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Reviewed By: EiphelReview Date: 2/12/13 6:23 pm
1 out of 2 found this review helpful.

There’s an odd paradox dominating Spaceport Fear, and it regards the titular Spaceport setting. It’s a conceit which is simultaneously omnipresent and yet strangely irrelevant. The notion of an entire culture founded on some small aspect of life is not a new one, or one invented by Doctor Who, though I confess I tend to think of such tales as ‘Face of Evil’ stories. In that outing, the origins of the culture served as a key twist in the tale which put events into perspective and progressed the plot.

In Fear, the spaceport (airport) culture is not a twist, but a conceit up front from the word go. It’s heavily laid on to every element of the characters’ society, and particularly shot through their dialogue. Fear’s lighthearted in tone and plays this for humour with a liberal seasoning of puns, rather than explore any implications of the conceit. In this way, the setting bears more resemblance to Paradise Towers than Face of Evil. If nothing else, the jovial tone is spot on for the amiable Mel era.

Even in Paradise Towers, though, the High-Rise culture conceit informed the plot and was central to its resolution. In Fear, it just never seems to connect. As the story begins, I’m wondering why there’s a culture founded entirely on spaceport life, pondering the meaning of closed up windows and moving walls (redolent of the setting in Red). Yet as the story progresses, it never seems to be a mystery that the play is interested in, nor the characters. It’s never really viewed as a question that needs answering at all, and so ultimately it never seems to matter to the plot. It’s just window dressing. It still manages to be quite amusing at times - a few of the puns are particularly choice - but more often than not it just sort of washes by along predictable lines.

Two members of the supporting cast stand out, though for different reasons. Ronald Pickup as Elder Bones takes the focus of the story, and commands it fairly well with a decent performance. Bones’ background isn’t as predictable as it might have been, and there’s the suggestion of some interesting nuances in his history. The story never really joins the dots though, so Bones doesn’t so much end up as an intriguing character as a character who seems like he would be intriguing if we just had a little more detail. Pickup manages to preserve what facets are present, rather than rendering the character two-dimensional as could easily have happened, which is to his credit.

The other cast member of note is Beth Chalmers. Notable because she’s become so omnipresent in Big Finish’s productions of late that I’m finding it distracting from the story. To be clear, I think she’s a solid performer and I’ve never disliked her in something. I really liked her in Dominion. However, she has a distinctive voice and something of a signature fingerprint (voiceprint?) that she puts on all her characters. When hearing her every month, it starts to pull one out of the story.

The remaining characters are passable though nondescript. In particular, I found Pretty and Beauty to be lacking in definition during the first half of the story, to the point where they just blurred into Galpan and Rogers. (And I never quite got what Gallagher was going for with the names.) I realised eventually that they were intended to be mirrored pairs, but I barely registered they existed as seperate characters. This isn’t helped by having Beth Chalmers double up on Beauty and Galpan, exacerbating two issues at once.

Beth Chalmers is also one of a number of elements which Fear has in common with last month’s Wrong Doctors. The villains of last month’s piece, with their satirical big-business culture styling, are heavily echoed by the humour and style of this story. Whilst it’s not a bad thing to maintain a consistent tone, I think the positioning of these releases back to back is a bit unfortunate. It causes Fear to come off as a bit of a repeat, tonally, of the Wrong Doctors, which it can’t compete with.

With Bonnie’s appearances being such a rare thing, it would have been nice for this series to really capitalise on her return with every release. Whilst Spaceport Fear’s not bad, it’s rather ephemeral. A 6/10.
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Reviewed By: EiphelReview Date: 12/20/12 2:27 pm
2 out of 2 found this review helpful.

A slightly belated review for Voyage to Venus, as I decided to first revisit the whole Jago and Litefoot series to date. The timing is pleasingly apropos, however, since Venus was first intended as the subscriber bonus story for this year, and has a fittingly seasonal element to it, though not distractingly so. That�s the modus operandi for Voyage to Venus: It�s a tale that packs in a whole range of sources and ideas, but manages to grow from them a story that feels wholly organic.

