setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


I wish the Doctor would visit the 17th century more often so I was happy to hear the Eighth Doctor in 1650s England in the 2011 audio play The Witch from the Well. Accompanied once again by Mary Shelley, I was pleased to hear writer Rick Briggs evidently knew his subjects well enough to make an interesting 19th century perspective in the 17th. It's a nice story with lots of enjoyable turns.

The Doctor (Paul McGann) and Mary (Julie Cox) are visiting the present day when they rescue a pair of twins from some kind of witch monster. The Doctor determines that they must visit the same area in the 17th century to find out the genesis of the monster--when they arrive in the past, they find "Witch-Prickers" headed by a John Kincaid (Simon Rouse) tasked with finding and punishing witches in the area. John Kincaid seems a lot like Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, which makes me wonder why he's not Matthew Hopkins since the writers seem fine with using Mary Shelley. Maybe Hopkins turns up in some Doctor Who novel or comic the audio play producers didn't want to risk contradicting.

Among the people Mary mentions when talking about how excited she is to be in the 17th century is John Milton, which should be no surprise to anyone who's read Frankenstein. It might have been really cool if the Doctor took her to meet Milton but I can imagine that being a lot of pressure for a writer. But it was fun hearing Mary discovering and being shocked by some things about Lord Byron when she travels to the present in this story. The Doctor is stranded in the 17th century while Mary spends time with the modern day descendant of a 17th century squire, both played by Andrew Havill, who does kind of a Terry-Thomas impression for the modern version. It makes it all the funnier when he's trying to impress Mary with his knowledge and love for Byron. Mary is decidedly unimpressed.

The witch plot back in the 17th century has the usual balancing act between wanting to show witch persecutors as crazy while also showing that witches actually exist. In this case, of course, they're aliens, which adds another layer of destabilisation. The world may be as dangerous as Kincaid believes but it's much weirder than he can imagine.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


The Eighth Doctor finally returned to the monthly Big Finish audio play range in late 2011 and he brought Mary Shelley with him. The Silver Turk picks up after The Company of Friends, a 2009 audio play which ended with the Doctor (Paul McGann) dashing off to adventure with the famous author of Frankenstein as his latest companion. The Silver Turk is filled with basic problems about setting and character but writer Marc Platt comes up with some interesting ways of having Mary Shelley (Julie Cox) react to the Cybermen, who are, after all, descendants of her creation.

Intending only to travel through space and not time the first trip, the Doctor accidentally takes Mary more than half a century into the future to 1873 Vienna, something neither of them somehow realise until Mary reads a newspaper at a cafe, despite the fact that fashions changed pretty drastically, as one might expect, in those years. There's a series of mysterious murders where people have their eyes gauged out and meanwhile a miraculous "Silver Turk" is being presented, apparently similar to the famous Turk from the eighteenth century but able to play piano and various games in addition to chess.

It's fun hearing Mary arguing with the Doctor about the motives of the Cybermen--she's much more willing to see their point of view than he is though I'm not convinced the real Mary Shelley would have been. The Doctor only late in the story realises that if Mary Shelley dies then Frankenstein not being published might cause a significant disruption in the timeline, something I suppose we should really blame the previous writer for, not Marc Platt, but it's an awkward moment. I would have preferred an explanation for why the Doctor might not be worried at all. The two have a nice chemistry and it could develop into something better but it so far can't hold a candle to Eight and Charley.

The story introduces a new theme for the Eighth Doctor. It rocks. The television theme would do well to emulate it.



Twitter Sonnet #1034

A boxing glove dissolved in shadow leaves.
The scattered light disrupts the polka dots.
Attacking orange contrasts with crimson sleeves.
Arriving late detectives ink for blots.
The frozen fish moved yet too quick at sea.
A weightless glam to fry in silver sun.
The verdant, shim'ring scales are chilled to lee.
And yet too hot the skin reflected none.
The prison rogues and bandits weighed the cost.
The hanger drew a cat to distant stars.
Across a state a mem'ry wanders lost.
The trout provides a home for desp'rate cars.
The drifting atoms dry and gather to a band.
A long and sinking sun has warmed the land.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


I've said before I'm a sucker for stories about groups of characters trapped in a house or a ship or some place else, preferably dealing with a haunting. So I liked the 2011 Doctor Who audio play The House of Blue Fire which begins in a house where four amnesiac strangers have been gathered. Ultimately, the story doesn't go to anywhere especially interesting but the performances are good and I enjoyed the dialogue.

