Doctor Who

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Mon Jun 10, 2019 1:07 am

I listened to the first two episodes of the Big Finish Torchwood series.

The format is interesting. It's clearly done on the cheap; they couldn't get the whole cast together for six episodes, so there are two Jack episodes, two Gwen episodes (one of which also has Rhys), a Ianto episode, and an episode with that lady who was the head of Torchwood in its first appearance on Doctor Who and got turned into a Cyberman (I assume it's a prequel but I haven't listened to it yet).

The first episode, Conspiracy, is interesting but it's hard to really nail it down because it ends on a cliffhanger and then isn't picked up in the second episode. I guess if I eventually get around to listening to episode 5, I'll have a fuller picture of what I think of it. I think it's got a good hook -- crazy conspiracy theorist turns out to actually be right -- but there's not really enough there for me to decide whether I like it. Barrowman and the supporting cast (I think there are only three other actors?) do a solid job, but it's still half a story, with the resolution several episodes out.

Speaking of good hooks: I fucking love the setup of the second episode, Fall to Earth, which opens in media res with Ianto aboard the first commercial not-SpaceX spaceflight with not-Elon Musk. Something has gone horribly wrong; the plane's gone out of control, everybody else appears to be dead, and Ianto is bleeding to death from a legwound. And then his phone rings. It's a lady trying to sell him insurance.

The first half of the episode is fucking amazing. "Man on spaceship trying to convince sales caller that he's serious and get her to help him" feels like something out of Douglas Adams. (Or maybe Black Mirror.) I love that kind of collision between the fantastic and the mundane, and I loved the first half of the episode.

Toward the last twenty minutes, though, it gets all Torchwood-y. Continuity creeps in, there are some third-act reveals that I feel weaken it (the phone call is not actually a coincidence, which I think makes for a worse story than if it were), and there's some decidedly ill-conceived imagery (the Committee tries to crash the spaceplane into a building in a major city -- I can see what they were going for, trying to invert the 9/11 stereotype by having the intended targets be Muslims -- and, not for nothin', the plane doesn't end up crashing into the building after all --, but seriously guys don't do "planes crash into buildings" stories). So ultimately -- it's kind of a mess but man it sure starts out great. And what could be more Torchwood than that?

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Thu Jun 13, 2019 12:16 am

I think Episode 3: Forgotten Lives tries to do too much.

While the first two episodes seem to have been set early in the series (Ianto describes the events of Cyberwoman as if they're recent), this one is more of a relaunch; it's set in the present day (2015, at the time it was released). It's after Miracle Day (I think they say it was five years ago in dialogue, though by release dates it's only four), Jack's gone, Torchwood's been shut down, and Gwen and Rhys have moved on with their lives and are raising a daughter. Then they get a mysterious phone call where somebody says Jack's name and they go investigate. They find an old man who claims to be Jack (but isn't played by John Barrowman), and other elderly folks behaving strangely.

There are some good ideas in there but I feel like it's overstuffed. Trying to tie a "Gwen and Rhys get pulled back into Torchwood" plot together with an "is this really Jack?" mystery is okay; piling a couple other layers of strange goings-on on top of that starts to feel like too much; and trying to fit it all into the Committee storyline from the previous two episodes is just fucking distracting in how it raises questions about the timeline. (Okay, so Jack learns of the Committee sometime around season 1, then goes underground to fight them, then...at some point he comes back to Torchwood and the rest of the series happens, and then sometime after Miracle Day and the disbanding of Torchwood he picks up where he left off?) I finished up episode 3 much the same way as episode 1: thinking okay, maybe this will all get resolved satisfactorily later on in the series, but this "season arc, only completely disjointed" approach to storytelling is really not working so great for me.

And speaking of disjointed, Episode 4: One Rule goes to the opposite end of the Torchwood timeline; it's the Yvonne Hartman episode, and it takes place three weeks after the Auton invasion at the very beginning of the 2005 Doctor Who series.