To start with, Morris has the task of fusing both Doctor Who and Jago and Litefoot, producing a tale which reads equally well as both. (A task which The Hourglass Killers never quite managed.) I�m pleased to say he has succeeded admirably, and done so by incorporating yet a third strand of inspiration: The fin-de-siecle science fiction of Verne, Wells, Burroughs and the like. How do you evoke the feel of a series steeped in Victorian London when you�re travelling to another planet and another time? You style your story after the visions of other planets and times that came out of the Victorian era, of course! With its Venusian jungles and balloon-borne sky yachts, Voyage to Venus wonderfully elicits that period in sci-fi, and thus elicits the period as a whole, making Jago and Litefoot feel right at home even on another world.

Meanwhile, the Doctor obviously has no trouble fitting into a science-fiction setting, and Venus goes a step further, managing to weave something specifically Who-ish into proceedings. It ought to please Pertwee era aficionados, since Morris has taken the Venusian setting as an opportunity to revisit all the throwaway references to Venusian XYZ in the Pertwee era. Rather than distract from the tale with overtly fannish nodding and winking, the references are clever and support the tale - testament to the way Morris used them as a source of inspiration for building his story, and not something to force upon the narrative. The measure of this is that, being somewhat cool on the Pertwee era myself, several of the references passed me by, and I didn�t notice any oddities in the story for that.

Of course the real measure of these tales, and the real hook of their excitement, is not just in getting a good Doctor Who tale or a good Jago and Litefoot, but in seeing what comes of throwing both together. Most obviously so in terms of the characters, and the dynamic of Jago, Litefoot and the Doctor turns out to be a little of an odd one. They aren�t kept all together for too long, since there�s a risk that so many dominant leads would overshadow the production. Indeed, when they are together at the beginning of the play, tempers fray within the story, as they often do when such large personalities are thrust together. Starting off the trio�s travels with an argument is an odd choice, and I do feel Henry is given slightly short shrift in the writing.

Once the action begins, however, this abates, as we usually see two of the team played together whilst the third bounces off the guest cast. This works best when Jago is left to amuse the Venusians whilst the Doctor and Litefoot do some investigating. Janet Aubrey�s imperious Vulpina makes a great foil for Christopher Benjamin, and their scenes together are great fun, with just the right seasoning of pantomime. Meanwhile, the scenes with Colin alongside Trevor Baxter demonstrate that if ever Litefoot were in need of a new Infernal Investigator, he need not look far. The two of them have a wonderful intelligent, investigatorial partnership, and it�s lovely that the Doctor treats Litefoot as an intellectual equal. Scientist Ursina makes a good accompaniment to the pair, and I would have been perfectly happy to hear many more scenes between these three and between Jago and Vulpina.

Meanwhile, the crossover of the series thematic and narrative sides allow for some traditional style sci-fi allegory to be brought to the worldview of Jago and Litefoot. The story might be a little blunt with its colonialist, imperialist parallels, but it�s still nice that the assumptions and biases of the pair�s home era can be examined through the sci-fi lens in a way that couldn�t be achieved within their own series. And whilst Doctor Who could still tell such a story with a couple of guest characters of the week, it undoubtedly invests us more when those characters are such a beloved pair as Jago and Litefoot. The allegory itself might not be revelatory, but its emergence from the crossing of these two series is innovative.

If there�s something missing, I think it�s a moment for Jago and Litefoot to reflect on their adventure. These travels can�t fail to have an impact on the pair, and it would have been nice to hear some discussion between them demonstrating as much. Especially given the colonialism subtext, and Jago�s experiences in the story, I think there was potential missed. Perhaps we�ll get to see some of this in the denouement of the second Voyage, since there would appear to be a definite thematic throughline to them. As it happens, we get a rather hefty slice of that Voyage appearing at the end of this one, with several minutes worth of scene which properly belong to New World and not to Venus. Better to cut earlier in the tale and use those minutes to better coda this story. I can�t fault the production team for their eagerness to dive into the next adventure, with such a great team to work with, but a moment of collection would have elevated this tale to something stand-out.

