Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mummy on the Orient Express

Are you my mummy?

I loved this one. A cool idea, really well shot, and I remain hypnotized by Peter Capaldi. I loved the jelly babies in the cigarette case. The mummy was a cool, creepy monster. All the times you watched the clock added real tension to each death. Just a superb episode. I admit to grinning at the Doctor when he is clearly so pleased when Clara tells him she wants to keep travelling with him. I am sure Danny will be non-plussed, but who cares about him? (I continue to hope that Danny is some sort of bad guy.) This episode, "Listen", and "Time Heist" are the stand outs this season for me so far.

I am only 1 disc into "Zagreus" so far. So, it will be at least a couple of days before I lay the leather to Doctor Who's only 40th Anniversary story.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Master

This is the concluding tale in the Big Finish villain trilogy. It was my 2nd Big Finish that I heard, and left a somewhat negative final impression. That isn't to say that I don't enjoy it. I think its first half is simply superb. It's very well acted and it's just dripping with atmosphere. But, the revelations of the Master's (and the Doctor's past), I really don't care for. I also think the villain is a lame cop-out, and not the type of thing Doctor Who normally does.

The primary strength of "Master" lies in the performances. The most notable guest stars are Who luminaries Geoffrey Beevers and Philip Madoc. Beevers is once again teriffic as the Master. It's really unfortunate that he only got the one appearance on the TV show instead of the somewhat ridiculous caricature played by Anthony Ainley. (This is purely the adult me opining this. As a child, I was absolutely terrified of Ainley's Master.) Beevers is the perfect Master for audio drama since he has such a rich and (as the Master) malevolent voice. Madoc was in many Doctor Who stories, probably most famously as Solon from " The Brain of Morbius". My favorite classic Who Madoc moment was his icy performance as the terrifying War Lord in "The War Games". He is excellent here as the warm, but dark adjudicator Victor Schaeffer. 

In this story we find the Master living in a small village having lost his memory. He has been a surgeon there for years and has saved numerous lives. It is his "birthday" (commemorating the day he was discovered in the village) and as such, has invited his two closest friends to visit him. Since this predates (the televised version) of the Paul Cornell story "Human Nature" (and I hadn't read the book) this seemed a highly original idea. Beevers is beyond charming under his current (ironic) alias, Doctor John Smith. The first episode is mostly a warm conversation between himself, Schaeffer, and Victor's wife Jacqueline (wonderfully performed by Anne Ridler). While three people sitting in a room chatting with each other for nearly a whole episode sounds somewhat uninspiring on the surface, it's actually quite charmingly entertaining. Plus, the conversation references some odd goings on (murders in the village and a possible curse), and it's clear some even odder goings on may be happening in Dr. Smith's house that night. The atmosphere in the house is wonderfully done. The ticking clock, whispered voices, and eerie music lend a both pleasant and sinister atmosphere. You know this dinner party isn't going to end well. And, things start to go downhill right around the time the Doctor shows up.

The Doctor is very cagey in this story. It seems like he didn't intentionally come here, but at the same time he seems to know what's going on with the Master. It's more like he was avoiding making this trip and is unhappy to know the time has come for him to reenter the Master's life. Episode two is largely Doctor Smith and the Doctor ("Smi.... uh Sutton) having a discussion about the nature of evil and the motivations of murderers. Dr. Smith can sense that the Doctor knows more about his unknown past than he is letting on, and their philosophical discussions are quite engaging.

To this point, I love the story, but in its second half things go down hill for me. When the villain of the piece is revealed to be "Death", I groaned. It seems an odd thing to have a superstitious personification actually be "real" in the science fiction universe of Doctor Who. And, the idea of the Master living his life compelled to be Death's agent feels like a cop out. There is also a story of the Doctor and the Master as children being swept into the murder of another child, and subsequently covering it up. I was really being uncomfortable with the Doctor being linked to such an act, and then was even more uncomfortable with later revelations about the nature of this deed. Other fans, may not have the same reservations with this bit of back story. But, I find it belittles the Master and really changes the way you fell about the Doctor. This is one of those things where I am not sure I am willing to accept it as canon.

