Review: Counter-Measures Series 2

This time last year, I reviewed a new audio drama series by Big Finish, Counter-Measures, a spin-off from 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks.

The second series was released earlier this month. It’s solidly built upon what worked in the first box set: stories that are based upon the paranoias prevalent at the time, be they scientific or political, rather than relying on extraterrestrial agents. The Intelligence Counter-Measures Group are best when dealing with foes who, if not the archetypal “mad scientists”, are amoral at best – people for whom the end may justify the means, even if those means cost the lives of innocents.

Continue reading Review: Counter-Measures Series 2

Doctor Who: The Beginning – spot the difference

The lovely people at Big Finish have just released an updated cover to one of their November Doctor Who releases that celebrates the series’ 50th anniversary.

The Beginning, new cover

The Beginning is part of the company’s ongoing series of Companion Chronicles – semi-staged audiobooks, narrated by one of the series companions and with guest appearances by other actors. In this case, the companion concerned is the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, played once again by Carole Ann Ford, in a story written by Marc Platt and directed by Lisa Bowerman. The new cover contains a subtle difference to the original artwork, to more closely tie in with events as seen in The Name of the Doctor. Here’s a direct comparison, by the power of GIF: The Beginning's alternate covers Personally, I quite like the look of the original pyramid, but I can completely understand why it’s been changed. Now that we “know” what the Doctor’s TARDIS looked like as it was first taken, there’s no point in making it look like anything else…

Coming soon: Counter-Measures series 2

Back in July last year, I reviewed Big Finish’s new Counter-Measures series.

Counter-Measures is another addition to Big Finish’s celebration of great characters and great acting

Details of the writers of  forthcoming second series – again, to be available as a CD box set and download – have now been released. I’m pleased to see Matt Fitton, author of what I felt to be the strongest story of the first series, return – but even happier that Mark Wright and Cavan Scott (my editors for the sole contribution I’ve made to the Big Finish universe) are also contributing a story.

The full roster of stories in the second season is:

  • Manhunt by Matt Fitton
  • The Fifth Citadel by James Goss
  • Peshka by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Sins of the Fathers by John Dorney

Pre-orders (£25 for download, £30 for CD) are now being taken at bigfinish.com.

Pulling Faces (script version)

Pulling Faces


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I’ve just finished reading the script of Helen Goldwyn’s Pulling Faces. This play, about a TV presenter in her mid-fifties facing up to pressure to go under the knife, has previously been recorded as a full-cast audio play in Big Finish’s Drama Showcase range starring Louise Jameson, which I reviewed upon its release.

But the piece had genesis as a one-woman play, performed by Jameson, who also edits this edition – and who recently excelled in Gutted at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. And what a sight that must have been: seeing the words in black and white make you realise how little had to change for the audio version, and yet also how much must have been lost. I’ve never seen Jameson perform this piece on stage, but you can’t help but admire the tenacity. Several scenes feature fast-paced back-and-forth dialogue that is hard to get right with two actors onstage, let alone one playing both sides of the conversation.

At some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll see a new stage production of this play, whose themes will I’m sure remain sadly relevant for far too long. Where that’s a full cast piece, a one-woman performance or maybe even as a hybrid, with a central performance as Joanne assisted by a couple of supporting actors playing the other roles. However it gets back on stage, it’ll be exposure for a cracking short play. Until then, reading it is a great substitute. Even better, at the moment it only costs 99p for the Kindle ebook version…

Ten Things About Who: Nightmare in Silver

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

As we rapidly approach the end of this series, I’ve created an index page for all my Ten Things About… posts. And here are this week’s rambling musings about Neil Gaiman’s episode – which, far from being a nightmare, felt more like a bad dream brought on by a surfeit of cheese.

1. The Mechanical Turk

Did the concept of a ‘magical’ chess-playing automaton sound familiar to you? The Mechanical Turk, a life-size dummy built to impress the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Just like the equivalent on Hedgewick’s World, the Turk was controlled by a human inside, whose presence was hidden away:

…if the back doors of the cabinet were open at the same time one could see through the machine. The other side of the cabinet did not house machinery; instead it contained a red cushion and some removable parts, as well as brass structures. This area was also designed to provide a clear line of vision through the machine.

For a more recent parallel, Big Finish’s 2011 audio drama The Silver Turk by Marc Platt features a similar machine which the Doctor identifies as a Cyberman. Continue reading Ten Things About Who: Nightmare in Silver

Ten Things About Who: The Crimson Horror

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

1. “Only the crumbliest, flakiest humans…”

The naming of Mrs Gillyflower’s match factory as ‘Sweetville’ invites comparison with Bournville, the community created by George and Richard Cadbury to house the workers and families of their chocolate factory when production moved out of Birmingham to a new greenfield site.

