Thursday, 7 December 2017

Big Finish Reviews+ UNIT Encounters by Tony J Fyler


UNIT Encounters

Tony has a bunch of brief encounters.

Ooh – change.

The four previous box sets of 21st century UNIT have all had a consistent theme building to a big pay-off – either a battle or a scheme or a great big scary gambit that’s had the aliens finally defeated.

If you’ve taken the trouble to establish that as a format for a box set and a series, if you then cobble together four individual stories and throw an occasional reference in, in place of a properly underpinning story arc, the result is going to feel necessarily bitty and less grandly consequential than everything that’s gone before it.

This then is UNIT Encounters, four single stories, three of which are loosely woven together with mentions of the shadowy ‘Auctioneers,’ and one of which feels like it’s wandered in from another serial altogether – Countermeasures, perhaps – and deals with ghosts and summonings and calls put out into space.

As such, it’s hard simply from a structural point of view not to feel like UNIT Encounters is more or less UNIT Slow Days.

Big Finish fights against that sensation by throwing a couple of top tier alien villains into the mix, giving us a UNIT ghost story, and Infernoing the living bejesus out of us, and it’s important to understand that it succeeds more than you’ll initially think it does. It’s just that it succeeds in a different gear to all the previous, world-imperilling operatic scale of the other box sets.

The Dalek Transaction by Matt Fitton is an odd story, in that it more or less tells the same tale as Rob Shearman’s on-screen ‘Dalek’ and even makes so bold as to mention the events of that story, but then does everything it can do to disassociate itself from it.

A Dalek has fallen to Earth and been captured by a group of rather cod Latin American revolutionaries, who prise it out of its casing, hide its weapon really well, and auction the mutant to raise money for ‘the cause’ of their nation’s fight for independence. It’s difficult to really care for these revolutionaries even when they inevitably die, but the scenario does allow for some terrifically underhanded Dalek action, as the mutant, divorced from its casing, aims to set itself free and take enormously violent revenge on the humans who have imprisoned and tortured it. While the UNIT team make for a singularly unconvincing bunch of international mercenaries, Nick Briggs is on blistering form here as the Dalek, adding extra punches of vindictive, almost personal malice to its grating and ranting, and once the inevitable tipping point of Dalek supremacy is reached, things get interesting and catastrophic in a big hurry, leading to a conclusion that ramps up the body count and satisfies despite our lack of buy-in to the revolutionaries’ cause or personalities.

Invocation by Roy Gill is the story that could be from somewhere else entirely, dealing as it does with ghosts at Halloween. There’s a spooky old house, a scientist with a grudge against UNIT leader Kate Stewart’s famous father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and a creepy ghostly grey man, possibly from the astral plane, possibly from somewhere rather more material. When the grey man begins to walk abroad and frighten the living daylights out of all comers, it’s time for Kate, and for UNIT itself to lay one or two of their own ghosts to rest. Doing that involves revisiting dark memories, a hefty handful of stone tape theory, and a necessary death. Listen out in this one for great spiky performances from Lucy Fleming as Mrs Donnelly, caretaker of an old UNIT facility, and Matthew Cottle as her son Ben, who used to play games with Kate when they were children.

The Sontaran Project by Andrew Smith raises the box set’s storytelling game, focusing on Osgood and bringing some convoluted science and a little personal betrayal to play.
Smith is rarely lacking a new take on the Sons of Sontar, and has added richness and complexity to their clone lives over the course of several stories for Big Finish. He manages that again here, with human scientists obsessed with the business of cloning a would-be slave race of warriors-for-hire, and a squad of honest-to-goodness Sontarans taking exception to what they see as the genetic desecration of their Sontaran template. Adding the 21st century’s Sontaran king, Dan Starkey, in to the mix as the voice of every Sontaran you could need just enriches the quality of the finished story, and makes it the fastest-feeling hour in the box set.

All of which leaves the final story, False Negative by John Dorney, all the more hard going. In essence, it’s a riff on the Jon Pertwee story Inferno, only told from a modern UNIT perspective.

