Book Review – Doctor Who: Mother Russia

  • Title: Mother Russia
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Steven, First Doctor, Dodo, The Interrogator (Guest)
  • Cast: Peter Purves (Steven), Tony Millan (The Interrogator)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/22/2017

Doctor Who: Mother Russia is a story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. Peter Purves (Steven) tells the story which also features Dodo and the First Doctor. The TARDIS lands in Czarist Russia and the TARDIS crew settles in. The Doctor gets a job as a tutor for the local landed aristocrat’s children, Dodo also gets hired as a music tutor, and Steven spends his days, wandering around, fishing and meeting and befriending the locals. During one of his fishing trips, Steven hooks a fish that is so strong he is pulled in the river. It’s Summer, so it’s no disaster, and the forester, Simeon, laughs at him. Steven and the forester becomes friends, so much so, that the forester invites Steven to be best man at his wedding.

At a dinner with the aristocrat’s family, the TARDIS crew learn it is 1812, both Dodo and the Doctor knows what this means. Steven has no idea – so the audience doesn’t know for sure what’s happening. The Doctor also starts to press for travelling to Moscow.

The time of the wedding grows closer, and rumors start flying that Napoleon will invade Russia.
Finally, the first night of the three-day wedding ceremony arrives – and it is interrupted by a spaceship crash-landing in the forest. Simeon and Steven go to check it out. From that point on things get a little weird – Steven encounters a bear that he swears talked to him, Simeon breaks off his engagement, the Doctor becomes more insistent on traveling to Moscow, though at one point he leaves in the TARDIS without Steven and Dodo – and when he lands again he insists they pilot the time-space machine.

Eventually, they do all travel to Moscow, have an encounter with Napoleon, watch the city burn, see the Russians rout the French, and the alien, a shapeshifter, is found out.

Overall, this story was OK. That the mysterious bear, and various people not acting like themselves were actually a shapeshifting alien was painfully obvious – so much so that it seemed weird that Steven and Dodo couldn’t figure it out faster. The story is also broken up a bit to Steven telling his story to The Interrogator, who is the shapeshifter. And the Russian accents are horrendous, almost to the point of being offensive – like comedy accents. But the story, especially the early part of Steven, Dodo, and even the Doctor assimilating into an alien time was pretty good, and I liked that.

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

Click here to order Mother Russia on CD or Download. Note the Download is currently specially priced at $2.99.

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

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Transit of Venus

  • Title: The Transit of Venus
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Jacqueline Rayner
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, Joseph Banks (guest), First Doctor
  • Cast: William Russell, Ian Hallard
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series features stories told from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions. This series gives Big Finish the opportunity to tell stories set in previous eras of the British Television Series, Doctor Who with previous Doctors and companions. In that aspect, the Companion Chronicles are similar to the Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures original novels. The Transit of Venus is performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton, and is set in the First Doctor (William Hartnell) Era. As is the case with many of the Companion Chronicles, Russell is joined in his performance by Ian Hallard as Joseph Banks. The Transit of Venus is a pure historical story. The only science fiction elements are the TARDIS, and Ian’s references to the previous television story, “The Sensorites”.

The story opens with the Doctor, now very angry with Ian and Barbara, dropping them off someplace on Earth. He doesn’t even stay to see if they are in fact in 20th Century Earth or to check that they are alright. In turns out they are not alright, and, luckily for Barbara and Ian, Susan insists that her grandfather (the Doctor) stay and check. The Doctor and Susan see Ian and Barbara being attacked by the sailors of the 18th century sailing ship they have landed on. The Doctor and Ian end up staying on the ship and Susan, Barbara, and the TARDIS are pushed over the side. Thus, this is a First Doctor and Ian story. Never fear, though, Barbara, Susan, and the TARDIS are found and the crew reunited at the end of the story. In some aspects, this is typical of early Doctor Who – the stories often depended on the TARDIS crew being separated and reuniting later. Often such separations serve the plot by the crew separately learning important information which is later pooled for plot purposes. Other times, characters disappearing serve more practical purposes – giving the actors on the show some much-needed time off (back in the days when producing Doctor Who was closer to a three-quarters of the year repertory theatre than modern television. In the case of this audio play, having half the cast missing for all but the opening and closing scenes seems to have been done for purely practical reasons – less characters makes the story smaller and easier to tell on audio.

