare-chute – an anti-shock device for watches. They discover the apparition again, who resembles Cecile, Breguet’s wife. Knowing this apparition to be Time itself trying to break through, Sapphire tries to talk Breguet into rejecting it – telling him it’s not his wife. The apparition traps Steel and flings Sapphire to 1986 again. In Jerusalem Sapphire meets Webb who has used a watch to travel in time himself. Sapphire is overly hyper, upset, and very worried about Steel whom she is now separated from. Also, standing outside the museum where the collection of watches is on displayed she is affected by the watches – especially as she carries a watch as a means of time travel. Sapphire gets an idea and she uses her own abilities to travel with Webb to the morning of the theft. Once there, she detects that the watches are gone. Not just gone from the building, but gone, destroyed, no longer in the city. She and Webb travel backward and into the museum. Sapphire tries to open the case with the watches but she can’t touch it. Webb smashes the case and the watches are destroyed.

Sapphire and Webb meet up with Steel at the auction house in the present. They travel again to the past, to the invention of the tourbillon – one of Breguet’s most important inventions. Again, Sapphire attempts to convince Breguet that the apparition isn’t his wife and that Time can’t be trusted. Slowly Breguet starts to realize this, especially once Time helps him invent devices to split time into hundredths and even thousandths of a second. Time slips and reveals her plan – with more intricate, accurate, and precise methods of measuring, displaying, and recording time humans will become obsessed with time and productivity: humans will become slaves to time. But her bragging is her fatal flaw and Breguet realizes this is not his wife nor can he save his wife. When Sapphire, Steel, and Webb return they are able to defeat Time. Breguet’s life will return to normal (he is due to die naturally soon) and when Webb returns to his own time, he destroys all the watches at Sapphire and Steel’s insistence. Webb will also now have a normal life.

I enjoyed this story very much. Focusing as it does on watches and watch-making, it works as a Sapphire and Steel story. Webb is a good third partner – adding exposition, and enthusiasm (his joy when he realizes he’s successfully traveled through time is wonderful). I also liked that he was friendly to Sapphire and Steel – and not opposed to them. He doesn’t even object to destroying the watches. The different time zones are established with sound and the accents of the characters so the listener never wonders where they are – even when Sapphire and Steel are being bounced from time zone to time zone by time itself. Time is a cruel mistress and a very effective villain in this story. I also liked the sound design of subtle clock sounds throughout most of the audio play.

Overall, this story really felt like a Sapphire and Steel story, which is essential for any book (or in this case audio play) based on an existing universe or series. Highly 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 – The Time Machine (audio)

  • Title: The Time Machine
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: HG Wells (original novel); Marc Platt (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Cast: Ben Miles, Nicholas Rowe, Anjella Mackintosh, Nicholas Asbury, James Joyce, Hywel Morgan, Christopher Naylor

I have read HG Wells famous novel, The Time Machine, so I was looking forward to this adaptation by Big Finish. However, although it is a full-cast audio, the majority of the play consists of the Time Traveller telling his story to his friend, “Bertie”, identified in the credits as HG Wells. The play begins with a boys’ club dinner, with the Time Traveller presenting his idea of a machine that can travel in time though not in space, as well as a model to his friends. When his friends mock his idea, his next appearance is a traveler much the worse for wear that tells his friend his tale.

The Time Traveler does just that and travels to the far future. On a warmer Earth, he meets the Eloi, small child-like creatures who eat only fruit, speak in a “baby talk” and seem joyful but unmotivated. They are also terrified of the dark, and murmur in fear of “Morlocks”. The Time Traveler moves from frustration at this overly simple life to gradual acceptance. One day he saves a young Eloi girl from drowning when she gets a cramp, and the two become close. Uweena follows her savior around, and the Time Traveler attempts to teach her his language. Eventually, he convinces her to journey with him to find out more about their world, though the Time Traveler also wants to find his missing time machine so he can go home. They journey to a far city, finding a green marble museum, where the Time Traveler picks up a few weapons and matches. But he and Uweena are also attacked by the Morlocks – pale, simian, animal-like creatures who hate the Eloi, and even take them as food. The Time Traveler beats them back and he and Uweena retreat into the forest. They make fires at night and plan to return to a Spinx statute which the Time Traveler thinks hides his machine. But one night they are attacked by a pack of Morlocks. The Morlocks overwhelm the Time Traveler and Uweena. The next day, the Time Traveler is all right, but Uweena is missing. He makes it back to his machine, and even finds the doors in the Spinx’ pedestal are open. He thinks it’s a trap but enters anyway. It is. Still, he escapes going forward in time.