I don't know that anybody was clamoring for more Yvonne Hartman, but I actually really like her as a protagonist. Torchwood is largely a series where the heroes are utter bastards, and Yvonne takes that premise to its logical conclusion; they don't even try to make her pleasant or sympathetic like the usual team. She's an arrogant snob who's gotten to where she is by stabbing everyone in the back ("not literally -- well, once; it's a long story").

The episode's got a bit of the same "where's Poochie?" issues as the others: in episode 1, Jack has a one-sided phone conversation with Gwen; in episode 2, Ianto talks about what Jack's been up to; episode 3 revolves around a mystery about whether the old man who's not John Barrowman is Jack or not; and in episode 4, Yvonne talks to Ianto on the phone several times (you can't hear his side of the conversation) and at one point goes down to the Hub but puts everybody in a time bubble so they don't say anything but she namedrops all of them (Jack, Ianto, Tosh, and Suzie, at this point). And eventually, it gets around to tying into the Committee plot, because somebody thought having a season-long story arc was important. But despite those things, it still feels the most like a standalone episode of the season so far (I haven't listened to episodes 5 or 6, but given that they're Jack and Gwen episodes, I don't expect they'll be standalone). It's a tough call between the Ianto episode and the Yvonne episode for my favorite so far; the Ianto one starts out better but the Yvonne one ends better (and indeed has the only satisfying ending in the series to date).

A glance through the episode list says Yvonne hasn't returned for any other radio plays, which is too bad; I wouldn't mind hearing from her again. Though it sounds like they've kept up the trend of doing episodes starring supporting cast members; Suzie's got one, and Andy's got a couple.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Mon Jun 24, 2019 9:41 pm

Episode 5: Jack Fucks a Robot feels the most Torchwoody of anything I've heard so far: it tells a melancholic tale about loneliness, resentment, and isolation, about coping with aging and a sudden life-changing disability -- and then Jack fucks a robot. And then there's a car chase and an explosion.

Episode 6: More Than This actually has the opposite problem. Where the preceding episode starts off with pathos and then undermines itself with adolescent nonsense, More Than This starts off with an excellent comic premise -- Gwen is trying to reopen Torchwood but can't get the zoning permits, so she takes the zoning officer on a ride-along so he'll get an idea of why she really does need all the stuff she's asking for -- and then feels the need to derail it by giving the zoning officer a hacky-ass Tragic Backstory. It recalls Fall to Earth most closely in how it opens as solid satire but closes out trying, and failing, to be deep.

Season 2, Episode 1: The Victorian Age features a cover where John Barrowman has muttonchops badly Photoshopped onto his face. It's a pretty decent "chase a monster through London" episode guest-starring Queen Victoria (Rowena Cooper). It also feels like season 2 has a bigger budget than season 1 -- while most of the action focuses on Jack and Victoria, there are a number of incidental characters this time around, and even a few crowd scenes. There are only seven credited actors, but that's more than the five in More Than This and considerably more than the three in Uncanny Valley.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Fri Jul 26, 2019 12:38 am

The Humble Bundle I bought these in didn't include the rest of season 2, but does include the special Torchwood Archive release. Talk about a big cast -- this one's a tenth-anniversary special that has pretty much everybody but Owen (who I guess does show up later in the series). Not just Jack, Gwen, Rhys, Ianto, and Tosh, but Andy too, and remember when I said Yvonne Hartman hadn't returned for any other radio dramas? I guess the list I was looking at wasn't exhaustive, because she's in this one, in a segment with Suzie Costello. Julian Lewis Jones returns as Alex Hopkins to flesh out the details of how and why he killed his team and himself. Rowena Cooper returns as Queen Victoria, along with Archie, the Victorian-era head of Torchwood. It also brings back a few other characters from season 2, including St. John Colchester and Norton Folgate, which is a little jarring since the bundle doesn't include most of those episodes, but it's clear enough to follow along. And David Warner's in there too, though sadly not for long.

The story arranges its large cast by splitting them up into an anthology format with a framing device: it's the future, the Torchwood Archive is located on an asteroid, and it's populated by holograms of the cast; a visitor arrives, Hologram Officer Andy shows him around, and the various other holograms flash back to stories of Torchwood at various points in its history fighting the Committee. The stories are tied together with a MacGuffin variously referred to as Object One, the Red Key, and the Bad Penny, which serves much the same function as the Loc-Nar in Heavy Metal.