However, that is not purely a negative. Once it becomes apparent that this will be a Doctor and Ian story, the listener can just go with it, and it is still a very enjoyable story. Ian and the Doctor end-up on Captain Cook’s Endeavour sailing ship, navigating the Pacific Ocean on their way to charting Australia and discovering the Cook Islands. The story is educational – teaching about the famous voyage as well as the geography of the region – the groups of islands, their names, the coastal features of Australia, etc. It’s the type of story that if filmed, especially with some sort of budget, could be extremely enjoyable, sort of Doctor Who does Master and Commander. Because this is Doctor Who there is another plot to pass the time on the long ship voyage – Ian meets Joseph Banks, a famed botanist. Yet, whenever Ian is alone with Banks, weird things seem to happen. Ian sees Banks shoot an albatross that is following the ship, and Ian warns him of the superstition against killing an albatross. Then he hears Banks quote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Later, as Ian approaches Banks’ cabin, he hears voices, which, to Ian, sound like Banks is reading aloud a diary entry containing information about the future. A few days later, Banks and Ian are on the ship’s deck, and Ian becomes fearful of Banks and even believes Banks pushed him overboard. Banks rescues Ian, and states that he became disoriented on the ship and fell. As a result of his dunking in the ocean – Ian becomes quite sick, contracting a fever, and is cabin-bound. Ian has additional strange experiences on the ship, especially when near Banks.

Finally, the Endeavoour reaches the place in Australia where Ian knows they will land. And he sees Susan and Barbara on the shore. Barbara explains briefly what happened to them, how they survived, and even tells him that since they knew they would have a long wait – she had, as a history teacher, filled Susan in on the history of Captain Cook’s voyage, even telling Susan about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and later that she had sung “Botany Bay” to her. Susan, after her experiences on the Sensesphere in turns out still had latent telepathic abilities. It was Susan who had unwittingly transferred information to Banks that Ian picked up. Information that Banks himself was unaware of, but that because of his familiarity with Susan, Ian was able to hear as a ghostly voice. This is a bit of an science fiction element – but The Transit of Venus is not a story where Joseph Banks is secretly an alien or time traveler as Ian at first suspects. Also, Ian is actually experiencing something outside his normal experience even as, by this point in the First Doctor Era, he is a seasoned time traveler himself. Playing with Ian’s emotions could have come off as cruel, but instead it suits the story and the characters – and everything works out. After being reunited the TARDIS crew leaves in the TARDIS.

I enjoyed The Transit of Venus as a purely historical Doctor Who story for the most part. Ian’s suspicions are played more as paranoia than something really going on – which is novel for a Doctor Who story. Yes, in the Doctor Who universe if a character thinks someone is an alien and up to no good – they usually are. So for the accused to not be an alien is actually a surprise. Plus, Ian is a practical man and a man of science. Before meeting the Doctor he would have dismissed aliens, time travel, and the like. Now, dropped in to a purely normal situation (albeit in 1770), Ian leaps to the opposite conclusion – based on his last couple of years of personal experience. That is pure Ian.

I did miss having Barbara in the story. I’ve always liked the Ian-Barbara dynamic, and the two had great chemistry as a couple. It is no wonder that in fan canon they are not only a couple, but a married one. And this long-standing fan theory was even made canon in an episode of, The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, even though I would have liked to see Barbara in the story – if she had been on the ship with Ian, there would have been no conflict. The two, plus the Doctor, would have simply had a nice sea cruise. Enjoyable for them, but probably a bit boring for the audience. And Ian’s concerns and fears were played particularly well – playing off the audience’s expectations for a Doctor Whostory, without making the character look like an idiot.

Overall, this is an excellent historical Doctor Who adventure. The CD version includes a panel interview with the cast, director, and producer as well as a trailer for the next Big Finish Companion Chronicles adventure. Recommended.

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

Click here to order The Transit of Venus 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!

Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 1: The First Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 1: The First Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/02/2014

Another “Why didn’t I think of that?” Doctor Who book, but in this case I absolutely loved it. This is not a “summarize every story in only 140 characters” book. Rather, each story is reacted to in a series of 140-character posts that together form a single blog post. So, in effect, it’s like reading a transcript of a live-tweeting event. The book is fun, witty, and full of squeee – but that’s a good thing. Occasionally, I had trouble deciphering some of the slang and abbreviations – but I still really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.

The author, Hannah J. Rothman, was both after the original series left our screens in 1989, liked New Who, and then started watching Classic Who and loved it. As a Classic Who fan – I just think that’s so cool! And it flies in the face of conventional “wisdom” that New Who fans can’t watch the original series, or that they won’t enjoy it. Hah! Hannah’s reviews are enthusiastic, bright, funny, and darn it but I now really want to re-watch all of my William Hartnell (the First Doctor) DVDs.

