Every month Big Finish lavish us with a number of new (and old) Doctor Who audio adventures. Collected here are three reviews of the latest releases featuring a “missing” First Doctor story, a companions chronicle and a Seventh Doctor tale.
The Masters of Luxor
By Anthony Coburn
Adapted by Nigel Robinson
Starring William Russell and Carole Anne Ford
Review by Daren Thomas Curley
If you take Death to the Daleks, with a Dead Planet setting, add a slice of The Robots of Death and nods to the Cybermen origins, mix with an air of Mary Shelley and a pinch of Pinoccchio… Shake well, then serve with a garnish of post WWII paranoia, themes of genetic engineering and we have The Masters of Luxor…
When a mysterious signal drains the TARDIS of power and forces it down to a seemingly dead world, our intrepid crew find a banquet awaiting them and an army of dormant robots who claim them as the new Masters of Luxor. Things takes a more sinister turn when they discover the motives of the robot’s ‘perfect one’ who is searching to discover what it is to be human.
On the whole this is very successful at re-creating the tone of the era. Told in part narration, part performance with William Russell and Carole Anne Ford alongside a superb turn from Joe Kloska, it does make for a curious listen. Taking the narration in turns can have the feeling of two over~exuberant children’s theatre group actors reading to a primary school class. But kudos to the actors for both for doing their damndest with what they have. The narration itself is too functional, simplistic and cumbersome. It’s unable to really flesh out the story or add any significant intrigue or tension.
Characterisation is strong and the TARDIS crew are instantly recognisable. Their treatment is a little inconsistent and they jump between being naive, curious or even stupid, before proceeding to make giant leaps in logic in order to work out what is going on. However a special mention goes to William Russell. He utterly nails both the idea of Hartnell’s Doctor and recreates Ian in a completely three-dimensional way. Carole Ann uses the same familiar innocent tone of Susan from the early sixties, but being on equal covering duties for narration and Barbara, sometimes the subtle differences can be lost.
It’s very much a game of two halves. At first, the story is too light, stretched and takes too long to kick off. It also has an annoying habit of being too expositional. But the later episodes ramp up the tension with some nice twists and it acts almost like a Frankenstein sequel, which forces creator to face up to their actions and the monster that has been created. It manages to hold a mirror up to the world and society of the time and has some really big philosophical questions at its heart which offer a lot of food for thought long after that police box has vworped off into the sunset.
In conclusion, it’s both rather evocative of that era, offers some nice ideas, but the pacing and execution still leaves a lot to be desired. It certainly makes the best of what it has by offering the most truthful version it can. But, for me, it’s the choice to present the story as some weird extended audiobook results in it to be neither one thing nor the other. It should just keep one clear voice as narrator, rather than continual jumping between the two and I can’t help feeling a re-worked purer script/drama adaptation may well have done more justice to the narrative. As a result, I worry it ends up as little more than a curiosity piece for a fan, rather than a must have.
Starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
The recent Big Finish Seventh Doctor story~arc certainly takes a leaf out of current showrunner Steven Moffat’s book in its bold complexity. The arc started back in the 2009 audio drama The Angel of Scutari where the TARDIS’ outer shell was blown off leaving it white. It has remained so since, except in the Seventh Doctor’s lone-adventures where it has appeared black. After three years we’re finally getting some answers as the arc reaches its climax.
After surviving the events of the Doctor-lite audio drama Protect and Survive, Ace and Hex find themselves not so alone in the TARDIS. From the get~go we learn that the Doctor has contemporaneously been travelling at the same time with both Ace and Hex and two new recruits Lysandra and Sally. The main story actually centres on the four companions getting up to their necks in the story of Beowulf. The clues and revelations keeping coming and pile up at the end in a very exciting cliffhanger with all the pawns positioned in such a way that can only herald a showdown with one of the Doctor’s oldest foes.
Writer Matt Fitton has done an excellent job broadening the original Beowulf poem by taking its elements and characters and using them to create a wonderfully inventive historical/sci~fi version of how the story really happened that reminds one of the likes of The Time Meddler and The Myth Makers. The narrative also cleverly discusses the way stories are formed and how they develop and change through time and telling. The assembled cast is first rate; the regulars are on particularly good form and the guests are also top notch.
Black and White neatly brings together all the strands of the numerous plot arcs reaching their various climaxes whilst also managing to work successfully as an exciting and emotional standalone adventure. With an audio series released monthly, that runs over such a long time, that doesn’t always run sequentially it is perhaps a little presumptuous to expect the listener to keep track of a story that spans a three year period. For those that have it’s a worthy payoff and for those that have not been as dedicated in their patronage, Black and White certainly still merits a listen.
Starring Wendy Padbury
The Uncertainty Principle, written by the brilliant Simon Guerrier, is the third in arc of four but having not heard the first two audios myself as yet; the story is strong enough to let it stand alone.
As the story begins, Zoe Heriot (played by original actress Wendy Padbury) is still being held prisoner by the mysterious “Company” who are attempting to remove the Time Lords conditioning of her memories. Their efforts are not in vain as Zoe starts to recall different episodes from her past. Journeying back to a cold wet rainy day at the graveside of a young woman named Meg, who was involved in experiments that have resulted in alien creatures creeping into our reality, The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe begin a life~threatening adventure.
Wendy Padbury narrates the story marvellously and takes on the roles of Jamie and the Second Doctor with fantastic results (her Patrick Troughton is spot on). Real~life daughter Charlie once again plays the role of Zoe’s inquisitor Jen. Charlie manages to be both sinister in her quizzing as Jen while also offering a helpful side to her character and it will be interesting to see how this develops in the final instalment. Both are directed by Big Finish stalwart Lisa Bowerman who makes this a spooky, dark and atmospheric tale.
The behind~the~scenes interviews provide a comical insight into Wendy and Charlie’s mother daughter relationship, “It’s always nice to be officially cast in a role whereby I can technically backchat my mother!”, while also being informative on both the story and where the characters are headed.
I will admit that I am a relative newcomer to the Big Finish audios but stories as strong as this will ensure that I continue to support the company and I will be going back and listening to the first two stories in this arc and eagerly await its forthcoming conclusion.