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From the Reviewer:
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Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/16/17 3:46 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

An enjoyable romp with a focus on the Angels. Liz Morgan does a great job making each Angel feel distinct, and the returns of Wayne Forester and David Graham are very welcome. The story was enjoyable, if a little dull at times, but the focus on the Angels and their relationship with White was a bonus for the story.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
6
Plot Rating:
4
Acting Rating:
7
Replay Rating:
6
Effects Rating:
6
Has Prerequisite(s):
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Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/16/17 11:23 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

In All Hands on Deck, Susan Campbell (Carole Ann Ford) is rebuilding following the second Dalek invasion of Earth. She's living at the old Coal Hill School now, and she's continuing to try and put the atrocities of the Daleks' invasion behind her, as she helps the human race. But a series of mishaps begin to worry Susan, making her wonder if the Daleks are about to return to Earth. But the invasion is odd enough, that Susan wonders if there isn't something else going on underneath the surface. All Hands on Deck tells the tale of Susan's involvement in the Time War. It's a brief story, just showing the earliest parts of it, and it's an enjoyable piece of work. Carole Ann Ford does a good job narrating the story, though I feel that she had some difficulty when narrating for the Doctor throughout the story. The story, written by Eddie Robson, is an average tale that coasts through most of the first 30 minutes, then ups the ante with an emotional ending to the story. Overall, it's enjoyable enough, and it will certainly frustrate those who wished to see what becomes of Susan in the Time War definitively. But it's a nice way to cap off the arc that Susan has had alongside the Eighth Doctor, and a nice way to lead into the Time War box sets.

Carole Ann Ford takes on the narration duties of this story, reprising her role as Susan Campbell, granddaughter of the Doctor. Ford does a good job narrating for herself and the rest of the story, injecting a weariness and sadness into her performance that matches the character she's developed into, following the events of The Eighth Doctor Adventures. Her take on Susan is simultaneously weary and sad, but also hopeful and contemplative. The highlight of her narration comes at the end of the story, with her annoyance with the Doctor and her anger at everything he hid from her and all the "challenges" he created to distract her from the Hypercube message. He closing monologue elicits memories of the First Doctor's speech to her in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, as the roles have been reversed. It's a strong way to go out for the character of Susan; some may not like it, but I found it to be a powerful moment, leaving her final fate to the listeners' imaginations. However, Ford's narration falls apart when she's asked to do an impression of the Eighth Doctor. Her impression is jarring, making him bounce around in personality from a bumbling Second Doctor to a petulant First Doctor, to a depressed Eighth Doctor. Ford can't seem to decide on how to portray the Doctor in this story, and makes him some combination of all of the Doctors. It's something that pulled me out of the story more than once, as I tried to figure out what Ford was trying to portray with the character, and it was the one complaint I had about Ford's performance here.

Eddie Robson's story is a more muted tale than probably most people were expecting. It's not a tale about Susan encountering the fringes of the Time War, but about the Doctor trying very hard to make sure that she's never touched by the Time War. I liked the nature of the story, the idea of several unexplained events touching Susan and her life throughout the story, building up to something else. It's an interesting theme to the story, and it makes for an exciting story. But the story falls apart a little bit when the reveal comes: that the Doctor has been the one causing these events. It's not that it's not a good idea, that the Doctor would be trying to give Susan enough to do to keep her away from the Time War, but just that it doesn't really mesh well with the Doctor's relationship with Susan. He is ostensibly her grandfather, who's helped her through many adventures and been with her through some of the worst tragedies of her life. For him to try and trick her reeks of the Seventh Doctor and his manipulations, which is something the Eighth Doctor doesn't do. It's a nice gesture that he would be trying to protect her, but there were other ways around this without having him revert to being the Seventh Doctor, in essence.

However, the story is able to stick the landing extremely well, with an open-ended finale, paralleling the closing moments of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Susan, having locked the Doctor out and summoned a TARDIS, tells the Doctor that she was never given a choice all those years ago, and would like the chance to decide her own destiny, stepping into the TARDIS to fight in the Time War. It's an ending that will probably frustrate those who wished to know definitively what happened to Susan in the Time War, but I found it to be a harrowing ending. We already know exactly what's going to happen to Susan. The Doctor has implied what happened to her throughout the history of New Who, which makes the ending of this story all the more tragic.

I'd also like to make special mention of the work on the music, down by Howard Carter. Carter has done a lot of work for Big Finish over the years, but his work here is just fantastic. It blends together a bleak soundtrack of a broken world with the more austere heavenly choir and church organ sounds that are typical of Gallifrey-bound stories. It works so well for this story, as the plot attempts to marry the two ideas a bit, showing the bleakness of Earth mixing with Time Lords, but also with Susan encountering the Time War. The work in the scene where the hypercube explains to Susan what is happening is harrowing, as the music swells a bit, eliciting an emotional moment, before dropping off suddenly, leaving the listener hollow. The work by Carter here recalls shades of his excellent work on the War Doctor series, and really deserves some recognition.

