Book Review – Doctor Who: The Exilir of Doom

  • Title: The Exilir of Doom
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Iris Wildthyme, Eighth Doctor, Claude
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Derek Fowlds (Claude)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/10/2018

**Spoiler Alert** The Elixir of Doom is a brilliant addition to Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series. The Companion Chronicles tell stories from the point-of-view of the Companions, often filling in the gaps of the TV series, Doctor WhoThe Elixir of Doom features Katy Manning not only playing Jo Jones (neé Grant) but also playing the time-traveling adventuress, Iris Wildthyme. Jo is now married to Professor Jones and has left the Doctor. She has joined Iris in her time-traveling double-decker London bus and the two are off on an adventure. They materialize in Hollywood in 1936 and attend a Hollywood party, where they meet an actress famous for her monster pics. Both Iris and Jo have a past with her, or in Jo’s case, a future – as she and her Doctor meet Vita Monette in the 1970s, and save her from a vampire. Iris had met Vita a few years ago when Iris was an extra in Boadicea. Jo also sees a man in a velvet coat with curly brown hair at the party, a man who seems oddly familiar to her. Iris stops her from meeting the man.

Jo also catches part of a showing of Boadicea, only to spot Iris doing Semaphore in the background. Jo knows how to read Semaphore, the code performed with flags or arms. Iris was warning that Vita stole something dangerous from her – but then the message cuts off before Iris can give exact details. And, of course, Iris being Iris, doesn’t remember the warning – just that it’s important.

Jo and Iris return to Iris’s bus and read up on old film fan magazines. They realize the film that Vita is currently working on was a film that was never made. The film was never finished due to a horrible accident on the set. They also review the five famous monsters that Vita faces in her movies: Lizard Man, the Human Jelly, Leopard Boy, the Living Skeleton, and The Bloody Count (a Vampire). Coincidentally, Vita also has five ex-husbands.

The next day, Jo and Iris sneak their way on to the set, where Jo meets the Human Jelly, who really is a Jelly and not an actor in a suit. His name is Harold and he’s one of Vita’s exes.

Iris and Jo go to the wake/party at Vita’s spooky mansion, and discover her new husband, Claude, has taken some of Iris’s Elixir – an Elixir of Doom, it turns him into the Wolfman. Jo finds the other “monsters” locked-up in the basement and frees them. The Wolfman attacks Vita but doesn’t kill her.

The Doctor (as played by Paul McGann) is also at the party, and he lectures both Vita and Iris.
With the monsters free, and Vita injured but not dead, and Iris once more in possession of the Elixir, Jo and Iris leave in her bus. Jo realizes the mysterious man is the Doctor but doesn’t get to spend any real time with him. Jo also learns from Iris that she may be from Gallifrey, but she’s from the “wrong side of the tracks” and cannot regenerate.

I loved this story! Katy is one of my favorites as a performer for the Companion Chronicles and here she gets to play both of her Big Finish characters – and she does so brilliantly. I wish there had been a bit more of the Eighth Doctor though, causality be darned! Still, I cannot recommend this story enough. It gets my highest recommendation. I truly loved it!

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

Click this link to order The Elixir of Doom on CD or Download.

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

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Doctor Who: The Scorchies Review

  • Title: The Scorchies
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: James Goss
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Third Doctor, UNIT, The Scorchies (Guest)
  • Cast: Katy Manning (Jo), Melvin Hayes (The Scorchies)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/26/2017

The Scorchies want to take over the world. The want to kill the Doctor. And they want to perform some outstanding showtunes. Though not necessarily in that order…

Doctor Who The Scorchies is a Big Finish Companion Chronicles story performed by Katy Manning and Melvin Hayes. The Scorchies are a very nasty bunch of aliens, who just happen to look like cute, adorable, puppets. They come to Earth and take over a children’s TV show, using it to take over the minds of the adults who watch the program. Apparently, it’s the television equivalent of comfort food – something not really good for you, but that adults can’t ignore. Throw in some form of mind control and you have the basic plot.

The story, however, starts with Jo already captured at the television studio – by the Scorchies. The Doctor and UNIT are outside the studio, attempting to lay siege to it so they can defeat the “alien menace” so to speak. The plot, including the background of where the Scorchies come from, and the horrifying meaning of their name (they leave behind nothing but completely scorched planets – utter devastation). But because they look like puppets, and it’s a “children’s television show” this is accompanied by some truly awful songs and fairly terrible singing.

