Sunday, September 14, 2014

Omega

The first time I ever became aware of Big Finish was back in 2003 when Outpost Gallifrey posted a news story about a new "villain trilogy" they were about to release. The trilogy promised to do a deep dive on the back stories of each villain and all featured a different Doctor. I remember being intrigued by this and was unaware that there was a company even making audio dramas of Doctor Who. For all I know, I may have even thought at the time that these three releases were the first audio dramas they had released. In any event, some weeks or maybe months later I was intrigued enough to order two of the stories. I decided to buy "Davros" and "Master" because I always found them far more interesting villains than silly old Omega. So, it would be a year or more later before I actually heard the best of the villain trilogy.

This is the first Big Finish story written by Nev Fountain - and thankfully not the last! Ian Collier, who voiced Omega in "The Arc of Infinity" returns to reprise the role here. It's the right choice as he has a distinctive voice and is immediately recognizable as Omega from his first few words of dialog. A lot of the story consists of the Doctor and Omega conversing, and the chemistry between Collier and Davison works quite well. There is also a lot of humor from some amusing characters and the backdrop of a historical tour where they do dramatic reenactments of famous historical figures (in this case Omega). It's interesting to have a setting like this where Gallifreyan history is the subject of common knowledge and gawkers come from all over to check it out.

Amongst the humor are some grim and violent scenes. Omega is back - seemingly in non-corporeal form - and seems repentant and wanting to simply get back to his anti-verse he worked so hard to escape from. But, there are flashes of madness, and it takes a while before you realize just how mad he is. This story is probably most famous for its big twist. It truly is a fantastic moment. Revisiting the story, there are quite a few clues given to the nature of the twist. I admit, that my dull mind never saw it coming. The big reveal at the end of part three was a true jaw dropper for me and even listening to the story for a third time, I got goose bumps listening to the big cliffhanger.

The story also serves to give a lot of back story to Omega, and a bit of surprising history of the Doctor. Aside from the big twist, there are a couple of other surprises in the story revealed towards the end. One is pretty hilarious involving the two annoying old ladies who generally serve the bulk of the story as comic relief. The revelation at where the name Omega came from is very satisfying, and very well written and performed. Omega was always a villain you had some sympathy for, and Fountain maintains that in this story, while still making him frightening.

As a whole, I like this better than the other two stories in the villain trilogy. This really feels like the final story in a trilogy for Omega. It gives a satisfying back story for the character, but also is a satisfying conclusion for the character until someone decides to bring him back. Peter Davison is in fine form, and really works well without a companion. It's certainly quite a contrast from the bulk of his television stories where the TARDIS was crammed with them. My one gripe with Omega is it does feel quite long. To its credit, it never gets dull, but you are every bit aware that they nearly filled both CDs to full capacity to tell this story. With many laugh out loud moments, and some really great plot twists, this is a great debut for Fountain, and I like his next story even better!

Rating: Great


Listen

Loved it. Finally Capaldi gets a classic (at least on first blush) story! Creepy, funny, and touching. The surprise at the end was really something. I continue to really enjoy Clara - more than most it would seem. I really need to watch it again.

Hope to have a review of "Omega" up tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Robot of Sherwood

Another enjoyable episode. These sorts of historical romps have become familiar in New Who, and while they are never brilliant, they are almost always fun. This one was particularly funny, and for most of the first half I was laughing hard at the Doctor's antics. I also enjoyed the performances behind Robin Hood and the Sheriff. I was intrigued to see how the mystery of Robin Hood being real would be revealed and was perfectly satisfied by the simple result. Still waiting for a truly brilliant story in this new series, and I am hopeful we will get that next week.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Flip-Flop

Jonathan Morris has written quite a few Doctor Who stories for Big Finish and other mediums, but "Flip-Flop" is definitely my favorite. It's one of the more unique takes on time travel, changing the past, and living with the future. I remember being surprised when I got this years ago and saw that there was a black CD and a white CD, but no enumeration for either one. I think I even went online to find out which one I needed to listen to first. I was stunned to find out that it really didn't matter. How in the world could that work? ... OK, before going on, if you've never heard "Flip-Flop" this is probably one of those times where you need to trust me that this is brilliant, stop reading the review, and just buy the story. It's a brilliant time travel convoluted mess (in a good way), with some great humor, and is unquestionably my favorite 7th Doctor story. (Now, stop and don't spoil yourself. You have been warned.)

