Category Archives: doctor who

Review: Doom Coalition 1

doomDoom Coalition is the second in Big Finish’s run of Eight Doctor boxset series, a sort of series of mini-series. The first, Dark Eyes, was something of an experimental piece – the first volume was actually intended as a standalone. Doom Coalition was apparently planned as four boxsets from the outset.

And I’m not going to lie, it does feel like a little bit of a cashgrab. Dark Eyes was experimental and a big risky and it paid off, so naturally they have to do another one, equally ominously-titled.

But I can hardly complain. After all, I did buy all four volumes, and it’s not as if I didn’t have great fun listening to the first four stories:

The Eleven by Matt Fitton

The Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey to deal with a dangerous escaped criminal: the Eleven, a Time Lord who, for reasons unknown, has retained the consciousnesses of all his previous incarnations.

The Eleven is mostly an action-packed thriller, a solid hour of the heroes trying (and failing) to keep the Eleven from escaping Gallifrey, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Classic Who’s handful of stories set on Gallifrey are, in my opinion, generally a bit weak. They generally lack both the budget and the creativity to properly realise the seat of the Time Lords. The Eleven is a rare gem, playing up both the familiar (graduate students) and the alien (mind probes) elements of Gallifreyan society.

The Red Lady by John Dorney

The Doctor and his companion Liv travel to London circa 1963, where they meet new companion Helen Sinclair and find a deadly menace lurking in a collection of antiquities.

This is some seriously creepy stuff. I think the only word for it is Moffat-esque; eerie, psychological, and mysterious. It follows in the footsteps of Blink and The Impossible Astronaut, but still manages to feel fresh and original.

The Galileo Trap by Marc Platt

The Doctor, Liv and Helen travel to Renaissance-era Florence in search of the Doctor’s old friend Galileo, only to find the city beset by a mysterious plague, terrifying monsters – and that Galileo wants them as far away from him as possible.

I remember that I enjoyed listening to The Galileo Trap, but a week or so on it’s some of difficult to remember the plot. There’s just so much going on, the script juggling setting up the boxset finale with a complicated plot involving Galileo, outer space bounty hunters, and cyborg police officers. The result is a bit of a jumble, but a fun one.

The Satanic Mill by Edward Collier

Straight into the next adventure, the Doctor decides to spring the trap and goes straight to the Eleven’s new stronghold – a planet-sized factory floating between Mercury and the Sun.

The Satanic Mill is seriously atmospheric, with a setting that’s viscerally disturbing. Left on their own, Liv and Helen really get a chance to shine, rallying the factory workers into a revolution.

In retrospect, though, the main focus of the narrative is really just the Doctor figuring out what’s going on in the factory. Once that mystery is solved, the remainder of the story is mostly just him escaping the Eleven’s trap with relative ease, a lot of running about and shouting, and a whole lot of unanswered questions as the Eleven refuses to explain his grand plan.

That said, the concept behind The Satanic Mill is so twisted and so brilliant that it’s hard to complain.

Overall, as I said, I had a really good time listening to Doom Coalition 1. It’s four hours of good, solid Doctor Who.

The standout story is definitely The Red Lady, which is a little disappointing as it’s the only standalone story in the boxset – it’s a pity it outshines the main drama.

Helen Sinclair has the potential to be a great addition to the TARDIS team – I like Liv Chenka in theory, but in practice she’s such a grim, jaded character that she can get a bit wearing. She’s definitely at her best when she has a brighter, less cynical companion to balance her out.

After her first story Helen didn’t have as much to do as I might have liked – she spends a lot of The Galileo Trap being bewildered at what’s going on and The Satanic Mill is focused heavily on the Doctor and the Eleven. However, there’s still three more boxsets (twelve more episodes) to come so room to grow!

I have mixed feelings about the Eleven. The idea of a Time Lord with multiple consciousnesses in the same body is a logical and interesting extrapolation from existing canon, but it’s saddening that the writers felt that such a character naturally had to be a villain, given how stigmatised DID and other similar disorders are in real life.