It's good shit -- its size makes it feel big and ambitious, but its structure makes it feel small and modest. I suppose it feels a bit like an entire season arc compressed into two hours. It's still a bunch of smaller stories with two or three people in them, but instead of each story taking an hour, they take five or ten minutes.

It helps if you've listened to some of the other Torchwood plays first (Uncanny Valley in particular gets repeatedly referenced), but I think it stands pretty well on its own.

--

Okay, that's all the Torchwood I've got. So after that I listened to the first volume of Doctor Who: Short Trips.

These aren't full-cast radio plays; it's a short story anthology, each story featuring one incarnation of the Doctor (1-8) and read by a narrator connected to that Doctor (mostly companions, two Doctors, and, in the case of David Troughton, the son of a Doctor).

I think the set peaks early, with the first, Rise and Fall, a First Doctor/Ian Chesterton story read by William Russell. It's a pretty stock SF premise (Simpsons did Twilight Zone doing it), but well-executed, and I think falling back on that sort of old '50s SF plot is a good fit for '60s Who. It's also one of the longer stories in the set; most are 15 minutes or so, while Rise and Fall is about 30.

It's an interesting set. The Doctor's role varies from story to story (the Second Doctor is only glimpsed at a distance by a POV character), and the stories are mostly pretty well-suited to their respective eras.

It's an interesting set, and I'll probably get around to listening to the other ones at some point -- got 'em in a bundle, may as well. But I prefer the full-cast dramas.

--

Spare Parts is an excellent take on the Genesis of the Cybermen that focuses on the two key elements that make the Cybermen scary: body horror, and death of the individual. There are other important timeline elements at play here, too: because it's an origin story, you know the good guys aren't going to win, they're not going to stop the creation of the Cybermen, and that casts a sense of inevitability and dread over the whole proceeding. On top of that, it's a Fifth Doctor/Nyssa story, with all that implies (read: it takes place, from their perspective, after the Cybermen killed Adric).

We see the last days of human civilization on Mondas, and it's a Soviet nightmare: bread lines, curfews, armed guards asking to see people's papers. Desperate citizens hope they'll be lifted out of poverty and squalor by being chosen for "processing", because they don't yet know what that means.

All in all, a great damn serial. It nails what the Cybermen are about, and wraps it in a sense of foreboding and doom.

--

That's it for now, but the folks over at the Avocado (a site run by people who used to be the commentariat at the AV Club, until it switched to Kinja and became terrible) have started a weekly Doctor Who thread, and the first one concerns Big Finish and has some recommendations. Apparently a bunch of them are on Spotify and you can listen to them for free.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:34 am

I picked up Love and War on sale recently. It's a radio adaptation of a 1992 novel by Paul Cornell, most notable as the first appearance of archaeologist Bernice Summerfield. (The novel was her first appearance; by the time they adapted it for radio, Lisa Bowerman had already been playing her in Big Finish audios for years.)

It's got a lot of interesting ideas, and some classic Seventh Doctor as a Manipulative Bastard action, but I expect it probably worked better as a book. (Not sure, haven't read it, but that was the impression I got.) There are too many characters to easily keep track of, but what really hurts it is the love story. Ace falls in love, and this is meant to be not only the emotional core of the story but a fulcrum for major changes in Ace herself (Cornell describes this, in the behind-the-scenes material, as "the last time we see the TV version of Ace"), and it really doesn't work at all. It feels abrupt and unearned, like a plot device rather than a natural outgrowth of a relationship. Ace has just met Jan, and so have we in the audience; Sophie Aldred and James Redmond do the best they can with the material they're given, but the script just doesn't sell it. (Ace's relationship with recently-deceased childhood friend Julian, told in flashbacks, fares much better; if I were adapting the story and didn't have to worry about keeping it faithful to the original, I'd write Jan out entirely and focus it on Ace's relationship with Jules.)

