Doctor Who – Lost Stories 2.4: Crime of the Century

Plot: The year is 1989. In London, safe cracker Raine Creevy breaks into a house – and finds more than the family jewels. In the Middle East, the kingdom of Sayf Udeen is being terrorised by Soviet invaders and alien monsters. And on the Scottish border, a highly guarded facility contains an advanced alien weapon. These are all part of the Doctor’s masterplan. But masterplans can go awry…

“I haven’t changed at all. That’s why he doesn’t recognise me.”

This is the second in the Lost Stories range from Big Finish featuring adventures initially dreamed up by Andrew Cartmel and his writers for what would have been the 1990 series of Doctor Who featuring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. Sophie Aldred as his companion Ace was due to leave during this year and her role was, it was thought, to be taken by a safecracker, given the name ‘Raine’ on audio. Continue reading

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Tegan trilogy on Radio4 Extra

Starting next week Radio4 Extra, which not a long time ago used to be BBC Radio 7, will began weekday transmissions of the three stories making up the first trilogy of Big Finish Doctor Who stories featuring Janet Feilding as Tegan but which also feature Peter Davison as the Doctor, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and Mark Strickson as Turlough.

These four part serials will be broadcast weeknights at 6PM with one half hour episode each evening then being made available for catch-up in iPlayer. Continue reading

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Doctor Who: Heroes of Sontar

The Plot: Planet Samur was once a peaceful haven. Pilgrims journeyed across the seven galaxies to meditate in the courtyards of the vast Citadel that spanned its equator. It was Samur’s misfortune, however, to find itself situated on the furthermost frontier in the eternal war between the amoeboid Rutan Host and the belligerent, troll-like Sontarans … Twenty years after detonating a bacteriological weapon over Samur, rendering it uninhabitable, the Sontarans are back: a select platoon of seven has landed here on a secret mission, carrying sealed orders given to them by Fleet Marshal Stabb. The TARDIS has landed here, too, bringing the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa into the second great Battle of Samur. Fighting not only the Sontarans, but mystical mercenaries… and a deadly, decades-old curse.

What in the name of Rolf do you think you’re playing at?

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Drama Showcase: Pulling Faces

Pulling Faces by Helen Goldwyn is the second in the new Drama Showcase series from Big Finish. These hour-long audio plays feature actors and production personnel familiar from some of the company’s other ranges but are outside of their usual genre boundaries – these are more like BBC 4 Afternoon Plays, only with stronger language and better production values.

It follows on from Katy Manning’s Not A Well Woman and like that production it also began as a one-woman stage show and takes as its subject someone who, with marriages behind them and grown up children no longer to support, looks back on their lives analysing its highs and lows – all on the eve of undergoing surgery. But whereas Manning’s self-penned work was a virtuoso solo piece, this has been turned by Goldwyn, director Nigel Fairs and star Louise Jameson into a full cast comedy drama. Jameson plays Joanne Taylor, a media celeb who once hosted a TV makeover show but who, many years later, is now working on radio being considered by the powers that be to look too old to front a TV show. Continue reading

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Sapphire & Steel 1.3: All Fall Down

After the domestic Sturm and drang of Daisy Chain we come back to basics with the next Sapphire & Steel, which above all else sees the very welcome return of David Collings as Silver, the ‘operative’ he played in two of the original TV stories. His flirtatious relationship with Sapphire was a real highlight, both there and in this production, where he also develops a strong attachment to Mary, a young student. This time the setting is the City of London archive where Mary is working to digitise historical records on the same site of a ‘plague pit’, where bodies were buried in the 17th century. It is here that a special manuscript has been found, a diary that our heroes believe may be acting as a trigger for another breakout from Time.

History has the habit of making the unique mundane

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Doctor Who – Lost Stories 2.3: Thin Ice

The Plot: Moscow 1967. The Doctor and Ace have arrived behind the Iron Curtain, and the Soviet Union is seeking a new weapon that will give it mastery in the Cold War. What is the secret of the Martian relics? As the legendary War Lord Sezhyr returns to life, the Doctor is faced with some of his oldest and deadliest enemies. The fate of Earth – and the future of Ace – are now intertwined …

Blimey Ace, you were only meant to blow the bloomin door off!