Even leaving that aside, in the stories I’ve listened to he’s come across as ‘the Master, but he does funny voices sometimes’, which is a disappointingly common trap for Doctor Who writers to fall into, when writing Time Lords villains!

I’d give it a solid 7/10, and I’m looking forward to volume 2.

 

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My Week In Writing (30/07/17)

20170730_155734Well, the big bit of news this week is: I found a new (temp) job, starting tomorrow! Which means I’ve spent this weekend a) relaxing and b) buying new shoes. I don’t know what the dress code for my new office is so I’m not sure if the new shoes are strictly necessary, but I figured it was about time I had a pair of smart shoes I can walk in.

All in all, operation ‘quit my job’ has been more or less successful – I was unemployed for five weeks, which is longer than I hoped but not as long as I expected, and I have a (hopefully glowing) reference for what I was doing.

In other news, my data recovery was a success – they weren’t able to recover my entire hard drive but I should be getting back all the writing I lost, hopefully tomorrow after New Work.  Very relieved and very much looking forward to sorting my writing projects out!

This week, I’ve been plugging away on the same writing projects, with variable success – between wanting to relax a bit before starting work and knowing I’ll be able to commit better after getting my files back, it’s been difficult to motivate myself these past few days.

I listened to the first three episodes of Doctor Who: Doom Coalition 1, which I have complicated feelings about. I’m enjoying it more than Dark Eyes, though, which I found grim and a bit disappointing.

I watched Captain America: Civil War, which I found acutely disappointing – I don’t know anything much about the comic arc it’s based on, but as a sequel to Age of Ultron it’s not wholely satisfying and as a sequel to Winter Soldier is a full-on disappointment. It did get me hyped for Black Panther, though.

And on a whim, I watched Psycho and enjoyed it more than I expected to – I was a little nervous about watching it on my own because I don’t do well with scary (I’d been informed that it isn’t scary but I’m very easily frightened) but I’m glad I did because there are certain, um, sequences that the people I generally watch films with probably wouldn’t have taken entirely seriously…

Anyway, the first act is definitely the highlight but I was sort of expecting that. If anything I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the rest of the film – I was half expecting to be bored stiff.

So, next week: new job!

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The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor Volume 2: Part Two

montage_image_largeContinuing from last week’s post, and with an excess of colons in the title: here are some thoughts on The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor: Volumer 2. Part two.

The Bonfires of the Vanities by Uma McCormack, starring Anneke Wills as Polly Wright:

I was really looking forward to The Bonfires of Vanities – it’s Big Finish’s first Hartnell-era Ben and Polly story and a rare Doctor Who story by a woman. But as it is, it’s been a couple of weeks since I listened to it and it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on me.

Though that said, I had a good time listening to it. Like Fields of Terror it delves into a lesser-known chapter of history, but this time it’s a more light-hearted affair. The Bonfires of Vanities is about the Lewes Bonfire, apparently the most famous bonfire night celebration in the country (I’d never heard of it).

Thinking about it, it’s sort of weird that there’s such a proliferation of creepy stories set during May Day festivities, but almost none that I know of about Guy Fawkes Night – it’s a celebration that literally celebrates burning people at the stakes (yes, Guy Fawkes wasn’t burned but the Lewes Bonfire also commemorates Protestants Martyrs who were burned alive), it takes places at night, in winter… the only thing I can think is that, unlike May Day, it doesn’t have any especially ‘sexy’ associations.

The Bonfires of Vanities has a palpable tension running through it. The initial reveal of the monster of the week – a Guy come to life – is suitably creepy, but the real threat ultimately comes from the townspeople of Lewes. They’re so unpleasant that the Doctor saving them from themselves doesn’t feel fully deserved. But that’s sometimes the case in Doctor Who.