I had just a couple of quick comments: a dictionary in the back of slang and Twitter terms would have helped. It took me a while to get used to the author’s use of “One” to refer to The First Doctor – but considering this book was originally a Twitter account feed it makes sense – 3 characters verses 16 is quite a savings. And, yes, I did note the dates of the original blog posts, so I realise that the DVDs with animated reconstructions probably weren’t available in 2010, but it bothered me some that rather than reviewing the DVDs for episodes such as “The Reign of Terror” and “The Tenth Planet” which were released with the missing episode(s) reconstructed completely with animation and the original soundtrack, the author relied on telesnap reconstructions instead. On the other hand, though I’ve read several different summaries and reviews of missing stories – it was fun to read such a fresh, amusing, and at times deep, reaction to stories that I haven’t seen because they don’t exist and aren’t on DVD. I mean, the comments in Twitter Who just really give an idea of what the episodes were like, even the ones that aren’t available on DVD.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Man in the Velvet Mask

  • Title: The Man in the Velvet Mask
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Daniel O’Mahony
  • Characters: First Doctor, Dodo
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/27/2017

The Man in the Velvet Mask is part of the Virgin Publishing Doctor Who Missing Adventures series. It features the First Doctor (as played on the classic television series by William Hartnell) and Dodo, an under-used companion. The Doctor and Dodo land in the TARDIS in what appears to be Post-Revolutionary France. Yet almost immediately something seems very off. Historical characters who are known to be dead are alive. People who should be alive – are dead. And everything is just off. Yet, for two-thirds of the book, though the reader is aware that something is off, it’s not explained what’s going on – making this book a frustrating read.

Almost immediately after alighting the TARDIS, the Doctor and Dodo are separated. Dodo takes up with a troop of actors, eventually falling in love, or at least having a physical fling. She grows up and becomes an adult woman. The Doctor gets to meet a number of people, gathering clues as to what is going on. And, he eventually ends up a prisoner in the New Bastille.

Meanwhile, hidden in the Bastille is another prisoner, Prisoner Number 6, the man in the velvet mask of the title. Number 6 has his face hidden so no one will ever know who he is. Also, he’s held in the cell of the condemned – those to be guillotined the next day. Yet, the warden of the prison doesn’t ever plan to send Number 6 to his death, instead every day she simply changes the name on the records, so the cell holds a “new” condemned man. This has been going on for years, even decades. And yes, that a Prisoner is known only as Number 6 is no coincidence.

Minisk, the dictator in charge of this weird world is involved in weird, grotesque experiments, and keeps cruel law, with an early curfew. It’s breaking curfew that got the Doctor taken to the Bastille in the first place. After interviewing the Doctor, Minisk decides that he will be placed in the should-be-empty cell of the condemned man. When he forces the Warden to take them there, he discovers the warden’s deception and that Number 6 is alive. He orders Six’s death. This forces the Warden, as soon as Minisk leaves to actually aid Number 6 and the Doctor in escape, though she only lets them out of the cell and says she can’t let them out of the prison. But the prison is a warren of levels, rooms, cells, corridors, etc. It’s a labyrinth – and actually a good place to hide. By talking to Number 6, and observation, plus – eventually some information from Dodo and her actors, the Doctor figures things out.

The conclusion of the story is an conclusion, and a hitting of the reset button, but with a bit of a spook factor.

I read this book as an e-book, and I almost wonder if it was condensed or re-edited. It’s a short book, and it’s very, very confusing. At times this book is difficult to follow, though eventually the plot more or less falls into place. This is also very much a horror story, with some really disgusting descriptions – such as the head that continues to speak after it’s been separated from it’s body. One of the main historical characters of the story is the Marquis de Sade, so you can guess how that turns out. The story is creepy, often gross, but also difficult at times to follow. This is one of the few times I wish more time had been spent in a set-up chapter before the TARDIS arrives explaining what’s going on.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Guardian of the Solar System

  • Title: The Guardian of the Solar System
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/08/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The Guardian of the Solar System is the third audio in the Doctor Who Sara Kingdom First Doctor Trilogy. The audio is performed by Jean Marsh as Sara and Niall MacGregor as Robert. I also listened to it about a week ago and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write my review.

Anyway, Sara and Robert have switched places and now Sara is alive and Robert is the spirit of the House – and even though Sara was able to leave the house, she still cannot leave the Island of Ely because there are no boats or other ways off the Island. So again, Sara must tell Robert a story.

Sara tells Robert how she, Steven, and the Doctor landed on her Earth, a year or two before she originally met the Doctor. On Earth, there is a massive Grandfather Clock that is the balance to the hyperspace lanes – it keeps the entire system going and the Earth Empire depends on it for trade and commerce. The hyperspace lanes are essential to Earth. However, the Clock is fed old men – grandfathers, literally. The men work the Clock, and the Clock balances the system. The ticking of the clock underpins the CD, and the sound had started at the end of the previous volume.