When Big Finish first started producing its series of ongoing Doctor Who audios, the one thing head honcho Gary Russell said they would not be doing was to produce unmade scripts from the original TV series – which of course was very sensible as the company was having to work very hard to establish its own identity and trying to reach well beyond the core of Who fandom. But after 10 years the company can now take a more flexible approach and can afford to produce both riskier (like the ‘Unbound‘ range) and more traditional fare that will probably appeal to a smaller constituency. Continue reading

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Doctor Who: A Death in the Family

Following on from my list of favourite Seventh Doctor Who audios, the fiendish Puzzledoctor pointed out that I had not included A Death in The Family, one of the most recent of Big Finish audios featuring Sylvester McCoy as the Time Lord. The main reason for that was that I had not in fact heard it yet – the avalanche of good reviews had suggested that this was such a worthy release that I should in fact save it for a very rainy day. But in fact the sun is out, life is good and to celebrate I decided to treat myself to a fine bit of drama … Were all the other bloggers and reviewers right – is this one of the finest Big Finish audio productions? Well, yes, and no … Continue reading

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Crooked House by Agatha Christie (BBC Audio, 2008)

This four part BBC radio drama is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s eponymous 1949 novel, one which on several occasions she claimed to be the favourite amongst her own works.

“There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”

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Sapphire & Steel 1.2: Daisy Chain


After a traditional opening story in The Passenger, this second installment in the revived Sapphire & Steel series proves to be anything but risk averse. The TV version used isolated settings and limbo sets to make the most of the theatricality inherent in its studio-based set-up. This story bravely moves into the realm of the ordinary, quotidian and mundane, with Sapphire warning Steel in mock horror that they are about to enter … suburbia.

Let’s go play happy families.

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Doctor Who: Peri and the Piscon Paradox

Follow that carp!

This two-part, two-disc play by Nev Fountain just might be the best release yet from Big Finish in their Companion Chronicles range of speaking books. By their very nature they privilege narration and narrative point of view as they are Doctor Who adventures told from the perspective of his friends and associates. We are allowed therefore not only a variant perspective on the Time Lord through his several incarnations but also of those around him. What makes this release stand out is the way that it has fully embraced these aspects of the format and then tried to extend them to their limits (and perhaps beyond). Continue reading

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Top Seventh Doctor Who audios (Sylvester McCoy)

Big Finish and other publishers and production companies like it, specialising as they do to a certain extent in continuing traditions established on television years ago, can be seen as trading on fan nostalgia, on remembrances of things past. When they began their range of Doctor Who audios in 1999, their objective was partly to plug a perceived gap in the market – the show had by then been off the air for quite some time and it seemed apparent that Paul McGann’s Eighth incarnation, the current incumbent, was unlikely to return as a regular TV character anytime soon. The McGann audios were therefore seen as directly continuing the series, as if it were moving forwards with the show in ‘the present’ while the releases featuring the earlier actors to play the role were aimed inevitably at recreating on audio a television era that had already come and gone. Thus their adventures would seemingly be stylistically mired in the past while McGann’s would be able to move more easily with the times. Once the show came back to TV in 2005 however this would also stop being the case with Christopher Ecclestone taking over the mantle. But Big Finish thankfully proved to be able to provide more than simple exercises in nostalgia and have consistently delivered content that, to these ears, is considerably superior to its television counterpart without betraying its roots but instead developing and building on the promise of the show and without just being hidebound by its past.

Having said that, Sylvester McCoy was very much my Doctor Continue reading

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Doctor Who: Industrial Evolution

“Squirt for your lives”

And so we come to the conclusion of the Sixth Doctor-Evelyn-Brewster trilogy. Following on from the contemporary London of The Crimes of Thomas Brewster and the outer space future of The Feast of Axos, we now find ourselves in the past – mid 19th century Lancashire to be exact. And right from the start we arrive ‘in media res’ in a busy plot that includes luddites, labour agitators, proto-suffragette and interstellar eco warriors, sentient machines and something nasty in the cellar – all elements ably combined in this lightweight but always entertaining audio adventure from Big Finish. Continue reading

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Drama Showcase: Not a Well Woman

Drama Showcase sees production company Big Finish move into interesting and original territory with a series of small-scale plays starring actors very familiar from their more mainstream releases, including Louise Jameson, Geoffrey Beevers and auteur Nigel Fairs, but in edgy works well outside of their usual genre-based comfort zone.

This production is an audio presentation of Katy Manning’s semi-autobiographical one-woman play. It is a stream of consciousness collage in which we sample extracts from the life of Pansy Maude, a ‘visually challenged’ actress and mother. Pansy, rather like Manning herself, has exceptionally poor eyesight due to an inability to properly distinguish shapes and colours, but this is a story not of someone who is locked inside themselves by a physical ailment – rather, the opposite applies. Continue reading

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Tom Baker to join Big Finish

Well, after much speculation and hints it has now been officially confirmed that Tom Baker is to play the Fourth Doctor for a series of audio adventures to be made by independent production company Big Finish, with release set to start in January 2012. This continues on from two recent original audio serials in which Baker reprised his classic TV role, recorded for BBC / AudioGo and written by Paul Magrs: Demon Quest and Hornet’s Nest.

