Book Review – Doctor Who: The Mahogany Murderers

  • Title: The Mahogany Murderers
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Andy Lane
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Henry Gordon Jago, Professor Henry Litefoot, Ellie the barmaid, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Christopher Benjamin (Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie the barmaid)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/31/2017

Doctor Who: The Mahogany Murderers is a volume in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles and it also plays like a backdoor pilot. Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago are two characters from the classic Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”. However, this story takes place some time later, as the two have not only remained fast friends but solve mysteries and conundrums together.

This story begins with the two meeting up in a pub to catch each other up on their latest adventure. The two swap parts of the story with Jago constantly warning they must be careful to not put Act II before Act I as their stories overlap. Professor Litefoot, a professional pathologist who works for a local hospital and the police was finishing up his duties and cleaning the mortuary when two police officers arrive with a body in a wheelbarrow. They put the body on one of the tables then leave. But when he examines the body Litefoot finds it isn’t a dead body at all – it’s a life-sized intricate mannequin. Litefoot sends a messenger to send a telegram to Jago to ask him to investigate the area where the “body” was found.

Jago does so, describing in detail one of the worse areas of Victorian London. Jago ends-up finding a warehouse, a warehouse full of strange electric equipment.

Meanwhile at the morgue, Litefoot is continuing to investigate the “body” when a man arrives demanding he turn over the body since it belongs to him. Litefoot refuses, citing that it’s part of an on-going police investigation (which is a slight exaggeration). Later, the body itself rises from the mortuary table and walks out.

Meanwhile, Jago is investigating the warehouse, and he trips over one of the cables on the floor. He tries to plug it back in but is hit over the head. He wakes up only to be confronted by a group of wooden men. The men can speak and move – and they are all criminals. Jago is mistaken for Dr. Tulp, and recognizes one of the men as Jack Yeavil, a infamous criminal who had recently died in Newgate Prison. But as he’s learning about exactly what’s going on, the wooden man that Litefoot had examined arrives – and tells everyone this is not Dr. Tulp.

Litefoot meanwhile had followed the wooden man to the warehouse. Jago seems to be in a lot of danger – but Litefoot throws an oil lamp, starting a fire, and allowing Jago to escape. There’s a hansom cab race as Jago takes one cab to the warehouse and one of the wooden criminals takes the other. The criminal offers eternal life to him in a wooden, metal, or porcelain body. But in the end, Jago and Litefoot burn down the warehouse as well and all the wooden men are destroyed.

This was a fun story, and a bit different even for a Companion Chronicles tale. The Doctor isn’t in the story at all, though he’s mentioned at the very end. It plays like a test case or backdoor pilot and in the CD extra panel discussion the idea of starting a “Jago and Litefoot” series is batted around as an idea. That idea must have been taken seriously at Big Finish, because they have introduced a Jago and Litefoot series on audio. This is also pretty close to a full-cast audio drama. Not only does it have music and sound effects, but it has three people in the cast: Christopher Benjamin as Henry Gordon Jago, Trevor Baxter as Professor Litefoot, and Lisa Bowerman, the director, as Ellie the barmaid. So, even though much of the story is Jago and Litefoot telling each other what happened, it’s also a bit less of “telling a story” than the average Companion Chronicles story. I enjoyed it.

However, as there are a lot of Doctor Who audios available from Big Finish, and other series I’m interested in, this story wasn’t quite enough to hook me in to trying the Jago and Litefoot series. I don’t regret the purchase, it was a fun and different adventure, but I prefer the Companion Chronicles stories than feature actual Doctor Who companions and the Doctor Who ranges themselves. One can only buy so much. Still The Mahogany Murderers is recommended as something a bit different and novel.

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

Click here to order The Mahogany Murderers on CD or Download.

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

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Pyralis Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Stealers from Saiph

  • Title: The Stealers from Saiph
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Nigel Robinson
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Romana I, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Mary Tamm
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/22/2016

Doctor Who the Stealers from Saiph is part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series – so it is read/performed by Mary Tamm, and unusually it is not a two-hander, only Mary performs it. However, this isn’t a negative – she, as Romana, does a wonderful job and the story is told entirely from Romana’s point of view. Also, this story has no framing story (so it runs a bit short). But without a secondary cast member to tell the story to – it’s all Romana I – and I enjoyed that.

The story starts off as a Agatha Christie-style story with Romana and the Fourth Doctor (as played by Tom Baker), staying in a luxury hotel on the French Riveria in 1929. The other guests are wealthy holiday-goers. Soon it becomes apparent there’s a thief at work in the hotel, and some sort of mysterious goings on regarding one of the guests. And then there’s the inevitable murder.

But the second half of the story makes a sharp left and resembles an H.P. Lovecraft story. And that sharp change moves this story from being fun, light, and typical, to an interesting, unusual, and unique Doctor Who story both in tone and substance.

I enjoyed the story very much and I recommend it. Don’t let the first part put you off, though I enjoyed the 1920s historical glamour. The second half makes this a fun listen.