Sara does try to change things at first, especially trying to warn her brother, Bret Vyon, but he of course doesn’t believe her. Sara also gets an “audience” with Mavic Chen, who explains the importance of the Clock. Sara realizes that, even though the Clock is a great evil, she can’t destroy it – because that will lead to the greater evil of Chen throwing in with the Daleks. But she also sees the inevitability of it all. Sara goes to stop the Doctor and Steven – but she is too late, and they are assisting the old men in their sabotage of the Clock. In the end, the Grandfather Clock is destroyed and the Doctor, Steven and Sara escape in the TARDIS.

Back at the house, Robert asks what Sara wants … what she wishes for. Then we hear the sounds of the TARDIS landing in the House. And the story ends open-ended, with Sara needing to decide – Will she open the TARDIS door?

I enjoyed this story, and, in fact, the entire trilogy. It’s was wonderful to see a story with Sara Kingdom (especially as “The Daleks’ Masterplan” is one of those stories that no longer exists). The third volume brings in lines and situations from the previous two volumes, sometimes reversing them. In a sense, the entire story is a circle – and I liked that as well. The trilogy is highly, highly recommended, especially for Classic Doctor Who fans.

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

Click this link to order The Guardian of the Solar System on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Drowned World

  • Title: The Drowned World
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Borrowman
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Niall MacGregor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The middle volume of a trilogy is often an odd duck – it’s a story without a beginning and without an ending, a link in a larger tale. Is it any wonder that the “middle film” or “middle book” is often the poorest rated – yet without it the third story wouldn’t be as strong or popular. The Drowned World doesn’t fall into that trap by being almost stand-alone, except for the framing story. This is the second audio play in the Sara Kingdom trilogy. If you haven’t listened to Home Truths first, do. And you may seriously want to listen to Home Truths before reading this review.

Sometime after the events in Home Truths, Robert returns to the House on the Island, Ely. Sara, the spirit of the house, is waiting for him. Sara cares for Robert, urging him to eat something, and begins to tell him another tale.

The TARDIS lands in a tilted laboratory. From the beginning, it’s clear something is horribly wrong – everything in the lab is askew, bolted tables, chairs, and equipment hanging off the walls, the door on the ceiling, and a lake of silvery water filling the room. As the First Doctor, Steven, and Sara exit, the TARDIS slips from it’s precarious position below the water. Sara, telling the story to Robert, remarks she felt very grateful she had thought to close the TARDIS door. The lab is part of a mining colony on an asteroid – the miners are in trouble, their atmosphere generator has been damaged and they won’t have enough air to last until the rescue party arrives. The Doctor immediately sets to work fixing the oxygen generator. Meanwhile, Sara and Steven work with three miners to pull the TARDIS out of the lake. The rope they try to use to rescue the TARDIS melts in the water as if it was acid. One of the assisting miners is killed. The other miners, Steven, and Sara are attacked by the living water, literally – an alien being with the appearance of water. To escape the attack, the rising water, and prevent the deadly water from flooding the rest of the colony, it’s Sara who slams shut the door and locks it. It’s also Sara who breaks open the portal to outside – taking the group to the surface of the asteroid. Unfortunately, though they make it to the airlock they can’t get the door open from the outside. Sara crosses back to the deadly water-logged room to tell the Doctor and the other miners of the colony that they need to let everyone in. Sara’s message is heard, the group rescued, but Sara is still trapped – and dies.

In dying, Sara communes with the water-being. She discovers that the mining is destroying the water beings and poisoning the asteroid. Then she is let go. Sara recovers and convinces the miners to abandon the colony when the rescue ship arrives. Yet, as she tells Robert – she knows that she only delayed the inevitable. The rock held valuable minerals – sooner or later the unique being living there would be destroyed to get to those minerals.

That is the story-within-the-story, the framing story connects with Home Truths and The Guardian of the Solar System. As it concludes, Robert’s motivations become clear – it wants something from Sara, something she isn’t sure she can grant – but if she does, there is a price to be paid. And this leads into the final volume of the trilogy.

Sara is played, wonderfully, by Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom in Doctor Who “The Daleks’ Masterplan”; Morgaine in Doctor Who “Battlefield”; and Rose the Lady’s Maid in the original Upstairs, Downstairs). Robert is played by Niall MacGregor. The Drowned World is written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman.

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

Click this link to order The Drowned World on CD or Download.

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