Initially there will be six episodes released as single CDs or downloads, as per the Paul McGann Eighth Doctor releases. Then there will be a five-disc box set of ‘Lost Stories’ featuring Baker as the Doctor, to be then followed by a second series, this time comprising seven single-disc releases. No release dates have been given so far for these two latter titles. Mary Tamm as Romana and Louise Jameson as Leela will also appear as the doctor’s companions.

For full details of the announcement visit the Big Finish website and the forum over at Tom Baker’s website.

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Sapphire & Steel 1.1: The Passenger

The new series of Sapphire & Steel gets off with something of a ‘soft launch’ in this debut audio, one that is cast very closely in the mould of the original television series. Specifically it emulates the second TV story, also beginning with a man in late middle-age on a deserted railway platform who is later beset by ghosts from different time periods motivated by a sense of betrayal and injustice. But this is no bad thing as ‘Adventure Two’, to use the home video designation as the stories have no individual onscreen titles, is probably the best of the series and also the best remembered which sensibly helps listeners to get refamiliarised with the general concept and also settle into this new audio incarnation of an old favourite from the late 1970s and early 80s. After a peremptory ‘it’s been a long time’ by way of acknowledgement that a good 20 years have passed since they were last seen in action, the familiar story template eases us smoothly into a new era of paranormal entertainment featuring PJ Hammond’s cult classic duo, elementals who fend off incursions into the present from ‘time’ itself, here presented as a dark, destabilising force. Continue reading

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Jago & Litefoot: The Mahogany Murderers

THE MAHOGANY MURDERERS
Juicy Jagoisms: “pleasing to the palette and possessing a pulchretudinous perfume”; “cracking complex conundrums”.
The plot: Who is the mysterious Dr Tulp and what is his connection to the appearance of life-size wooden mannequins in the shape of hardened criminals from the London underworld?

One of the smartest decisions the Big Finish production company ever made has been to further extend its Doctor Who audio releases by creating its range of Companion Chronicles talking books. While the main releases feature the actors who previously played the Time Lord on television, the Chronicles raison d’être is to focus on the doctors not normally represented (the first three actors having all passed away and Tom Baker having until recently refused to participate) with their adventures instead narrated by their friends and companions. This has the virtue of widening the scope of the releases both by including the other characters but more importantly by providing a welcome focus on the supporting players. The Mahogany Murderers has proved to be one of the most unexpected and most completely successful of these releases thus far. Continue reading

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Doctor Who: The Feast of Axos

If you want something doing, don’t leave it to your former selves to sort out.

At the end of the previous adventure for Evelyn and the Sixth Doctor, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, the eponymous neer-do-well carjacked the TARDIS at gunpoint and insisted that he be taken back to his own time (one can just see the humiliating headlines on the front page of the Gallifreyan Times). The Doctor rejects this out of hand – and not just because he hasn’t been asked nicely (though the gun isn’t actually loaded) but in fear of what Thomas could do with all his advanced knowledge if sent back to Victorian England. Before the Doctor can decide what to do the trio are taken off course when a vessel from Earth’s future punches a whole into the time loop in which the organic gestalt entity Axos has been imprisoned for the last 100 years. Continue reading

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In praise of … RADIOMENSA.NET

Ralph over at Radiomensa.net (http://radiomensa.net/) has for quite a while now been posting some fantastic radio content. It offers great value for those interested in older radio, whether it be old editions of the BBC’s Afternoon Play, Old Time Radio from the US, comedies, music but also much new and original material. As he puts is:

Best of Old Time Radio and The Spoken Word (modern dramatic works) – Entries stay posted around five weeks – Stop by daily or put your email address in the SUBSCRIBE box, you will be notified of new entries – Contact me via the “Add Comment” icon under each entry.

I shan’t comment on provenance or what the rights situation might be but the material is only briefly available before being over-written and is well-worth seeking out. Ralph also hosts the Radio at War site (http://radioatwar.net/) which is a real labour of love, collecting war-related audio content, a mixture of drama and historical materials. As Ralph says on his site:

The site is so much more than just old war time programming – Entries will be of recent and not so recent material – Entries will entertain, surprise, inform or make you reach for the tissue box – I have an interest in world conflicts – World War II in particular, but not exclusively – The site is totally free – NO advertising & NO begging for donations – This is a hobby, not a business – Nothing is for sale here – No real schedule to the posting, so stop by often or put your email address in the SUBSCRIBE box, you will be notified of new entries (you will not be spammed in any way, size, shape or form) –  By the way, your requests are always welcome

Ralph is highly responsive so it is well worth getting in touch and supporting this fascinating endeavour. He can be contacted through the sites or by email at: ralphcj@gmail.com