As it is, it is more a pastiche of the whole ‘model village’ movement, in which industrialists whose new, heavily industrialised factories constructed whole townships for the required large workforce and their families, on philanthropic lines infused by the owners’ Christian values. Bournville is, of course, one such community, formed by the Quaker Cadbury brothers. Sweetville’s Yorkshire location more closely invites comparison with Saltaire, founded by Sir Titus Salt and now a World Heritage site.

Mind you, I did for one moment wonder whether the fuchsia-coloured liquid that Sweetville’s inhabitants were being doused in was fondant, and that Mr Sweet would turn out to be The Kandyman from 1988’s The Happiness Patrol

2. Special stuff

Maybe it’s just the camp sendup of the gothic, maybe it’s the Yorkshire accents – but this week’s episode felt like it was a (family friendly) sibling to The League of Gentlemen. The mortuary attendant, with his leering tone and wandering tongue, could easily have been a Steve Pemberton creation.

Continue reading Ten Things About Who: The Crimson Horror

Ten Things About Who: The Rings of Akhaten

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

1. Romanticism lives

For the second week in a row, the pre-credits sequence stands almost alone from the main story in presentational style, but which introduces the theme of the story. This week, it’s the value of memory. When Clara’s dad proposes to her mum, the story he tells of the leaf is of the miracle that small actions compounded to produce the one action that brought them together. And that’s mirrored in the pep talk that the Doctor gives to Merry, of how planet systems were born and died, ultimately producing the unique circumstance that created her.

2. It’s what they believe. It’s a nice story.

That story of the Doctor’s is, as he says, one Merry will not have heard, even though she has been imbued with her culture’s entire literary history – because it runs completely counter to their beliefs that all life in the universe started in Akhaten.

You could, if you concentrated very hard, find some sort of allegorical statement about the nobility, or futility, of faith in this story. If the never-ending lullaby has no effect on whether the vampire wakes or not, does it have any purpose? Or does it imbue the community with a sense of bonding that has no regard for the efficacy of their ceremonies?

Or maybe it does have purpose, after all. The ‘parasite god’ is clearly fed by the same psychometry that the rings’ residents treat as currency. As long as there is belief behind their actions, that presumably would provide sustenance for the parasite.

Ultimately, I think the world creation in Neil Cross’s script is so slight and sketchy that you could choose whatever allegory you wanted. For me, I would have preferred a stronger sense of what the writer intended.

3. A wretched hive of scum and villainy?

The initial scenes of myriad aliens draw immediate comparisons with the Mos Eisley Cantina sequence from Star Wars, with huge numbers of aliens wandering about. I’d also suggest that the comparison is based upon how several of the alien species appear to be little more than full-face masks. We’re so used to Neill Gorton’s monster designs being beautifully articulated creations, that when so many different species are introduced at once the budgetary shortcuts involved become visible.

There’s an obvious comparison to be had, I suppose, with Rose’s introduction to alien cultures in The End of the World. That story featured fewer races, but they were coupled with exotic names that added to their alienness. The Adherents of the Repeated Meme, Trees from the Forest of Cheem, Lady Cassandra O’Brien Dot Delta Seventeen – descriptors that purvey a sense of the different that builds upon the visual.

In contrast, I found the alien names that the Doctor reeled off to sound rather pedestrian. Panbabylonians? Please. And at least one, Hooloovoo, was cribbed from (or an homage to, if you prefer) Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where the Hooloovoo were hyper-intelligent shades of the colour blue.

Having an alien called Dor’een was quite fun, though.

4. Translation circuits

And speaking of Dor’een, why is it that the TARDIS’ telepathic translation circuits – or Star Trek’s universal translators – ignore some languages?

5. “I don’t think it likes me”

When you get back to your car after a bit of shopping, but can’t open the door straight away, do you automatically assume it doesn’t like you? Or, like normal people, do you think that it’s simply locked?

Maybe it was intended as a clue that something is not quite right with Clara. But it did come across as a little uncharacteristically self-centred in a character which is anything but.

6. The gravity of the situation

“They wanted you to have this. Everyone you saved.”

Unfortunately, the destruction of the star at the heart of the Akhaten system is more likely to have condemned the rings’ residents to their deaths. Orbits – whether of planets, moons, satellites, asteroids, rings of rock and ice – are dependent upon the gravitational force between the object and the body around which it is orbiting. Take that centre of gravity away, remove the Jack’O Lantern at the heart of the system, and the Rings of Akhaten would surely slowly disperse.

7. Something precious

The Doctor claimed a couple of times that the only thing he carried that was of sentimental value was his sonic screwdriver. And yet, throughout the episode – more often than previously – he was wearing Amy’s reading glasses. They appeared so often that I thought there must be a point to them – but no, instead Clara was called upon to give up her mother’s ring. While that underlined the bond between mother and daughter, the pre-credits sequence – and Clara’s speech when offering up the leaf – did that just as well.