Ultimately, I think the issue is it’s just less focused than the other stories in the boxset. It feels a bit like a four-parter crammed into a Companion Chronicle, which isn’t a good look – CCs are short-form stories and should, ideally, be very tight.

It also has this weirdly sexist tone at times, which I’m willing to give it a pass on because, firstly, it’s by a woman, and secondly it’s obviously trying to faithfully recreate the tone of sixties Who, but I could have done without it.

I do feel like The Bonfires of Vanities (I still don’t get that title) is the weakest story in the boxset, but given how strong the boxset is overall, that’s hardly an insult.

The Plague of Dreams by Guy Adams, starring Anneke Wills as Polly Wright

This was fantastic, in more ways than one.

The whole boxset has an unsubtle but low-key arc running through it: as established in the trailer, a mini-drama in and of itself, someone is messing with the First Doctor’s time line in order to prevent him fighting in the Time War. I didn’t listen to the trailer till afterwards, and honestly I’m glad I skipped it – the Time War stuff was a pleasant surprise, and I think I’d have been very apprehensive about how it’d be intergrated into a Hartnell-era story!

I can say with some certainty that Plague of Dreams is… not what I’d have expected. It has an entirely new twist on the Companion Chronicles format: Polly and an unnamed ‘Player’ are on a stage, performing the events of the story for a mysterious audience.

It’s unsettling, strange, and (as you’ve probably guessed) very meta. The Player, revealed over the course of the story to be a benevolet Time Lord, has been following the Doctor’s exploits and has an idea of how his adventures are usually constructed. In essence, he’s the author, a Doctor Who fan writing a story of his own.

When the true nature of their situation – I won’t spoil it – is revealed, it’s a tiny bit of a disappointment, but I don’t think anything would have lived up to the level of mystery established over the first episode.

My only real complaint isn’t really with Plague of Dreams but with the overall arc: it was written with the express purpose of accomodating more First Doctor, Ben and Polly stories, which I don’t think was necessary.

Strictly speaking, there’s no time in TV continuity for these stories to take place – they’re in three stories together, which are continuous – but who cares? If anything, more adventures with the First Doctor serve to strengthen and deepen Ben and Polly’s character arcs and it’s easy enough to handwave the continuity issue.

(Really, Big Finish? You inserted a whole arc of stories between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani even though it’s heavily implied they take place on the same day with nary a handwave but you wrote this whole arc to explain… actually, never mind. It’s better not to think about it too much.)

Conclusion

I have to say, this is the strongest Companion Chronicle boxset to date. The First Doctor Volumer 1 was a little samey, the Second Doctor Volume 1 was patchy. This one was consistently strong.

The Darkened City and The Plague of Dreams are both, in my opinion, masterpieces, and I’m sure Darkened City is destined to be a classic of the Companion Chronicles range. I’d give the whole boxset a solid 8/10.

 

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My Week In Writing (23/07/17)

deborah_watling_tardis_b__wDeeply saddened this week to hear of the deaths of Trevor Baxter and Deborah Watling, respectively Professor George Litefoot and Victoria Waterfield in Doctor Who. Both brilliant actors and beloved characters.

Deborah Watling played Victoria, companion to the Second Doctor, from 1967 to 1968.  All but a handful of her episodes are, very sadly, missing from the BBC archives. It’s a great pity, because in her surviving episodes Debbie is always a delight. She sparkled in every scene she was in.

Her most famous moment, a quiet scene from Tomb of the Cybermen in which the Doctor comforts her following the recent death of her father, is poingnant viewing and thoroughly recommended.

Trevor Baxter was only in one classic who serial, 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but his character went on to a second life thanks to Big Finish and their Jago and Litefoot series. I’ve listened to the first few seasons and I could swear he and his co-star Christopher Benjamin hadn’t aged a day. He was always a soft-spoken, comforting presence in his stories and I look forward to listening to the rest, bittersweet as it might be.