Overall, All Hands on Deck is a sort of muted story. The ending of the story is an excellent one, though I suspect it will be divisive to some who wished to know what happened to Susan in the Time War. Carole Ann Ford's narration work is generally solid, though I disliked her narration for the Doctor, as I felt that she wasn't able to really capture a specific Doctor's personality with her performance. Eddie Robson's story was enjoyable enough, building the tension throughout the story, and ending on an extremely strong note. However, it stumbles a little bit with the big twist of the story, and detracts from a lot of the earlier parts of the story. This may not be the definitive answer to what happened to Susan during the Time War, but it's still an engaging story, and one that sets up the events of the upcoming The Eighth Doctor: The Time War, Series 01 box set well.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
10
Plot Rating:
10
Acting Rating:
10
Replay Rating:
10
Effects Rating:
10
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 10/16/17 11:22 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

In The Outliers, by Simon Guerrier, the Second Doctor and his crew arrive on an asteroid in the year 7691 that's being mined by a crew, led by Richard Tipple (Alistair Petrie). But upon their arrival, the four discover that people are disappearing left and right, swallowed up by something lurking below the water. Involving themselves with the case, the TARDIS crew will be forced to go up against monsters both under the water and above the surface. The Outliers is a delightfully creepy story that doesn't really pull any punches with the story its trying to tell. A lesser story would've copped out at the last part of the story, but Guerrier sticks to his guns and crafts an excellent Doctor Who story that shows what happens when humans are the invaders. Both Anneke Wills, with her steady narration and excellent performance, and Frazer Hines, with his strong dual performance, stood out as parts of the main cast, while guest stars Elliot Chapman, Alistair Petrie, and Matilda Ziegler were highlights of the guest cast. Guerrier's script was an exceedingly creepy story, enhanced by some excellent sound design and music by Toby Hrycek-Robinson, telling a rather gruesome tale filled with greed, loss, and, of course, aliens.

Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines are the main cast members for this story, reprising their roles as Polly Wright and Jamie McCrimmon, respectively, from the TV series. Wills has been having an excellent year as Polly; from her excellent appearances in June's Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 02, and her great performance in last month's The Early Adventures: The Night Witches, she's slowly having just a brilliant year in the role, and that's frankly due to the excellent performances she keeps churning out, and her performance here is no exception. She has slowly emerged as an excellent lead for these stories, taking charge, in contrast to her time on the TV series often. There's an excellent scene where she manipulates Matilda Ziegler's character into letting her see Ben and Jamie, only to go and escape with them almost immediately after. It wasn't an unexpected turn of events, but Wills still sells the hell out of it, making a plan to escape, and taking on the "Doctor" role of the story from that point on. Combined with her steady narration, Wills shines throughout this story. That's not to say that Hines didn't do a great job as well. His Jamie is still impeccable, having lost none of the charm, even if his voice sounds inevitably older. His impression of Patrick Troughton falters a bit here and there throughout the story, though it's still really damn good. I've found myself particularly liking the chemistry that Hines has with Chapman, as the two seem to share an easy, ribbing relationship through their characters throughout the story. The opening scenes where Chapman and Hines trade little barbs really helps the story to shine, giving it a bit more realism, in my opinion.

The guest cast for this story was a delight, with every member of the cast standing out in some way. Elliot Chapman is the highlight of the guest cast, starring as Ben Jackson, a role originally played by Michael Craze in the TV series. Chapman does an excellent job as Ben; his performance is as close to perfect as you can get, capturing the excellent intonation and accent of Craze well, and keeping an excellent rapport with Wills and Hines throughout the story. I particularly liked his performance at the end of the third part, as he leads the expedition down to the lake to confront the monsters, as he runs the gamut of emotions throughout that scene. Alistair Petrie and Matilda Ziegler also guest star in this story, as Richard Tipple and Chatura Sharma, two members of the mining crew. Petrie is an excellent villain of this story, playing a rather uptight leader, solely devoted to money, only to have everything crumble down in the end. His final scene, his back and forth with Hines and Ziegler, as it's explained that his plan will never succeed, is a highlight, as you can feel the desperation slowly creeping into Petrie's performance. Rounding out the guest cast, Ziegler also shines as mining worker Chatura, a reluctant ally to the Doctor. The character didn't really come into her own until the back half of the story, especially with Ziegler's performance as she effectively switches sides, going against her boss to help Polly, Ben, and Jamie go try to find the Doctor. She's excellent from that point on, and her quiet contemplation at the end, as she wonders why the monsters chose to spare her, is a quietly excellent performance.

Simon Guerrier really outdid himself with this story, writing an exceedingly creepy story, but also one that doesn't really hold back. One of the darkest aspects of the story comes from the fact that these aliens are kidnapping people, and they slowly build up, kidnapping more and more people as time goes by, culminating with the entire TARDIS crew swallowed up by the end of the third part. Going into the final part, my fear is that Guerrier would reveal that everyone was safe and sound within the belly of the beast, or hiding in a cave underneath, and that the miners were the bad guys all along. Well, I was partially right there; the Doctor and company were safe in the belly of the beast, and the miners were the bad guys. But Guerrier gives a satisfying explanation for why the TARDIS crew and Chatura were all saved, while also showing the gruesome reality; in an effort to understand the species, the aliens killed several humans, leaving only the five who didn't want to destroy the alien menace, but rather those who wanted to understand it. This story is essentially a reverse alien invasion story, the Doctor, his friends, and the humans, all arrive somewhere where the aliens were first, and start trying to subjugate the inhabitants. It's a powerful message, and I'm extremely pleased that Guerrier didn't pull any punches, deciding the fate of the mining crew.

