audio drama

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Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Fires of Vulcan

Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel

Also featuring

Andy Coleman, Nicky Goldie, Lisa Hollander, Steven Wickham
Robert Curbishly, Karen Henson, Anthony Keetch, Toby Longworth
and Gemma Bissix

Written by Steve Lyons
Directed by Gary Russell

My relationship with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range has thus far proven to be a decidedly rocky one. So will this latest outing fare any better? Particularly given that this time around he is joined by a certain Melanie Bush, of whom I hold a legitimate fear of being deafened by, should she revert to form and go all scream-happy during her first trip into audio. Please join me and my eardrums on what may prove to be their final journey.


“What’s so special about an English police telephone box?”

Episode 1: The year is 1980, and in the ruins of the doomed city of Pompeii an earthquake has uncovered a startling discovery buried within the volcanic ash. The TARDIS.

First impressions count. Unfortunately, things did not start well for me with this particular entry in Big Finish Doctor Who audio land. And it is for a reason that has been one of the banes of the audio series thus far, the dodgy accent. In this particular case, quite possibly the worst fake Italian accent I have ever heard. And it is so distractingly bad that it completely undermines what is, actually, a fantastic story hook, with the TARDIS being found encased in ruins that are almost two thousand years old, and UNIT arriving on the scene to cover up that discovery. That is a great place to start a story from, but doing so with an Italian that comes across as less genuine than a Hong Kong handbag is probably not doing it all the justice that it deserved.

But even worse than the poor accent is the fact that there was no need for the accent to even be there in the first place. It wasn’t necessary for the character, who could have been an archaeologist professor from anywhere studying the ruins. Or, he could have been Italian without having to resort to a-speaking like a second-a rate-a Mario. The latter becomes even more evident when the story goes back in times to Pompeii and no one is putting on broadly silly Italian accents, so why do it once at the start with this single character? Especially when you can’t do it well enough not to have it be so distracting. It makes no sense to me whatsoever, and it does the story being launched a disservice.

Putting that rant aside, the story really does have a great set up, and the first episode, on the whole, does quite well in putting all of the various pieces in place, while maintaining listener interest along the way. There’s another terrible piece of voice casting that I’ll go in to later, but apart from that this is an engaging, interesting first episode, that culminates in a really nice cliffhanger ending, to boot. And Mel isn’t even annoying. Honestly. My ears were surprised, too.


“Time can not abide a paradox.”

Episode 2: The Doctor and Mel are in Pompeii the day before the fated eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and the TARDIS has been buried under a collapsed building during the most recent earthquake. So why isn’t The Doctor trying harder to find a way for them both to escape? 

After a great set up, the second episode is a bit of a mixed bag, really, being undermined by some weak performances, as well as some distinctly odd performance choices.

Perhaps the most notable of which is an exchange between Lisa Hollander’s Eumachia and Andy Coleman’s Celsinus, which has been done in some kind of faux-Roman dialogue style, much as you might see on HBO’s Rome series, or Starz’ Spartacus, only here it is incredibly stilted in both writing and performance, and even more perplexingly, it is the only scene in the entire story done in this hyper-exaggerated way. It feels like an experiment that didn’t work, but they kept it in anyway, and it grinds everything to a halt, and just confuses both the narrative and the audio soundscape by it’s very presence. It doesn’t do the two actors in question many favours either. Strange stuff. And poorly done strange stuff, at that. Both actors are actually fine for most of the rest of the story, particularly Coleman, but the scene in question was decidedly, and distractingly, cringeworthy.

The other notable performance issue in this story is the casting of Steven Wickham as the unfortunately named gladiator Murranus (no relation to Rick, who I’d also happily see covered in lava). I’ve said this before, and it may seem like a rather obvious point, but in audio, sound is everything. And that very much includes the voices attached to each character. We have to be convinced by, and invested in these characters by the strength and quality of their vocal performance alone. There’s no body language, no physicality whatsoever, it’s all aural. That’s why really bad accents bug me so much, because if the voice is all a character has to ground it and sell it to an audience with, if it fails on that count it brings down the level and believability of the whole performance, as well as undermining all those that surround it. And that point has rarely been so pointedly made than by Steven Wickham’s performance here.