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

Click this link to order The Stealers from Saiph on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: Empathy Games

  • Title: Empathy Games
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Leela, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Louise Jameson, David Warner
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/19/2016

I re-listened to this audiobook/play over the last week. It’s still a bit confusing, and not one of my favorite Companion Chronicles – despite the excellent cast doing their best with what they are given. But here it goes. Empathy Games features the Fourth Doctor as played by Tom Baker and his companion, Leela, as played by Louise Jameson. Jameson performs the story, along with David Warner as Co-Ordinator Angell. I was going to say, the story opens in the TARDIS, but it doesn’t – the story opens in a medical ward, where everyone but the person telling the story has died from a virulent disease, abandoning the few survivors. But one of the survivors tells a story, of a great warrior, whom she only once saw afraid. Then we open in the TARDIS, where the console room is on fire. The Doctor panics from fear and does nothing. Finally, Leela intervenes and the two make it into a TARDIS corridor, and the Doctor vents the oxygen from the console room, smothering the fire. The Doctor then lands the TARDIS and leaves it to “automatic repairs” while he and Leela go exploring. They’ve landed on Synchronis – an extremely peaceful planet and home to a lot of shopping and trading. Leela and the Doctor explore, but are attacked by an animal. Leela awakes in an hospital, and learns though she recovered from the attack – the Doctor is still in a coma or self-induced healing trance. Leela meets Co-Ordinator Angell who convinces her to fight for him in the upcoming Empathy Games. Leela keeps saying “no” to this idea, but one of the Cathartics – the blue-skinned under-class who do all the work on the planet (what little of it there is) convinces her that it is an honor to be chosen the Co-Ordinator’s champion. Between that, and Angell’s not-too-subtle hints about what will happen to the Doctor if Leela doesn’t do what he wants, Leela agrees to be champion.

Leela and the other Cathartics train for the games.

When the games start, it is in the underground tunnels beneath the city. The champions hunt “rodents” – some of which can talk. However, this isn’t an ordinary hunt. Leela and the other Cathartics become telepathically linked to their prey – and experience the emotions and memories of their prey also. Then they kill them. Leela objects to the entire set-up. When she saves another player from a rodent – she’s penalized. When, later, she refuses to kill a talking rodent simply for sport because she sees it as not honorable – she’s penalized and pulled from the games. In the fracas, the games are ended and the tunnels begin to fill with water. Leela sees her closest friend Cathartic killed, but escapes with the rodent that has her face. Above ground, Leela runs into the recovered Doctor, and a very angry Angell. The Doctor has completely destroyed the telepathic machinery that takes all negative emotions from the people of Synchronis and transfers them to the rodents. Which explains the games – the people are literally having their every bad thought, or memory, or fear, or emotion, removed in the games. The Doctor’s actions also threaten The Waters of Tranquility – a gigantic water sculpture. Angell gets even more angry – accusing the Doctor of destroying his entire civilization. But the Doctor manages to fix the water sculpture. And the Doctor says the people of Synchronis will have to learn to live with their darker selves.

The story then picks up back where it was at the beginning – and the patient is the rodent Leela.

This story just left me cold in a sense. It’s a very violent story. It has Leela as a hunter. Though the secondary race being called “cathartics” when that is precisely what they do wasn’t lost on me – but, in a sense, I felt the story was too straight-forward, yet told in a somewhat confusing way (for once I don’t think this story needs a wrap-around, at all, it doesn’t add anything and it distracts from the core tale). Louise Jameson does a fantastic job. David Warner is very good. But, overall, I just didn’t care for the story that much.

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

Click this link to order Empathy Games on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Beautiful People

  • Title: The Beautiful People
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Jonathan Morris
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters: Romana II, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Lalla Ward, Marcia Ashton
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/20/2014

I’m really beginning to love Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles range. Even though they are not full cast audios, the stories are great and I like the emphasis on the companions and/or the companion’s point of view. In this particular one, Lalla Ward does read the story (even including the chapter numbers and titles – something none of BF’s productions actually do whether audio book or audio play). What I like about The Companion Chronicles range though is that because the stories are about any of the past Doctors, they are more like the BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures or the Virgin Publishing Missing Adventures line of original paperback Doctor Who novels. Those were often some of my favorite stories – and they are something I miss.

This particular story is great fun, and has a good point to it. The Doctor is barely in the story, and most of it has Romana, separated from the Doctor, having her own adventure. She and the Doctor land on a planet, hoping for some relaxation, and the Doctor is craving a good doughnut. However, they’ve landed on a planet-wide health spa. The diet planet, however, is hiding a dark secret – which Romana must discover and stop. The story is brilliant – fun, adventurous, but with a point to it that I appreciated and welcomed. It really felt like late 70s/early 80s Doctor Who and that was awesome too. I highly, highly recommend this story.

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

Click this link to order The Beautiful People on CD.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Roots of Evil

  • Title: The Roots of Evil
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Philip Reeve
  • Characters: Fourth Doctor, Leela
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/20/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The Roots of Evil is part of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – 12 Stories 12 Doctors set of mini-books or novellas. This is the fourth book in the series so it features the Fourth Doctor (as played by Tom Baker) and Leela (as played by Louise Jameson) from the British television series Doctor Who.