None of which is to say this is anything other than great fun, and an impressive interweaving of arrayed inspirations. A sixth Doctor adventure, a Jago and Litefoot adventure, a homage to turn of the century sci-fi and a homage to the Pertwee era. Even a little treat for the holidays. Surely Voyage to Venus contains something for anyone. 8/10.
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Reviewed By: EiphelReview Date: 11/27/12 3:57 am
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.

"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell."

The words which formed the very title of the first episode of the season prophesy the events of the last. The Fallen King of Britain is not only another tightly woven, multi-layered installment of this great season, but a denouement that ties together everything we've witnessed between the beginning and the end, and I can't think of a better statement of the conclusion it reaches than that quote.

Dorian, now one of the city bankers living things up in 2007 before the crash of the economy, has a luxury apartment in the top floor of a skyscraper. Almost all of this story takes place in that apartment, and particularly upon the balcony - And that's relevant, because it means the city of London is, literally, a backdrop to events. Dorian's world is physically present to observe, and those observations set the stage in the first part of the story. Dorian tells what his life is now, he protests his love for the twenty-first century. But he also reminisces, all the way back to his true youth, and everything in between. In the contrast we see a world that has lost all its sophistication. No more trappings of romanticism, lustre and beauty. His latest friend is hardly Oscar Wilde, and his yuppie parties bear little resemblance to the dinner parties he attended over a century prior. Much as Dorian determinedly praises this new age, one wonders if he protests too much.

The play subtly counterpoints talk of Dorian's portrait with characters gazing out over the city, and the similarity of the observations, when you spot it, is striking. This is the city as portrait, and it's a city which reflects Dorian more closely than ever. Last week's episode showed the eighties as an era when the modern world started to catch up with Dorian, with our protagonist deep in his element. This week continues that thread, but the twenty-first century reflects more than Dorian's superficial hedonism. Dorian can be seen as a character ahead of his time, suffering the same sort of dislocation and disenfranchisement as other, more mundane examples of such people. When the world finally draws level with him, what we see is no homecoming for Dorian however, but merely a world that has brought everyone else as low as him.

This is what I really took away from The Fallen King of Britain; that Dorian is no longer anyone special. That for all his unique nature, the place he has arrived at is a place myriads of other, mundane people arrive every day. There's no magic in the escape Dorian seeks, no arcane secret underlying that life - and Dorian doesn't realise it. That ignorance underlies Dorian's turmoil in the story, his paranoia and inability to make sense of what is happening. What really drove this home for me was the perspective embodied in the character of Simon. Viewing this story without the context of the wider series, without knowing Dorian's secrets, this story might just be the story of an ordinary man broken by the modern world. Charlie White who took some bad coke and lost his mind. Outside of Dorian's head, there is nothing else at work. It is only those Confessions of Dorian Gray which suggest anything more. Secrets shared only by Dorian and we the audience. When Dorian reflects that demons come in all shapes and sizes, one can't help but recall Oscar's epigram.

All of this leads to an exciting finale, proving you don't need galactic stakes to make for a dramatic conclusion. As the story reaches its end there's the unshakeable sensation that something has to give, and we can't know what that might be. Suffice to say, it fuels some sterling performance from Alexander Vlahos, culminating in a fantastic soliloquy that /demands/ a second season, that we might see how Dorian is changed.

Impeccably formed from start to finish, an exquisite character portrait itself, Confessions is one of the best productions I've ever heard, and The Fallen King of Britain provides it with a conclusion that wholly honours this exceptional work. 9/10.
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Reviewed By: EiphelReview Date: 11/24/12 7:18 am
5 out of 5 found this review helpful.