Another odd thing about this story is that the Master is actually barely in it. Beevers at various times gives hint to the "Hyde" struggling to reawaken within Dr. Smith, but there is really only one proper scene with the Master in it late in the play (supposedly added on at the last minute). As charming as Beevers is as Dr. Smith and as compelling as it is to experience the Master as a good man (it worked great again on TV in "Utopia"), it seems odd that they originally weren't going to have the Master (proper) appear in the story, and it feels like a bit of a cheat that a story focused on the villain has so little of him in it.

Still, despite my serious reservations with the second half of the story, I really do enjoy it on the whole very much. It's just incredibly atmospheric with great dialog and wonderful performances. I also enjoy the device of having the Doctor tell the story to a stranger to be effective, and the revelation of who the stranger is serves as a nice late twist. My qualms with the villain and the nature of the back story for the Doctor and Master aside, the bulk of this story is still very engaging. So, while "Davros" probably left a better impression on me ten years or so ago when I first heard these stories, I think I actually prefer "Master" today. I also think the trilogy of villains stories was a great idea, and all of them are well worth owning. The latter two stories of the trilogy were good enough to get me to dive into the Big Finish catalog, so for that I will always be eternally grateful.

Rating: Good

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kill the Moon

I'm still not sure how I felt about this. It was different. The Moon thing was an idea I hadn't heard of before. It was interesting how the Doctor left the humans alone to work things out. I was really annoyed at Clara at the end. It was good, but not one of my favorites of the new season...

Davros

I will always have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for "Davros", since it is the first Big Finish story I ever heard. My feelings on it then were a bit mixed, and I feel the same way about it now. But, it was certainly good enough for me to not regret buying two Doctor Who audio dramas, and while I didn't immediately begin purchasing others right away, I was certainly intrigued enough by "Davros" and "Master" to eventually start buying the main Doctor Who range from the beginning. I think "Davros" is very much a tale of two halves. The first half is excellent, providing some interesting back story to Davros, but in the second half I feel like Davros is lessened significantly, and there is a plot turn I really don't care for.

The opening of the story, and the first several seconds of audio Doctor Who I ever heard, are fantastic. It's a brief soliloquy from Davros. At the time, the context of the dialog is unknown, (it is revealed later) but it doesn't matter. It's a great speech, starting quiet and somber, while building to a ranting climax that perfectly leads into the Doctor Who theme tune. I remember driving in my car on a short road trip while listening to this, and kept repeating the opening gambit a few times before settling into the story. The first half of the story deals with the CEO of an intergalactic company and his historian (her specialty being Davros) wife finding the "corpse" of Davros and returning it to their home base to try to revive him. Back at the home base a journalist named Willis - a heretofore unknown friend of the Doctor - has summoned the Doctor because his friend Kim (an employee of the evil CEO's company TAI) has revealed to him that the nefarious company is about to close the mines on many planets which will devastate millions of lives. It's a clumsy reason for the Doctor to be there, and the mine thing never goes anywhere, but I guess they had to get them there somewhere. Of course, the Doctor spies Davros' arrival and butts in immediately.

"Davros" features a notable cast of Doctor Who luminaries. Terry Malloy returns to reprise the role of Davros which he owned in '80's Doctor Who. I am definitely one of those fans that stands firmly in the Michael Wisher "camp" of "best Davros EVER" discussions. It's probably not fair, since he had by far the best story to feature Davros in the show. Terry Malloy was a bit too much mad shouty ranting for me. Even his more nuanced performance in "Revelation of the Daleks" falls flat for me since it's such a bonkers story (one I feel is overrated). In this story, however, Malloy is fantastic. Davros is characterized throughout the entire emotional spectrum here and Malloy pulls it off in dominating fashion. It's a teriffic performance, and a good thing too since Davros dominates the play (quite rightly). Also in this story is Bernard Horsfall, who was in many Doctor Who stories - most famously Goth in "The Deadly Assassin". Here he plays the nefarious TAI CEO Arnold Baynes. Finally, Wendy Padbury plays Lorraine Baynes the historian obsessed with Davros. Padbury, of course, played Zoe, companion to the second Doctor. Padbury and Horsfall starred along each other in "The Mind Robber" one of the better stories from Troughton's final season.

