Book Review – The Invisible Man (Audio)

  • Title: The Invisible Man
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Author: H.G. Wells (original novel)
  • Adapted by: Jonathan Barnes
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Griffin (the Invisible Man), Dr. Kemp, Teddy Henfrey, Mrs. Hall, Thomas Marvel
  • Cast: John Hurt, Blake Ritson, Dan Starkey, Annette Badland, Peter Noble

Spoilers

Big Finish’s audio play adaptation of HG Wells’ classic The Invisible Man is a full audio play and not simply a single person reading the book, or even a two-hander adaptation. The play has a full cast, music, and special effects. The CD version even includes audio-only tracks and interviews as extras.

The story is framed by on the first disc, Kemp interviewing Thomas Marvel to learn the story of the Invisible Man, though it soon picks-up with Griffin turning up, out of the snow, at an Inn, and paying lots of money to not be disturbed. At first the innkeeper, Mrs. Hall, is glad of the money and willing to leave the man alone as he requests. But eventually she becomes suspicious, especially the way Griffin treats her maid, waitress, and cleaning girl. When the money runs out, Griffin quickly gives her more – but Mrs. Hall remarks that the amount he gives her was the exact amount taken from a local vicarage in a recent robbery. Being suspicious already, she calls in the police. They, however, are unable to catch the Invisible Man, and he escapes.

Griffin encounters a drunken tramp on the road, and talks/bribes/threatens him to become his partner. This is Thomas Marvel, who is able to fill in Kemp on his own direct experiences. However, although he at first benefits from the partnership, eventually Marvel learns to fear Griffin (with good reason) and even turns himself over to the police for a series of robberies and thefts since he believes he will be safer in jail.

Griffin talks Marvel into returning to the Inn so he can claim his books and clothes. The book are especially important as they apparently contain the secret to permanent invisiblity but are written in code. Marvel makes off with the books, and they both fail to get Griffin’s clothes – though Griffin does escape.

Once he escapes, Griffin shows up at the house of Dr. Kemp. Kemp slips a letter to his maid, but tells her to wait three hours before delivering it by hand to Colonel Adye at the local army base. Kemp interviews Griffin, who tells his story in his own words, from his fascination with light, to his career as a student then a professor who studies light. Though Griffin doesn’t reveal his formula, he does reveal his general process and theories.

The army colonel arrives, but yet again they are unable to catch Griffin. Kemp suggests they put glass on the roads, order that all doors be locked, lock-up all food, and monitor all exits from the city by road, ship, and rail. Although the Invisible Man eludes capture for awhile, after he kills a man, the Invisible Man is eventually captured, attacked, and beaten by a mob. It is Kemp who prevents the mob from killing him. He is captured and dies in jail.

However, Kemp, who is interviewing Marvel, demands from him the Red Books that contain the Invisible Man’s secrets. Griffin had said that he and Kemp were the same, and although at first Kemp seems stable and sane and even happy with his life – in the end, Kemp also becomes obsessed with light and concealment.

I have actually read HG Wells classic The Invisible Man although it was years ago. I remember it as being more political – more about isolation and being marginalized than the mere terror of someone becoming invisible. Yet this adaptation is still excellent. Hurt plays Griffin with a whispering menace, and it quickly becomes clear why everyone fears him – he’s a scary dude, invisiblity or no. Many of the other characters in this tale are also lower class (Marvel, Teddy, Mrs. Hall, the two servant girls and even the female university student) who ultimately place survival above helping Griffin. Still, it is a good story, told in a creepy way. Recommended.

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

Click here to order The Invisible Man on Download or CD.

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

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Book Review – The Many Deaths of Jo Grant

  • Title: The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Rowe (guest), Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Nicholas Asbury (Rowe)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/27/2017

**Spoiler Alert** The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is an audio in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series. The story opens at UNIT HQ, where the Brigadier is upset because the Doctor has left in the TARDIS and he needs him. Jo is waiting for the Doctor to return. But when the Doctor does return he brings a baby alien princess whom he’s rescued from her planet which has been invaded by fierce alien conquerors. No sooner than the Doctor arrives though than the aliens also arrive, threatening to destroy Earth to get to the baby. UNIT fights off the aliens who teleport in to HQ as well as their space ship, but the aliens have fantastic weapons. Jo, the Doctor, the child, and an UNIT soldier named Private Rowe try to leave. Jo sees the Doctor in danger and sacrifices herself to save him.

Two more vignettes follow – in one Jo dies, thrown into a pit to be eaten by a giant mouth (it sounded similar to the creature in Return of the Jedi that Jabba threatens to thrown Luke into.) In another instance, Jo again sacrifices herself – to save an alien planet, after the Doctor is unable to do it because he’s knocked out.

But each time, in each vignette, there are two re-occurring figures: Rowe, and a space-suited figure with a mirrored faceplate that only reflects Jo’s own face – not allowing her to identify the figure inside the suit. Jo also keeps experiencing deja vu.

Jo then wakes up in a space ship, exiting a strange pod, and meeting the Doctor. He explains she’s been trapped in a mindscape – a torture device that has been banned for centuries.

But they are soon confronted by Rowe, and he threatens Jo and the Doctor with a disrupter – the two fight and are seemingly both destroyed.