I love Cornell, and there's a lot to praise here. He's responsible for a lot of Seven's characterization in the novels, which later became Ten's characterization on the show; a Doctor who walks uncomfortably close to the edge of "cruel or cowardly" (a phrase that appears here, along with "the Oncoming Storm" and "what monsters have nightmares about") and needs a companion to keep him from falling off. McCoy, Aldred, and Bowerman are up to the task, and so is the supporting cast. But the script often isn't; it's kind of a mess, which makes it hard for me to recommend. I don't know if the novel's any better, but I strongly suspect that's the case.

--

No More Lies is an Eighth Doctor/Lucie story. It's got a really good hook -- Doctor chases villain but, due to timey-wimey shenanigans, doesn't catch him until thirty years later -- but it also plays with the format in a way that I felt distracted from a good premise rather than complementing it. Its in media res beginning, followed by Lucie spouting exposition some five minutes in explaining how they got there, intercut with a garden-party scene, are disorienting, and not in a good way; a few minutes in I actually looked down to see if I'd skipped a bunch of tracks and then, seeing I was somehow already five tracks into it, assumed that I must have and backed up. Nope -- it's just an opening that doesn't explain what's going on, and then compounds the confusion with a shitload of rapid scene changes (seriously, this episode is 50 minutes long and split into 58 tracks, which is especially cute if you don't have seamless playback and there's a fraction of a second of silence every time there's a track change). Am I supposed to know who this Nick Zimmerman guy is? No, this is his only appearance, but the way Lucie and the Doctor talk in the opening scenes I was wondering if he was somebody who'd appeared elsewhere, in other radio plays or other spinoff media.

Again, I dig the conceit, and I might enjoy it if I listened to it again now that I understand what the fuck was going on. You might enjoy it now that I've explained what the fuck is going on to you. But this is one of those Doctor Who episodes that's built around a great core of an idea and then gets in its own way by playing with its format in a way that undercuts the story rather than enhancing it. I feel like it would have worked much better in Big Finish's new standard format of box-sets of three or four episodes with some sort of season arc; this would have made a great season finale, but instead it handles a season arc's worth of buildup as exposition.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Tue Aug 20, 2019 1:28 am

I picked up the first Diary of River Song set on sale for $15 (it still is; not sure if that's a permanent price drop or a sale). It's not bad.

As Big Finish box sets tend to be, it's split up into four one-hour episodes. The first, The Boundless Sea, is the most standalone of the stories, and the one that does the best job of depicting River separate from her relationship to the Doctor. It sees her exploring a quasi-Egyptian tomb around the turn of the twentieth century.

The second episode, I Went to a Marvellous Party, lays out the season arc and introduces the villains of the piece, a cadre of rich bastards who manipulate civilizations to their own ends. Not a terribly original conceit but an enjoyable one; they all do a good job here. Where the episode is less satisfying is that it's also a murder mystery and, given that it only has six speaking roles and River is one of them and the victim is another, it doesn't make for a very satisfying one.

The third episode, Signs, slims the cast down further: it's just River opposite Samuel West as a man claiming to be the Doctor. West and Kingston both do fantastic work here, but ultimately the mystery of just who this character is and what his motivations are comes down to "definitely not the Doctor" and "probably nothing good".

And the last episode, The Rulers of the Universe, brings in an actual Doctor, Paul McGann's Eighth. River's interplay with him is interesting; we already know he doesn't meet her until he's the Tenth, so here they don't meet face-to-face and she only communicates with him via audio (fitting enough for a radio play) and gives him a fake name. This story is set during the Time War and I really like how protective River is of Eight, seeing him as still a young and innocent man who's naive enough to believe he can operate at the periphery of the war without getting caught up in it himself.

On the whole, I thought the set was fine. The writing wasn't spectacular, and I think it centered around the Doctor a little bit too much rather than spend more time defining River as an independent character. But Kingston and McGann do fantastic work as always, and their supporting cast is great too. $15 on sale wasn't a bad price. I don't see spending $30 on any of the subsequent installments, but might check them out on sale too.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Tue Aug 20, 2019 1:48 am

I'm listening to a Tom Baker story (more on that later) and he's still great but there's really no ignoring that he's 80 years old and he doesn't sound the same as he did when he was forty.

