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!

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Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 3: The Third Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 3: The Third Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/18/2016

Hannah J. Rothman’s Twitter Who series is a joy to read. I read volume 3 last weekend, but unfortunately this week was so busy this is the first time I’ve had to sit down and review it.

Hannah’s project is to watch all of Classic Who and “live-Tweet” her reactions. The “live-Tweets” are then collected for each story, similar to a log of live-Tweeting session. In volume three, although the stories are presented in order, it’s evident from the dates for each collection of Tweets that the stories were not watched in order. However, that isn’t a negative. This book is even more fun and amusing, well-crafted and insightful than the previous two volumes. I enjoyed it very much.

I also found myself in complete agreement over Hannah’s opinions of Pertwee’s companions – all of whom she liked for different reasons, including one of my personal favorite companions: Jo Grant. I’ve always liked Jo, and for years Doctor Who fandom as a whole has been dismissive of her character – writing her off as a ditz and a screamer. However, Jo is quite capable, and she’s fiercely loyal to the Doctor. Jo grows during her time as a companion – something I always appreciate in any television character, where there’s time for a character to grow. But then, the first story I saw with Jo was “Frontier in Space” and she basically kicks butt in that, resisting the Master’s hypotism, rescuing the Doctor, even caring for an injured Doctor (which carries over to the next story, “Planet of the Daleks” where she leaves the safety of the TARDIS on an alien, hostile planet to find help for the Doctor). Anyway, Jo has inner strength. It was nice to read another Whovian who appreciates Ms. Grant. And the author, Hannah Rothman, also doesn’t fall in the trap of insulting or putting down Pertwee’s other companions. She rightly points out just how liberated and special Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw is – and that it was the production team at fault for not knowing what to do with a character as clever as the Doctor. And then there’s Sarah Jane, whom everyone loves.

The Pertwee Era, for all it’s “UNIT Boys” and James Bond-like emphasis on action, vehicle chases, gadgets, and even fancy dress costumes – had great female companions.

Twitter Who is a fast read, but it is well worth it. I recommend it and look forward to future volumes in the series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Prisoner of Peladon

  • Title: The Prisoner of Peladon
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Director: Nicola Bryant
  • Characters: King Peladon, Third Doctor, Ice Warriors
  • Cast: David Troughton, Nicholas Briggs
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/08/2017

The Prisoner of Peladon is part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line. David Troughton returns as King Peladon telling a bed-time story to his child. The story is of Peladon, during the time of a crisis on New Mars. With Mars being taken over by a brutal dictatorship, thousands of refugees have fled to whatever safe haven they can find. As a new member of the Galactic Federation, King Peladon offers Peladon as that safe haven, despite threats of reprisals from the new dictator of Mars. Peladon separatists also aren’t really happy about the King’s decision and would rather continue their isolation.

The Doctor arrives, and King Peladon is happy to see his old friend. However, soon there is a murder in the court, as a visiting Ice Lord is killed. Another Ice Warrior, of a military bent, both accuses King Peladon of the murder and blames him for a death and series of kidnappings of young Martian girls in the makeshift refugee camps.

Meanwhile, the Doctor mentions seeing a light in a mysterious tower in the King’s citadel. Peladon claims to both know nothing of the tower, and states it is abandoned. Later, the King goes to investigate on his own – and runs in to the Doctor. King Peladon also decides the tour the refugee camps, where he and the Doctor pick-up a few clues.

However, it becomes really obvious what is going on, who is being held in the tower, and even the murderer isn’t that much of a surprise. David Troughton does a fantastic job performing this story, but as a mystery it’s painfully obvious. I give this story a 3.5. Still, it’s recommended as a fun sequel to The Curse of Peladon, and fills in the gap between that story and The Monster of Peladon.

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

Click this link to order The Prisoner of Peladon 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
  • 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 let’s 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 an guarding or attack capability.

Anyway, once the Doctor and Jo’s investigation really kicks off – the story proves to be fascinating despite it’s 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 their 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
  • 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 play 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!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Old Soldiers

  • Title: Old Soldiers
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: James Swallow
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Nicholas Courtney, Toby Longworth
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/04/2014

The Big Finish Companion Chronicles is fast becoming one of my favorite lines published by Big Finish. They are not full audio plays like most Big Finish Productions, but rather narrated stories by the Doctor’s companions, in this case, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, with Toby Longworth performing the part of Konrad Schrader. Having two actors almost turns this into a two-handed play, but much of the story is narrated rather than performed. There are some effects, but not as many as in a full audio play. However, the Companion Chronicles format allows for stories featuring previous Doctors. This is a story of the Third Doctor (played on Doctor Who by Jon Pertwee) and his companion, the Brigadier. It takes place shortly after The Silurians.

The story involves an old friend of the Brigadier’s, who’s now a commander at a UNIT base in Germany. He sends a desperate message for help to the Brigadier. When the Brigadier arrives, he find his friend extremely ill, a commandant in charge who’s a bit of an idiot, and an honest-to-goodness haunted German castle. And the ghosts – are armed.

It’s a good story. The only thing that prevents me from giving this a perfect 5 stars is that I found the very end a bit depressing. It made sense but it was still a tad depressing.

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

Click this link to order Old Soldiers on download or CD.

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