Osgood and Josh have been transported to a parallel dimension, to deal with a parallel – and rather more fascist – UNIT, where their doppelgangers are lovers with murder on their minds. The toing and froing as each in turn meets and interacts with the parallel dimension’s other – our-Osgood-and-their-Josh, our-Josh-and-their-Osgood – becomes quickly exhausting, meaning you have little option but to disengage your brain from the intricacies and nuances of the story on the first listen, though it’s more enjoyable a second-time round, when you now how things turn out. It’s great as an homage to the weird fascistic universe of Inferno (though people might be forgiven for thinking it’s actually WE who now live in the Inferno-universe), but weirdly, it feels like a story better suited to TV than audio – the lack of any visual markers means the actors have to carry the identity of their each-universe versions solely with their voices, and a little too often for comfort, the strain of that, while delivering rapid-fire dialogue, seems to show, and to disconnect listeners from the drama.

Overall, UNIT Encounters, by choosing to break free of the single grand story-arc format, is a less committed listen than previous box sets. That should mean it’s easier going, but actually doesn’t, leaving you instead to judge each hour-long story entirely on its own merits. At least three of the stories here are up for the challenge, but by sprinkling references to the Auctioneers throughout the box set and not having them actually come to any conclusion, and topping the set with an experiment in sci-fi form with the Inferno-alike of False Negative, it makes UNIT Encounters feel like the weakest of the UNIT box sets so far.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Articles Welcome to Issue 53 - WATNOW Small Worlds




Issue 53 – WATNOW:

Small Worlds

Contents Guide

Articles
Where Are They Now:
Small Worlds Cast

Fans Fiction
Mitchell: Part 8

Connections
Un Bore Mercher/Keeping Faith

Who Reviews
The Slitheen Excursion
Prisoner of the Daleks
The Christmas Invasion
The Runaway Bride

The Mothership
The Tardis Cabinet Maker
from Eugene, Oregon

Big Finish Reviews+
The Middle
The Morton Legacy
Tenth Doctor Adventures 2
Survivors, Series 7



Editors Note

Hi everyone,

This will be our first December issue since 2015. Since we used to post on the 1st of every month in the past, I think we’d conveniently given ourselves December off, but this year, with the opportunity of work, we’ve ploughed ahead and welcome Issue 53, with extra helpings of Who Reviews, Mothership entries of Etsy shop TARDIS cabinets, and our regular Articles with WATNOW series.

This month we welcome new graphic artist, Sharon Seymour, who has taken the burden off my shoulders and created a wonderful front cover for us. Sharon takes up the baton from Andrew, who has returned to Uni, and we wish him all the best in his new endeavours.

A short and sweet portion from me this month, lots to prepare for in this coming month, what with Joshua Weevil’s Santa wish list, or ‘He’ll be bloody lucky’ list, which Owen pointed out when he read off the brown crayon scrawl – we hope it was crayon. Still, I’m sure we’ll find something to appease him by Christmas.

Before I forget, we posted on our Facebook page, about Christmas jumpers, so if you’d like to join in with this, have your photos posted, or sent in to our email address, a few days before Christmas, so we can put them all together in a collage, either on the site here, or on our Page. If you’d like to post a message with your Christmas jumper post, then please do so, we’ll add that also to the collage.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Welcome to Issue 53 – Small Worlds, WATNOW


~Jack~

Articles Small Worlds - Where Are They Now? Cast by DJ Forrest


Small Worlds

Cast

Where Are They Now?

‘All these so-called faeries were children once. From different moments in time.
Going back millennia. Part of the Lost Lands.
Jack Harkness

The Cottingley Fairies aren’t a patch on these long legged, flying creatures that are currently playing with Jasmine, a little girl who is at the centre of this story. They can alter the weather and cause great destruction, to anyone who hurts or kills a Chosen One. The Chosen One in this instance, is little Jasmine, who lives with her Mum and stepdad Roy in a housing estate near a fabled forest, where in Roman times, soldiers wouldn’t camp there due to evil spirits.