I can't imagine how hard it was for Morris to plot this one out. Just coming up with the two parallel realities in the present, and managing to juggle two different versions of four characters existing in both is a bit head spinning. Oh and go ahead and throw a little bit of time travel back an hour just to make the present even more confusing. To do it in a way that once you've heard both discs, completely makes sense is just brilliant. This is one of the best examples of parallel universes ever. It's amazing how nearly perfectly symmetrical each reality is with each other, with almost every scene lining up perfectly from one CD to the next (... or previous). The fact, that it's done with such great humor is another accomplishment.

Once again, I find myself enjoying McCoy paired up with Mel. Given how dreadful their TV season was, it's amazing how often their audio pairings work out so well. This is just the perfect story for the 7th Doctor. It brings out his quirky, humorous side, as well as his brilliance beneath the clownish facade. It's nice to have the 7th Doctor swept along in events, and not the dark manipulator as well. Bonnie Langford is great here too. I love the moment where Mel sends up the awful line from "The Trial of a Time Lord". It's one of many very funny moments for both of our leads. The other huge source of laughs, is the obsequious conquering race of villains, the Slithergees. It's so absurd for a race to have conquered with political correctness induced guilt, but it's very funny, and a welcome jab at the overly politically correct society we lived in back then and still do now.

In many ways, "Flip-Flop" is another example of how Big Finish can do a story that just couldn't quite be done in a book or on TV. As much as I would love the new series to rip this idea off, it just wouldn't work as well since one reality would have to be established first. It's just a brilliant take on time travel and parallel universes. I love to ponder the fact, that by the end of the story (or each story) the Doctor and Mel have swapped universes with their counterparts, and they don't even seem to realize it. I've listened to this a few times over the years, and I think I like it more and more each time. Now, if I could only remember to listen to the black one first next time... or was it the white one? This is a pretty nice run of releases for the 7th Doctor, that I am not sure Big Finish has matched since.

Rating: CLASSIC


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Into the Dalek

I thought this one was good, but not great. I think I preferred "Deep Breath" overall. The parallels with "Dalek" and "Jubilee" didn't bother me, since I thought this story was sufficiently different. From what I have read online, fans seem to have liked this one a bit more than me. It was fun to see Daleks just wanting to kill everyone and the action sequences were fun. I continue to love Capaldi's Doctor early on. The special effects were well done, but I have never really found the shrunken people wandering inside a machine to be very convincing. I would really like a season or two of the show without the Daleks.

I am intrigued by the character of Danny Pink, after an albeit short introduction. I am also curious about where Moffat is going with this afterlife arc. It's interesting to me that we've seen two "people" arrive in The Promised Land/Heaven so far. One, sacrificed herself to help the Doctor. The other, depending on whether you believe he jumped or was pushed, may have sacrificed himself at the Doctor's behest too.

I admit to having low expectations for next week's story. I have found Gattis' writing in Doctor Who to be uneven but, I did enjoy both of his season 7 stories. I am not that excited about the concept of Robin Hood with robot(s). Hopefully, it will be better than I think.

I hope to have reviews of "Flip-Flop" and "Omega" up over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Project: Lazarus

It would seem natural that in the 40th anniversary year for Doctor Who, that Big Finish might plan a multi-Doctor story to celebrate, right? So, I can only imagine the excitement of the fans when word of this sequel to "Project: Twilight" was announced with both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy starring in it. I know that a year or so later I was quite excited to hear this story featuring two Doctors. Well, this isn't really that. It's really two different stories: one with the Sixth Doctor, and one with the Seventh Doctor. Although, the Seventh Doctor story does feature Colin Baker. Confused? I don't blame you. This story is definitely not the multi-Doctor story it purports itself to be. It seems odd to pull this sort of bait and switch in an anniversary year. Surely Big Finish wouldn't do this again in the same year would they? Would they?! Possibly misleading advertising aside, this is a fun story. It's certainly not as good as "Project: Twilight", but it's still pretty entertaining - particularly its first half.