The Time Traveler moves forward millions of years to when the sun is a red giant, and the air thin. The only life is crawling creatures that live by slurping up the lichen and moss on the rocks at the edge of the sea, and red crabs that eat said creatures. Continuing on to the future, the Time Traveler nearly reaches the end of Earth’s time before he finally heads back to his own time. Appearing a week after he left, he tells his tale to his friend, Bertie.

His friends from the men’s club arrive — and they express their displeasure at the Time Traveler’s trick, insisting that he couldn’t have invented a time machine. When they which the lab/study the Time Traveler has disappeared – and according to Bertie, he is never seen again.

This is a faithful adaption of the story, The Time Machine, and that is part of the issue. The Time Traveler and Bertie discuss the Eloi and Morlocks clinically – as the result of evolution. Both believe that industrial workers would spend so much time in dark mines and darker factories and dark houses in dark slums – they’d grow pale with big eyes, unable to tolerate sunlight. Whereas the Eloi are “sunkissed” but “dumb” and innocent – like children because they have no work to give them purpose. It’s a classic ethnocentric and patronizing Victorian/Edwardian attitude that “those people” must be given work to keep them out of trouble. It’s also an over-simplification of genetic evolution. No sense of pity or responsibility or even empathy is given towards either the Morlocks or the Eloi. The Time Traveler claims to care for Uweena – but he manipulates her for his own purposes, taking her from her people, and on his own dangerous quest that she cannot possibly understand.

On the other hand, the descriptions of Earth’s far future under a red sun are well-realized and the descriptions are awesome. It becomes moody, depressing, but accurate. The word-pictures were vivid and an excellent use of the radio format. I liked that.

To sum up: on the negative side, The Time Machine shows it’s Victorian roots with a rather long debate on the future of mankind, to wit: evolution creating two sub-species. But on the positive side, the use of language in this story is evocative and moving. Overall, recommended, but there is a certain amount of ethnocentricism, patronizing attitude, and sexism that comes from the time the novel was originally written.

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

Click to Order The Time Machine on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: Second Chances

  • Title: Second Chances
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: John Dorney
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Zoë, Jaime, Second Doctor
  • Cast: Wendy Padbury, Emily Pithon
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/22/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles audio Doctor Who Second Chances is the final volume in the Zoë series, which is now four titles total. The audio picks-up where the previous one left off, with Zoë in the clutches of The Company who want information from her – information on the Doctor, on Time Travel, and even on the Achromatics from Echoes of Grey. But whereas before Zoë had been reluctant to say anything, her interrogator, Kym, gets her talking pretty quickly this time.

Zoë tells Kym that the TARDIS landed on a space station. She the Doctor, and Jaime learned quickly that the station was one of a pair, and the sister-station, Apollo, had just broken up. But before the break-up, Artemis Station received a coded message. Zoë offers to decode the message. As she works, she realizes the full horror of the message – it’s a computer virus that can jump species and infect humans as well, through sync operators that plug physically into computers. She tries to block and contain the virus but is knocked out.

Back at the company’s stronghold, Kym returns and tells Zoë that the Apollo Station has been destroyed, but since she said Artemis Station was destroyed two days later, they can reach the station and stop the destruction. Zoë agrees. But when she gets to the station, she slowly realizes the truth. It was Kym who knocked her out in the station – allowing the virus to get loose. And it was the older Zoë herself who gave the injured younger Zoë a breather, stating it’s “standard issue”. It’s even Kym and Zoë who are locked in the shuttle that refuses to let anyone from the station on board – and then rips the station apart when leaving. But Zoë is able to send the virus to The Company’s computers – to utterly destroy the company, and then burn itself out before it does any more damage. Younger Zoë is rescued in space by the Doctor. Older Zoë is rescued by Jen, a former Company employee and the pilot of Kym’s shuttle, who tells Zoë she will use leftover Company technology to help her remember – no strings attached.

I enjoyed this story. It was good to have the Zoë Trilogy (Quadology?) finally wrapped up and with a satisfactory conclusion. I did find the story to be a bit predictable though. Still, the performances are excellent, and I liked the story. It is highly recommended. Do listen to the first three volumes first, however.

Read my review of volume one: Echoes of Grey.

Read my review of volume two: The Memory Cheats.

Read my review of volume three: The Uncertainty Principle.