A local paedophile who corners Jasmine on her walk home through the woods, suffers the consequences of his actions, by a little payback from the faeries, and Jasmine skips home blissfully unaware of the tragic outcome of this man’s actions.

Torchwood learn of the faeries through Estelle Cole, an old flame of Jack’s, who has studied these creatures all her life. But where she sees only the beauty of them, Jack sees a whole different side, and after the Police call about the paedophile who was murdered in his cell, Jack opens up about how dangerous they are, and of his past dealings with them, back in Lahore, on a troop train.

When Jasmine’s stepdad blocks the entrance from the garden to the woods, and an altercation leaves Jasmine clutching her cheek, and Roy nursing a bitten arm, the faeries descend at the barbecue, as Roy addresses his gathered friends in his back garden, enjoying the free feed.

As all hell breaks loose, Jasmine skips away from the party and to the woods, where the faeries have cleared a gap in the fence for her. Torchwood arrive at the scene of chaos as faeries plunge flower petals into poor old Roy, and attempt to do it to Jack. Jasmine’s mum, distraught enough at the death of Roy, soon becomes consumed with rage when Jack, following after Jasmine, lets her go with the faeries, rather than see the world turned on its head by these nightmarish creatures.

Jack’s team leave quietly, disgusted by their Captain, but deep down, knowing there was little else that could have been done to save the day.

Back in the Hub, Gwen zooms in on the little faerie at the bottom of the Cottingley Fairies photo, to find Jasmine Pearce, as a faerie.

Cast

Eve Pearce

‘Estelle Cole’

‘I suppose I'm one of the fortunate few who's been allowed to see our little friends. And it's been no easy task. One needs to have the patience of a saint and the blind faith of a prophet. But for me the long wait has been worthwhile.’


Estelle Cole believed the faeries to be mythical creatures often found around toadstools or stone circles in woods and who were mischievous creatures but not in the same sense that Jack saw them. She photographed them as often as she could, and that led to her tragic death in her garden while her cat Moses, looked on, unable to prevent the rain fall that drowned her.

Eve has worked as an actress since 1954, but since Torchwood, Eve has worked in many television productions from The Bill, Him & Her, Holby City, Getting On, Doctors and WPC 56. She played Maggie in the Scottish gangster film The Wee Man in 2013, and played Alice Drablow in The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death a year later. As well as two film shorts, Hands and The Elder, Eve played Mother Kralefsky in The Durrells series, episode #2.3.


As well as television dramas and films, Eve has also appeared in a few adverts, including a road safety film and an ad for a well-known online gambling site, involving a shop worker living his life as a vampire.

Check out the wonderful interview we had with Eve last year.

***

Lara Philipart

‘Jasmine Pearce’

‘Do you know you're walking in a forest? Well, you are. It looks like a very old forest, and it's magical. I want to stay in it.’


Jasmine was the little girl who really was 'away with the faeries'. Jasmine, was one of the Chosen Ones, protected through time, who would eventually join the faeries forever. The faeries protected her from harm, punishing those who hurt her. Jack, had to let her join them, otherwise the mara would cause untold damage to the world. It was a decision that would divide the team, and devastate the mother.

Lara's career began in 2004, when she played Susan in Carrie's War, from there she played Megan Hendry in Casualty episode The Lost Boys in 2006 before landing the role in Doctor Who, as one of the lucky guests to view the Queen's Coronation around Magpie's dodgy tellyboxes in The Idiot's Lantern. She looked a lot younger in that than her role in Torchwood, even though it was the same year.

There is no further information regarding Lara’s acting credits on the internet, and it could be, that like many other child actors, that they’ve grown out of this role, and focusing all their efforts on their school work, and stepping away from the industry. A few photos on the internet with the Swansea Harriers in athletics, which are easily accessible through Google Search, but otherwise, there are no new photos.