The first disc features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn with the Doctor finally announcing he may have had a breakthrough finding a cure for poor Cassie who was turned into a vampire in "Project: Twilight". Mysteriously, the TARDIS brings them to Cassie years after they left her instead of immediately afterwards as the Doctor was trying to do. After meeting with Cassie, they get swept up into the evil machinations of The Forge and reunite with the enigmatic Nimrod. Except from now on, Nimrod is a lot less enigmatic and more overtly villainous. This is one of my disappointments with the continuing stories involving The Forge. Nimrod was more of a dark anti-hero in his first story. While he does make a good sinister villain, I can't help but feel like it's a bit of a wasted opportunity not to leave him as a "tweener". One impressive aspect of The Forge is that it really feels like writers Scott and Wright came up with the idea for (an albeit more evil) Torchwood before Russel T. Davies did. Or, perhaps Torchwood is an homage? The highlight of this first half is its ending. Things go very badly for the Doctor and Evelyn, and their reactions are incredible. The Doctor is just about murderously, livid at Nimrod, and Colin Baker is just terrifying. Evelyn, is simply devastated, and it leads to one of my favorite scenes between the two. (More of poor Evelyn being put through the ringer!) When the Doctor tries to comfort a grieving and furious Evelyn it's heartbreaking. I absolutely love his sad line, "I don't always win," and Colin is just so magnificent here. I know I say it over and over again, but it's another example of the range the Sixth Doctor that was never given the chance to reveal itself on the TV show.

The second half of the story isn't quite as good, but it's still pretty fun. The Seventh Doctor arrives at the Forge when detecting some odd disturbances in the vortex, and is stunned to encounter his previous regeneration working for Nimrod as a scientific adviser. Or is he? As is often the case, I enjoy Sylvester McCoy's Doctor much more without a companion.... particularly without one particular companion. In fact, the faux Sixth Doctor ends up being the companion for this story. It's a lot of fun when the Doctor quickly susses out what's going on in The Forge. It's a simply priceless moment when he asks the "Sixth Doctor" a simple question that he doesn't have the answer for, and when a stammering reply is all he gets, simply walks off - "I thought so!" Moments like these are when McCoy's Doctor truly shines. Things progress a bit into cliched territory with some of the sci-fi tropes of cloning stories. Still, the ending ends up fairly exciting with the destruction of The Forge and the Doctor's escape. Credit also to Colin Baker, who delivers another knock out performance in the second half of the story. Even if not in the true multi-Doctor way I was hoping for, both McCoy and Baker play off each other wonderfully.

So, all in all, while not living up to its predecessor, or its billing, "Project: Twilight" is still fun. The return of Nimrod is welcome, and The Forge is a pretty interesting, evil version of UNIT or Torchwood. The conclusion of the first half is riveting stuff, and while the second half doesn't quite live up to that, and reveals that this may not have been the story we were exited for, it's still a pretty good bit of fun. The strong run of Big Finish releases in 2003, continues. When will it be derailed?

Rating: Great

Monday, August 25, 2014

Deep Breath

Quick thoughts: I really enjoyed the episode. If I were ranking it with my rating system for the audios, I would probably put it on the high end of the Good scale. I generally think that most of the "introduce a new Doctor" stories are weak stories. My least favorite of the classic series would probably be "Time of the Rani" while my favorite would be "Spearhead from Space". As for the new series, my favorite (and this would be my favorite Doctor introduction story overall) would be "The Eleventh Hour" which I rate about as highly as all of the best Who's from the modern era. While I didn't like "Deep Breath" nearly as much, it's still miles better than "The Christmas Invasion" which I find fairly torturous to sit through on repeated viewings until the Doctor finally wakes up.

I enjoyed this episode a lot more. The story was solid, if not spectacular. But, I just love what I have seen so far of Capaldi's Doctor. I think many long time fans of the classic series are a bit predisposed to like the 12th Doctor. He just feels more like a classic Doctor than any of the modern versions have. I also think Jenna Coleman was tremendous. A lot of my friends don't really like Clara very much, but I have always found her to be fun. One thing's for sure, Jenna is an excellent actress. I thought she was riveting in the breath holding scene. Of course, the ending minutes were emotional and lovely. I am very excited about this new season of Doctor Who, and I may end up writing more of these first impressions for each episode.

I hope to have a review of "Project: Lazarus" up in a day or two. I need a night where I am not exhausted to write it.