Like most of the audio plays, it's divided into episodes in much the way the old television serials used to be. The first episode barely features the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) at all, focusing instead on two amnesiacs who, because they've forgotten their names, call each other by their room numbers, 18 (Amy Pemberton) and 5 (Miranda Keeling). It's somewhat similar to a short Sixth Doctor audio play from just a few months before this one was released, "Question Marks", where the amnesiacs tried to guess things about each other from their personalities expressed in the process of trying to solve the puzzle. 5 is much more aggressive and cynical than the more open minded and cooperative 18 and I enjoyed the experience of listening to them figuring out how an indoor pool could be covered with leaves and pondering other problems.

I guess one thing Twin Peaks has recently made me very aware of is how much more interesting the questions are than the answers. The final episode of this audio play isn't bad but it really doesn't pay off the scope of mystery it introduces, boiling down to another case of the Doctor versus a big monster. McCoy is really good in this, of course, and he's exceptionally well suited for this story, where the Doctor is finally introduced as a figure with mysterious and unknown intentions.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


The Seventh Doctor seems really confident he can save Nostradamus and the rest of humanity from destruction in the 2011 Doctor Who audio play The Doomsday Quatrain. It's an entertaining adventure that doesn't quite succeed in connecting questions about prophecy with questions about what it means to be a sentient being.

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is surprised to find when he visits 1560 Florence that Nostradamus (David Schofield) is predicting an end of the world quite different from the one the Doctor has personally witnessed. Things are further complicated when a young woman from the future (Caroline Keiff) seems to be treating Nostradamus as some kind of experiment and a force of intelligent reptiles tries to take over everything.

It's fun listening to the Doctor outsmart everyone in strange situations but he seems oddly overconfident in this one. His dialogue where he manipulates the reptile leader (also played by David Schofield) is pretty delightful, though.

Travelling without a companion, Seven seems still to be some time away from his appearance in the 1996 TV movie, but it is nice to hear him make use of the sonic screwdriver in this one.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Those looking for more stories about oppressed robots on Doctor Who can check out the 2011 audio play Robophobia by Nicholas Briggs. A sequel to one of the best regarded Fourth Doctor television stories, Robots of Death, Robophobia doesn't cover a lot of new ground beyond putting the Seventh Doctor in the situation but it's an entertaining enough story.

As I noted in my review of "Smile" from the latest season of Doctor Who, there are problems inherent in treating even sentient robots as a metaphor for slavery race relations, problems which rendered the end of "Smile" ridiculous and embarrassing. Robots of Death handles the issue differently, taking time to explore the issue of an emerging sentience in a class of servant machines rather than throwing it in as a twist plot point. Robophobia is less interested in the robots, portraying them all as saintlike, endlessly helpful servants, but as the title suggests, the focus in the story is more on the nature of the the bigotry. Though, more than anything else, the story is a murder mystery.

Set on a transport ship, one of the officers, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), views footage of one of her crewmates apparently being murdered, along with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), by a robot. We subsequently learn that reports of the events of Robots of Death have been hushed up. When the Doctor turns up very much alive--and not having regenerated--some suspicion falls on him. Seven isn't terribly helpful, either, being in full master manipulator mode, he holds his cards close to his chest, something that proves fortuitous as characters realise there were conclusions about robots and people which Seven hoped they'd come to on their own.

The climax is of course a bit melodramatic but it's an interesting statement about how irrational human hatred can be built on buried or repressed feelings.

McCoy, as usual, gives a great performance and Nicola Walker is good as a one-off companion. She later joins the Eighth Doctor as a companion for a series of audio plays.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Politically motivated journalists, a mediaeval castle, the second World War, Margaret Thatcher's election, and a particularly nasty mythological creature are all connected in the 2011 Doctor Who audio play Rat Trap. Carried especially well by a performance from Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, this story is funny and sinister and ties its various threads together as nicely as a wad of rats' tails.

