All posts for the month February, 2013

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Apocalypse Element

Colin Baker as The Doctor with Maggie Stables as Evelyn
and Lalla Ward as Romana

Also featuring

Michael Wade, Nicholas Briggs, Alistair Lock, Karen Henson
Andrea Newland, Andrew Fettes, Toby Longworth
James Campbell, Neil Corry
and Anthony Keetch

Written by Stephen Cole
Directed by Nicholas Briggs


All things considered, I found the first outing for the Daleks in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range to be a rather lukewarm affair. However, joining them for their second appearance on audio we also have the Time Lords of Gallifrey, Evelyn Smythe, Colin Baker as The Doctor, and a certain Romanadvoratrelundar, played once again by Lalla Ward. With those ingredients, what could possibly go wrong?


“There’s something wrong here, I can feel it.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn arrive on the planet Archetryx, as it plays host to twenty of the most powerful races in the cosmos, all attending a conference designed to discuss imposing limitations to temporal manipulation in light of the still unexplained Etra Prime incident, where the entire planetoid, and all upon it, vanished without trace. The Doctor is shocked to discover that amongst the missing was the newly elected President of the Time Lords, and his former travelling companion, Romana.

Ever since Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005 there has been the shadow of the Last Great Time War hanging over The Doctor. An event so momentous that it altered the very fabric of The Doctor himself. And yet also an event that we, as an audience, would seemingly never be destined to witness for ourselves, instead only being allowed small glimpses into the periphery, and indications into what the fallout of this event caused to The Doctor, to the Time Lords, Gallifrey and the Daleks, and to the universe at large. This, of course, only helped to increase the mystique that surrounds the Time War, and made the audience even keener to experience the events that transpired for themselves in some form. Alas, to date, that has not come to pass. So instead all we can do is to take the fragments that we have been given, and imagine the rest.

But if you are anything like me, just visualising what such a Time War could be like is a bit of a daunting task. Until now. Because The Apocalypse Element paints a very clear picture of what such a conflict could be like, and could, if you chose to do so, even be seen as an opening salvo in what would ultimately become the Last Great Time War. It also happens to be the second lead in to the eventual Dalek Empire spinoff series, after the previous Sylvester McCoy era tale The Genocide Machine. And a marked improvement it is on that one, too.

And don’t let the chosen quote above mislead you either, there is in fact very little wrong here at all. Indeed, what writer Stephen Cole and director Nicholas Briggs have delivered this time out is a very strong contender for my favourite Big Finish Doctor Who audio release so far. Or, at the very least, a story that is on par with what was, prior to this, my clear favourite, The Marian Conspiracy. And just like that story, it all comes down to the quality and complexity of the script, and the ensemble of truly first rate performances. Both areas in which this particular adventure absolutely shines.

Speaking of complexity, the job Stephen Cole does in balancing so many disparate elements, while always maintaining forward momentum, and never losing focus on either plot or character, is a masterful one. That he manages to do so, while also re-introducing old characters in a compelling manner, telling an epic, fast moving tale with a large cast of characters, and setting up plot elements that will clearly be used again in the future, all the while being forever mindful of the medium he is working in, and how best to use it, well, it is simply a master-class on how to successfully script for audio. Truly impressive stuff, and one that future writers for Big Finish have hopefully taken note of.

And while I’m handing out plaudits, I also need to point out just how well the Daleks themselves have been used this time around. Unlike the rather perfunctory The Genocide Machine, here we have the Daleks at their evil best, with the true menace and threat they represent superbly and convincingly realised. They are the scourge of the universe, equal parts deadly fanatical threat, and twisted conniving strategist, and few Doctor Who stories, and even fewer Doctor Who writers, manage to fully sell all of that character and motivation which lies festering behind the robotic voices, and their penchant for catch-phrase induced slaughter. But Cole and company have absolutely nailed the Daleks here, and it makes a world of difference to the overall effectiveness of the story.

Another thing that helps truly sell the Daleks in this story is just how good the Dalek voices are. Once again I felt that the first Dalek outing, The Genocide Machine, had been just a tiny bit off in some regards, as far as the Dalek voice work went. But here Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock are absolutely spot on, and the degree to which this authenticity adds to the menace of the Daleks here is truly palpable.

So what we have, with this first episode, is an absolute cracker of an opening, equal parts mystery and plot development, that pays off exactly when it needs to, and in often surprising and imaginative ways as well. And it only gets better from here, folks.


“Welcome back, Romana.”

Episode 2: On Etra Prime, Romana is forced by the Daleks to work on the construction of a temporal centrifuge, a vital component in their upcoming plans. But could this also present an opportunity for escape after so many years imprisonment?

As we roll into the second episode, we are greeted with the return of Lalla Ward as either Romanadvoratrelundar, Romana, Romana II, The Mistress, or Unit One-One-Seven, depending on your personal point of view. And quite a return it is too. Not only is it a supremely bold move to take the character of Romana as we previously knew her, give her this tortured history, and set her up to go in a surprising new direction into the future, but it also serves to strengthen her, adding additional layers to a character that we previously knew, and giving her an actual purpose within the greater Doctor Who universe, beyond that of simple companion. In short, rather than the usual effort to recapture a companion exactly as they were when we knew them, here they have given us the return of a character who has changed in the years since we, and the Doctor, last saw them. And it works remarkably well. It also affords Lalla Ward some legitimate performance opportunities. One of the best, and most effective, being that of her introductory monologue, where she details her current state of mind and body, after having been so long imprisoned by the Daleks. It is genuinely captivating work, perfectly delivered by Lalla Ward, and gives Romana one Hell of an entrance into the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And, better yet, it is a performance quality that she maintains for the entirety of this story, approaching each opportunity with equal gusto. There’s no first audio anxieties on display here whatsoever.

This adventure also marks the return of Michael Wade’s Lord President and Anthony Keetch’s Celestial Intervention Agency Coordinator Vansell, whose last appearance, in debut Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure The Sirens of Time, had them allowing Gallifrey to be invaded by the Knights of Velyshaa. Here they allow the Daleks to invade Gallifrey, so at least they are setting their invasion standards a little higher this time around. Still, with that kind of managerial track record is it any wonder that everybody on Gallifrey was apparently perfectly willing to wait twenty years for Romana to return and reclaim the top job? Besides which, it’s not like they are anywhere near the worst that Gallifreyan politics has had to offer over the years, so the locals probably thank Rassilon for small mercies, I suppose. Either way, both performers do their jobs here admirably.

Speaking of performances, this is another triumph for Colin Baker, who is once again absolutely superb as The Doctor. He also gets some great lines along the way, both dramatic and pithy. The Mexican Standoff bit, which I won’t spoil here, actually made me laugh out loud. A perfect example of a performance elevating what was a good line, and turning it into something great. A talent for which Colin Baker seems to posses in abundance, based on his work for Big Finish thus far. His Doctor here also fully possesses that fiery quality that I always so enjoy, even if some of the rougher edges are, again, smoothed down just a little too much for my taste. Also notable of mention is just how well the chemistry between Colin Baker’s Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana works here, and you truly do believe instantly in the shared history that exists between these two characters.