***

Adrienne O'Sullivan

‘Lynn (Mother of Jasmine)’

Lynn: ‘You should have invited them to the party.’
Jasmine Pearce: ‘They don’t like parties.’
Lynn: ‘I’m not surprised, if they live in trees.’


Lynn, mother to Jasmine, was a happy woman, content with life with Roy, but concerned that her daughter wasn't mixing well in school, and spent most of her time at home, down the garden and in the woods. Lynn, was devastated when she lost not only her partner Roy, at the barbecue, but also her daughter Jasmine, to those strange creatures that came into the garden and terrorised her friends and family.

In one small role, a prelude to the Doctor Who episode Doomsday, Adrienne played the Newsreader in the 2006 Tardisodes episode. It was the same year as her role as Lynn in Torchwood. In 2010 she played Jackie in the film Submarine, was Junior's mother in Made in Wales series in the same year and Gillian Bradley in The Reckoning in 2011. On a website that you have to join in order to find out further information. Aside from some voice acting for animations and cartoons, there are no further mentions of acting credits.


Check out our interview with Adrienne that we had a few years ago, here.

***

William Travis

‘Roy’

‘Well, when's the last time you saw her watching TV? Or reading a book? Or playing with a doll? Or sitting down to have a chat with us? When's the last time you heard her laugh?’


Roy was never going to be Mr Popular with Jasmine - they were poles apart. He was outgoing, she was quiet, and waved at what looked to be imaginary people. He wanted to do right by Lynn but when Jasmine kicked off about the fence, Roy snapped and slapped her, causing his tragic end during a barbecue at the family home.

You really don't want to mess with those faeries, do you?


I remember William Travis as Dick Lampard in Where the Heart Is which he played for a total of 71 episodes from 1997 - 2002. Since Torchwood, William Travis has been in one heck of a lot of programmes, from Shameless, The Street, The Royal, This is England '86 and '88, and '90, The Syndicate, Accused, Downton Abbey, The Mill, Harriet's Army, I even saw him in the 4 O'clock Club on CBBC for 2 years from 2012 - 2014. He played four different characters in Casualty from 2001 - 2014, was in 37 episodes of Corrie from 2008 - 2014, played Maurice Cranage in Father Brown, and recently returned to Doctors to play a new character, Ray Wallis, in the episode Intervention this year, having played four other characters since 2006. He's currently playing Simon Shorecross for Dark River.

****

Roger Barclay

‘Goodson’

‘It's little girls. It's their little bodies. It's their little smiles. They're bright as buttons. Look, er, I've been in trouble before, so just help me. Just lock me up! Please.’

Goodson was known to the Police as a paedophile. He was interested in Jasmine and followed her home in his car. He tried to give her a lift but good little girl as she is, refused and continued to skip home. He stopped her under a bridge and tried to drag her into his car as a storm blew all around him, cracking his nose against his own car. Spooked by what he saw, he was plagued by the faeries, throughout the streets, market and eventually in his police cell, where he begged to be placed, for his own safety.

Since Torchwood, Roger Barclay has played many characters, including (and probably my favourite of all his roles), a Burger joint Dad entertaining his kids. Possibly my least favourite character role of his would be as Terence Cunningham in Holby City, perhaps because he played a nasty piece of work, far worse, in my eyes, than Goodson.  


Since Small Worlds, Roger has appeared in a lot of popular dramas including Hotel Babylon, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, House of Anubis, Man Down, Legends, Cuffs and Inspector George Gently. He's been the voice of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments video game in 2014, and was Agent Two in Johnny English Reborn film in 2011.

****

Heledd Baskerville

‘Kate’

‘And there was little Jasmine in amongst it all. She hadn't been touched. The sun was shining down on her. It was, it was like an aura, like something protecting her.’



Kate was the schoolteacher caught up in the strong gale force winds threatening to hurt two bullies who pushed Jasmine to the floor of a playground.


Heledd began her career in 2002 as Katy Morgan in Yr Heliwr: Pechod, since then she's appeared in A Mind to Kill, Casualty, Doctors and Emyn Roc a Rol. Since Torchwood, Heledd has appeared in Y Pris and in 2013 as Lowri Rees in Hinterland series.