Maybe you've heard of the Rat King, the extremely rare case of a group of rats who've gotten their tails tangled up. In Rat Trap, a government scientist begins working in the aftermath of World War II to create a super-intelligent, telepathic being by experimenting with rats, connecting them in such a manner in the tunnels beneath Cadogan Castle. Intending to visit the middle ages and witness some jousting, the Doctor and his companions, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson), find themselves beneath the castle in 1983 where a group of journalists are trying to uncover the truth about the place before it's taken over by Heritage in the wake of Thatcher's election and any unsavoury history can be hidden away.

Just this layering of concept is fun but the characters are nicely rendered, too. The group of journalists the Doctor encounters squabble and have distinct personalities--one had brought along a dog whistle to ward off any dogs when breaking into the castle, at which the Doctor wryly asks if they realise dog whistles attract dogs, not scare them away. Davison is in top form here and I was particularly impressed by his ability to speak great lengths of dialogue in a single breath. He usually played the Doctor as seeming almost out of breath and the impression he gave was of someone who's acutely conscious of time rapidly running out but whose sense of decorum insists that he say everything that needs saying in just the proper way. We see this in Rat Trap when, in rushing from one point to another, he manages to ask very quickly but very politely that he be reminded of a stash of napalm he'd left behind and that he should dispose of it properly when time allows.

Nyssa continues the plot thread started in Cobwebs that finds her much older than she was on the television show. She's given a moment to dramatically chew on the underused point about the Master possessing her father's body. Turlough, meanwhile, has an entertaining adventure in the TARDIS with a defibrillator.
setsuled: (Default)


This week I listened to a 2011 Fifth Doctor Doctor Who audio play called Kiss of Death which sadly did not feature Richard Widmark and Victor Mature. But it's a nice enough heist story with romance mixed in, focused on one of my top two favourite male companions, Turlough.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) is with the Fifth's optimum Companion group again in this one--Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and Turlough (Mark Strickson). While the TARDIS is temporarily out of commission for dimensional maintenance, the group are stranded on a space station where Turlough is kidnapped by a couple of thieves. They take him back to his home world along with his childhood lover, Deela (Lucy Adams). Before the events of the civil war we find out more about in Turlough's final episode, Turlough and Deela, who came from families on opposite sides, met in a secret room where the thieves think there's a great treasure now and the only way the room can be opened is if Turlough and Deela kiss.

It's obviously all arranged to get some relationship drama going on and I enjoyed the sinister idea of material gain got from reopening someone's private wounds. An ancient alien security system makes things more difficult for everyone--this is the problem the Doctor focuses on for most of the story, basically playing background to the companions in this one but it's still always nice to hear Peter Davison performing in one of these.

The audio format forces Nyssa to explain in dialogue again that she's much older now than listeners are used to, this story, like the previous Fifth Doctor audio, taking place after Nyssa returns from a lifetime spent on Terminus. She muses a little on how experienced she is now when talking to Turlough about his romantic troubles but it's clear the writers aren't quite sure what to do with aged Nyssa. The initial idea was interesting but I can't see them keeping it up for long.

Twitter Sonnet #1020

Through tapes recovered late we found the proof.
The links appear to make a clearer field.
Too crowded was the team's assembled truth.
And now a waffle iron's fit the yield.
The stomach eggs return like boomerangs.
A catcher's mitt explodes beyond all thought.
In hallowed bins a muppet still harangues.
We'll say that all the drifting down was caught.
In cups predicted now and then it sprouts.
No time was like the present put to paint.
The pots are much too steep for shorter spouts.
The message leaves transmit to us but faint.
A waiting queen resorts to rooks and knights.
A single game could last a thousand nights.

Tuber Tank

Jul. 15th, 2017 04:59 pm
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


It's hard to take the talking potatoes seriously. I listened to Heroes of Sontar last night, a 2011 Doctor Who audio play that features Sontarans, an alien warrior race first introduced in the Third Doctor era but which manifest on the show now only in the form of Strax, who's played for laughs. Heroes of Sontar's Sontarans are all portrayed as similarly buffoonish and I wonder if this was an influence on how Strax was portrayed on the show from then on. There's actually an explanation for the foolishness of the particular group of Sontarans in Heroes of Sontar, though, and I was able to laugh at them a little more than at Strax, who I always tended to resent for taking valuable time away from Vastra and Jenny. Heroes of Sontar is an all around decent story.