And that got me thinking -- of course McGann is the Doctor whose radio adventures most obviously benefit from an open-ended TV appearance, but his two predecessors really do too. There's a seven-year gap between McCoy's last episode in '89 and the TV movie in '96, and he already looks like an old man who's seen a lot of time pass by then. And Colin Baker's last story builds multiple time jumps right into it. All three of them have gaps in their stories that leave room for them to age, so even if their voices sound different now than they did back then, it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief. Four and Five, well, it's wonderful that they're still around and still doing new stories, but the age in their voices is much more noticeable than the next three guys.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Friday » Tue Aug 20, 2019 3:31 pm

I've never been able to get into Doctor Who, but I've always thought it was cool that the old Doctors sometimes show back up in time travel eps to strut their stuff. The fact that this practice goes back as far as four and five is just amazing.
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Wed Aug 21, 2019 6:02 pm

Yeah, it started in the tenth anniversary special, The Three Doctors. And the Big Finish radio plays started in 1999, with a story featuring the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors, so there's always been that element of telling new stories with old Doctors. At first it was just those three, but eventually they got Paul McGann, Tom Baker, and David Tennant onboard too.

The series' access to various different Doctors also allows it to tell stories that the TV series really can't, like the storyline where Charley calls the Doctor for help, expecting the Eighth Doctor, but the Sixth Doctor shows up instead and he doesn't know who she is.

(Actually the TV series did tell a story like that, kind of, with the aforementioned River Song, but of course in that version it had to be told in order from the Doctor's perspective, not River's. Big Finish has a lot more freedom to jump from one incarnation to an earlier one.)

...and apparently I talk about Doctor Who so much that my phone tries to automatically capitalize the word "Tenth".

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Friday » Wed Aug 21, 2019 11:34 pm

It's just not my cup of tea (get it, because it's British) but I have a lot of respect for it.

I do like that the series is, on the whole, relentless optimistic, which is a nice switch from what has happened to Star Trek now that Star Trek is entirely about horrible shit, lasers, and explosions followed by someone saying the word "family" and then the word "faith" while music swells.
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Brentai » Wed Aug 21, 2019 11:58 pm

It's uh... different, depending on which Doctor you're talking about. Part of the appeal of the show is that it regenerates itself about as often as its lead does, ideally to keep up with the times, but at least almost always in a new direction. The latest ones have been usually upbeat (Eleventh to a goddamned obnoxious degree), but Tenth - the usual favorite of the new generation - has had some pretty dark moments, and Ninth was almost entirely about a man who had been through a Holocaust that he took personal responsibility for. Even going back to Classic Who, Sixth was a dangerously manic individual who spent most of his time on trial and was ultimately obliged to arrange his own murder. Whee!
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Thu Aug 22, 2019 12:35 am

And the set I'm currently listening to is a deliberate throwback to an era that caused public backlash for being too dark and violent, with the result that the producer was fired and they brought new people in to make it more kid-friendly.

There's an entire series of audio box sets called "Philip Hinchcliffe Presents". Hinchcliffe being the fired producer.

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby mharr » Thu Aug 22, 2019 4:49 am

It also allows for comedy alternative timeline Doctors as in The Curse of Fatal Death.



Aside: I wouldn't classify Mary Whitehouse bullying the BBC as a 'public backlash' situation. She was an infamous Fundamentalist Christian moral crusader with a long hatred of the show and most of Britain thought of her like this: https://www.google.com/search?q=mary+wh ... ge&tbm=vid

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Friday » Thu Aug 22, 2019 5:03 am

And the set I'm currently listening to is a deliberate throwback to an era that caused public backlash for being too dark and violent


You know, the funny thing is, I'd actually have more respect (not enough to think as highly of it as I do TNG, but) for Trek's idiotic explosion murder fest if it didn't insist on including the absolutely hamfisted bullshit about faith and family.