***

Ffion Wilkins

WPC

‘He said there were flowers in his mouth.’


Outside the market, Goodson accosts the WPC, desperate to be taken into custody after coughing up several rose petals after an attack by the faeries. She looked the kind of police officer that suffered fools lightly.


Ffion played Hannah Bain in A Mind to Kill from 1994 - 2002 (I knew I'd seen her before somewhere). Since Torchwood however, her acting career seems to have stopped, however, Ffion is the lead singer of the band, Tuxedo.


Nathan Sussex

‘Desk Sergeant’

'I thought I'd seen everything until now. I mean, we had him locked up, for Christ's sake, on his own. He was shouting the odds when he was brought in. Said things were following him.'



When Goodson is initially brought in and confesses he’s known to the police, the desk sergeant books him in. When the paedo is murdered in his cell, it’s the desk sergeant who calls in Torchwood, because, the CCTV gives him little to go on.

One of the biggest if not dramatic changes I've seen in an actor is with Nathan Sussex. From desk sergeant to this rippled muscle, slim, fit, gorgeous man - how are these two even related, they look so different, but I can assure you, they are, one and the very same lovely man.
Check out the interview we had with Nathan some time ago.

Since Torchwood, Nathan has appeared and reappeared in television soaps and dramas since 2006. Do look out for his role in The Lighthouse alongside Mark Lewis Jones.


Since 2006, Nathan has appeared in Corrie, Judge John Deed, Summer Scars as Peter’s Hand, Young Dracula, Baker Boys, Gwaith/Cartref, A Viking Saga, The Indian Doctor, Da Vinci's Demons, and Bang. In Emmerdale he reprised his role as PC Brown, and has since returned to Emmerdale this year, in October, as a police officer. Also, this year (2017), Nathan played Mark Illingworth for BBC daytime medical drama, Doctors.


Paul Jones

‘Man In Street who Goodson bumped into’

‘Watch where you’re going!’

With Goodson fearful of whatever creature was after him, he was oblivious to the real people around him, and bumped into Paul Jones' character, receiving a tirade of abuse as he continued towards the market.

Apart from his brief appearance in Torchwood Small Worlds episode in 2006 and providing the voice of The Doctor in the Ian Levine: Shada video in 2013, Paul Jones has worked as a standby carpenter and carpenter for television and film since 2000. Dramas such as Johnny and the Bomb, Skellig, Big Nothing, Sarah Jane Adventures, 36 episodes of Torchwood including Miracle Day, BBC Sherlock, Upstairs Downstairs, Being Human, Broadchurch, Wizards vs Aliens, and Doctor Who for 56 episodes.


Sophie Davies
‘Bully #1’
&
Victoria Gourlay
‘Bully #2’

BULLY #1: ‘Hey, you, did you tell on us?’
JASMINE: ‘No.’
BULLY #2: ‘Yes, you did.’
BULLY #1: ‘Yeah. Well, maybe you need a good kicking.
Get those teeth of yours kicked in.’



There is absolutely nothing written about these two girls since their appearance in this episode, which is why I'm putting them both together in this segment.

Their characters showed a high level of animosity towards Jasmine Pearce for reasons unknown, in the playground, and so naturally, the faeries paid them back with their own feelings of rage. Fortunately, we never saw them come to any further harm, and thankfully, no rose petals.

If you are, or you know of both child actors, and what or where they may be acting or whatever they’re doing now – do please email us, so we can update this portion.