Beyond that aspect of the story, I really liked how the story was built. It was a very creepy story; the scene at the end of the second part, where the Doctor asks what the creatures want, and the aliens echo his own voice back it him to say, "want you", right before they drag him under the water, was extremely unsettling. I was listening to it when it was dark out, so I think that enhanced it a lot, but it was just one of the creepiest things I've heard. A lot of the credit for the creepiness of the story goes to sound designer and music man Toby Hrycek-Robinson, who really crafted an unsettling atmosphere for the story. Things sound unsettling, with drips and an almost claustrophobic design to the music and sound effects throughout the story really give a sense of being trapped with a horrific menace. The characters too, throughout the story, were extremely well written. Regulars like Polly, Ben, and Jamie were written faithfully to the characters, while Guerrier also added his own personal spin here and there, especially with the rapport between the TARDIS crew. The guest characters too felt like interesting, full characters throughout. The conflict in Chatura's personality throughout the story, torn between her duty to the mining crew and the desire to do the right thing, makes for an interesting emotional conflict that's wrapped up well in the end. Even the ending, usually something Big Finish struggles with, was a well thought-out ending to the story, ending it on a simple note, but one that feels natural to the story. Often times, Big Finish tends to end the story with a bit of a bullshit reason, a deus ex ending, so it's nice to see someone think out a good, simple ending to wrap up an excellent story with a bow.

Overall, The Outliers is a brilliantly creepy story, with a lot of great work by all the players involved with the story. The cast was on rare form in this one, with Anneke Wills turning in another excellent performance, as well as a strong performance by Frazer Hines. The guest cast was also quite strong, with Elliot Chapman leading an excellent guest cast with a great performance, while Alistair Petrie and Matilda Ziegler also shined as strong additions to this story. Guerrier's creepy script was an interesting story, revolving around an alien invasion where humans are the aggressors and a supremely creepy alien menace. The story was wrapped up with a bow by the excellent sound design and music work by Toby Hrycek-Robinson, who crafted just a really creepy atmosphere for the story, that did nothing but enhance Guerrier's already excellent story. The trend with both Anneke Wills-led stories, and The Early Adventures range, so far this year, has been rather excellent, and this story is no exception to that. I'm hoping that Big Finish continues to do some more excellent work with both Wills and this range in the coming years.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
6
Plot Rating:
6
Acting Rating:
6
Replay Rating:
6
Effects Rating:
6
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: Drew VogelReview Date: 10/15/17 4:16 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

Yes, this story and "The Gathering" function together as a sort of prequel to "The Harvest", but it's really not necessary to have heard the heard that story first. "The Harvest" is a complete and self-contained story. "The Reaping" and "The Gathering" don't add anything of value. They just provide a tortuously convoluted answer to a continuity question no one ever asked ("How was System developed?").

I'm not going to try to convince anyone that Joseph Lidster is a bad writer. He's written several extremely popular stories for Big Finish, and went on to contribute scripts to "Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures". That kind of success speaks for itself. But I hate most of his work, and I don't think I hate any of it as much as I hate "The Reaping". To me, it sounds like an incredibly amateurish attempt to copy the style of the new series. And it does what Lidster has done several times before... it introduces brand new characters that we have no connection to, and expects us to care about them because they are important to an existing character. This never works. It didn't work with Liam in "The Rapture", it didn't work with Gemma and Samson in "Terror Firma", and it doesn't work with Kathy and Janine here.

It's hard to avoid talking about "The Reaping" and "The Gathering" as a unit. They were clearly conceived and developed in tandem, and neither really works on its own. But most of the connections between them are contrived, like the fact that both adventures begin at the Goggle Box. Worst of all is the whole "8687" business. Not only is a corny in-joke and a cheap copy of the "Bad Wolf" concept from the TV series, but it serves no narrative purpose. But then, neither of these stories is particularly concerned with story. It would have worked much better as a single release done in the style of "Project: Lazarus". The main concern of these scripts is the character drama, which would be fine if it wasn't handled so artlessly.

This story is clearly trying to do an "Aliens of London" (another story where the alien plot took a back seat to the character drama), but it doesn't come close. Farting aliens aside, that script does an excellent job of balancing the two sides of the story without them getting in each other's way. I don't think I appreciated how good "Aliens of London" really is until I heard this.

There is some interesting stuff happening with the Cyberman story, once we finally get around to it. The Doctor tricking the Cyberleader by taking him to Mondas in 1984 was a clever resolution to the plot. That's good continuity... it draws on the history of the series in a way that serves the story. But then we get the epilogue, which is just horrible. The death of Janine is arbitrary, pointless, and so poorly presented that I howled with uncontrollable laughter the first time I heard it. I could not believe what I was hearing.

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