The first half of "Davros" is great. You get some great insight into the character's past through flashbacks of the nuclear attack that deformed him, various scenes of the hopelessness of the war going on between the Kaleds and the Thals, and the aftermath of what the Kaleds wanted to do with him after his "accident". These scenes give a lot of depth to how Davros became the monster he is now. Meanwhile, in the present, both Davros and the Doctor amusingly become employees of TAI. There's some truly great comedy here with the Doctor continuingly infuriating Davros.

I don't care for the second half nearly as much. In fact, I would say in many ways it ends up neutering Davros a bit. My least favorite bit is when you find out Davros didn't come up with the idea of the Daleks on his own. He (literally) copied it off a subordinate's paper. Sigh.... really not a good idea. Also, he ends up being full of unrequited love for this scientist (Shan) and at times comes off as a sniveling love struck child. I get that it adds some motivation for his character, but to me it really just belittles him. My other main issue with the story is the introduction of Davros' magic (mathematical) formula which can predict the stock price of any stock at any time. This is one of these ideas I just can't buy at all. Then, Davros' plan to bring the economy down by distributing the formula to everyone also makes no sense to me. Even if I bought the idea that the formula would work (I don't), do I buy that if everyone used the formula at once the system would fail? No, because if everyone used the formula, the formula wouldn't work anymore! Or, is this formula so magical it can even predict stocks when people begin using it? (Head explodes.) The formula ends up being a non-starter anyway since it never ends up being used by anyone.

One thing I will give credit to in this story was removing Davros from the Daleks. Having Davros in a story without Daleks makes him a lot more interesting. While I have criticized a lot of aspects of this story, I still generally like it a lot. The performances are strong, and while it is very long, it's a lot of fun throughout, without ever feeling like it's dragging.  My nit-picks aside, it's easy to recommend the story for providing a lot of great background on the character, and for the engaging performances of the actors.

Rating: Good

Monday, September 29, 2014

RIP Maggie Stables

Like all Big Finish Doctor Who fans, I am very sad to hear about the death of Maggie Stables. I have made no secret that I absolutely love the Evelyn character. I am hard pressed to accept any Doctor Who/Companion pairing was ever as effective or ever will be as effective as that of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. While I give a lot of credit to Gary Russel and company for conceiving such a different idea for a companion, a lot of the credit must go to Maggie for breathing so much life into the wonderful Dr. Smythe.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Caretaker

I enjoyed another funny Gareth Roberts episode. I didn't like it quite as much as "Listen" or "Time Heist" but it was very, very funny. I was tickled by the Pink Floyd whistle. Is it just me or is something up with Danny? It seemed very implausible that he figured out that the Doctor looked like the Matt Smith-alike and then changed to a Scotsman. Also, his somersault jump stretched credibility a bit. I am hoping there is more to him than there seems.

I utterly failed to listen to "Davros" this week. Sorry about that. I will try hard to get back into the Big Finish groove this week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time Heist

I loved this one. A very fun Ocean's Eleven type story done in Doctor Who style. (Spoilers!) 

I was really looking forward to the payoff and figured it would make or break the story, and I found it satisfying. They may be going to the "monster that isn't really a monster" well a bit often lately, but it worked ok. I kind of figured the Doctor was the the Architect. 

I just love Capaldi's Doctor. Every time he is on screen I just find myself mesmerized him. The Doctor hasn't been this enigmatic in a long time, but it's done so well that it doesn't alienate the audience - or at least not this member of the audience. Looking forward to Gareth Roberts' story next week. 

Sorry for the slowness of reviews lately. Been out of town some two of the past three weeks, so I haven't been listening as diligently as normal. Hopefully I can listen to and get a review up for "Davros" before or on this weekend.