It features the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) with his optimum companion crew, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson) and follows from a series of audio plays released the previous year in which the Doctor with Turlough and Tegan encounter Nyssa at a point after Nyssa's final serial on the television series, Terminus. Nyssa is much older, having led a full life on Terminus, apparently now the same age as Sarah Sutton at the time of recording the audio play, judging from the CD cover. One reason this setup is a good idea is that Nyssa left the TARDIS before Turlough's subplot with the Black Guardian concluded so any story set before her departure would have to work in that subplot somehow. There's also a hint in this episode, when Tegan teases Nyssa and the Doctor for sounding like an old married couple, that there's meant to be romantic chemistry between Nyssa and Five. Which is a vibe I get from the other audio plays where it's just the Doctor and Nyssa though I don't remember it ever being directly explored. Maybe it's a chemistry the writers noticed but didn't dare explore until they'd aged Nyssa up a bit, since her relationship with the Doctor began, when she met the Fourth Doctor, with more of a father/daughter feel. Or maybe Uncle/Niece. Despite Peter Davison having been so young in his tenure compared to other Doctors he may have had the smallest amount of sexual chemistry with his companions, I think mainly because he tended to have many companions at one time so it was harder to establish a one on one dynamic.

Also, the writing in Five's era is the worst in the show's history, aside from some stand out serials, which is one of the reasons it's so nice hearing him and his companions in some well written audio plays. Heroes of Sontar takes place on an abandoned planet covered with a strange moss, the remnants of a biological weapon. Writer Alan Barnes concocts some nice problems for the characters to solve or escape, splitting the group into pairs, the Doctor and Tegan dealing with one problem while Turlough and Nyssa find themselves battling a moss infection on Nyssa's hand and trying to overcome the infamy of Turlough's cowardice. As bad as the writing was in Five's era, Turlough has always been one of my favourite companions, I sort of wish the audio plays would allow him to actually exhibit more cowardice and treachery than just having the other characters talk about it. Tegan comes off as a little hardier in this story, which is nice, and I don't think it undercuts too much the nature of her departure in Resurrection of the Daleks.

Twitter Sonnet #1013

Electric wings from poisoned soil sprout.
In clouds, the gas conducts a system burn.
The charcoal tips of dreamless horns are out.
From crumpled pages tin has much to learn.
The egg that didn't disappear awaits.
In promised thoughts the brain advanced the team.
About the board a cable sends the mates.
For pawns aglow outside the port redeem.
And not too like saltines the snack was soft.
In crying words the crows turned over cups.
But wooden mills can bear the note aloft.
Inside you'll find a dozen eggy pups.
Apportioned rows of lizard shoes appear.
Along horizons green they're worn by deer.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Last night I read "Fairy Tale of Wood Street", one of the best Caitlin R. Kiernan stories I've read, featured in the new Sirenia Digest. The story of two lovers who go to see a movie, it's very simple on the surface but tells something much bigger with a kind of magical restraint. There's a sweetness to the understated rapport between the two protagonists, the narrator and her girlfriend, Hana, that culminates in a wonderfully sensual sympathy between a supernatural creature and a human, or the delicate nature of learning to live a life where perceptions are inevitably uncertain. It's also a much better hulda story than Thale.

Yesterday I also listened to a 2011 Sixth Doctor Doctor Who audioplay called "Industrial Evolution", an entertaining sci-fi perspective on the Industrial Revolution, featuring an alien robot who hates machines. The story starts with the POV of Thomas Brewster (John Pickard), a recurring audio play character--a Victorian urchin--whom the Doctor (Colin Baker) has set up with a job in a brass mill in the 19th century. The story complicates the usual narrative of exploitative industrial tycoons and desperate labour forces by introducing a secret alien. Not one of the greatest audio plays, but perfectly serviceable, especially since it feature's Six's best companion, Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables).

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