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

Click to order Second Chances on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Dying Light

  • Title: The Dying Light
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nick Wallace
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoë Heriot, Quadrigger Stoyn
  • Frazer Hines (Jamie, The Doctor), Wendy Padbury (Zoë), Terry Molloy (Stoyn)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/15/2018

The Companion Chronicles series by Big Finish usually has one or two performers only and is like a two-hander play. The Dying Light, however, has three performers, which makes this more like a traditional full-cast play, although Zoë gets very little to do. This is also the third audio play in the 50th Anniversary “Stoyn” Trilogy. The first audio play is The Beginning and the third is Luna Romana. I didn’t realize it was a trilogy when I purchased them separately, so I actually listened to Luna Romana first and then The Beginning and finally this one, but it still works without being too confusing.

The TARDIS with the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoë lands in a cave, and when they exit they find they are in a desert that looks like a sea from the heat shimmer, the sun is also a dying sun. However, the planet is not deserted and the TARDIS team soon find a large city called Sanctuary. The first person they meet is a scientist who is researching the local rock formations. The rock looks like granite but it’s very light, porous, and even buoyant. The Doctor gives the scientist a scanner. The scientist who doesn’t seem surprised at all at the TARDIS team’s sudden arrival, tells them where new arrivals should go. Following directions, they meet Catherine who explains more about Sanctuary. The Planet Provides is their motto, and she explains they have two types of storms here – sandstorms, which are dangerous because the sand can literally cut or blind you, so it’s best to stay under shelter until it passes, and the other kind of storm – that bring the ships. Sometimes small craft and other times other larger ships – but all are welcome at the Sanctuary. This explains why no one is surprised that the Doctor and his young companions have arrived. Catherine tells the Doctor that all faiths are welcome, and points to the flags of the different faiths. She brings him to a cave where food is grown and shows him a plant laden with pods that are filled with potable water. Then a storm comes and they see a ship crashing above – it passes the city and crashes into the sea. Catherine asks Jamie to join her and they rush to the rescue boats to rescue the passengers and crew of the ship. After the dramatic rescue, they find out that there’s been an accident – the scientist they met earlier has died, apparently falling off the cliffs where he was working. The Doctor is also brought to Stoyn who’s become a religious leader on Sanctuary. He has his priests bring the Doctor before him.

In part two, the Doctor and Stoyn square off against each other. First Stoyn insists the Doctor give him the TARDIS key. The Doctor does, but it doesn’t work for Stoyn because the Doctor’s set the TARDIS to never let Stoyn in. Stoyn decides to just take the TARDIS’s power so he can somehow return to Gallifrey. He tells Jamie that the Doctor was a god amongst gods but he left. As Stoyn’s attempts to steal power and power a beacon to get started, the threatening sand storm grows worse and worse. The Doctor realizes, through some encounters that Jamie and Zoë have with alien creatures that seem to made of the same stone as the Sanctuary, that Sanctuary is a living entity – and it provides everything that those living in the Sanctuary need. Because the World Provides – they don’t need technology, and tech is actually an anathema to the world, which is treated as an infection. Even the crashing ships are there because Stoyn needs them to escape and the others need new people to survive – not to the point that Sanctuary is a Bermuda Triangle in Space of traffic hazards, but some of the people on Sanctuary need company. As Stoyn ignores the Doctor’s warnings and explanations – and tries to operate his newly constructed and powered beacon, the sandstorm worsens. Zoë points out the symbols on tapestries and similar ones on the tunnels in the temple. Jamie remembers that the scientist they meet earlier thought the city looked like the ship. The Doctor has the people Catherine’s brought to the temple for shelter moving the tapestries and the city becomes a ship under full sail. The Doctor also tells Stoyn he must destroy his power converters and beacon. Stoyn doesn’t listen but it blows-up, and Stoyn disappears. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoë quietly leave in the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Jamie that the city and the planet have hundreds of years before the sun goes out.

I liked this story better than its predecessor, The Beginning, but Stoyn is still an annoying character. He’s angry, homesick, and a bit stupid – but he also blames the Doctor for everything and doesn’t really seem to understand anything that’s going on. He also doesn’t listen to the Doctor – when Jamie, and then Zoë mention the rock creatures that attacked them – Stoyn insists they are lying. When the Doctor explains something about the power Stoyn needs and cannot get from the TARDIS, which seems like common sense – again, Stoyn insists the Doctor is lying. And Stoyn blames the Doctor for being carried away from Gallifrey.

Zoë is criminally underused in this story, which is a pity – Sanctuary seems like the type of place she’d really like.