The main guest cast is strong right across the board this time out as well, with Anthony Keetch’s afore mentioned Vansell in particular making a great foil for The Doctor, while Andrea Newland and Andrew Fettes (as Raldeth, also previously featured in The Sires on Time) were both, for me, standouts amongst a very fine supporting cast. And then we come to one Evelyn Smythe…

Now I have actually quite enjoyed Maggie Stable’s Evelyn in the two previous outings that she shared with Colin Baker’s Doctor, but here I felt that the character just made for a bit of an ill fit with the story being told. Given the stakes involved and the way that the drama unfolds, she is entirely too flippant for the entirety of the story. Nothing seems to faze her, worry her, or frighten her, in fact she shows basically zero emotion whatsoever, nor any empathy to the gravity of the events unfolding around her, instead she just basically walks about like a bemused tourist, replete with a string of pithy one liners, which soon becomes rather tiresome. It just serves to make the character seem entirely detached from all that is going on around her, and as a result, the story itself, and one can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have actually been better without her in it, and with someone a little more emotional in her place. Maggie Stables performance is fine for what it is, but, for me, it just doesn’t fit very well into the overall tone of the tale being told, and as such is one of the very few weaknesses in what is otherwise a pretty flawless audio adventure. That said, it does allow The Doctor a great dramatic outburst near the end of the story, when even he seems to have had enough of her apparent apathy towards the unfolding of events. Honestly, I couldn’t help but sympathise.

That lone, and relatively minor, complaint aside, this episode takes the story from mystery to outright thriller, and the pacing barely lets up for a moment, despite somehow still allowing the story and characters time enough to breathe, and the story to twist and turn in admirable fashion. And things aren’t slowing down any as we storm into episode three.


“Gallifrey must fall to the Daleks!”

Episode 3: After the disaster on Archetryx, The Doctor and his companions retreat to Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords. However, they may already be too late, as the Dalek invasion has begun…

The third episode shows us that this story is very much one of two halves, however luckily for us both are equally enjoyable and interesting. There is fan service aplenty here, particularly now that we are on Gallifrey, however it all fits neatly within the bounds of the story being told, and thankfully never feels like it is only present as a form of writer posturing, as can so often be the case when the continuity well is delved into. As a result, such instances actually tend to add to the story, rather than work against it, and manage to confidently avoid the risk of alienating the listener under a sea of continuity minutiae.

If I had any nitpicks at this point, it would be that very occasionally the sound mix is a little too cacophonous during the requisite battle scenes, and when that happens the lack of aural focus can detract from the overall effectiveness of the scene in question to a small degree, as it all tends to become a clash of noise. But this only happens a couple of times along the way, and never for very long, so it really is being tremendously nitpicky of me to even mention. And while on the subject, I must also take the opportunity to say that the soundscape itself is actually incredibly impressive and immersive here, and is itself worthy of the highest of commendations. You really can’t undersell the value and importance of achieving a sense of atmosphere for audio, and here they have managed to do exactly that, and then some.

I do, however, have one other audio complaint, and that is in the wisdom of using a high pitched tone as a mind-control plot device early on in the story, as it is just such an unpleasant sound to hear, particularly through earphones. Thankfully it’s usage is limited to only a couple of brief instances in the first episode, but even so, perhaps it was not the wisest of choices purely from a listener comfort point of view.

As we power towards the final episode now, I should also say that this is one of those rare stories where each episode grips so hard that it left me genuinely thirsty to jump right in to the next episode as soon as possible. And for an episodic story format, there are few compliments as great as that. It has also managed to provide some ripping good cliff-hangers along the way, as well. And as I have said before, I do love me a good cliff-hanger.


“The sacred heart of the Time Lords.”

Episode 4: As the true scale of the Dalek plan becomes horrifically clear, The Doctor and his companions are faced with an impossible choice. Surrender Gallifrey to the Daleks, or watch the entire universe burn. Could this finally be victory for the Daleks?

Often I find that the final episode is so focussed on trying to wrap everything up neatly that it forgets that it still has to be entertaining along the way. However, we have no such worries here, as they manage to not just stick the landing, and in highly entertaining and satisfying fashion, but also deliver a neat little twist in the tail to boot. Once again, a glowing example of how it should be done.

So, it seems that with The Apocalypse Element we have yet another high water mark for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. A multi-layered, tremendously engaging, and perfectly paced story that more than lives up to any raised expectations formed by the return of Romana, the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and the Daleks. Every element of this audio release comes together to help deliver what is, for me, undoubtedly one of my absolute favourite releases from this first timer’s journey through Big Finish thus far, and it is this degree of quality Doctor Who audio story that drives me to keep coming back for more, searching for the next Big Finish Doctor Who audio release of similar excellence.

There are a couple of small issues I had along the way, but by any measure, this is classic Doctor Who, and yet another feather in the cap of Colin Baker’s Doctor, who truly has proven now beyond a shadow of a doubt that despite the ups and downs of his television tenure, his Doctor was never the problem. Something that, hopefully, conventional fan wisdom will one day see fit to finally acknowledge.

Now, if only I could finally get an audio adventure somewhere near this good for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. A task which has thus far proven itself to be surprisingly elusive, despite best efforts to the contrary. Will his next outing finally break the drought?


Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in The Fires of Vulcan

Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release The Reign of Terror.

Many years since the animation enhanced DVD release of the Patrick Troughton adventure, The Invasion, the recent release of The Reign of Terror again seeks to bring more Doctor Who lost episodes back from the brink, enabling another once incomplete story to be watched again fully on DVD in a readily accessible visual format. But, perhaps predictably, fandom appears decidedly split on the results, with some fans becoming very vocal in their derision indeed…


A few days ago I had the very rare pleasure of watching a classic Doctor Who story that I had never seen before, namely the William Hartnell adventure The Reign of Terror. Sadly, this is one of the many incomplete stories from Doctor Who’s early years, owing the the BBC’s tape wiping policy of the 1970’s. Happily, it has now had it’s two missing episodes reconstructed via animation, only the second story to have been granted such treatment, the previous one being the 1968 Patrick Troughton story The Invasion, which also had its two missing episodes animated way back in 2006. Better still, this week it was also officially announced that William Hartnell’s final story, The Tenth Planet, will also have it’s lone missing episode animated for release later in the year. And there are rumblings that select other titles may follow. Something that I, and many other fans, hope against hope turns out to be true.

“I don’t like your tone!”

So, if that is the case, what am I here to defend? Surely this is a good thing, right? You would think so, but it appears that fandom, being the temperamental beast that it so often is, isn’t quite so easily pleased. In fact, if you were to listen to certain elements within fandom, somehow this latest effort to animate missing episodes is “an insult to fans everywhere”, a “blatant rip off”, and that old fan-rant standby, the “worst animation ever”, or, to perhaps be more accurate, all-too-often written as “the worse ever”. Read into that what you will.

Now, is the Reign of Terror animation perfect? No, it isn’t. Is it okay to say this? Of course it is. Particularly when presenting your thoughts and opinions in a measured, rational way, free from insults and hyperbole. Like something, don’t like it, debate the various pros and cons, it’s all good. My problem comes from certain elements within fandom and their typical tendency to overreact and wildly exaggerate the slightest negative in anything, as if it is somehow a deliberate slight against them personally. Usually without ever giving due thought or consideration to the reasons behind why certain things are the way that they are. Things always seem to be placed into sweeping blanket statements, and even putting aside the rabid hyperbole, and the sheer arrogance of speaking for other fans as if your view is automatically the common and correct view that represents the majority of ‘right thinking’ fans, the unrealistic expectations these people often have, combined with a tendency to never be happy with anything anyway, much less grateful, fuels an attitude of entitlement which frankly reflects poorly on us all.