The Doctor says that Leela has been complaining about not ever seeing trees on their journeys, so the Doctor takes her to a space station that is a giant tree in space. However, no sooner than they land than the Doctor and Leela are in trouble. Leela senses something dark about this “tree”, and they soon meet Ven, which as he explains is short for: “Vengeance-Will-Be-Ours-When-the-Doctor-Dies-A-Thousand-Agonising-Deaths”. Everyone else on the space station/tree has similar names vowing revenge against the Doctor. However, when Ven falls into a digestion pool – the Doctor and Leela rescue him. This, and the Doctor’s way of getting people to trust him easily and quickly, means the young Ven becomes sympathetic to the Doctor. When the troops arrive, Ven insists the Doctor and Leela be taken to the Judicator – not the civilian/military/religious leadership. As the Doctor and Leela start to discover what’s happened, that the people of the station/tree are angry at the Doctor’s future Eleventh Incarnation and not the current one, the meeting hall is attacked. First the Chairman (civilian/military/religious leader) arrives to take the Doctor to immediate execution without trial. Then, tree spores begin to attack everyone.

This actually forces the various splinter groups together because survival becomes more important than petty disagreements. The Doctor also realizes that it was a future version of himself that caused these colonists to end-up in the tree space station in the first place; but every story has two sides. The original leader of the colony expedition was a racist and xenophobic nightmare. Having found a planet, he ignored the fact that an intelligent methane-breathing species already lived there, and began the terraforming process to replace the methane with oxygen (effectively killing the natives by smothering them.) The Eleventh Doctor stopped him – thus causing the chain of events. But even more interestingly – the original leader is still semi-alive, and is the soul of the dark tree. He is the one who wants vengeance. He’s actually so bent on destroying the Doctor that he’s sabotaged the natural ability of the tree to terraform a lifeless rock into a life-supporting planet, thus trapping the colonists in the tree/station for 900 years. The Doctor and Leela defeat the colonial leader who’s a nightmare, release the tree spores into space, and explain what’s happened to the clueless colonists – who will have a new home in a decade or so.

Despite it’s lack of science (a tree in space? Opening a window on a space station to let the spores out???) I liked this story. The society living in the tree, with their wooden tools and weapons, and pounded wood pulp fabrics is fascinating and very, very different. That the Fourth Doctor would run into something a future incarnation would do (had already done in fact) gave the story both a modern-Who twist in a Classic Who framework. The colonial leader was suitably annoying and evil. And the story showed that every battle has at least two sides. This is the first book in this series that I thought could have been much longer, because the society in the tree and the main characters could have been fleshed-out a bit more. Still, an excellent short story or novella. Recommended.

Book Review – Star Trek: The Next Generation – Doctor Who Assimilation 2 vol. 1

  • Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who Assimilation² vol. 1
  • Author: Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Tony Lee
  • Artists: J.K. Woodward, the Sharp Bros., Gordon Purcell, Shawn Lee, Robbie Robbins
  • Characters: Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, ST:TNG Crew, Classic Trek Crew, Fourth Doctor, the Borg, the Cybermen
  • Publication Date: 2012
  • Publisher: IDW Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/25/2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation crossed over with Doctor Who? Well, why not? I enjoyed this two-part crossover event graphic novel when I originally read it, and I just re-read part 1 and really enjoyed it. the ST:TNG portion of this novel starts with an attack on Delta IV by Cybermen and Borg. Meanwhile, The Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory are in Ancient Rome, in the midst of a chariot race. They survive that and return to the TARDIS, where the Doctor promises to take the young couple to San Francisco. However, it turns out the three are not in San Francisco, but in the Holodeck of the Enterprise. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are taken by Worf and Cmdr. Riker to Capt. Picard, and are only just starting to talk when the Enterprise receives an audio-only distress call. When the ship arrives, they are in the midst of a combined Cybermen/Borg attack. The Enterprise escapes.

The Doctor starts to have strange memory flashes, and when the Enterprise crew researches the “Cybermen” that Picard has never heard of – they find one entry from the original Enterprise, under the command of James T. Kirk. The resulting flashback features the original Star Trek crew, the Fourth Doctor, and Cybermen on a research station.

Back on Picard’s Enterprise, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are taken to Guinan. The Doctor and Guinan seem to have some sort of relationship – even though they both know they have never met, previously. And both the Doctor and Guinan are time-sensitives who seem to know something is very wrong.

In the midst of the Doctor, Guinan, and Picard’s conversation they are again called to the bridge. Data explains they had thought the combined Borg/Cybermen fleet was heading towards Earth, but it seems they are now heading in the opposite direction, having changed their minds in the middle of assimilating a planet. Sending a away party to said planet, which includes the Doctor, Rory and Amy, they find a battlefield where the Cybermen and the Borg have turned on each other. The Borg contact the Enterprise, offering a truce against their common enemy, the Cybermen. The Doctor warns against this, and Picard agrees.

To Be Continued in volume 2

The artwork in Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who Assimilation (2) is wonderful. It has a wonderful painted look, that, though not often photo-realistic, has at times an impressionistic quality – while at other times is more realistic-looking. It’s beautiful, and engaging. In short, I loved the art style.