Other than that sad news, I’ve had a pretty normal week. I’m still waiting to hear back about my hard drive (latest news is, they were having trouble sourcing replacement parts due to some dodgy behaviour on the part of the company it was originally purchased from), so a lot of my projects are still in limbo – plus this morning I remember another story that’ll be completely gone if I don’t get my data back. (Technically three stories, but I have hard copies of two.)

I’ve skipped ahead in novel-editing, so I’ve spent this week writing some new material, namely some samples of in-universe books to use as chapter epitaphs and a new prologue consisting of a heavily edited extract from a prequel short story.

Otherwise, I’ve been working on my new project, now sitting at just under 13,000 words (minus the stuff trapped on my dead drive).

I’m still reading A Song of Stone by Iain Banks, which I’m not loving, but reserving judgement on until I’m finished.

I listened to Big Finish’s two newest Short Trips, How to Win Planets and Influence People and Flashpoint.

How to Win Planets and Influence People is the latest in a line of stories featuring Rufus Hound as Classic Who villain the Meddling Monk. I have, hm, ambivalent feelings about it. The story itself, taking the form of a lecture delivered on the subject of invading the earth, is a delight, but I’m not sold on Rufus Hound’s Monk.

The Monk was only in two TV serials and in the first one he wasn’t actually a villain. An antagonist, but a largely benevolent one – he’s essentially a well-intentioned thrill-seeker. At one point in his introductory story, he takes in and cares for an injured medieval peasant and even laments not having better medical facilities.

In his second and last appearance, he was out for revenge on the Doctor, but more of an annoyance than an actual villain.

Rufus Hound is essentially playing the Master, but slightly less evil and a bit funnier. He’s a lot of fun to listen to, but he’s not really the Monk as I’d imagine him.

Flashpoint is read by Sheridan Smith as Eighth Doctor Adventures companion Lucy Miller. No complaints on this one – it’s more or less half an hour of solid action and I had a great time.

I also listened to The Eleven, the first episode of Doom Coalition, Big Finish’s most recent Eight Doctor boxset series. I’m reserving full judgement for now, but I’ve heard good things and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.

And I went to see Beyond Caravaggio at the Scottish National Gallery. Not 100% my thing – the Caravaggios themselves were all stunning, but the Caravaggioesque paintings I found less thrilling and (after a while) a bit samey. But interesting nonetheless, and I got some lovely postcards.

Next week… more job applications.

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The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor Volume 2: Part One

ccsBig Finish’s Companion Chronicles range was my gateaway drug into Doctor Who on audio – I started with 2009’s The Glorious Revolution and basically never looked back. It’s still my favourite BF range (and the one I’d most like to write for).

The monthly Companion Chronicles came to an end in June 2014, but the series has continued in the form of annual boxsets. I’m not sure how I feel about this change, to be honest – aside from anything else, so far it seems they’re only going to be making Firsst and Second Doctor era chronicles, which is a bit disappointing.

I also find the boxset approach a little samey – it makes it harder to appreciate each story as a work in and of itself.

That said, I really did enjoy last month’s First Doctor boxset. It’s a really surprising mix of stories – not only are Susan, Ian and Barbara (William Hartnell’s most iconic companions) entirely absent, a full two of the four stories are devoted to Polly Wright and Ben Jackson.

I’m more of a Second Doctor fan and Ben and Polly are more Second Doctor companions, so I was really excited to see them getting so much ‘screentime’ – they’re two of my favourite companions and sadly all bar one of their serials is wholly or partially missing from the BBC archives, so they don’t get the love they deserve.

Big Finish has done a lot to revive both characters, but as Frazer Hines – Patrick Troughton era companion Jamie Mccrimmon – generally plays the Doctor in Second Doctor releases, it’s rare to see them get an outing without Jamie and vanishingly rare to see them together with the First Doctor.

Anyway, that little fan-squee aside, here’s what I thought of the stories:

Fields of Terror by John Pritchard, starring Maureen O’Brien as Vicki:

One of my favourite things about Big Finish is the way it’s inherited Doctor Who’s educational bent. Their historical stories more often than not delve into lesser-known periods of history, and Fields of Terror takes the Doctor and friends to the War in the Vendée, one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in the French Revolution.