“The children of my civilisation would be insulted!”

Honestly, given just how commonplace such attitudes appear to be these days, there is good reason why so many people involved with all aspects of both the show itself, and the DVD releases, tend not to interact with fandom online, or when they do their efforts are usually rather short lived. It is because a lot of fandom are, quite simply, assholes. Keyboard warriors who, safe behind a cloak of internet anonymity, somehow think that acting like a reasonable person is no longer required, and that it is perfectly acceptable to now rant and whine and belittle and treat anyone who dares to have an opinion they don’t agree with as contemptuous scum to be textually bullied and assaulted until they either agree, or simply give up and go away. And they do so in such a loud and obnoxious and frequent a manner that they make it appear that the majority of fans act this way, when in reality it is just a very loud, very OCD minority who flood the net with their childish antics in post after obnoxious post. The result? All of fandom looks bad, and most ‘regular’ people understandably want little to do with any of us. And who could blame them? After all, personally I don’t like being in the presence of people with whom things like common courtesy and mutual respect are alien concepts either. So why should we have an expectation that others, such as those who are involved with the show and the DVD releases, should simply put up with such childish idiocy as if it is perfectly normal and reasonable, when it clearly isn’t? Particularly when they have gone out of their way to engage with fandom in the first place.

Fact is, being an asshole isn’t a badge of honour. It doesn’t make you ‘hardcore’. It doesn’t make you a bigger or better or smarter fan. It doesn’t prove your passion. It doesn’t make your points any more valid, or your opinions any more special. It’s just makes you an asshole. And sadly, there is nothing more common place, more tedious, and more predictable within all of fandom than that. The truth is, actually, that most fans aren’t like that at all. However the highly vocal minority often makes us all seem like we are, and that such behaviour is accepted, even encouraged, which in turn makes us all look bad, and overshadows the best of what fandom has to offer. And just like the malignant cancer that it is, I think it is beyond time that we cut it out. Or at least find a way to better manage the problem. Unfortunately though, if you take a wander around online fandom, it only seems to be spreading and getting progressively worse.

“That is the dematerialising control, and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner. Those are the doors. That is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy. Now please stop bothering me!”

I suppose what I personally find most frustrating by this kind of attitude, beyond the needless bile, is the rampant level of ingratitude that so commonly goes hand in hand with it all. Honestly, there is not another television show on the planet that has been as well served on DVD over such an extended time as Doctor Who has. Let alone one that has sought to create or re-create content to the degree that the classic Doctor Who range has done within the tight budget allocated for each release. And while some may argue that this is all the BBC’s fault to begin with, given that they scrapped the tapes, and so we are ‘owed’ such things, the reality is the world, much less business, doesn’t work that way. Just the fact that they have tried to piece together lost episodes at all is rather remarkable, even putting aside the painstaking restoration work that has been done for the line, or the sheer amount of extra content that has been created.

No other shows get granted this level of care or attention. There’s no grand Doomwatch restoration project, no one is animating the missing episodes to Callan, or colourising the episodes of The Goodies that now only exist in black and white. Even beloved and still popular shows like Dad’s Army or The Avengers aren’t treated near as well as classic Who has been. Till Death Us Do Part, Not only But Also, the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes series, A for Andromeda, The Frost Report, Adam Adamant Lives!, and a great many other notable pieces of British television history were slaughtered by the idiotic tape wiping policies of the 70’s, and yet no one expects the broadcasters responsible to actively do anything about any of it now. Except us Doctor Who fans. And while it is hoped that episodes may be found, it is widely accepted by fans of those other shows that they are lost, and as sad as that is, and as nice as it would be if those episodes showed up again one day, that is pretty much that. So for Doctor Who to be treated so singularly well should make us fans feel very fortunate indeed, particularly by a current incarnation of the BBC that had nothing to do with the original scrappings and could so easily just wipe their hands of it all. And yet no matter what is done, for some in fandom it is never appreciated, and never enough. To me it is a constant wonder that those who do bend over backwards to try and serve the show and it’s fans as much as they possibly can, within the limitations that they have, haven’t just had enough by now, as it appears like nothing they do ever comes along without a huge dose of online backlash and misplaced derision spewed their way. The ferocity of which seems to only grow year by year.

“As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.”

Which brings us back around to the animation of Doctor Who’s lost episodes. In particular The Reign of Terror, and the animated episodes contained within. I am saddened, yet not shocked, to say that there has been a furore amongst certain parts of fandom about these latest attempts at animating missing Doctor Who episodes. Some have been well reasoned, opinion based, and presented in a calm and rational way, both for and against. But many more have been of the stereotypical fan backlash model, replete with forced indignation and rampant levels of over-exaggeration about how terrible everything is. As you might expect, I have a different view.

As I said above, I had never seen The Reign of Terror prior to the DVD release, despite the fact that four out of the six episodes remained, and as with all missing episodes, the audio still exists in full. In other words, the opportunity to experience the story has always been there, supplemented by a Loose Cannon reconstruction or a BBC audio release of the missing two episodes. But I never went down either path, because the thing is, I just don’t tend to watch ‘orphan’ episodes from incomplete stories. It’s just a personal choice, based on a number of factors. One being that pure audio releases, even ones buffered by narration, just don’t work for me. I miss the visual aspect too much. And even the best telesnap reconstructions fare little better, as they are still basically just audio with knobs on. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into making them by the fans that do them, I just personally don’t enjoy trying to watch the show that way very much, even in knowing that it is the only way to experience those missing episodes. I’ve tried doing so on a few occasions, and it just doesn’t work for me.

So, why not watch the still-existing orphan episodes, at least? Because, frankly, it just depresses me too much. Both on the grounds of not being able to actually watch the whole thing, and also in reflection of how much of early Doctor Who has been lost to time. So, for someone like me, animating lost Doctor Who episodes is a godsend, as it allows me to finally watch a complete story in an active visual format, something that no other option allows me to do. It will never be the missing episodes, and will never make up for their loss, but in my opinion, and certainly for me personally, it is the next best thing.

“My writing gets worse and worse. Dear, dear, dear, dear, dear…”

The problem is, animation is expensive and time consuming, and the budgets allocated to the niche Doctor Who classic DVD range are, by financial necessity, rather tight. As such, any animation we get is a bit of a triumph in itself, just for managing to squeeze through those particular constraints. Something that is all too often over-looked by the most vehement detractors. Just as they overlook that the Loose Cannon reconstructions and the audio releases are still out there, if they personally prefer those methods for enjoying missing episodes. Even if animation isn’t their thing, which is fine, or for whatever reason they don’t appreciate the end results, why anyone should be so up in arms about the very inclusion of animation to begin with completely eludes me. Especially when you still get the existing episodes lovingly remastered, and a batch of extra content to boot. Yet too many seem to take the reactionary stance that just because they don’t like something, it therefore shouldn’t exist at all.