I've never been a New Adventures fan. I've looked at them but they never worked for me. As a result, I knew very little of the details of Love and War, though I was aware of the significant parts - particularly Ace's departure and Bennie's introduction. The result was intriguing in a very similar way to some of the Lost Stories. It felt a bit like a historical document I was learning about, as well as a new story I was enjoying.

I had no real trouble following things, and I don't know if I was really out of the loop about anything. There was perhaps a little bit of running to keep up at first - Ace is already in with the Travellers, and she has all her history with Jules already hanging over her. It felt a little like those were things I should already be aware of, but there was no difficulty in picking up who they were.

Still, I think a little of Love and War's adapatation heritage is present, since the pacing feels slightly strange and... dreamlike. That's an odd way to describe it, but it's the most accurate I can muster. It feels very decompressed, occaisionally languorous, and certainly very relaxed in its story telling. This doesn't actually detract, per se, but I feel things would have been blocked out differently if it was written directly for audio, in order to better build momentum across the story. As it is, I underwent a sort of dawning realisation about ninety minutes into the story that I'd only just got a handle on what the conflict actually was. I don't neccesarily mind that, and it's not at all that the early story feels purposeless. It's just a strange pacing.

The one area of the plot that this dreamlike pacing actually serves fantastically is 'puterspace'. This is also the part of the story I found most unexpected. At first everything was proceeding along lines I had anticipated based on my knowledge of the story. Ace, Bennie, Heaven, portents and death... Then the puterspace sections showed up, and were distinctly odd. I wasn't expecting my tale of war and death to go all matrixy. As it transpires, some of the best and some of the weakest material is involved here. The dreamy, introspective, phantasmal qualities of many puterspace scenes are very entertaining, and they do a lot of work setting up the atmosphere of the story for Ace. On the other hand, it feels like an extra level of plot bolted on to expand the Heaven story, which might be more elegant without it - Cornell admits that his first draft of Love and War did not actually have enough plot, and I think it shows here. For a while I was wondering exactly why we'd gone to puterspace at all, and I think it's a bit of a culprit in how long it takes to understand the nature of the conflict. It gets a little cheesy too, early on. The name 'puterspace' itself is a bit daft, and Bernard Holley (who is otherwise very good, if underused, as Phaedrus) cannot help a line like 'This sword is a very powerful attack program'.

Now, another area that I think the novel heritage tells upon is the detailing. I think some parts of the story are more deeply, or differently, detailed to what I'd expect from a usual audio. Chief among those details are the characters. I chuckled at Chris's description of 'a love letter to the disenfranchised' because it is rather accurate. Here's a story in which the Doctor's melancholic detachment sees him trade off a rebellious teenager for a troubled past for a feisty adventurer with a troubled past, amid the comings and goings of a nomadic commune with troubled pasts. A nice undertone, which is fairly subtle and may have been more present in the novel, is the way in which all the characters have differently been touched by war. There's no real warring actually at work in Love and War, instead it looks at the relics of wars past.

Literally the relics, in the case of Bernice Summerfield, who has of course lived a long and complex life across novels and audios in the twenty years since Love and War was published, making this revisit of her origins a bit of a curiousity, in context. Now, I have to confess, I am not a Bennie fan. I bought Love and War because I love the Seventh Doctor, and I'd have passed it up if it were not a Doctor Who story. Bennie's of that archetype of quippy, forthright middle-aged women who are always seen drinking and complaining about their ex-husband. I tend to find her smug, and founded on a bit of a cynical attitude to the world. I've also never found her humour funny. I don't hate the character, by any means, and I will say that Lisa Bowerman really does completely inhabit the role. In every instance that I've heard her, she very much /is/ Bennie. Also in her favour, she is a distinct companion with a dynamic of her own. For all of that, though, I'm never going to have huge enthusiasm for her.