Wickham gives us what must surely be the most effete gladiator of all time. He sounds more like a decadent Roman senator or wannabe Emperor, rather than a tough, battle-hardened gladiator of the arena. And as a result he doesn’t convince in this role for a single moment. And making it even worse, he is in this story a lot, in a sub-plot that frankly is little more than filler to begin with. And rather dull filler, at that. The thing is, it’s not even that the performance itself is completely awful, it is just that when taken in context with the character he is supposedly playing, it just utterly does not fit in any way whatsoever. It strikes as being so monumentally out of place that he should never have been cast in this role to begin with. Not with that voice anyway. It is just too much of an aural anachronism. And as a result it tends to derail the main story whenever his character shows up.

However, it’s not all bad news as far as the guest cast go. Gemma Bissix as slave girl Aglae is really quite good, and the rest of the cast acquits themselves well enough, with notably solid turns from Robert Curbishly and especially Nicky Goldie. And as far as the stars go, Sylvester McCoy gives an interesting, if rather downplayed performance this time out, while Bonnie Langford mostly manages to avoid the more grating aspects of her character’s TV appearances, and does a fine job in her Big Finish Doctor Who audio debut. Two episodes in and she still hasn’t deafened me by screaming, and still isn’t annoying. My ears can barely believe it.


“Time working against me…”

Episode 3: As Mel finds herself trapped in a Roman prison, The Doctor is being sought by an angry gladiator, seeking to restore his lost honour by any means necessary.

As we go into episode three, it all turns into a bit of a run-about, and clearly they seem to be treading lava a bit to string the whole thing out to the proper length. It’s still enjoyable enough, but it does serve to underline some of the main issues with Steve Lyons script. Now I actually think there is a lot that Lyons does right. He sets up some great ideas, performance niggles aside. There’s a decent cross-section of characters, and character types, from across the various classes within the doomed city. He gives Mel plenty to do, keeps McCoy’s Doctor interesting, albeit dragging out the maudlin attitude to ‘the inevitable’ perhaps a touch too long, and both of them feel completely believable and true to character. And the fall of Pompeii is a great Doctor Who historical setting, as proven again during recent years in the TV series when The Doctor and Donna Noble found themselves in a very similar story during the fourth season episode The Fires of Pompeii.

But what that TV version had, and this audio sadly doesn’t, is dramatic punch. Lyons’ actual surrounding story here in The Fires of Vulcan is actually in many ways smarter and more interesting in my opinion than the one at the centre of the TV episode The Fires of Pompeii. However where the audio falls down significantly is in terms of gravitas as to the event in question, and pathos, in regards to the fate of the city itself, and the characters met along the way. The TV series managed to do both of those things very well, giving a somewhat weak core story some proper dramatic punch, whereas the audio is far less successful on those grounds. And as such I couldn’t help but wish that this audio had a bit more dramatic power to it, given the scale and tragedy of the event at it’s core. Alas, that just wasn’t to be.

Heading into the final episode, and the odds now seem to be that Mel isn’t going to either annoy or deafen. My ears have become cautiously optimistic about the future. And I’ve just received a message from my cat that she’s left home in order to move in with the neighbour’s dog.


“The Gods cleanse our city with fire!”

Episode 4: As Vesuvius finally erupts and Pompeii is plunged into chaos, The Doctor is horrified to learn that Mel is still somewhere within the city, searching for the TARDIS.

So, how does it all end? A bit disappointingly, truth be told. The final episode is largely yet another run-about, albeit this time in the shadow of the actual eruption, and Pompeii’s imminent doom. The biggest issue with this is that much of the running about seems to be a bit random, and yet everyone who needs to find anyone else somehow luckily manages to do so, despite the entire city being in chaos, and dust and smoke limiting both mobility and vision. Meanwhile fate seems to specifically be targeting only the bad and the stupid people, which is quite nice of it. But Doctor Who often tends to take such liberties of convenience, so you can pretty much go along with all of that, even if it does tend to stretch incredulity a bit thin, and just generally lacks the emotional and dramatic punch that it should have had along the way.

What wasn’t quite so easy for me to go along with was the ending, which was a complete cop-out of the highest order. And while the explanation that we are given as far as how The Doctor, Mel and the TARDIS have escaped fate without breaking the bounds of paradox is tied up neatly enough, it feels like it has suddenly come out of nowhere in the way that it is presented. And worse still, it just isn’t in any way dramatically satisfying, either in execution or explanation, despite the best efforts of McCoy and Langford to try and ‘sell’ it. At the end of the day it just feels like a bit of a cheat, really.