Now I loved the animation done by the now sadly defunct Cosgrove Hall for The Invasion a few years back. For some it was too cartoony, others couldn’t seem to see past minor alterations and errors that had been made along the way (such as Zoe’s outfit), but for me I loved every minute of it. Imperfect as it may well be, it allowed me to watch two missing episodes. Not just hear them or imagine them, but actually watch them in an active visual format, and thus helped to complete another Patrick Troughton story, of which precious few exist in their entirety, for DVD release. And a pretty damn good one, at that. All of that readily trumped any minor quibbles or stylistic qualms I may have personally had along the way. And generally speaking, it seemed to be pretty well greeted by fandom at the time as well. Unfortunately, for various reasons, not the least of which being financial, it turned out to be a one off, and we would see no further incomplete stories with animation enhanced missing episodes for the next six years or so. Until The Reign of Terror came along. And that release would prove to be very different, both in terms of animation style, as well as overall fan reception.

The animation used for The Reign of Terror has it’s share of faults. Movement can sometimes be a little stiff, the likenesses of some of the actors in question are somewhat variable in accuracy, and it has a certain stylised look that certainly won’t appeal to all tastes. But the most glaring issue, and one that has undoubtedly caused the biggest online ruckus, is the editing. Now if you were to go by what some parties would have you believe, the fast-cut editing is an absolute disaster that utterly ruins everything. To me, the reality is it is nowhere near that bad. In fact, to me, the editing was only really an issue in the first of the two animated episodes, and even there, was only really noticeable, and admittedly a little distracting, during in a couple of short scenes. Now if a couple of scenes containing some overly rapid editing/shot changes is enough to completely spoil your enjoyment, then so be it. However, to me, it was merely a rather perplexing speed-bump along the way, and frankly not much more than that.

“I’m not a half-wit!”

That isn’t to say that it isn’t an issue worthy of debate, but it certainly isn’t worthy of bile spewing over-reaction, which is my main point here. Add to which, if you look at the animation effort as a whole, you can literally see the improvement as the two animated episodes progress, to a point where the second animated episode seems, to me, completely free of any distracting fast-cut editing issues whatsoever. I also think there are several other things to consider here, before raking the animators at Theta-Sigma over the coals.

First off, let us never forget that each Doctor Who DVD release is done to a very tight budget. So much so that usually the only way projects such as animation can be brought to fruition at all is with outside assistance, and assistance that is provided more out of love for Doctor Who than desire for strong financial profit, to boot. The budget allocated for each DVD release also has to be shared across other areas as well, including the standard restoration and production costs, and the creation and/or licensing of additional content for inclusion on each DVD release. On top of that, in the case of the animation for The Reign of Terror, they had to not only create the actual software to be used for the animation process, but also had to design the animation process itself from the ground up. This not only added considerable time and effort, and one would imagine budgetary strain, on the front end of the project, but they lost several months worth of work when their initial efforts didn’t pan out, and they basically had to scrap much of that work and start over.

Which leads me to my next point. To me the couple of scenes of overly fast editing very much appear to be a desperate effort to cover a couple of scenes as cheaply as possible, animation wise. It just strikes me as a compromise that they had to make during the latter stages of the project, when they were forced to re-do much of that first episode’s worth of work, rather than a result they deliberately set out to achieve and were 100% satisfied with. And that it only happened to the extent that it did in a couple of scenes perhaps bares this out. As such, I personally think it is highly likely to merely be an aberration, and not something to be overly concerned about into the future, should there prove to be one. Besides which, if I can overlook the occasional wobbly set, dodgy special effect, flubbed line, or poor make up appliance, I can certainly live with the odd imperfection in an animated reconstruction. Especially when it means completing another story for DVD.

And on the subject of future animations done in this same basic style, now that they have the software done, the difficult birthing pains out of the way, and the experience gained from this release under their belt, I truly do think that future animations will only go from strength to strength, as long as the budget continues to prove sufficient for the work required to make them. And I truly hope that it does, because even with the problems, there was still far more good than bad here. Far more. And for a first release, with all the challenges they faced, I think they have every right to be proud of the end result, even as they strive to better it in future efforts. If I had one piece of advice, it would only be that they shouldn’t be so afraid of holding a shot, or of things appearing still for any length of time, if a scene calls for it, as I think the fear of that static shot has perhaps led them to err a little too far in the other direction at times. But all in all, more please.

“My dear child, haven’t you realised what I’ve done? A few simple tools, a superior brain…”

Ultimately, The Reign of Terror still achieves what is, for me at least, the most important thing. And that is, it allows me to easily, visually, follow the story being told. And succeeding in that completely trumps any other minor issues I may have along the way. And that is also why I think it should be better appreciated and better received than it has been in some quarters of fandom. Not because it is perfect, and not because it should be free from criticism, but because regardless of any complaints it still manages to visually complete a story, and maintain the momentum of the story that is being told. And surely that is the most important thing of all. Even with the issues and nitpicks that I have with the Reign of Terror animation, I would happily accept more of the same if it meant completing more incomplete stories. And despite a very vocal subset of fandom screaming otherwise, I suspect that I am not in the minority on that particular count either. But perhaps we should all stand up to help make that clear to the powers-that-be, lest the opportunity for future Doctor Who animated missing episodes slips through the cracks and out of reach.

Also, in wrapping up, can I just say that despite not having the greatest of reputations, I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Reign of Terror. And yes, that very much includes the animated episodes. In fact, that enjoyment was also in large part because of said animated episodes. Their inclusion here resulted, for me, in a complete and satisfying viewing experience, and at the end of the day, that’s all I ever really want from a Doctor Who DVD release. As such, I now greatly look forward to the animation enhanced The Tenth Planet later this year, and cling to the sincere hope that it won’t turn out to be the last animated Doctor Who release we classic Who fans are fortunate enough to receive.

That’s right, The Ice Warriors, I’m looking at you.


UPDATE  – Several days after the posting of this article it was officially confirmed by BBC Worldwide that the incomplete Patrick Troughton story The Ice Warriors would, in fact, have it’s missing two episodes completed via animation for it’s upcoming DVD release. And there was much rejoicing. By me, at least.

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release Winter for the Adept

Peter Davison as The Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa

Also featuring

Liz Sutherland, Hannah Dickinson, India Fisher, Chris Webber
Sally Faulkner, Nicky Goldie, Andy Coleman
and Peter Jurasik

Written by Andrew Cartmel
Directed by Gary Russell


According to conventional fan wisdom, when Andrew Cartmel came on board Doctor Who during the Sylvester McCoy era, that’s when Doctor Who started getting good again. Can he produce similar results in his first outing for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range?


“Command your souls to the Lord, Satan is at hand.”

Episode 1: Nyssa finds herself having been accidentally teleported out of the TARDIS by The Doctor, arriving in the Swiss Alps in 1963, during a rather fierce winter storm. While at a nearby all girls finishing school, ghostly happenings are afoot.

Okay, first up, Andrew Cartmel doing a Peter Davison story as his first Big Finish Doctor Who audio seems like a bit of an odd pairing, giving Cartmel’s rich history with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. Stranger still, the first episode barely features The Doctor at all, but is instead primarily focussed on Nyssa. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, however the way it has been presented here means that it is ultimately far from a successful start to the story. This is in large part due to the fact that Nyssa seems decidedly out of character right from the get go, and unfortunately things don’t improve on those grounds as the story goes on. In fact, they only get worse.