In this release specifically, I found Bennie a bit more subdued and a bit more adult than has been my experiences of her previously, and she did work better. I still found her iffy, but I wasn't off put by her presence. It was good to see her doing some proper archaeology and selling me on the fact - I've heard two other stories where she's supposedly on a dig, but on neither occasion did I get the sense she was genuinely working or demonstrating expertise. I do here. Also, I will readily admit her penultimate scenes opposite McCoy are excellent. Some of the best in the play.

McCoy himself is on top of his game. After the last few years his talent can't be doubted. Here's another strong, restrained performance that hits all the familiar notes as emotively as he ever has - and also something a bit new. There's a certain headstrong certainty that comes out of the Doctor in this place that's just ever so slightly different to what we see from him elsewhere. Yet another facet of the Seventh Doctor that's still being uncovered after so many years, brought to light by McCoy's splendid work. It's that iron certainty which actually catalyses a lot of the play, so it's commendable that he got it so right. From a script perspective, though, certain wrinkles to the Doctor's behaviour are not quite so readily signposted as maybe they needed to be. It's all understood by the end of the story, but there are times during the story when I didn't know that there were things I wasn't understanding. Mostly this manifested in a lot of confusion about the Doctor's fixation with Dodo, which I only half grasped until it was patiently explained by a helpful forum post.

Now, I find McCoy frequently demonstrates more restraint than his reputation suggests, but unfortunately, I've also found the opposite true of Sophie Aldred. Love and War is admittedly a tricky one, since it rewinds Ace to the television era, then fastforwards her along a different and rather more emotionally volatile path than the more mature Ace who developed in the audios. Nonetheless, I felt there was a degree of excess in Aldred's performance. Some rather shouty displays of overly tortured hysterics undermined the empathy Ace's scenes should have elicited, and then there were the love scenes.

Now, the love scenes are not Aldred's fault. In this instance it's the story that's to blame. I don't know if the novel is spaced over a wider time period or what, but I found it exceedingly hard to credit the relationship of Ace and Jan. Within a day, the pair of them are supposedly deeply in love. Within two, they want to get married. They pour out heartfelt confessions to one another, and talk about deeply felt trusts - And it's preposterous because they've known each other for about as long as you might spend with a stranger on a particularly long haul flight. In the context of Ace as a very messed up and emotionally stunted girl you could understand her obsession and mistaking of her emotions, but the story has us really meant to believe they're in love, and that's just not a credible sell.

Probably because their characters both exist primarily for this flawed love-life plot, neither Jan nor Jules feels like a good character. They feel trite, mawkish, and a little 'obvious' in how they've been written to be Ace's love interests. Unfortunately, neither Redmond nor Unsworth can find an angle to cut through the sentiment, leaving their characters disappointingly wet.

I was a lot more enamoured with Christopher, however. They were a fantastic and interesting character, and I'm disappointed that they were only really a tertiary player since I was much more interested to know what sort of things went through Christopher's mind than the likes of Jan's. It pleases me to see a legitimately strong, active, interesting character who demonstrates queering of gender without any of the usual misguided humour or silliness. Of everything in Love and War, my lasting impression is wanting to have more of Christopher. I think they're my favourite element of the play.

Oh, and can I just say how cool it was that Big Finish got Charlie Hayes back for a cameo in the prelude? That stirred up some fannish glee in me no end!

As someone who has never been attracted to the New Adventures, I wouldn't expect this to be a perfect story for me. To be honest, the more faithful the adaptation was going to be, the more likely it would be to contain offputting elements. Some of those are present, in Bennie's character and in overly angst-ridden and overwritten emotionality. There's also a certain oddness to the whole thing which may well be the mark of its nature as an adaptation, or may have been a peculiarity of the original novel. It's certainly very interesting though, both as a story qua story and as a piece of Doctor Who apocrypha. I enjoyed the ways it was unlike the usual audios, and in general I liked the detail of its characters, and seeing McCoy in yet another new light. I think this one's a winner, on the whole, though a peculiar one. 8/10.

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