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Classic Chandler – Playback


Playback (1958) is generally agreed to the be the least of Chandler’s novels, with its slender plot and small cast of characters; but on the other hand this works to its advantage in the broadcast medium. In fact the novel had its roots in an original screenplay of the same name written between 1947 and 1948 but never produced. Those interested and curious enough to make their own minds up can read the complete script online. Last weekend the BBC broadcast its radio version of Playback as part of its Classic Chandler series and listeners can still access it on iPlayer for a little while longer, after which it will only be available to buy on CD. Continue reading

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Top Sixth Doctor Who Audios (Colin Baker)

The audio rendition of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor may well be the great success story of Big Finish. Initially portrayed on screen as irascible and curmudgeonly, Baker has subsequently said that he intended for the role to develop slowly over several seasons. Unfortunately for him, the show hit an all-time low in its popularity within the BBC under the management of Michael Grade – and it has to be said, his stories on screen were also not very well received either. From his first full season, Vengence on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks are the ones usually singled out for praise (and rightly so), with Mark of the Rani by the dreaded Pip and Jane Baker coming in a distant third. His second and final season was the ill-fated Trial of a Time Lord cycle, which despite several good ideas (including an imaginative chase through the Matrix and a standout departure for the doctor’s companion Peri in which she is shaved, de-brained and then violently dispatched by Brian Blessed – well, until Lynda Bellingham takes it all back again in the closing seconds) is let down by tatty design and an unwieldy concept that could have suited perhaps a six-part serial at best. And then Baker was unceremoniously fired.

The Big Finish audios have done something truly inspired and inspiring – rescuing one of the least-loved and, it has to be said, most unlucky of TV Doctor Whos, and making him perhaps the most well-rounded of all the Time Lord audio incarnations. Continue reading

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Doctor Who: The Crimes of Thomas Brewster

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The Sixth Doctor (the redoubtable Colin Baker) seems officially to have become the Big Finish village bike – first Charley Pollard, hitherto companion to Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, was paired off with him for an excellent run of stories that saw the self-styled Edwardian adventuress given an exciting and surprisingly hard SF exit; and now Thomas Brewster, the Victorian mudlark and artful dodger wannabe who previously created havoc for Peter Davison’s Fifth Time Lord in a brief run of audio releases in 2008 (The Haunting of Thomas Brewster, The Boy That Time Forgot and Time Reef) has now also joined Baker for a new trilogy. Continue reading

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Top Fifth Doctor Who audios (Peter Davison)

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A few years ago two things in my life happened almost simultaneously – I became a commuter and I became a devoted Doctor Who fan, following years of urging by a friend who had grown up on the Time Lord’s adventures. Having come late to the party I bought lots of DVDs and books on his recommendation to make up for lost time and had a great time in the process. But how to progress? Finding myself with 3 hours a day travelling to and from work Monday to Friday I finally succumbed to the urge to buy an MP3 player and, having picked up an issue of Doctor Who Magazine, I started to get acquainted with the Big Finish audio productions – and have never looked back. Continue reading

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The late John Barry

Thanks to those nice people at the CounterPOINT blog, news reaches us of the death of composer John Barry at age 77. Barry will be remembered not just for effectively creating the ‘sound’ of the James Bond films in the 1960s (not least for his arrangement of Monty Norman’s ‘The James Bond theme”) and his Oscar-winning songs and score for Born Free (1966), The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985) and Dances with Wolves (1990) but also for several classic TV theme tunes (best of all perhaps being The Persuaders).

He was enormously prolific and incredibly popular so that a vast amount of his output is easily available on CD – I would rate his collaboration with trumpeter Chris Botti in Playing By Heart, with its reference back to Chet Baker, as a personal favourite of his albums from his later years though his Beyondness of Things album is probably the stand-alone, non-film work for which he will be best remembered by avid listeners of Classic FM.

Barry can be seen on-screen conducting his Concerto for guitar from the film Deadfall (1968), the last of his many fine collaborations with writer and director Bryan Forbes. It has been posted over at YouTube in two parts (below) – it is a rare example of a specially composed piece of music being integrated into the plot and editing structure of a movie, inevitably reminiscent of Barnard Herrmann’s conducting of the Arthur Benjamin ‘Storm Cloud Cantata’ in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) but much more extensive in its treatment here. It is well worth spending 20 minutes listening to the Rodrigo-inspired music and then another 20 minutes to see quite how successfully music, image and plot are integrated.

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Doctor Who: Situation Vacant

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Paul McGann never really had much of a chance to make an impression playing in Doctor Who on television – not only is the generally disliked feature-length 1996 TV movie his sole appearance in the medium but he doesn’t even make his first appearance until nearly 25 minutes have gone by!
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