And it isn’t due to Sarah Sutton’s performance, either. She does the absolute best with what she has to work with here. No, the real problem is that here we have a Nyssa who basically acts like Tegan for the extent of this story, constantly complaining and whining and not wanting to be there. And that really doesn’t ring true for Nyssa’s character at all. I mean Nyssa didn’t even complain this much when she had the plague, and The Doctor all but abandoned her to die.

Which brings up a point, who the Hell would want to travel with Peter Davison’s Doctor? If you don’t end up smashed into a billion pieces, or victim of space plague, then you wind up being traumatised for life, shot by him, or you get to watch him die, only to come back as Colin Baker and try to choke you to death! In fact it seems that the only way you can enjoy your travels with the Fifth Doctor, and end them on a happy note, is if you spend much of your initial time trying to kill him. Good chap, Turlough, for that you get the only happy ending! And people call Peter Davison’s Doctor ‘the nice one’

Anyway, back on topic. I can’t help but wonder if this part was, in fact, written for Tegan all along, and Nyssa became a last minute substitute, because it really does seem like a bunch of very Tegan type dialogue that Nyssa is sprouting throughout the story. And for Tegan it would have been fine, but for Nyssa it just seems decidedly uncharacteristic. Other than that, there only seems to be two other possible explanations.  Either Andrew Cartmel really is rather clueless in regards to Nyssa’s character, or else the Nyssa that we have seen, and heard, in previous adventures all took place during the other twenty-odd days of the month. Regardless, it really is a testament to Sarah Sutton herself that she still makes it work as well as is possible, given all that she has been unfairly lumbered with here.

Speaking of bad ideas, can I just say how much I truly hated the ‘dear diary’ segments that book-ended this tale. Not only were they utterly hackneyed in execution, but the opening one droned on for so long that if it had been an actual book, I would have set fire to it, and then beat the author around the head with the blackened remains. The closing one isn’t anywhere near as bad, partly because it is a lot shorter, and now has the benefit of context, and partly because it is the closing one and you know that very soon now it is all going to end.

Oh, and while I am in full on bitch mode, the cliff-hangers in this story are so inept that they almost defy description. What makes it even worse is that in most cases, either a minute or two earlier or later, there was a far more fitting moment that could have been used instead, to much better effect. Which perfectly illustrates this story’s biggest problem, most of it just hasn’t been assembled very well, or with enough care, and the end result is that everything in this story just feels rather slipshod. Combine that with a host of rather dull characters who all feel paper thin, a mystery that is neither mysterious nor very interesting, and some truly clunky, at times even downright awful, dialogue, much of it overly explanatory, and this is hardly Andrew Cartmel’s finest hour.


“Where’s your spirit of adventure?”

Episode 2: Having tracked down Nyssa, The Doctor is keen to investigate the seemingly supernatural occurrences within the school. But it appears that not everyone trusts their new visitor’s intentions…

The story does get marginally more interesting as we roll into the second episode, and it is greatly boosted by the efforts of Peter Davison, as he tries to desperately inject some life into the proceedings, and mostly succeeds at doing so. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the other characters are all rather dull and uninteresting, and the story itself is exceedingly padded. This isn’t aided any by the fact that these next two episodes also soon start to feel decidedly repetitious, as if the story is just treading water until it can finally unveil it’s twists and wrap everything up.

The single biggest problem though is that much of the dialogue forced on the participants here is so clunky that one can’t help but wonder how somebody who acted as a script editor could ever conceive of it in the first place, much less leave it in a finished script. Some of it truly is cringeworthy, especially when the dialogue starts describing, point by laboured point, exactly what is happening, as if the listener must have an I.Q. that is clearly below room temperature. Call me crazy, but I find that treating your audience as if they are idiots rarely tends to endear you to them.

Now to be perfectly fair, this probably wasn’t the original intent at all, and is more likely to have been born out of a general lack of experience when working within the confines of the pure audio medium. This is, after all, Andrew Cartmel’s first effort for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. However, the end result is ultimately the same, and you can’t judge a story based purely upon what was intended, only on what was actually delivered. And what was delivered here is a decidedly flawed piece of work.


“What an interesting hypothesis, please tell us more.”

Episode 3: With their escape having been violently cut off, tensions raise within the school to breaking point. Meanwhile, The Doctor starts putting the pieces of this paranormal puzzle together.

Into the third episode, and even I’m getting tired of my complaints by now. And yet, here is another one. The alien menace that The Doctor keeps talking about are called The Spillagers. Apparently they are just like pillagers, only they spill across dimensions. Yes, seriously. Whether or not they are locked in an eternal struggle with the Sponges of Baking-Sodera Three sadly isn’t revealed to us.

It doesn’t help their reputation any that when the Spillagers are revealed in the final episode, they turn out to be about as threatening as a retarded puppy. Meanwhile their grand plan may well be the most inept invasion strategy of all time, opening their battle fleet up for the most hilariously easy defeat possible. When The Doctor doesn’t even bother to show up personally in order to defeat you, then perhaps it is time to reconsider your chosen career path as a ‘terrifying alien peril’.

As for The Doctor running around an all girls school, apparently looking for signs of ‘spillage’, well, perhaps the less said about that, the better.


“Nothing is ever entirely safe.”

Episode 4: The identity of the ‘ghost’ haunting the school is revealed, but things are not quite what they appear. Could there be an even greater danger that is yet to reveal itself?

As we lurch into the final episode, I suppose I should point out that despite all of my complains, this isn’t a story completely without redeeming factors. Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton really do both work very hard here to inject this with as much life as they possibly can. Davison, thanks to not being lumbered with the same issues that Sutton’s Nyssa has been, succeeds particularly well, and is never less than enjoyable to listen to. As for the other performances, they are, at best, a bit of a mixed bag really.

First up I want to say that Peter Jurasik, at his best, is a great actor. Anyone who was a fan of Babylon 5 can attest to that fact. Which makes his flat, monotone performance here all the more disappointing. Part of that can, perhaps, be blamed on the fact that he’s playing an incredibly dull and underwritten character. But even so, he doesn’t manage to do anything at all to inject that character with much life, and he doesn’t appear to be doing much other than just reading the lines out loud, and that’s all on him.

As headmistress Miss Tremayne, it appears that Sally Faulkner grabbed her Scottish accent out of the same Big Box of Blatant Stereotypes that Andrew Cartmel found her character in to begin with, which I suppose is rather fitting, really. How much you enjoy, or are in fact are irritated by, her performance here will probably depend on your personal tolerance level for the Pantomime Religious Zealot archetype when played to high camp. Personally I found myself largely indifferent.

Apparently India Fisher, who plays the ridiculously named Peril Bellamy, is another future companion-to-be. Though, thankfully, not as the occasionally irritating character she plays here. Her performance ranges between passable to somewhat grating, but once again much of that is down to how the character has been written, and some of the atrocious dialogue she is forced to sprout. To be honest, based on the evidence here I’m still not sure how I feel about this actress being a new companion. Especially when her co-star, Liz Sutherland, managed to clearly be so much better, despite the dodgy script. In fact Liz Sutherland gives easily the best performance of the guest cast, and represents one of the few truly bright spots in this audio release. But as Maggie Stables previously proved, never judge a future companion by their initial guest appearance, so I’ll endeavour to keep an open mind as far as Fisher’s future potential goes.