Jo wakes again. This time she sees that the Doctor is also in a pod. He had entered the Mindscape to rescue her and it was the Doctor in the mirrored spacesuit. Meanwhile, Rowe is an alien scientist, from the conquerors who are after the alien princess. Rowe’s people are selfish and have no empathy with others – especially the worlds they conquer. The idea of sacrificing yourself for something greater or to save someone else is so foreign to Rowe’s people they simply can’t understand it. So Rowe had put Jo into the Mindscape to study her. He had “killed” Jo in the device 412 times. But Rowe’s people are also experiencing troubles with the princess’s planet. The princess’s people, in desperation, are taking any ship they can and crashing it into Rowe’s people’s outposts, military depots, and weapon stores. This kills the pilot and any skeleton crew on board the ship but these kamikaze attacks are having an effect against Rowe’s people too because they are completely unprepared and do not understand the idea of sacrifice for a cause. Rowe was studying Jo to try and understand her feelings for the Doctor and her willingness to sacrifice herself for him.

In the end, the Doctor makes a deal with Rowe – he wins the baby princess’s freedom but promises not to take her home to her planet. He and Jo are also freed and will return to UNIT.

This was a good story, Katy Manning does an excellent job telling it, and although I felt she had Jo a bit too innocent at times (the story is set between “Carnival of Monsters” and “Frontier in Space” – and in “Frontier in Space” Jo really kicks butt – preventing the Master from hypnotising herself, rescuing the Doctor several times, she’s even instrumental in figuring out the solution to the problem) so this Jo should be more grown-up and capable, not the somewhat incompetent girl of “Terror of the Autons”. Still, seeing how much Jo cares for the Doctor and what she’s willing to do for him was well-played. It’s somewhat odd having the other actor in the story being Rowe – who’s several different characters or versions of the same character, but it does always help to have two people in a Companion Chronicles story. And like many of the stories in this range – it does have the feeling of a Missing Adventure book or a Past Doctor Adventures book which I appreciated. I hated seeing Jo die over and over – it seemed cruel, and I figure she’d have serious issues with dying 412 times – even if it didn’t “really” happen. But still, it’s a good story and worth checking out.

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

Click here to order The Many Deaths of Jo Grant on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: FrostFire

  • Title: FrostFire
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters: Vicki, Cinder (guest), First Doctor, Steven, Jane Austen (guest)
  • Cast: Maureen O’Brien, Keith Drinkel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Frostfire is the very first title in the Big Finish Doctor Who Companion Chronicles, and it does show a little bit in technical details – more about that at the end of the review. This story features the First Doctor (as played on the television show Doctor Who by William Hartnell) and his companions Vicki and Steven. The story is narrated by Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) who is literally telling a story to an unseen monster whom the CD jewel case identifies as “Cinder”, however, he is never identified in the story itself.

The story begins with the Doctor landing in London, where he, Steven and Vicki attend the 1814 Frost Fair. They meet Jane Austen at the fair, and among the novelty acts and food, they are harassed by a strange Italian and rescued by a British gentleman, Sir Joseph Mallard, and his wife, Lady Georgiana. The Doctor, Steven, Vicki, the couple, and Ms. Austen are drawn in to see a Cabinet of Curiosities show, only to discover amidst the kitsch and fakery, a genuine Phoenix egg. The Phoenix, however is not a creature of fire – but of ice. It entraps Georgiana and also captures Vicki’s attention. The Phoenix goes on a rampage, killing with ice. Jane Austen takes everyone to her brother’s house, offering an escape from the creature and lodgings for the TARDIS crew since she’s discovered they have no lodgings or plans in London yet.

Once at Jane Austen’s brother’s house, Georgiana takes ill – and the harassing Italian returns to bother her. The party is going well, until the Phoenix shows up in the fireplace, sucking the heat out of the room (literally). A chimney sweep boy falls out of the fireplace, unharmed, but Georgiana is entranced by the Phoenix and gets captured. Vicki is freaked out because she thought the creature wanted her as well.

The Doctor, Steven, and Georgiana’s husband, Joseph, head to a men’s club to look for news. Jane Austen, Vicki, and the chimney sweep boy, investigate on their own – discovering many people and animals of London have been frozen solid by the creature. They end up at a church, and find the egg and Lady Georgiana. When the Doctor and Steven arrive – Georgiana takes Joseph away, and the Doctor and company track them to the Royal Mint. The creature had planned to use the furnace that is normally used to melt metals for coins, to be born. This plan is ultimately thwarted, and Georgiana and her husband rescued. During the fracas to stop the Phoenix and snuff out the fire of the furnace, Vicki is hit in the eye by a cinder.

The story pulls back, as it has a few times throughout the telling, and we meet the mysterious guest in Vicki’s basement – a cinder of the Phoenix. Vicki, now living in Cartridge with Troilus, as Lady Cressida, knows eventually the Phoenix egg will be found in Tunis, and taken to the Frost Fair where the entire cycle will begin again.

Maureen O’Brien does an excellent job performing Frostfire and having Keith Drinkel as Cinder helps because it gives her someone to react to, and Companion Chronicles always work best as two-handers. However, the entire CD is only four tracks, so some are extremely long, like over 22 minutes long. This was very inconvenient when listening while commuting in the car (I’ve have to start at the beginning of a track and re-listen to a lot before reaching any new material.) Also, this is this the only CD in the series I’ve listened to with no extras, such as interviews.

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

Click this link to order FrostFire on CD.

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

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!

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!