Big Finish Reviews+ Survivors Series Seven by Tony J Fyler


Survivors Series 7

By Tony J Fyler


Survivors has always been a particularly British apocalypse – the pandemic plague that laid waste to over 90% of human beings is a worldwide event, absolutely, but the domestic grimness of the storytelling has always been true to Terry Nation’s original vision. That said, the Big Finish audio Survivors is now reaching its seventh box set, while the TV version in the Seventies stretched only to three series. That means two things are happening to the audio version. Firstly, it’s reaching and exceeding the point in the storytelling where the original series left off. And secondly, the nature of the issues facing our band of survivors is changing – we’re long past the initial devastation of ‘the Death’ now, past the point of panic which led to religious cults and cannibalism, rape-gangs and forced breeding, just a few of the highlights of earlier box sets. The world, while still far from getting back on its feet, is beginning to normalise in its post-Death realities – food is gold, work is silver, sex is sellable, and medical care is practically priceless. A new social order is beginning to emerge, based on knowledge and skills – engineers, teachers, farmers, heavies, they all have their place, whereas, for instance, the more effete disciplines, like accountancy, are significantly less valuable and less in demand. But the excessively sharp edges of the world are, for the most part at least, rather worn off, meaning the dilemmas our survivors face in Series 7 are rather more philosophical and character-driven than they were in previous box sets. There’s a theme here: forces of societal progress versus forces of individual greed, destruction and protectionism.

That means there’s more time and space in Survivors Series 7 to deal with character issues, and many of our original survivors come to points of particular personal crisis in this box set.
In Journey’s End by Roland Moore, for instance, Abby Grant faces a long dark night of the soul when her quest to find her son Peter comes to an end. There are some twists and turns here that play with your ingrained Survivors expectations of what people will be like, and some guessable issues around the trustworthiness of information, but you won’t care much about any of that, because Carolyn Seymour’s performance in this episode as a mother who’s been kept alive and kept going by the quest for her son, and whose quest is over, will blow your hair well and truly back. There’s a rawness and a viscerality to her reactions when she finally finds Peter that you can only applaud, and get out of the way of. Journey’s End leaves you wondering whether, and how, Abby will go forward beyond this point, having had answers to the questions that have kept her searching and moving all this time.

In Legacy by Simon Clark too, we’re dealing with the impacts on people of big discoveries about the people they love. Greg Preston, the series’ itchy-footed engineer, is evoked here in one of his final ‘off-screen’ adventures, having left his wife Jenny and their son at home and gone off to clear a railway line and run the train that served it, bringing connections, trade, news and other invaluable commodities, including people, to and from a series of settlements. Legacy splits its storytelling between Greg at some point in the past, getting the railway up and running, and falling foul of a settlement that’s run on the basis of indentured servitude, offering food for work on an ongoing basis, and Jenny (Lucy Fleming) riding the train without him, some time later, and confronting the very same community. Each of them makes their own impact, bringing a degree of freedom to the enslaved workers, but there’s a distinct separation between them, and it’s more than hinted that they never got back together after Greg left to go on his quest to bring a bit of civilisation back to the world.

For all the power of the first two episodes though, Old Friends by Matt Fitton is the undimmable bright spot of this box set. Jackie Burchall, played by Louise Jameson, has always been an odd survivor. In Old Friends, Jameson’s back as Burchall, and the world in which she lives is one of ghosts of happier times as she wills herself to waste away in secrecy and solitude, unwilling to carry on living in the ‘real’ world, and yet, discovering a sliver of faith, unable to simply take her own life. When fellow survivors Ruth and Evelyn come to find her, move her out of the way of a new generation of post-plague anarchists, Jackie has to decide whether to hold on to her happier ghosts or face the world as it is. It takes dark, bright, scandalising confessions, tough love, and the urging of a very particular ghost in her ear to push Jackie to a final decision. There’s not a dud note across the hour’s length of Old Friends, with Jameson as Burchall, Helen Goldwyn as Ruth, Zoe Tapper as Evelyn and John Banks as Jackie’s friend Daniel all turning in vibrating, pitch-perfect performances that keep you glued all the way through and mean you’re never entirely sure which way Jackie will jump. Old Friends brings the drama down to a single cold question: when everyone you care for dies, would you want to survive?