What surprised me about this particular story was that I expected it to be very, very funny. Instead, it’s horrifying. The moral – “don’t watch so much television” feels out of place in a television tie-in universe. Katy Manning, as always, is wonderful though, and the Scorchies (voiced by Melvin Hayes and by Katy herself) are voiced well, and at times, are very chilling. However, overall, since the actual story wasn’t really what I expected, I didn’t enjoy the story like I expected that I would. Still, even though it wasn’t the wild and humorous story I expected, it’s performed well, and it’s also much more like a full audio play, rather than what’s normal for the Companion Chronicles line where someone is telling someone else a story (not that I mind that, the story-telling part is a big part of what I like about the Big Finish Companion Chronicles.) Recommended with reservations – this is not what it says on the tin, rather, it’s a fairly horrifying story.

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

Click here to order The Scorchies on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Magician’s Oath

  • Title: The Magician’s Oath
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Scott Handcock
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Capt. Mike Yates, Third Doctor, the Brigadier, Jo Grant, UNIT
  • Cast: Richard Franklin (Mike), Michael Chance (Diamond Jack (guest))
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/13/2017

The Magician’s Oath is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line, told by Capt. Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), though it’s set fairly early in the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era, probably his second season. The framing sequence has Capt. Yates showing up at UNIT to “make a statement”, this being his story.

During the Summer, in London, a series of strange weather events occur. At first, these strange occurrences are amusing, but when a flash freeze hits half of Hyde Park and kills everyone there, UNIT becomes involved, including Mike, Jo, the Brigadier, and the Doctor. The Doctor also detects some strange energy readings, which he thinks are more worth investigating than the weather.

Mike and Jo, despite being warned off, decide to investigate anyway. A witness comes forward, the only person to survive what happened in Hyde Park, and she gives the cryptic clue of “Diamond Jack”. following the weather reports, Jo and Mike go to Trafalgar Square where a street magician named, Diamond Jack, is performing. Jo is dragged into his act and disappears. When Mike confronts him, weird stuff happens, including Diamond Jack floating in the air.

Capt. Yates finds Diamond Jack’s house. While outside, Mike is warned off confronting Diamond Jack by the Doctor and the Brigadier, but he ignores the warnings to rescue Jo. He locates Jo inside, who can’t believe she’s only been gone a few hours – she thinks it was days. The house itself is strangely empty with no photos or personal touches. Before Jo and Mike can escape, they are confronted by Diamond Jack.

The Brigadier, the Doctor, and UNIT arrive. The Doctor had found Jack’s spaceship. At this point, things get a little weird. The Doctor uses a device he found at the spaceship, a red cylinder, which seems to work in the reverse of the zap device from “Men in Black” – and restores Jack’s memories. But Jack is actually an alien prisoner – and a prisoner in three types, a “human” Jack who’s suffering from short-term memory loss until the Doctor reverses it, the person’s memories, stored in the cylinder, which the Doctor restores, and the physical body – which has only animal instincts. The Doctor, Jo, and UNIT go to the spaceship, where they manage to release the animal creature.

Meanwhile, Jack manages to kidnap Jo, again, and take her to Tower Bridge. Mike and the Doctor race to rescue Jo before the human Jack and his animal counterpart meet. Mike does rescue Jo, but not before Jack attacks her mind again, causing her to be placed in a coma. UNIT manages to take down Jack and the monster.

In the end, Mike confesses it took Jo a week to recover from her coma, and she lost her memory of the incident. Mike also confesses that he truly cared for Jo, even loved her, but she had only feelings of friendship for him.

The first half of this story works pretty well – the flash freeze is an intriguing mystery. But the second half, with the mysterious three-part alien, not to mention some alien civilization deciding Earth would make a great prison planet, works considerably less well. It’s like part 1 and part 2 are almost different stories, and they don’t gel being forced together. Mike’s sudden crush on Jo also seems misplaced, though the ending interview remarks that Mike was supposed to be a love interest for Jo. (Note: Mike was on the show before Jo Grant, as he was introduced with UNIT in Pertwee’s first story, whereas Jo was the Third Doctor’s second companion.) Even the flash freeze seems a little weird as “freezing to death” doesn’t work that way (it’s usually a process that takes a lot of time, and in cases where people have fallen into freezing water, for example, and are pulled out immediately – even if they seem “dead” they recover.) The way the situation in Hyde Park is described by Mike it’s more like the entire park was flooded with liquid nitrogen. I was left wondering, “huh?” Not to mention thinking the author had never actually experienced cold weather or frostbite.

But this is a Companion Chronicles story told from the point of view of an unusual companion, Capt. Mike Yates. As far as I know, it’s the only story told from his point of view in all of the tie-ins for Doctor Who. Yes, there are various UNIT stories, but they are often more team stories than the point of view of a single member of UNIT. Though as I said, I don’t remember even hints of a Mike-Jo romance, this is from Mike’s pov, and from what I remember of his character, he could quite easily have a thing for a woman who has no interest in him.

Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. It’s not horrible, but it’s not one of the best Companion Chronicles either.