If you're going to do fucking grimdark, then do grimdark. Don't grimdark on my leg and tell me it's "actually about family and a belief in something, not always religion or god, but you know, faith, which I think is really important, especially in today's world, you know, to have faith, in something, maybe your family? It can vary by person, that's what I'm saying, you know. It's important to have faith in your family, or if God, then okay, you know. I have a lot of respect for the people who have strong faith in their beliefs, and in this current world, you know, it's important to believe in things, I think."
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Brentai » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:17 pm

Have faith in math.
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Mongrel » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:22 pm

Brentai wrote:Have faith in math.

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics"

(Statistics are actually pretty cool though.)
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Büge » Thu Aug 22, 2019 6:09 pm

Mongrel wrote:
Brentai wrote:Have faith in math.

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics"

(Statistics are actually pretty cool though.)


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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Tue Sep 24, 2019 10:11 pm

Eccleston has a book out, I Love the Bones of You, and he's also started attending conventions. Between those two things, he's been in the news quite a bit. There's a lot more to his life and career than Doctor Who, but there's plenty of Who talk in there.

The most notable thing is his discussion of mental health struggles. He's fought with depression, anxiety, and anorexia for years, including his time on Doctor Who. He's gotten help over the past few years, and it sounds like he's doing a lot better. I admire his courage and candor in discussing all he's gone through.

He's referred again to his disagreements with Davies and others which led him to leave the show, but he's also got praise for Billie Piper, Steven Moffat, and directors Joe Ahearne (Dalek, Boom Town, Bad Wolf, The Parting of the Ways) and Euros Lyn (The End of the World, The Unquiet Dead), and said that if Ahearne had been directing from the beginning he probably wouldn't have left.

He also came a lot closer to appearing in Day of the Doctor than he previously acknowledged; he says Moffat sent him a script but he declined because he felt it didn't do justice to the Ninth Doctor. Of course, that's why we wound up with John Hurt's War Doctor instead; Eccleston says he thinks the special turned out for the better as a result, and I think he may be right; that version of the role didn't quite fit Eccleston or McGann, but Hurt was brilliant in it.

It also sounds like he's looking back at Doctor Who much more positively now. Given his acknowledged pickiness about scripts, I still wouldn't expect him to come back any time soon, though who knows, maybe someday we'll get him in another special or a Big Finish audio. (They have already brought Billie Piper in a few times, and he sounds like he'd be happy to work with her again.)

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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Fri Nov 29, 2019 10:09 pm

I listened to a bunch more Big Finish radio plays, wrote about them, but didn't get around to posting what I wrote. So here it is all at once.

(I should really put this all up on my blog at some point to make it a little easier to find.)

--

I picked up the first volume of Philip Hinchcliffe Presents in a Humble Bundle awhile back. Hinchcliffe was the producer during the Fourth Doctor's gothic horror era -- think Talons of Weng-Chiang and Horror of Fang Rock. Indeed, Weng-Chiang gets a shoutout early in the first episode, as Leela refers to the last time they were in Victorian London and asks if they can go visit Jago and Lightfoot; the Doctor responds that they're here some forty years prior to that visit and Jago and Lightfoot are still in knickerbockers.

This set delivers what it promises, and feels of a piece with Hinchcliffe's era of the TV show. It's a *little* more modern in its sensibilities; it's still got some uncomfortable subject matter including a freak show and an African tribe, but at least they're treated more sensitively than they would have been 40 years ago.

The first serial, The Ghosts of Gralstead, is six episodes long and packed with characters and complicated plot developments, but juggles them all nicely. I found the ending a bit of an anticlimax, but it's nonetheless one of the best Big Finish radio serials I've ever heard; it's moody, it's dark (it opens with a couple of grave robbers), its characters all get at least a little bit of development and time to shine.

The second serial, The Devil's Armada, isn't quite as good; it swaps the Victorian setting for an Elizabethan one and tells a story of witch hunts (both of the searching-for-literal-witches variety and England's persecution of Catholics during the Anglo-Spanish War). That part's decent, as far as it goes, but it also piles on a "demons are really aliens" story, and I feel like those never really work very well on Doctor Who. It also has the same problem as Ghosts, in that it builds to an action sequence at the end that just doesn't quite work so well in audio.