This is still a solid Big Finish Doctor Who audio release, and there’s some great ideas here, it just doesn’t all quite work in the telling. As to my feelings about the Sylvester McCoy audio era in general, this one hasn’t made much of an impact on that, and I still find him to be easily my least preferred audio Doctor. McCoy’s performance in this one is fine, but overall he just doesn’t seem to have shown the same dramatic oompf that the other two audio Doctors, Colin Baker and Peter Davison, has thus far managed to reliably deliver. And I do believe him capable of it, because every so often you do get a moment where that potential shines through, but it just never seems to be sustained, and McCoy never seems to truly soar in his performance the way the other two, for me, often have. Hopefully, just like his TV adventures, he’s just a bit of a late bloomer. Time will tell, I suppose.

Oh, and before I go, here’s a handy survival tip that I picked up from The Fires of Vulcan: If you ever find yourself running from an erupting volcano, apparently all of the women that you know and find yourself with will only serve to slow the fleeing men-folk down. Every single one of them. So, if you’re male and you find yourself living in the shadow of a volcano, your best option may be to go gay. You know, just for safety. And if you’re female…I don’t know. Buy a horse?


Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in Shadow of the Scourge

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 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

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

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release Red Dawn

Peter Davison as The Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri

Also featuring

Robert Jezek, Stephen Fewell, Maureen Oakley, Hylton Collins
Alistair Lock, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Gary Russell
with Georgia Moffett and Matthew Brenher

Written by Justin Richards
Directed by Gary Russell


This time out the Big Finish Doctor Who range tackles the long belated defrosting of the Ice Warriors, who haven’t been seen, or heard, since way back in the Jon Pertwee era of the original TV series. Would the second dip into Doctor Who’s rogues gallery prove more successful than the first? Please join me to find out.


“It’s surprising what you can cope with if you have to.”

Episode 1: The Fifth Doctor and Peri step out of the TARDIS and into an unknown structure, where the air is breathable, and the odd green walls look strangely organic. As they progress deeper inside, they see huge blocks of ice placed by each of the doorways, each with a faint outline of something frozen inside…

You know, I always had a bit of a soft spot for the Ice Warriors. Whether it be the hissing menaces of the Troughton era, or the more manipulative diplomats of the Pertwee one, there was just something about them that I always enjoyed. Maybe it was the lisp. After all, who doesn’t love a Martian with a speech impediment? With or without Earth-shattering kabooms.

As such, I have been quite looking forward to this one. After all, on paper it seems to have all the right ingredients. Nicola Bryant seemed one of the most successful companions at stepping seamlessly back into her old role, and was one of the parts that I liked most in previous outing Whispers of Terror. Peter Davison has gone from strength to strength, and has, for me, had a pretty much flawless run of stories so far, and I have genuinely enjoyed each and every one. And I’m a fan of the Ice Warriors, as I said. However as even Sir Mix-a-Lot could probably guess, there’s a huge but coming. And that is, but none of it matters. Why doesn’t it matter? Oh, let me count the ways.

First up, somewhere between Whispers of Terror and here Nicola Bryant has forgotten how to do Peri’s voice, which is both immediately evident, and hugely distracting. And it is not only that her accent is worse than ever (and it never particularly bothered me before), it is that she is barely even recognisable as Peri, particularly early on. Now of course the obvious problem with this is that this is audio, so the only recognition factor we have as far as these characters go is their voices, so when something that familiar sounds so far away from what we are used to hearing it quickly becomes very disconcerting as a listener, not to mention distracting. And too often I found myself wondering why she sounded like she did, rather than focussed on what she was actually saying. Which is just about the last thing you want in an audio drama.

Not that it mattered particularly anyway, because this story isn’t just a whole lot of nothing happening, it is a whole lot of nothing happening very slowly. Honestly, Red Dawn may well be the shortest Big Finish Doctor Who audio release by a rather significant margin, but it also somehow manages to feel like the longest. By a lot. It really was a struggle to get through this one for me, right from the start. And worse still, that first episode was probably the strongest of the bunch. And that is damning it with the faintest of possible praise.


“Nobility and honour.”

Episode 2: Having encountered an Earth expedition crew, The Doctor finds himself separated from his companion, and face to face with the newly defrosted guardians of this mysterious place. Meanwhile Peri discovers that not all of the human crew are quite what they seem.

Which brings me to the story presented here, and really this could have been called Tomb of the Ice Warriors. But while it cribs a great deal from that classic Troughton era Cybermen story’s set up and execution, it does so in particularly laboured fashion, turning the Ice Warriors into bargain basement Klingon knock-offs, and spreading a virtually non-existent story and a bunch of wafer thin characters out way beyond any sustainable point, to exceedingly dull and predictable results.