The story stands as a kind of spiritual sequel to the 1960s story The Reign of Terror, the events of which the Doctor refers to directly in episode one. However, I’m not sure it’s as successful as its predecessor: a big part of what makes The Reign of Terror successful is the way it challenges the Doctor’s character.

It’s stated early on that the Reign of Terror it’s the Doctor’s favourite historical period and he’s excited to be able to see it for himself. He and his friends are promptly mistaken for counter-revolutionaries and very nearly sent to the guillotine. In my opinion, it’s an important step in the First Doctor’s character arc, part of an ongoing realisation that he can’t be a mere observer in history.

Fields of Terror, while it’s a very exciting story, doesn’t have that character-driven backbone – which is a pity, because Big Finish have dealt really well with similar themes in the past.

That aside, it’s one of the creepiest Doctor Who stories I’ve experienced in a while. The events take place in a single night, moving from bloody battlefields to the claustrophobic setting of a manor house as the Doctor, Vicki and Steven are held captive by a group of French soldiers who are being pursued by something sinister.

There’s some great atmosphere and the tension doesn’t let up until the very end. I was a bit disappointed by the ultimate conclusion – I do think that not having a conventional monster was the right move here, but it still struck me as a little weak. Otherwise, though, good, scary stuff.

Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett, starring Peter Purves as Steven:

This one was absolutely the highlight of the boxset. Across the Darkened City is one of those stories that throws you in right at the deep end: Steven, separated from the Doctor and Vicki, held captive by a group of Daleks. He and his fellow prisoners attempt to escape but it goes horribly wrong, and soon Steven finds himself stranded on an especially nasty planet, with his only hope of salvation a critically wounded Dalek.

As with Fields of Terror this one does not let up until the end and Steven’s fear and exhaustion are palpable as he goes to increasingly desperate lengths to save himself and his unlikely companion.

Across the Darkened City is the newest iteration in a line of stories that ask the question: could a Dalek ever become good? The Dalek in this story is revealed early on to be a mutant, and it certainly acts strangely, allying itself with Steven and seemingly at times genuinely touched by his attempts to protect it.

Steven goes from protecting the Dalek for his own sake – it can operate the transmat that’s his only hope of getting back to the Doctor – but he can’t help but bond with it through their shared adversity. Once he starts thinking of the Dalek as an ally, he wants to protect it – it’s human nature.

Like the audience, Steven knows enough about the Daleks to know how unlikely it is, but he wants to believe it could be on his side. Listening to the story, you want to believe the Dalek could be on the cusp of real change.

As a result, when the Dalek inevitably turns on him it’s gut-wrenching. The story as a whole is, in some respects, a sobering reflection on the dangers of anthropomorphism: Steven’s mistake is projecting human feelings onto a creature that is fundamentally alien. It’s inevitable that the Dalek will want him dead, just as it’s inevitable that he’ll come to want to keep it alive. Both of them act in accordance with their natures.

The final post-credits twist ties these themes into the Second Doctor serial Evil of the Daleks, with a reveal that’s both shocking and, looking back, somehow blindingly obvious.

Well, this post went on longer than expected, so I’m going to split it in half! See you next week for The Bonfires of Vanities and Plague of Dreams.

 

 

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My Week in Writing (16/07/17)

20170706_115132I had four job interviews this week. I’ve not been up to much else. I’ve been rejected for all four of them already, so it wasn’t… the most productive week I’ve ever had. Two more coming up next week. Here’s hoping.

Still no update on the hard drive situation – if I haven’t heard by the end of tomorrow I’m going to have to get in touch and find out what’s happening.

Otherwise: I wrote a new short story, about zombies. I’m not sure about it, thematically speaking, so I should probably get some feedback pretty soon.