The box set rounds out with Reconnection from Christopher Hatherall, a more plot-driven story that takes the Survivors world forward. Jenny, en route to re-starting a hydro-electrical power plant, she bumps into Abby, and faces opposition from the forces of greed, nationalism and unreconstructed machismo. Without spoiling the end, it’s a story that balances the progress of plot with some blistering characterisation and dialogue for Jenny and Abby, and shows how far our particular clutch of survivors have come since the immediate impact of the Death.

Series 7 of Survivors more than pulls its emotional weight, but more than usual, there’s a sense here that even in horrifying, dark times, good people will still exist, and sometimes, they’ll even triumph. In that, Survivors 7 is a box set that speaks to the mood of 2017 and 2018, like catharsis in audio, and for that, as well as the powerful performances and character development, it’s definitely worth a listen.


Big Finish Reviews+ The Middle by Tony J Fyler


The Middle

Tony’s stuck in the middle with you.

What do we do with old people?

Let them rot? Waste away with their dwindling memories when we judge they can’t be productive anymore? Ship them off to a chronologically-convenient Dignitas when they become a burden on the State?

Those are questions that seem to have been the starting point for The Middle, the latest Sixth Doctor audio adventure from Big Finish. Writer Chris Chapman though expands on his initial theme, creating a society that works as a social satire of all kinds of stereotypes within our culture.

On the planet Formicia, society is regimented – the young (those up to the age of 35) get to swan about having fun with no responsibility. The next 35 years are spent in ‘the Middle,’ a giant Kafka-esque version of Heaven, supposedly doing all the real work, but for the most part watching the young. And once you hit 70, the Biblical three-score-and-ten years allegedly ‘allotted’ to human beings, you move on from the Middle to the inevitable End.
Into that environment, Chapman brings the Sixth Doctor and his two latest friends, 19 year-old Flip Ramon (nee Jackson), and, on her 35th birthday no less, Leading WREN Constance Clarke, previously at World War II cipher-cracking station, Bletchley Park. The fact of it being Constance’s 35th birthday is highly convenient to the story, as it allows the three to be separated early on – Flip sentenced to a life of spa treatments and all-night parties, Constance to the Middle, and the indeterminately-aged, but significantly older than 70 year-old Time Lord straight to whatever the End might be. There are some twists and turns there, and we won’t spoil them for you, but suffice to say, there’s more to it than a sci-fi Dignitas, and consent is not really key to the experience. Each of our time travellers finds allies in their quest to re-unite and get off the topsy-turvy world of Formicia, but along the way, they feel it incumbent on them to take down The Middleman, Formicia’s very own Big Brother, who even goes to the trouble of providing an alien invader they can fight to distract themselves from problems at home (thank you, Mr Orwell).

It’s an interesting dystopia, Formicia, because for a lot of people – indeed, for the people the Sixth Doctor encounters in the End – the societal model that gives freedom to young people, work and worth to the middle-aged and ageing, and the genuine attractions of the End to the elderly could really work. That leaves Chapman pushing hard to show us what’s wrong with the model, which is the lack of fluidity and consent – there’s no going ahead or coming back within this strictly ageist society – in order to justify the Tardis team’s actions in destroying a whole way of life for a whole biodome, leaving only the messiness of choice and democracy behind them.

What The Middle delivers, ultimately, is Classic-style four-part Doctor Who that works some surprises into its storytelling, but which is for the most part powered along by some epic performances – Sheila Reid adds another to her collection of ‘feisty old bats you don’t want to cross’ here, and Mark Heap is excellently moustache-twirling, if vocally unrecognisable, as the Middleman. The three principals, Colin Baker, Lisa Greenwood as Flip and Miranda Raison as Constance are increasingly gelling into an all-time favourite ‘full Tardis’ team, and The Middle allows extra levels of separation to show their dynamics in different lights. It’s a story that delivers everything you think it’s going to, and then an additional spin on some social questions to boot. If the ending grows untidy when we uncover what Formicia really is, who the Middleman is working for and why, it’s only a small quibble because up till that point, The Middle delivers enough topsy-turvy, philosophically interesting but stolidly-paced ‘find a friend and work on getting back together in defiance of all the rules’ adventuring to satisfy most listeners. Above all, The Middle feels like it would fit in with TV Baker Doctor Who – it has rather more in common with stories like Vengeance On Varos than the inclusion of Sheila Reid’s voice, in that you can imagine Formicia being made of mostly plywood sets. Does it actually answer the questions it sets out to ask? Perhaps not in any real sense – the actual solution that awaits old people at the End would be monstrous were it to be real. But if nothing else, while sentencing the young to a kind of enforced vapidity, The Middle goes out of its way to show that older people should remain a vital part of our society, and that they’re capable of much, much more than our society currently allows them to be.