Baker has some great material to work with, though, and gets to show a broader range of emotion than his usual unflappable air.

All in all, it's a great set, even if the second serial isn't as good as the first; well worth the money.

--

I picked up the first set of The Lives of Captain Jack on sale. It's pretty good! It tells various stories about Jack set at various points in his life.

The first episode, The Year After I Died, takes place, as its name implies, shortly after The Parting of the Ways. Earth is still reeling from being bombarded by the Daleks; most survivors are trying to rebuild, though a group called the Hope Foundation is allowing a select few an opportunity to get off-planet, and with a name like that you know it's evil. Jack has gone into self-imposed exile, and therein lies the most interesting hook of this story: he hasn't figured out he's immortal yet, and, following what he thinks was merely a near-death experience fighting the Daleks, he's terrified of dying. But a nosy reporter named Silo shows up and convinces him to come out of retirement.

It's a good one. The story's straightforward, the villain is delightfully lacking in nuance; she's a rich sociopath. There's some fairly gruesome violence (a character has his eyeballs harvested while he's awake and strapped to a table). Like I said, I think the most interesting bit is seeing Jack at a point in his life where he's afraid of dying (we got a little of that in Miracle Day, but we really haven't seen Jack like this before). I'd like more stories set at this period in Jack's life, maybe get a sense of the slow dawning of the realization that he can't die (by the end of this one he still doesn't seem to have figured it out). I don't know if this time period is explored again in Volume 2, but we don't see it again in volume 1.

Because the next episode, Wednesdays for Beginners, is set much later in Jack's personal timeline and much earlier in the Earth's. It's after Jack travels back to the past and waits around for 170 years trying to catch up with the Doctor; at this point, he's moved into Jackie Tyler's apartment complex so he can wait for the Doctor and Rose to show up. The episode's minimalist; John Barrowman and Camille Coduri have the only speaking roles, and the script leans a bit too hard on Jack and Jackie talking to themselves.

They're up to the task, though. I always liked Jackie, and particularly liked seeing stories that centered around her being thrust involuntarily into all of this SF foolishness just because of who her daughter is (I even liked Love and Monsters). Barrowman and Coduri work well together; it's hard to carry a script with only two actors, but they pull it off.

Episode 3: One Enchanted Evening is ambiguous in terms of when it takes place (Jack's on a spaceship and he knows he's immortal, so it's definitely after The Year After I Died in his timeline, but beyond that, who knows? There's a line of dialogue where he talks about making bad decisions that I think suggests this is sometime in his post-Torchwood future, but that's not established outright). It reminds me, quite a lot, of the Fall to Earth episode of the Torchwood audio series; it's mostly good but then falls hard into a completely contrived tragic ending where a character appears to die and then turns out to be okay that really kind of sours the whole experience. There's a bit near the end where Midshipman Alonso Frame has apparently sacrificed himself to save Jack because Jack didn't bother to explain to him that he's immortal and Jack says "Why didn't I just tell him?" and boy, it takes some chutzpah for a writer to put a line like that in his script given that it's a much better question to direct at the writer than the character.

Episode 4: Month 25 is the most interesting of the lot, because it takes us to a time we've never seen before: Jack's not Captain Jack Harkness yet; he's still Agent Javic Thane of the Time Bureau. As our story begins, Thane has gone AWOL; the Bureau Chief tracks him down and gives him the "You're a loose cannon; hand in your badge" speech. Afterward, Thane is approached by a mysterious stranger who warns him that there's something rotten going on at the Time Bureau and encourages Thane to take a test to see how old he really is -- which shows that Thane is two years older than he thinks he is; two years of his memories have been wiped.

What follows has a definite Minority Report (the movie) vibe: star agent of a futuristic law-enforcement agency discovers corruption in his department; the bosses frame him for a crime and send another agent to bring him to justice, forcing him to go on the run.

It's a good episode, and Thane is different enough from the Jack we know that it suggests a compelling character arc. I wouldn't mind exploring his early days more.