As to the rest of the cast, both Hannah Dickinson and Christopher Webber do perfectly fine with what little they have to work with, while Nicky Goldie and Andy Coleman as the tacked on aliens during the final act are rather poor. But then they are also a terrible idea, presented horribly as part of an illogical and hackneyed final twist, replete with some truly awful dialogue during their one and only scene. As such, one can hardly lay too much of the blame at their feet.

No, the problems with this story all come from the script. The best you could say about it is that there are some interesting ideas buried within it, but none of it ever seems to mesh properly. It’s unfocussed, illogical, forcibly contrived, frequently guilty of spewing out truly awful dialogue, and full of characters who just aren’t very interesting. Yet, somehow, despite all of that Winter for the Adept isn’t so much awful as it is just awfully disappointing. Particularly given the pedigree of talent gathered here, all of whom are capable, and deserving, of far better. But ultimately, this only serves to make a story that is basically little more than a disposable mediocrity feel far worse than it actually is. And despite all of it’s many problems, it is never less than listenable, and is thankfully nowhere near as mind-numbingly boring as Peter Davison’s previous Big Finish Doctor Who adventure, Red Dawn, was.

But that is very faint praise indeed. And one can’t help but wonder if even that may be more praise than it actually deserves. Hopefully, then, there are better things to come for Peter Davison’s Doctor in the not too distant future.


Next up: Colin Baker returns in The Apocalypse Element


William Hartnell from the first ever Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child

Would you get into a big blue box with this man? Well? Hmm?

William Hartnell seems to get a bit of a bad rap these days. Both from fandom in general, and also from some of the people who worked, often briefly, with him nigh on fifty years ago, and who too often now seem incapable of talking about him without bearing their often rather petty sounding grudges just so they can stick the knife in a bit, with scant regard to context, and apparently feeling safe in the fact that few remain that could counter or refute anything they happen to say. Which, indeed, has seemingly lead to certain of those attacks and attackers becoming ever more vitriolic over time, their gradually embellished stories seemingly having long since eclipsed the cold, hard, and far less salacious facts, in favour of more colourful tellings. After all, calling someone ‘a nightmare to work with’  is far more attention grabbing than saying that they could be grumpy on occasion, particularly when things weren’t going well.

Yes, he could be impatient and grumpy at times, but then again no more so than Tom Baker ever was, yet Baker doesn’t get nearly as frequently or vehemently pilloried. And unlike William Hartnell, Tom Baker didn’t even have the excuse of old age or debilitating illness to fall back on, nor was he trapped in the same kind of unrelenting work schedule. Perhaps Bakers own sins of temperament are balanced somewhat just by the fact that Tom Baker is still very much with us, and long may he be, while William Hartnell has been gone for such a long time now. But whatever the case may be, while William Hartnell’s own story is one of both triumph and tragedy at that point in his life, Hartnell infused his Doctor with incredible range. He never phoned it in, never gave any less than his all, never took the show anything less than completely seriously, truly loved the role, and laid the groundwork for everything that was to come. Every Doctor who followed took something from Hartnell, knowingly or not. He was a fantastic Doctor, and one who certainly deserves to be looked back upon with fonder eyes than seems to be the current trend.

Hartnell flubbed his lines, they’ll say, conveniently overlooking the fact that so did everyone else, on occasion. In fact the wonderful Jacqueline Hill seemed to flub just as often as Hartnell, but at least he managed to integrate his mistakes into his performance, so they seemed natural to the character, rather than coming across as the distraction of an actor screwing up. So much so, in fact, that many of the instances that people count as flubs were actually scripted moments, based on Hartnell’s interpretation and performance. But of course little credit is given to Hartnell for any of that, nor for the fact that he loved the role and the show, nor the fact that everything we know of The Doctor was build steadily upon the foundations that he laid down. People also tend to forget that as other cast members left and were replaced, and then were replaced again, it was Hartnell that anchored the show, kept it going, and kept people coming back and tuning in each week. And he did this, despite his already advanced age, and diminishing health, for three years solid, at a pace and output that modern actors would run a mile from.

“We’re always in trouble. Isn’t this extraordinary? It follows us everywhere!”

Now that is not to say that I believe that William Hartnell was in any way perfect. As I’ve said, he was allegedly a bit grumpy sometimes, and could be rather standoffish, especially around those he didn’t know particularly well. I’m sure that there is more than a slight ring of truth about all of that. Just as it is fairly well established that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and if he felt someone was acting unprofessionally, wasn’t taking the job seriously enough, or wasn’t putting forth the effort everyone else was then he would damn well make it known that such behaviour wasn’t good enough. But for me, that just speaks of someone who cares about the quality of the show that is being made, more than somebody who is wilfully obstinate. Clearly he lacked that subtle touch, but nevertheless his intent seemed pure. Nothing I have ever read or heard leads me to believe that he was a bully to anyone, he just cared about the show, and worked damn hard on it, and wanted everyone else to do likewise. Reasonable expectation or not, it is certainly an understandable one.

I also think that context is important when talking about such things. Particularly when the man was never around to defend himself from such allegations, or present his side of the story once such stories started coming to light. Add to which, at the end of the day I just happen to be someone who believes, much like William Hartnell seemed to, that the work itself is the most important thing. Because that is what endures. And often work born out of adversity endures most keenly of all. So the odd rough working day is a fair trade for something that turned out pretty special, and remains so to this very day. At least from my point of view anyway.

“What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?”

Thankfully, there have been a few over the years who have defended William Hartnell’s work and reputation, even when it wasn’t popular to do so. Verity Lambert, William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, and Peter Purves have all come across as far more measured in their recollections, free of bitterness or any personal axes to grind. Over the years they have all conceded to William Hartnell’s occasional faults, while often pointing out that they were never that big of a deal at the time from their point of view, and had been largely blown out of proportion over the years by others, and being very glowing in their appraisals of Hartnell as lead actor. Also pointing out that if William Hartnell liked and respected you, then he could be very kind and generous indeed, and for instance, he got along famously with many of Doctor Who’s most respected early directors, such as Douglas Camfield and Paddy Russell. People whose professionalism, talent, and work ethic he keenly respected. Of course it is also true that all of them, other than Purves, worked with William Hartnell during the earliest stages of the show, and that they gradually all left over time, so you could argue that Hartnell’s decline off screen may have been more pronounced towards the latter stages. Which, if true, again brings us to just how important a little thing called context is.

After all, William Hartnell was an actor in the twilight of his career, finally given his big break, and regularly enduring a filming schedule the likes of which would likely make modern actors cry at the very prospect. A baker’s dozen worth of episodes a year? Try fourty-odd episodes a season, filmed over a production year of around fourty eight weeks, with barely a month off in between seasons. For three straight years. And having to do so in long blocks with precious few, or usually no, retakes, to boot. The concentration required for any actor to keep up with that kind of a workload in the pressure cooker environment of early serialised television, much less one who is in his latter years with an at the time still undiagnosed medical condition, frankly boggles the mind. And let us not forget, this was hardly a traditional show with traditional characters and traditional dialogue, either. And he did this as the only real constant on the show, while he saw cast that he had grown close to come and go, and even much of the original production team leave and be replaced, often by people who did not seem to have any real appreciation of Hartnell’s own contribution to the program.