I do like the idea that emotion has notional – even, in the case of the parasite, nutritional – value, though. In my 2006 Doctor Who short story for Big Finish, Tell Me You Love Me, the emotional nutrition was more direct, but it’s a similar concept.

8. The Vigil

Our first glimpse of the masked, whispering trio of figures, cocking their heads to one side in unison, is wonderfully creepy. Unfortunately, it seems that there is little more to them than that initially arresting image.

9. So, this Festival of Offerings

There’s obviously something weird about Akhaten that allows the whole system to have breathable air. I mean, the singing between asteroids could have been something heard psychically, as in practicality the distance between Merry and the Chorister would be too far fro them to practically hear each other. But multiple moped trips between asteroids suggests that there is atmosphere between the two for the Doctor, Clara and Merry to be able to breathe.

Quite how Clara, Merry and the others watch the Doctor’s ‘conversation’ with the parasite in the star, though, is a mystery. He must have his back to them in order to face the sun – but that would mean that high wall behind him would obscure him from view from the other asteroid. I suspect that’s more of a practical consideration, minimising the amount of green screen work required. I would have thought that originally written, the Doctor would have been in much plainer sight, but that would require CGI backdrops in every shot, which would be phenomenally expensive.

Also, at the start of the episode the Doctor tells Clara that the Festival of Offerings takes place “every thousand years or so”. And yet both the rituals around the festival, and the apparent tourist trade, suggest that it’s more frequent than that. A little thing, maybe, but it just adds to the impression that the whole setup of the episode doesn’t seem particularly well thought through.

10. We don’t walk away

No, we don’t walk away. But when we’re holding on to something precious, we run. We run and run as fast as we can and we don’t stop running until we’re out from under the shadow.

The more you think about that, it doesn’t make much sense. And that’s the problem with this whole episode for me, I think. It wants to be about how sentiment and memory have power over us, but of how promise of the future is infinitely more effective. But for all its talk of heart and sentiment, it has precious little itself.

Still, next week: Nuclear submarines! Dive, dive, dive! And an Ice Warrior!

Review: Counter-Measures Series 1

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Way back in October 1988, the BBC gave me the coolest 18th birthday present: a four-part Doctor Who serial from Sylvester McCoy’s era that was really rather good. Remembrance of the Daleks kicked off the TV series’ 25th anniversary celebrations with a story that brought the Doctor back to Earth in November 1963, and the area around Coal Hill School – the setting for the very first episode. It also featured Daleks, Michael Sheard (at the time most famous for playing villainous deputy head Mr Bronson in Grange Hill) as a very different type of teacher – and a group of scientists who were working with the armed forces in the Intelligence Counter-Measures Group.

Now that same group has been revived on audio. Big Finish, who make the Doctor Who audio adventures and a number of spin-off series, have reunited Remembrance’s team of actors Simon Williams, Pamela Salem and Karen Gledhill, thrown in a smattering of new regulars and created four dramas involving strange happenings in 1960s London.

The result? Imagine a radio version of Quatermass, if it had been made by 1960s cult purveyors ITC Entertainment

Continue reading Review: Counter-Measures Series 1

Review: Counter-Measures Series 14Scott Matthewman2012-07-15 22:51:36Big Finish, who make the Doctor Who audio adventures and a number of spin-off series, have reunited Remembrance of the Daleks’s team of actors Simon Williams, Pamela Salem and Karen Gledhill, thrown in a smattering of new regulars and created four dramas involving strange happenings in 1960s London.

Big Finish Drama Showcase: Unintelligent Design

Regular readers of my blog will recall that I’ve been reviewing Big Finish’s Drama Showcase series of audio dramas, released at roughly monthly intervals. The fourth and final release in the current series, after an unforeseen delay, has just been released – and, in my opinion, Unintelligent Design is the best of the lot. Listen to the trailer, which explains absolutely nothing:

Unintelligent Design: Listen to the Trailer (MP3)

A full review follows – but first, links to my earlier reviews of the Drama Showcase series:

  1. Not a Well Woman
  2. Pulling Faces
  3. In Conversation with an Acid Bath Murderer

Continue reading Big Finish Drama Showcase: Unintelligent Design

Big Finish Drama Showcase: In Conversation With an Acid Bath Murderer

For the third in its series of Drama Showcase plays on CD, Big Finish has turned away from the lifestyle dilemmas that characterised its first two releases, Not a Well Woman and Pulling Faces, for a dark tale of murder based on historical events.

In Nigel Fairs’ In Conversation With an Acid Bath Murderer, Fairs himself plays John George Haigh, who was hanged in 1949 for the murder of at least six people. Presented as a monologue in which Haigh directly addresses us, the audience, he relates events that led to his incarceration – from developing his own twisted sense of morality as a byproduct of being raised by parents who were part of the Plymouth Brethren, through a series of convictions for fraud, through developing his method of murder and disposal of the evidence.

Continue reading Big Finish Drama Showcase: In Conversation With an Acid Bath Murderer