--

Jubilee is a Sixth Doctor story that's most notable as the inspiration for 2005's "Dalek", though there's not much in common with the TV episode beyond the striking image of a Dalek being tortured and imprisoned and refusing to speak until it encounters the Doctor.

It's a lot more complicated than the TV story, too: the TARDIS materializes in two times at once, causing a time paradox and creating an alternate history where there's a war between the humans and the Daleks in 1903; the Doctor leads the humans to victory but this results in a fascist modern-day British Empire. It's pitch-black satire, opening with a propaganda-film version of the Doctor's story that resembles the film-within-a-film at the end of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and spends some time skewering crass commercialism and pointing out that, y'know, when you think about it, Dalek merchandise is kinda fucked-up. Haha, they're beloved little kitschy mass-market Nazis, with their beloved catchphrase, "Exterminate!"

It's a serial that's alternately very funny and very disturbing, and features some really fantastic work from Colin Baker. The rest of the cast does well too, in a story where nearly every character turns out to be completely insane.

And while it's a satire of propaganda, it is, itself, its own kind of propaganda, an entirely unsubtle lecture on the dangers of defeating Nazis only to become Nazis. Listening to it in 2019, it feels eerily timely.

It's great stuff, the best Sixth Doctor story I've ever heard. It goes a long way toward explaining why so many Big Finish fans consider him their favorite.

--

Doctor Who Unbound is Big Finish's series of "What If?" stories. In Sympathy for the Devil, the question is, "What if the Doctor never worked with UNIT?"

The always-wonderful David Warner stars as an alternate Third Doctor who, instead of showing up in the '70s (or the '80s or whatever the fuck decade the UNIT era is supposed to be, I'm not going to get into that whole continuity mess), doesn't come to Earth until 1997 -- and, in a bit that feels awfully timely given our current headlines, shows up in Hong Kong right before its return to China?

Improbably, the Doctor immediately encounters the Brigadier, who has retired there following a controversial career at UNIT -- let's just say that without the Doctor around, the UNIT Era went very differently.

So how do you improve on a cast that includes David Warner as the Doctor and Nicholas Courtney reprising the role of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart? Throw in David Tennant, before he was cast as the Doctor, playing the role of another hyphenate UNIT officer, Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood.

There's a familiar villain, too -- and given that they're riffing on the Third Doctor era, you can probably guess which one -- but ultimately that part of the story is less interesting than the backdrop of the HK handover and the malaise surrounding it.

And there's a sequel, too, though I haven't gotten around to listening to it yet.

All in all, it's a great damn serial. It's not perfect -- could have used more of the classic Third Doctor/Brigadier banter -- but it's mighty fine, I highly recommend it, and it's cheap.

--

I thought Human Resources was pretty great too; I'll try and remember to give it a more detailed writeup at some point.

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Thad
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Re: Doctor Who

Postby Thad » Mon Jan 06, 2020 12:41 am

And we're back.

I was a little surprised they recast the Master so soon. I guess it's a little disappointing that Missy's entire character arc is out the window, but it was bound to happen; no matter how many times Magneto reforms, he always becomes a villain again eventually.

And I think Sacha Dhawan is great in the role; he's got the alternating rage and glee working. And we haven't seen the Master straight up casually murdering dudes since, what, Missy's first arc?

And the tissue compressor is back! I love that shit. I've been hoping we'd see it again since Simm first showed up, and...well, it took another twelve and a half years, but at last the Master's most ridiculous calling card is back.


After a season of setting up new stuff, Chibnall seems comfortable delving back into the lore -- and placing his own stamp on it. We'll see where the latest revelations go. Seems interesting so far, anyway.

Nice to have the main cast back. And the "Doctor teams up with badass women from history" hook is good and I hope to see more of it. And Chibnall's kept up the entirely unsubtle commentary on contemporary politics, which is something we need right now. We need somebody to tell us that fascists never win, even when it seems like they're going to. It's hard for me to believe that message sometimes -- especially right now, and especially coming out of the UK right now -- but we need to hear it.

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