For an actor undertaking what I’m sure he must have known was his last big chance, the stress and frustrations that might sometimes result from all of that are hardly surprising. Even more so when you count in personal bereavement, and his own declining health as the series went on, and towards the end a new producing team in John Wiles and Innes Lloyd who didn’t like Hartnell, believed that his salary was too high, and played up the extent of his declining health as a method to help push him from the show and role that all concede he clearly and obviously loved being a part of. The fact that he returned to the rigours of regular theatre work in the years immediately following leaving Doctor Who tends to underline that his health, while in decline, wasn’t at the time anywhere near as bad as it was often made out to be either. So he tended to be grumpy and difficult on occasion, particularly towards the end? You don’t say? With all of that, who wouldn’t be? Yet few seem to take any of that into account when putting the verbal boot in.

“But you can’t rewrite history. Not one line!”

And yet, William Hartnell always delivered the goods where it truly counted. Up on the screen. Delivering a character so memorable, so mesmerising, so unique and intriguing, that a version of him is still on screens to this very day. And as much as people can point to the Dalek craze, the simple truth remains that William Hartnell was the one constant of the first three years or so. As various monsters passed by, and companions came and went, he was our anchor. And without what he did in the role, no one would have much cared about even trying to continue the show beyond William Hartnell’s original era. William Hartnell wasn’t merely a version of The Doctor. He was The Doctor. Is The Doctor. And every incarnation since has merely been a version of him. A different aspect of his character, sharing his history, and adding their own unique flavour to what it was that he originated. And they all owe him a debt, as do all the audiences since.

Sadly, it has become popular over the years to try and diminish the extent of William Hartnell’s contributions, and the quality of his performances. In part due to the sometimes overly snide stories of production personnel who need a good story or two to tell to help justify their convention circuit spot, and perhaps in part due to how few people were able to easily assess what he did in the role for themselves, with even the existing Hartnell era stories being very rare on the TV rerun roundabout over the years. In fact, until recent years and the advent of VHS, and later, DVD releases of his Doctor Who adventures, a great many Doctor Who fans may have never seen anything much of Hartnell’s Doctor at all, other than perhaps his brief contributions to Pertwee era story The Three Doctors, or the clip placed on to the front of The Five Doctors. But now that people can see what remains of William Hartnell’s era for themselves, hopefully the ease of being able to do so will result in the desire to watch and more fairly assess all that William Hartnell brought to the role, and just how monumentally good he truly was in it.

And for my money, William Hartnell’s Doctor still has the strongest, most convincing character development arc of all of the various Doctors, right to this very day. He convincingly began his on screen life as a character who could be cowardly, selfish, arrogant, troublesome, and confrontational, very much the otherworldly alien in the big blue box. His Doctor, particularly to begin with, was a far way away from the heroic figure people are so used to seeing, and now associate as a character trait of The Doctor. Hartnell’s Doctor was far more complex, far more antagonistic, far more arrogant than what many would expect, or perhaps even accept, from a Doctor these days. Even if he did tend to naturally and believably soften over time. Just ask Colin Baker, the last Doctor who tried such an approach, and dared to take a path not quite so cut and dried heroic, albeit with scripts of a sadly lesser quality usually. Hartnell’s Doctor was an enigmatic and mysterious figure who didn’t particularly like people, much less these interlopers he found himself stuck with, who didn’t hesitate to lie if it suited his purposes, and who you were never quite sure could even be trusted to begin with.

Yet, over time, and through his encounters and companions, he evolved naturally and believably into a warmer, more compassionate, and more heroic character, while never losing that wonderfully abrasive edge that he had always had. There was a depth to William Hartnell’s performance that is all too rare to see, even to this very day. And his Doctor was able to fit seamlessly into any type of story, without ever feeling forced or in any way out of place. And for me, he was, and still is, an absolute joy to watch.

“Our lives are important, at least to us. And as we see, so we learn. Our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it.”

So, as we look back at those early William Hartnell Doctor Who seasons, sure there are clunkers, as there have been with every era, but so much of it still stands up in proud testament to the creativity and talent invested in it at the time. People like to comfortably assume that today’s stuff is automatically better than yesterday’s stuff, but when we look back, we find that often isn’t the case at all. And while every show is ultimately of it’s time, classic Who, like a handful of other television milestones, hasn’t just stood the test of time, but it has passed it with flying colours.

William Hartnell was the original, as another version of him might say. His Doctor was cranky, and caring. Inquisitive, and selfish. Heroic, and apprehensive. Judgemental, and understanding. Arrogant, and open minded. Warm, and distancing. Strict, and good humoured. Muddled, and brilliant.  He had wisdom, and hubris. And he grew, and learnt, and changed over time. And he is still missed, and will always be appreciated. By me. And by all those who love his Doctor, or are destined to do so when they discover him some time in the future for themselves. Whatever can be said about the man, the greatest testament to him is perhaps in the character that he created, and how that character still lives, and breathes, and thrives to this very day. And that is because William Hartnell breathed true life into The Doctor, and ultimately, gave us a character that we could truly believe in. A character that we still believe in.

With a gift like that, honestly, in this 50th anniversary year, who cares if he could be a bit cranky on the set on occasion, way back when? Instead look at what we still have, thanks to William Hartnell, and his many talented companions during his journey, both in front of, and behind the camera. And smile. Because what they left us, both in terms of content and legacy, is something truly extraordinary.


Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Spectre of Lanyon Moor.

Colin Baker as The Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn
Nicholas Courtney as
Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Also featuring

Toby Longworth, Susan Jameson, Barnaby Edwards
Helen Goldwyn, Nicholas Pegg
and James Bolam

Written and Directed by Nicholas Pegg


Immortal fan favourite Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart finally joins the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And opposite Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, no less. And it’s not even on a Coronation Street backlot this time. So, is it everything this fan could have hoped for? Please join me as I find out…


“You know what they say about old soldiers, Doctor.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn arrive in Cornwall, where an archaeological dig into the mysterious fogou is underway. A place steeped in local myth and legend. And much to the Doctors very pleasant surprise, he soon encounters a very familiar face…

Before we begin this latest review, I have a brief confession. I am a huge, huge fan of Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier. How huge a fan? I once tried to grow a moustache just like the Brig’s. I was eight at the time, which probably accounts for why it took about ten years to properly grow in, and still looked like rubbish even when it finally did. And things haven’t actually gotten any better for me in the years since, either. In fact it has become evident that the only moustache that I am capable of growing is one that looks like a refugee from 70’s era porn. And not necessarily a face refugee either, if you catch my drift. No, short of buying one on Ebay, I have slowly come to accept that I will never have a proper Brig-stache. And it makes me sad. In more ways than one. However, luckily, the Brig is here and he’s…wait a minute. I just saw the cover. The Brig is ‘stache-less! I’m…I’m going to need a moment.