Frazer Hines does a brilliant job as Jamie as well as playing the Doctor.

Overall, a good story and I recommend it.

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

Click to order The Dying Light on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Beginning

  • Title: The Beginning
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Susan, First Doctor, Quadrigger Stoyn
  • Cast: Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Terry Molloy (Stoyn)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/08/2018

I listened to The Beginning at the beginning of this week, but it was a good and enjoyable story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line, even if the details are a bit fuzzy now. The Beginning starts with the Doctor and Susan on the run on Gallifrey, they find a TARDIS in a repair/junk shop and leave. The Doctor and Susan are refugees, fleeing their home, because “their home is no longer their home”. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones on board their TARDIS – Quadrigger Stoyn, who is meant to be dismantling the TARDIS engines is also on board when the ship takes off. They discover this when the TARDIS makes a rather ungraceful landing. Stoyn is not the nicest person, and he clearly buys the Gallifreyan party line – whatever it is. The audio doesn’t make things crystal clear, but we can assume a few things: Gallifrey is now supporting isolationism, Stoyn and others have a negative, ethnocentric attitude towards “outsiders” and “aliens”, and although it isn’t stated outright – the Time Lords may even be racist in their attitudes towards others.

The TARDIS half materializes and half crashes on the Earth, but not the Earth we know – and aliens call Archayons are seeding Earth to make it a garden but with the precision of a formal English garden rather than the wildness of a forest. They are doing this from the moon apparently. At first, the Doctor hopes to obtain help from Stoyn (after all he should know how to fix their TARDIS), and a power source from the Archayons. But as it turns out, the Archayons are much darker than they appear, and Stoyn’s price is higher than the Doctor is willing to pay.

The second part begins with Susan waking in a lunar ambulance that is heading to Giant Leap base. She watches the First Contact video shown to her by her nurse, and wonders where her Grandfather is. She can hear his warnings in her head, but she doesn’t know where he is. The ambulance is attacked, the nurse and medical doctor are killed, but Susan finds her grandfather unharmed. They manage to warn Giant Leap base that the ambulance is infested with deadly parasites, but then they see Giant Leap base being attacked. The Blue Lightning clearly is an Archayon weapon. Somehow the Doctor and Susan get to the TARDIS and return to the Archayon base, which is now attacking Earth and the moonbase. Apparently, the Archayons are upset that their order has been upset by untamed life in the millions of years that they were frozen. Still, the Doctor and Susan manage to warn the Earth, which is well-prepared to attack back and even destroy the Archayons weapons and base. Stoyn, who has sided with the Archayons, is left behind and the Doctor and Susan leave in the TARDIS, which has a new power cell and is sort of working. They visit another planet.

This is a new and different take on how the Doctor and Susan left Gallifrey. I liked the idea of the two being refugees. The Archayons are unusual creatures – looking like glass peanuts, with the ability to flow together to form structures or do work, then flow apart as individual beings. However, in part two they become almost cardboard villains – so determined to not only seed life but orderly life they can’t see the forest for the trees. Stoyn, whom I also encountered in Luna Romana is a weird character – played by Terry “Davros” Molloy – he flips between government functionary to nearly radical “anti-alien” activist in a sense. He’s probably meant to suggest the type of people the Doctor and Susan are fleeing, but it feels off. When Classic Who visited Gallifrey, it was often shown to be a rather boring and stuffy place. But Gallifrey also seems to have an awful lot of corruption and political intrigue too. So in some aspects, the character of Quadrigger Stoyn doesn’t quite fit in with that. But then, The Beginning clearly indicates that something’s happened on Gallifrey – something serious enough that the Doctor and Susan are literally fleeing for their lives.

Recommended.

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

Click the link to order The Beginning on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: Dead Man Walking

  • Title: Dead Man Walking
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel, Silver
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, David Collings
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/31/2018

**Spoiler Alert** The most frustrating thing about Dead Man Walking is that it is not a 2-disc release. The second disc included in the CD case is, rather, a Big Finish Sampler – a collection of extended trailers and sneak peaks. While this would have been fine as an extra bonus, I fully expected the actual story to be four episodes (not two) and to span two CDs. Even when the story reached its end, I figured Sapphire, Silver, and Steel would have to go back for some reason. But, nope. So it really feels like the story was cut short.

It’s a pity because the story, as it is, is a rather good one. It opens with a new arrival at a prison being taken to his cell. He freaks out when he sees the cell. The next day, Sapphire and Steel arrive, and face a very overwhelmed, upset, and frustrated prison administrator who doesn’t want to deal with another morale-busting report. But Sapphire assures them they are an independent body looking into the inmate’s suicide.