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

Click here to order The Magician’s Oath on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – The Many Deaths of Jo Grant

  • Title: The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • 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 into HQ as well as their space ship, but the aliens have fantastic weapons. Jo, the Doctor, the child, and a 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 throw 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 for 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: The Heralds of Destruction

  • Title: The Heralds of Destruction
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Artists: Christopher Jones, Hi-Fi
  • Line: 3rd Doctor
  • Characters: Third Doctor, Jo Grant, UNIT
  • Collection Date: 2017
  • Publisher: Titan Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/06/2017

The Third Doctor story Heralds of Destruction is a fun read that feels like a Third Doctor Era story. Taking place just after “The Three Doctors”, the story features Jo Grant and the full UNIT crew as well as the Master, and a surprise guest villain responsible for the ubiquitous “alien” invasion. The story opens with Jo and Capt. Mike Yates on a date, only to be interrupted by an emergency. The Doctor, similarly, is playing chess when he is called in. The Doctor meets Jo, the Brigadier, Mike, Sgt. Benton, and various UNIT men in the small English village of Fairford to combat robot machines. The Doctor tries to talk to these “aliens” with no luck at first. It soon turns out the machines are composed of micro-machines (nanotech) that can rebuild itself from local materials. The Doctor blocks in the machines with a force field, then takes a sample to his lab to study.

At the lab, the Doctor encounters himself, or rather, the Second Doctor (or does he? Double identities and people pretending to be someone they are not is a strong theme in this graphic novel). As the Brigadier keeps an eye on the situation in Fairford, he encounters the Master and fights off his hypnotism. Meanwhile, at the lab, Jo is attacked by the micromachines, which take over her body. The Doctor hypnotizes her and goes into her subconscious. The lettering for this inner journey is fantastic, though Jo’s subconscious is just as forthright, honest, and happy as Jo herself.

The Doctor is able to have a conversations with the micromachines and not only rescue Jo but keep this part of the hive mind on his side, rather than on the side of the real villain – who is not the Master.

The Master, despite his impersonations of various people throughout the book, actually ends-up working with the Doctor, even pointing out that a certain character isn’t who he says he is (to say more would spoil one of the biggest surprises of the novel, which I won’t do).

The villain is actually out to steal Time Lord technology – something the Master doesn’t want to happen either, thus his partnership with the Doctor. As they, and UNIT, go to capture the villain, the villain succeeds in transporting his lab building back in time.

In 1868, the Doctor, the Master, and the bad guy all try to convince the all-male British Parliament to follow different paths – from accepting the bad guy as dictator, to preserving history.

The Doctor though is able to use his previous alliance with the small group of micromachines that attacked Jo, to influence the other – thus, taking away the villain’s main weapon. The Master fails to gain control of the micromachines, but escapes custody. The villain is captured and jailed. The Doctor returns the lab and UNIT to the proper time. He also discusses with Jo, that in a sense the Master and even the villain were right – he’s been sitting in one place, doing one thing, too long. When Jo intuits that he’s planning to leave in the TARDIS, now that he can, he agrees – and invites her along. We also see clear indications that Capt. Mike Yates isn’t satisfied with his life and longs for a Golden Age that is less complex and cleaner and prettier (for lack of a better term). This sets-up his otherwise inexplicable behavior in, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, something that otherwise does come from nowhere.

I enjoyed this book very much. It really felt like a Third Doctor adventure. Everyone was in character. It featured all the UNIT crew, including Corporal Bell – a female UNIT officer, and Osgood a tech (whom the author points out is a nod to the Osgood in the new series). The art in this book is very good – everyone looks as they should, and the colors are fantastic. I also loved the chapter lettering for the trips to Jo’s subconscious. The relationship between the Doctor and Jo is also very well-written and I really enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Doll of Death

  • Title: The Doll of Death
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Jane Goddard
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/10/2016

The Companion Chronicles is a Big Finish Audio Series that lets the company explore earlier eras of Doctor Who than the full audio plays do, which feature the living Doctors. The Doll of Death is read and performed by Katy Manning (Jo Grant). Although it starts in “modern” times with Jo attending an environmental conference with her activist husband Professor Jones, she’s sick in her hotel room – so she decides to “catch up with her blog”. The rest of the story is Jo telling the story, and because it’s Katy – she uses “funny voices” to play the various characters.

The story does feel very much like a typical Third Doctor Era story. The Doctor has a device, a blue shift detector that sets off an alarm. He and Jo investigate a mysterious break-in at a museum. At the museum – they meet a professor who accuses them of trying to steal his research and project (not to mention a mysterious tablet). There are mysterious blue doll-creatures, and backwards-running attack dogs. The dogs are described as “Labradors” though – not something I would ever think of as “vicious” or even used in a guarding or attack capability.