This does not bode well. After all, The Brig has only gone ‘stache-less on two prior occasions. Once in Mawdryn Undead, where he was luckily counter-balanced by a second, moustachioed Brigadier, giving us a proper yin-yang Brigadier balance on the whole. And the other time, more disturbingly, as evil alternate universe Brig, complete with eye-patch and facial scar, in Inferno. There, again, we at least got a bookended moustachioed Brigadier as well, to ensure that balance was maintained, and all was right with the world. But here it’s a no-moustache Brig all the way. And only no-moustache Brig. Is this a bad omen?

At first my crazy moustache-based conspiracy theory looked like it may actually hold some hairy shade of truth. The prologue with a pair of aliens was a serviceable enough set up, plot wise, but the alien voices themselves are rather over the top, especially the lead alien who sounds like Sylvester McCoy on helium. The alien voice work here isn’t merely a bit cheesy, it practically the vocal equivalent of an entire cheese platter, with extra cheese nibbles for afters. So not the best start. And then the ever-dependable Colin Baker shows up and…he sounds a bit odd, and at times rather un-Colin Baker like. This is quickly explained away as The Doctor having a cold, which coincidentally also neatly explains the seeming actor vocal lapses, but it does take a little getting used to. Especially in an audio format where, as I have said before, the voices are really our only anchor to the actors playing these characters. Thankfully, despite being a little under the weather, Colin Baker’s performance is still as good as ever, so it’s more a noticeable oddity rather than being in any way a real hindrance to the story or its overall enjoyment.

And enjoyable it very much is, despite the pantomime aliens, as it soon becomes clear that this is another Big Finish Doctor Who audio production that is just layered in quality. Nicholas Pegg has done a pretty sterling job at setting up an intriguing storyline here. And while some of the characters may be of the stock standard variety, they have all been cast quite nicely indeed, with performances that help to raise them above any such trappings. And the meeting between the Sixth Doctor and the Brig is really quite wonderful, though continuity fanatics will find a little something there to feed their fanboy outrage meter with. Namely the Brig mentions his wife to the Sixth Doctor, which the Seventh Doctor seemed to not know about when they met in the TV story Battlefield. Personally, I don’t much care about such minor and largely inconsequential inconsistencies. And if I did care I could easily draw a justification for the point in question. But I don’t. So I won’t. Because it really doesn’t matter.

The episode ends rather horrifically, but in a good way. However the cackling goblin is, again, a touch too far into the cheesy side of things for my taste.


“To do my will shall be the whole of the law.”

Episode 2: After the horrific events of the previous night, Evelyn shares her discoveries about the sordid history of Lanyon Moor with The Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Leaving her to rest, The Doctor makes another shocking discovery. The TARDIS is missing.

As everything nips along at an enjoyable pace, I’ll take a moment to talk about the Sixth Doctor’s latest companion, Evelyn. First up, she once again proves to be both a good foil for The Doctor, and an enjoyable character in her own right. However, there is one factor that I am less keen on, and that is that here she continues to work at softening the Sixth Doctor, personality wise. Something that I’m not overly keen on.

Now I get why all involved may want to smooth some of the rougher edges on the Sixth Doctor’s character, but personally, I love a bit of Sixth Doctor bombast and arrogance on occasion, and I would hate to see those character traits completely eliminated from Colin Baker’s Doctor, which here it feels like they are actively working toward doing. Yes, The Doctor’s companions temper his character and even actively make him better, but at the same time they shouldn’t completely change him, and I must admit to being a little uneasy that the latter may be starting to very much happen here. Whether those fears are in any way justified, well, I guess I’ll just have to see how future Sixth Doctor adventures unfold.

The story remains reliably on course, as we power into the third episode.


“It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard…”

Episode 3: While The Doctor and the Brigadier race against time to prevent impending disaster, Evelyn finds herself  face-to-face with dangers of her own.

As we move through the third episode stretch, we finally hit a minor barrier. A very minor one, to be honest, but a barrier nonetheless. And once again it is the old accent beast rearing it’s aurally confused head. In this episode, you see, we have a character visiting Greece, which calls for a Greek tour guide to be featured. Problem is, the Greek tour guide sounds Italian. And not even particularly good Italian, more “Itsa me, Mario!” faux-Italian, if indeed Mario was the disembodied voice of a female museum tour guide rather than being a two dimensional male video game character. It’s not altogether convincing as being in any way Greek is my point here. And it really doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I’m running out of things to write about.

Which I guess brings us to the performances, and putting aside aliens and the rare dodgy accent, they are very strong, right across the board. As mentioned already both Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are in typically fine form, and hearing Nicholas Courtney on Big Finish Doctor Who audio is a true joy to behold. And he hasn’t lost a beat, delivering superbly on every ounce that he has been given to work with here.

As to the rest of the guest cast, for me James Bolam was a real standout, as was Toby Longworth’s ever suffering Professor Morgan. However Toby Longworth also shares the dubious dual honour of being the worst performer as well, with his alien, Sancreda, being just a couple of steps too far over the top for my taste. It isn’t story ruining or anything, but it very much is a performance that just feels rather at odds with the style, tone and overall mood of the story being told, and as such is my one real mark against it. But then, I’ve never been much of an “I’m an alien therefore I must have a funny voice” type fan.

Moving into the final episode we get a couple of twists along the way that aren’t exactly surprising, but which, story wise, still feel justified and make sense, and it has all been rather good fun so far. But can it bring it all together for the final episode?


“I’m retired, I refuse to take any of the blame.”

Episode 4: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor has arisen. Can The Doctor, Evelyn, and the Brigadier put an end to his thirst for revenge? Or will the entire world suffer the vengeance so long denied him?

Turns out yes, it can. And basically we get a final episode that is every bit on par to the three that preceded it. We even get a small twist that I didn’t see coming, though perhaps I should have.

Our alien friend, Sancreda, has even slightly grown on me by this point. And it is hard not to get some measure of enjoyment out of what is very clearly a case of ‘little alien syndrome’. One can’t help but feel that perhaps if he wasn’t only three feet tall, and stuck with a frankly rather silly voice, that he might not be so angry all the time. About everything. Someone is clearly overcompensating. Poor little angry alien fucker.

It’s also great fun to hear the Brig going all action man and getting his own ‘hero moment’ during the final episode. And he delivers upon it with gusto, just as one might expect. Benton, car salesman extraordinaire, would be proud. Mike Yates, maybe not quite so much. But who cares what that pinko hippy traitor thinks anyway?

Now, I imagine that some may well seek to damn this particular outing by backhandedly labelling it as very much a traditional Doctor Who story. The inference often being that a story that is a little old fashioned in format and style automatically means that it is somehow bad. But, if anything, this release proves that traditionally styled Doctor Who stories can still work, and when done right, actually work quite well indeed, and that there is still room for such tales, particularly on audio. And to my mind this one has very much been done right, resulting in a very satisfying debut for the Brigadier in Big Finish Doctor Who audio. One that I personally found to be thoroughly entertaining.

Sure, when it all comes down to it, I have a couple of nitpicks. And I do think it is slightly let down by a cheesily voiced panto-sounding villain. But none of that ultimately undermines what is, for me, a really cracking romp. A strong script, with some fun characters and great lines, a suitable pace, and (mostly) strong performances have delivered another clear winner from the Big Finish Doctor Who range. And after the severely disappointing Red Dawn, this is exactly the kind of boost that I needed to remind me of just how enjoyable the range can be.


Next up: Peter Davison returns in Winter for the Adept