Big Finish Reviews+ Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: The Morton Legacy


Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: The Morton Legacy

Tony’s trying on jewellery.

The Early Adventures are a way to tell new stories with the first two incarnations of the Doctor.

The Morton Legacy is more or less Doctor Who meets Dickens, without doing anything as straightforward as actually introducing the author into the story. It’s Bleak House with bling, as Josiah Morton, gentleman collector, helps himself to a strange blue box he finds on a street corner, and hides it away in his secret warehouse of curios. When a strange little scruffy man and his two companions come asking questions about the box, he’s happy enough to accommodate them, but won’t show them the box or his warehouse, meaning they have no choice but to help him to make sense of some peculiar recent events.
Morton’s life and fortune is bound up with a case in chancery, a common enough story. But then, out of nowhere, people on the other side of the case of his questionable inheritance start to die, struck down it seems by an invisible monster.

Is the Morton legacy a blessing, or a curse? Or is Josiah Morton as innocent and honourable a gentleman as he seems after all? Writer Justin Richards – very familiar with the period from his work with Big Finish and elsewhere - draws his story strands together, seeming to lead us in a very particular direction and channelling Dickens every step of the way. As well as Morton, there’s his daughter Jemma, who seems well-brought-up if rather clueless, but who also has a particular fascination of late for a rather unusual necklace her Papa obtained from an intrepid explorer. Is she all she seems, or more?

Richards gives us plenty to be thinking about – how do our heroes get back to the Tardis? What’s killing the enemies of the house of Morton? Is someone controlling the invisible beast? What’s the role of the necklace? – and then adds elements from up and down the social scale to push the story along. There are criminal thugs who want Josiah Morton’s loot, inscrutable servants who know more than they’re saying, explorers needing funds to finance their next expedition, and policemen with very little imagination but a good grasp of Being Suspicious, all of which combine to give The Morton Legacy action, a rich cast of suspects and more atmosphere than you could poke a stick at.

In fact, Richards leans heavily on period atmosphere and Dickensian storytelling traditions, but he and experienced audio director Lisa Bowerman also move the tale along at a pace, so you’re rarely given time to stop and ponder the mechanisms of what’s going on. 
The Morton Legacy has something of a switchback ending, which may lead some more curmudgeonly fans to feel like they’ve been cheated of the satisfying solution they were anticipating, but Richards’ solution has something of an Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes feel to it – at all times, go with the simplest explanation of all the available facts first. It’s the kind of ending that on TV would have relegated all the good work of The Morton Legacy to an ‘also-ran’ story, but in audio, the work of Frazer Hines in particular sells the piece, the Doctor both explaining the true nature of the villainy, and refusing to bend his moral judgments in response to it, giving him the adamantine, alien feel of a later Doctor like Tom Baker’s.  

The Tardis crew are on great form in terms of their performances here, with Hines  making you forget you’re not actually listening to Patrick Troughton much of the time, and Anneke Wills doubling down too, giving us both a strong-willed Polly and an even-toned narrator to push the story along and deliver much of the atmosphere.

The Morton Legacy is a story of domestic 19th century terror, murder, mystery, legal battles and necklaces of doom. Despite that left-turn ending, and an occasional preponderance of the narration which makes it feel rather more like ‘narrated scenes’ or a ‘missing story’ than  the Early Adventures usually do, it’s a story you’ll enjoy for its atmosphere and its new take on the Troughton Doctor among the eminent Victorians.