Anyway, once the Doctor and Jo’s investigation really kicks off – the story proves to be fascinating despite its very typical framing. The Doctor and Jo encounter a research from a parallel Earth that runs backwards to this one, what the Doctor calls “Reverse Causation” – events before their causes. The Doctor and Jo, but especially Jo, investigate and see the results first, then the causes – bit by bit. It’s Jo who finds the creepy “doll hospital” and it’s owner Mrs. Killebrew, who is “possessed” for lack of a better term by the Alternate Earth researcher. Throughout the story, the motivations of the researcher are in question – is she an honest academic who was trapped? Or does she have deeper and darker motivations – especially when it’s revealed that she is there to observe the Doctor?

I liked the way the backwards-story and forwards-story collided. And the story does make a lot of sense – one can follow it easily. My rating for this particular Companion Chronicle would be 3.5 though. I thought the story was just a little bit too typical. It’s always good for a Companion Chronicle to reflect it’s era – but this one just fell a bit flat. It’s also presented as “Jo telling us a story” – rather than it being about the companion giving us their own point-of-view on being a companion for the Doctor. This particular story was very much, just OK, but not great. I’m not totally disappointed – I’ve just heard better (Like “Find and Replace” also a Companion Chronicle or “The Wormery” which technically features Iris Wildthyme played by Katy from the main range.) I wouldn’t discourage anyone from picking it up – the dolls ARE creepy, the backwards story works, etc., but it was very much only, well, 3.5 stars.

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

Click this link to order The Doll of Death on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: Ghost in the Machine

  • Title: Ghost in the Machine
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Jonathan Morris
  • Director: Louise Jameson
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Damian Lynch
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/03/2016

**Spoiler Alert** I listened to this audio-play mostly on Halloween, then finished it on the first. It’s a wonderfully appropriate story for Halloween as it’s very atmospheric and creepy. Ghost in the Machine is part of the Companion Chronicles Doctor Who audios series from Big Finish. The audios always remind me of the Missing Adventures or Past Doctor Adventures books because they feature stories with older, previous Doctors, those whom are no longer with us for the most part. Uniquely for Doctor Who stories – the Companion Chronicles are often from the point of view of the companions, and not third-person.

In this story, Jo Grant leaves the wardrobe room of the TARDIS and enters the control room to find it empty. She examines the TARDIS console and finds they have landed and the atmosphere outside is breathable. So Jo decides to leave the TARDIS to find the Doctor. Jo quickly finds the Doctor comatose and a tape recorder with two words written on it, “use me”. Jo then makes a recording of everything she’s doing. She quickly discovers she’s in an underground base, a base where everyone is dead, and the power is off. She finds the exit but it’s sealed from the outside. She also finds the control room of the base.

In the control room, she finds a skeleton and a series of tape recordings. She plays a recording which contains a warning, a warning that she is in terrible danger and she needs to leave: now. Jo, of course, ignores the warning as she tries to find out more.

Gradually, Jo discovers the research facility was researching sound, audio recordings, and using audio to bring someone back from the dead. And as you as listening to this as an audio recording this makes for a very creepy listen. Suddenly as she’s listening to the audio recordings of Benjamin Chikoto, Jo realizes that what Ben is saying is somewhat different each time. Then she plays back the recording of her own voice and hears herself saying things she didn’t say. Jo gets creeped out. Finally, Jo herself is captured and moved into one of the tape recordings, and her body is taken over by the Voice.

Inside the tape, Jo learns from Benjamin Chikoto what is going on – that the facility was researching sound and audio, that they found the very first audio recording: a wax cylinder of Thomas Edison reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. The recording also had a second noise or voice on the recording. By isolating that voice – they unleashed a monster. And Chikoto’s boss ordered the base sealed, resulting in the death of everyone there.

Also, inside the tape, Jo discovers the shadow following her is the Doctor. Since he had not recorded himself saying anything – the only way he can speak is to borrow someone’s body. He borrows Ben’s body and then Jo’s to explain part of what’s going on – and to formulate a plan.

The Doctor manages to execute his plan flawlessly – he and Jo escape, the Voice is destroyed by her own plots and Ben? Poor Ben is erased – but by his own choice after years of being trapped in a half-life inside a tape recording.

Ghost in the Machine reminds me very much of the British television series, Sapphire and Steel, particularly “Old Photographs”, but that is a compliment, not something negative. The story is creepy, atmospheric, and suits the audio format extremely well. It also feels very much like a two-handed play, with Katy Manning as Jo and Damian Lynch as Ben – though each also plays other parts at times. I highly recommend this story. Give it a listen on Halloween!

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

Click this link to order Ghost in the Machine on CD or Download.

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