My second video in less than a week (curse these Doctor's who don't hang around long enough), looks at the lengthy period when Doctor Who spent his brief screen-time snogging girls and hanging around Albert Square. Marvel at my inability to tell the difference between Comic Relief and Children in Need. No wonder YouTube just advised me my videos are shit. Huzzah!
The original Survivors, or at least the season he worked on it, is arguably Terry Nation’s masterpiece. As far as I can tell there was no equivalent to Chris Boucher or David Whitaker ridding his back to make the scripts good (or in some cases just flat out rewriting them), it’s his pure undiluted talent and shows that he was capable of so much more than, to pick an example of a Doctor Who story he wrote about the same time, The Android Invasion would ever suggest.
Sadly his falling out with Terrance Dudley and resulting walking away from the show at the end of its first year is something it never quite recovered from. There are some excellent episodes in the final two seasons, but also a lot of dull filler and it never again regained that strong sense of purpose Nation’s driving force originally gave it. The Fourth Horseman is quite easily one of the best TV pilots of all time.
So the current Big Finish revival had its work cut out, especially as it’s set alongside those early brilliant TV episodes. The first smart move made by the new team (led by producer David Richardson, director Ken Bentley and script editor Matt Fitton, who also kicks things off with the first script) is that the advantage of a disaster that affects the entire world is you’re not just limited to dealing with the characters of the series, you can show the fall of civilisation from multiple new perspectives.
Robert Holmes sells. According to Big Finish head honcho Nick Briggs pretty much anything containing something, however loosely, created by the former script editor during his run on the TV show will be guaranteed to sell better than the plays around it. Hence in 2012 alone we're getting, as well as the continuing solo adventures of Jago and Litefoot, returns for such diverse things as Nerva Beacon, the Sontarans, Magnus Greel (and Mr. Sin as well) and, in the final of this years Sixth Doctor trilogy, the nasty giant space insect Wirrn.
The story, by William Gallagher in his first four parter for the range, is something of an odd one. There's some good atmosphere and very nice ideas, but the dependence on technobabble and some fairly silly characters drag the thing off course before the end.
After an extremely faltering start in The Curse of Davros new companion “Flip” really needed a strong second story to properly establish her character. Like Jonathan Morris last month author John Dorney is part of the Big Finish writers rep. Indeed, he also script edits for them, acts for them and no doubt writes and sings the theme tune. Oddly despite being a regular for them I've only previously encountered his one episode story Special Features on the 2010 anthology release.
However, The Fourth Wall, his first full story for the main range, happened to come out around the same time as a little spurt of work from him that wound up in my CD player, including a very good Lost Story for the fifth Doctor, a very good Lost Story for the forth Doctor and a decent in flawed historical for the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Anyone who posts on Gallifrey Base will have run across him in the audio sub forum as well, his posts, though not always ones I agree with, show someone who is clearly overflowing for enthusiasm for his work, and that clearly shows in most of his output. And unlike the otherwise usually equally excellent Morris he's much stronger at “Real” sounding characters, meaning Flip stood a much better chance of not being a one dimensional cipher this time round.
The real curse of Davros isn't, as this story suggests, the living hell he's endured trapped in his life support chair for centuries. It's that the character has been absent from Big Finish, the place where he's enjoyed his most consistent form of success in any medium, for four years (indeed, it's actually been seven years since he met a TV Doctor on audio).
The importance of Big Finish to the fan re-evaluation of Davros can't be understated. Before his first appearance in the range in the 2003 story imaginatively called Davros fans were generally very down on the character. Sure, he was great in Genesis of the Daleks, but then he was always there, never giving the Daleks a story to themselves, played by less good, more shouty and ranty actors. When Big Finish started doing Dalek stories the fact Davros wasn't involved was even something of a selling point.
_ As every trailer, podcast and bit of promotional blurb seems keen to remind us at every opportunity “Subscribers get more at Big Finish”. It's effectively the company's catchphrase, and the biggest bonus for subscribers every year is the traditional free story given out with the December release. Whilst these started out originally as fairly small scale things they've gotten bigger and bigger over the years, covering many of the old monsters (even the Krotons!) until last year's story went all out and gave all four (at the time) Big Finish Doctors together against the Daleks in the snappily titled The Four Doctors. Unsurprisingly, considering the need to balance four leads, a major monster and a complicated time travel plot on just one disc it was a story that didn't have very much room to breath and wound up a bit of a compressed mess.
But it obviously went down very well as 2011 sees the subscriber story get even bigger and more rammed full of characters and villains than ever before. The Five Companions is also packed with enough fan wank to drown Ian Levine with.
_ In keeping with the previous two plays in the Mary Shelley trilogy the conclusion to 2011's main range releases plays with horror tropes in an every so forced ironic “Look, it's Mary Shelley! The inventor of horror fiction! In a scary story!” way. By this time the skit is wearing a bit thin, but there's other problems with Jason Arnopp's script that make it a slightly underwhelming end to Mary's time in the Tardis (if that's what it is, more on that later...).
As with the Klein trilogy from two years ago the play is keen to emphasise that Mary and the Doctor have had other adventures than those we've seen, at least creating missing stories for the pair Big Finish can go back and visit later. But as with Klein, it means we end up being denied the new companion's first visit to another planet, which is something of a shame, especially as the new series has tended to make a Big Deal of this.
_ Considering riffing on old horror films is a long and noble Doctor Who tradition it's actually surprising that up till now there's never been a proper Witchfinder General “homage”. The closest being Steve Lyons excellent The Witch Hunters novel back in 1999, but that deals very much with the real life history of the Salem trials rather than being evocative of Vincent Price and Ian Ogilvy. The November main range release sees author Rick Briggs (previously a winner of a competition to write a one part story for the 2010 anthology release) correct this regrettable oversight, coupling some good old fashioned “Get thee behind me Satan!” bodice ripping action with a centuries straddling time paradox. One of these plots works better than the other, but it still manages to be on balance a superior adventure for the 8th Doctor and Mary.
__ The October 2011 main range release is something of a landmark one. The first Paul McGann four part story since The Girl Who Never Was back in 2007, the first such release not to feature Charley Pollard, the first for a new companion and the launch of the first McGann “trilogy”. This effectively relaunches the 8th Doctor after several years in his own, separate series of CD's. It also sees the highly regarded Marc Platt write once more for the original Mondas Cybermen for the first time since he produced their origin story in Spare Parts, s a strong contender for the best Big Finish release of all time.
All this became something of a moot point however as pretty much everything anyone could talk about when it was released was the new arrangement of the theme tune. Intended to be evocative of the version used on McGann's one TV showing it sounds like the composer was having an epileptic fit over the keyboard and is the only version of the theme to date to make use of air guitar. I can't quite decide myself if it's delightfully bonkers or deeply irritating, but it has somewhat unfairly distracted from the story itself. Which is something of a shame as it's a good'un.
_ Amnesia, for some bizarre reason, has been a recurring theme across all the Doctor Who spin-off media, usually involving the poor old 8th Doctor, who from story to story can have anything from hours to his entire life missing from his mind. Big Finish have done it most recently in Question Marks in the Recorded Time anthology just two releases ago. So when the first episode of The House of Blue Fire focuses on four people who arrive at a sinister hotel and who don't remember a thing about themselves apart from their various phobias it starts to feel like very familiar territory.
However, writer Mark Morris effectively creates a sinister atmosphere into which these characters, known at this stage only by their room numbers, are thrown that's evocative of the best of Sapphire and Steel or the TV McCoy story Ghostlight.
Stuart Webb. Who knows everything about nothing and not a lot about that.