Sapphire and Steel go to investigate the cell, and Steel is literally kidnapped by Time. Sapphire cannot reach him. Silver arrives and works on a device using a tape recorder to establish communications. Sapphire returns to the prison office and finds the file of Michael Kent – a prisoner with two files at two different times and two lives.

Sapphire realises that there are now multiple timelines in the prison. Once Silver establishes a link, Sapphire communicates with Steel – he is in grave danger, the people in the prison think he is Michael Kent, and they intend to murder him for killing a child. (Britain abolished the Deah Penalty in 1965; Steel is trapped in 1968). Sapphire even thinks they do kill Steel. But he is trapped in a single moment. Steel manages to give Sapphire and Silver a clue: Jackson. Silver and Sapphire talk to Jackson, who thinks they “work for the creatures”. Jackson then says he can’t leave the prison. Literally, he cannot – his legs freeze when he tries. Sapphire and Silver realise immediately he’s made a deal with Time.

Sapphire, with Silver’s help, goes back to when Jackson killed his son as his part in his deal. At first, she thinks Jackson was meant to kill his son. Then she realises, no, he was meant to kill his wife. She goes back, now corporal instead of merely as an observer, and convinces the young boy, Marcus, to play hide and seek with her and hold her hands. A drunk Jackson enters, and abuses, hits, and ultimately kills his wife.

Sapphire, Silver, and now Steel return to the prison, where they find Jackson spent fifteen years in the prison and then died of natural causes. The prison administrator doesn’t know anything about Jackson’s son. But as Sapphire, Silver, and Steel leave, the BBC radio announcer announces that the cello music that the administrator has been listening to is from the London Symphony, with lead cellist, Marcus Jackson.

Again, this was a good story, but the end seemed abrupt. Maybe it was because I was expecting the story to continue on to disc 2, but I was disappointed when it didn’t. There’s also precious little of Steel in this one, though it’s always fun to see Silver. Overall, an intriguing premise, but it wraps up too quickly without the twists and turns in the story that I normally expect in Sapphire and Steel.

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 – Sapphire and Steel: The Lighthouse

  • Title: The Lighthouse
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: John Ainsworth
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/25/2018

**Spoiler Alert** When I listened to the trailer for The Lighthouse on All Fall Down I realised that I had listened to this audio play before, however, I did just listen to it again – twice. I still feel that The Lighthouse is one of the more violent and depressing Big Finish Sapphire and Steel stories that I’ve listened to, but the story is also complex and multi-layered, which makes it successful, if a bit violent.

Often, in a Sapphire and Steel story, the titular characters arrive and try to find the trigger which time is using to break out. However, in this story, they basically arrive late, and in the middle of events. A young couple visits the Lighthouse with their architect, in hopes of converting it into a home. But Nicholas and Adrian seem to know each other. Meanwhile, a young boy is horribly abused by his father. And an old man pretends to be an artist, but really he is luring young homosexual men to their deaths. And another man kills his wife. How are these events connected? All take place in the Lighthouse, but first Sapphire and then Steel are caught up in events – unable to influence or stop them. A Time Storm is coming and there seems to be no way to stop it.

Sapphire realises the young boy, the husband – who first visits the Lighthouse with his wife, Susie, and later kills her, and the old man who is luring young men to their deaths at his hands – are the same person. Nicholas has made a bargain with Time, but he cannot change things, he can only repeat the same loop – over and over again. First, Sapphire is drawn into the loop as Susie accuses her of having an affair with her husband, Nicholas. Then, Steel is drawn in. Finally, the two are pushed out of Time altogether.

Being pushed out of time gives the two a little clarity, and they realise they need to find the trigger, or rather, triggers – three of them. Sapphire finds one trigger. Steel finds another. And then Steel forces a change in time that breaks the loop and stops the breakout. Sapphire realises that Time was even able to use her, her sympathy, her disgust at the waste of life, and her horror at all the death.

The Lighthouse is about cycles of violence, and how men abused as children often become child abusers themselves. It’s also about homophobia – and has some very rough language, so be warned. This also means it’s not a story for everyone – it’s violent and rough. But it is also complex, and although it has a downbeat ending, it is a well-told tale. If the listener can handle the violence and rough language, I do recommend it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

This CD includes a trailer for the next CD in the range: “Dead Man Walking”. There is also a trailer for “The Tomorrow People”.

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!