Still plugging away at my other projects – I only have two chapters left on my read-through of Summer and I’ve declared part one of ‘Annique’ as finished as it can be, considering that I’m missing a chunk towards the beginning.

So, since my life hasn’t been that interesting: that Doctor Who announcement!

I’m amused by how absurdly British the whole affair was – all of the articles about it just said the announcement would be made ‘after the Wimbledon finale’ because of course the whole country knows what that means. In truth, I didn’t even know it was Wimbledon season. I was told to expect it some time after six o’clock and… missed it.

But I’ve seen it now! And so far I’m deeply relieved (Kris Marshall seemed like a dead cert for a while, and I did not want that) and tentatively excited.

Jodie Whittaker wouldn’t have been my choice but I’m really, really pleased that they’ve cast a woman and I’m looking forward to seeing what she’ll bring to the role. I’m not 100% sure I trust Chris Chibnall to handle the gender change well but so far things seem hopeful.

So, here’s what I’d like to see:

  1. A Thirteenth Doctor who’s non-gender conforming. I recognise that this would be tricky to handle without making it seem like the Doctor has to be butch because their previous selves were all male, but it’s just what feels right to me for the character. Plus I was always vaguely uncomfortable with quite how feminine Missy was.
  2. A female companion. I really hope they don’t feel that they have to have male companions now the Doctor is a woman – if they want a male lead, bring back the 1960s model and give the Doctor a male and a female companion.
  3. Some kind of well-written, sensitive acknowledgement that certain things are going to be more difficult for the Doctor now that they’re gendered as a woman by the people around them.
  4. Some kind of well-written, sensitive discussion of Gallifreyan gender fluidity.
  5. Otherwise, for this to be handled exactly like any other regeneration. Big Finish did this beautifully in a recent release – it can absolutely be done.
  6. Absolutely no sexualisation of the new Doctor, and please no male love interest. If the Doctor had unambiguously been shown to be attracted to men in the past that would be okay, but given that so far all of their actual, canonical romantic interactions have been with woman, now is a really bad time to pair them up with a man. The implications would be kind of uncomfy.

So, those are my thoughts. As I said: tentatively excited. Very aware that if they mess this up it might never happen again. But mostly excited.

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My Week In Writing (10/07/17)

20170706_112145Things are getting uncomfortably busy around here. Last week I was busy almost every day with temp agency registrations and volunteering, and this week I have four job interviews, with another one offered – it’s on the same day as one of the others so I’m trying to reschedule.

I had an interview this afternoon and it went reasonably well. Tomorrow I’m off to register with yet another agency.

It’s just as well really that I haven’t been able to work properly on Summer, because I wouldn’t have had the time. As it is I’m going over it chapter by chapter, trying to decide what the theme of each chapter is. The end goal is to right an epitaph of sorts for each – it should be really cool, if I can make it work.

My other writing projects are also in an uneasy limbo. I finished a short story I was writing – only it’s presently missing a chunk from the middle, so finished might be a strong word. Fingers crossed I won’t have to write it all again. I’ve started a new short story – it’s nice to have the entirity of an ongoing project again!

My new long-form project (novel? Maybe?) is working-titled Annique and is likewise missing several thousand words early on. I think I’d be coming up on the 10k mark now, otherwise. It’s proving more violent than I anticipated. I didn’t intend for one of my leads to be a serial killer but she keeps on murdering people…

Otherwise, I’ve been reading A Song of Stone by Iain Banks and working my way through the First Doctor Companion Chronicles boxset. I’m planning a full review for Wednesday’s update – the last story seems to be going somewhere very exciting, dying to listen to part two.

My new 2-in-1 is a vast improvement on my netbook, even if it took me a while to get Windows 10 set up in a way that’s usable – I’m still trying to figure out if I can disable Cortana while it’s in tablet mode. It’s an unpleasant operating system, to be quite honest, but it’s nice having a computer to work on that runs properly.

Anyway, as I said I’m off to at least three more job interviews next week. Fingers crossed, I suppose.

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