After the disappointing Whispers of Terror, and now the flat out tedious Red Dawn, it’s safe to say I’m just not a fan of Justin Richards Big Finish Doctor Who audio work. Apparently he is quite a well respected Doctor Who novelist, or so I have been led to believe, but even in saying that I doubt I’ll be on his Christmas card list this year. Although if he could send me a gift certificate with a couple of hours of my life back, that would certainly be appreciated.

As the story limps on, we move into episode three…


“Take care that you do not exhaust what remains of my patience.”

Episode 3: As Peri attempts to help prevent the destruction of the Earth Lander Argosy, The Doctor desperately negotiates with Lord Zzarl of the Ice Warriors for the lives of the Earth crew.

Where things suddenly don’t get any better. However I have, by this point, managed to find one solitary bright spot, and that is in Lord Zzarl, who must surely be the most passive aggressive Ice Warrior of all time. The kind of Ice Warrior that would buy you a mechanical dog, then kick it to death in front of you, then buy you another one. And then set it on fire. For which he would sincerely apologise. For there is honour in setting things on fire. And in apologising. And in everything else, apparently. Honestly, it’s enough to make a Klingon puke.

It also doesn’t hurt matters that to my ears he sounds eerily similar to Paul Darrow, if indeed Paul Darrow was an Ice Warrior (and in my world Paul Darrow can be whatever the fuck he wants).

The image of the Paul Darrow Ice Warrior, in his requisite cape, no less, sustains me for a short while. But it simply isn’t enough, and soon the crushing banality returns full force. And we still have another episode to go.


“A pragmatic solution. An honourable bargain.”

Episode 4: After yet another betrayal, and with The Doctor’s negotiations failing, Lord Zzarl sets out to show what it truly means to be an Ice Warrior.

Has Peri’s voice gradually been getting better? I quickly decide that I don’t really care. Which I guess brings me to the performances.

Peter Davison deserves a medal for trying so hard, but even he can’t do much with the material he is given here. He still makes a damn good go at it, though. Nicola Bryant’s performance seems patchy, even putting aside the accent/voice issue. But at least part of that I think is down to poor characterisation, and some truly dreadful dialogue that is forced upon her.

The guest cast, meanwhile, are mostly adequate. Peter Davison’s little girl, and destined to be Mrs David Tennant, and, rather creepily, also the Tenth Doctor’s daughter, Georgina Moffett is fine, if completely unremarkable. Thus I have remarked upon it. Her part here also shares some rather odd similarities with her future guest starring role in the TV series episode The Doctor’s Daughter. At this point I firmly believe she’s stuck in some weird kind of temporal loop built entirely out of coincidences and cheesecake. Although the cheesecake may be a lie.

Soon-to-be-Frobisher Robert Jezek gives a perfectly solid performance, though his character has precious little to do, and basically stands around on the sidelines for much of the story. The various Ice Warrior voices all do the job as well as could ever be hoped for, and there’s no doubting who, and what, they are. While Matthew Brenher does all he possibly can to inject some small semblance of life and interest into Lord Zzarl, and it worked for me, though perhaps not for the reasons that were intended. On the other hand, Stephen Fewell doesn’t do much to add anything at all to what is clearly one of the dumbest, whiniest, and least effective villains I have ever encountered, while the rest of the supporting cast do what is required of them, if little more. Except the ‘merkin voices at Mission Control, whose accents are so bad they have the potential to cause a diplomatic incident.

Oh, and you know how I like a good cliff-hanger? Well this didn’t have any. In fact it had one of the lamest cliff-hanger resolutions I have ever heard. Ever. In my whole history of owning ears.

To me this was the absolute nadir of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range so far, and I sincerely hope it remains that way, because this one truly was difficult to get through, and it is not an experience I would care to repeat. I generally get some level of enjoyment out of even the least successful audio releases, despite any inconsistencies there is always something there worthwhile to enjoy and help pull me through, but this one just flat out bored me from beginning to end. So much so that had it been my first Big Finish Doctor Who experience, I honestly don’t know if there would have been a second.

I love Doctor Who and I do sincerely try to find the positive in things as much as possible. So let me just positively say, in the words our Ice Warrior friends, for me thissssss one absssssolutely sssssssssuckssssss. It may not be witty, but it is, unfortunately, true.


Next up: Colin Baker returns in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor