Episode 228: Susan’s War

Martyn takes 30mins out of relocating Bad Wilf Towers, to record a quick podcast with Richard from Megan and her poncho boys to discuss the Big Finish audio ‘Susan’s War‘.

Gallifrey needs every Time Lord to fight the Time War. A summons has been issued across the universe to its prodigals. Whatever their skills, the war effort can use them.

Susan’s call-up papers have arrived, and, unlike her grandfather, she is willing to join her people’s battle and finally return home.

Because Susan knows the Daleks, and she will do her duty…

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Review-Torchwood: The Sins of Captain John

From zombies in Restoration London to Hell gatecrashing a funeral, rogue Time Agent Captain John Hart leads the universe to rack and ruin in four new adventures written by David Llewellyn.

This release contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners.

Torchwood: The Sins of Captain John is a four-episode story, with James Marsters clearly having the time of his life breaking the fourth wall, as the Whoniverse’s answer to Deadpool. There’s even a fun moment where he complains to director Scott Handcock, that he can’t hear the theme song.

1. The Restored

Captain John is in Restoration England looking for some gauntlets. There’s intrigue in the Tower of London, the dead are walking the streets, and the severed head of Oliver Cromwell has a terrible warning.

2. Escape from Nebazz

Captain John is in a wooden space prison that’s under attack by a strange and terrible life form. Also the catering is truly dreadful and Dr Magpie’s latest discovery may have got a little out of hand.

3. Peach Blossom Heights

Captains John and Jack find themselves stranded on a world that may be actual paradise – the weather is pleasant, the people are friendly, and the giant stuffed animals only come out at night. There’s only one thing the world is missing. No-one has ever explained to any of the population about the birds and the bees. Which is unfortunate.

4. Darker Purposes

Captain John arrives at the funeral of one of the galaxy’s richest men. He died without making a will, and his heirs have some very creative ideas about how this can be put to rights involving murder, necromancy and seduction. Sadly, Captain John is only too happy to oblige.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 12 years since we first met the swashbuckling Captain John. James Marsters clearly has a lot of affection for the character, as he absolutely shines in this. It’s great to hear him on his own adventures.

David Llewellyn’s script is fast and funny, with Scott Handcock’s direction matching it all the way. The supporting cast are also incredible, each one of them gives a memorable performance without outshining Captain John.

The Sins of Captain John is everything I hoped it would be and more. Roll on Volume 2.

Review-Torchwood: Dead man’s switch

One of my favourite things about Torchwood on TV, was Bilis Manger. This creepy time traveller (Murray Melvin) had so much potential, that was never fully realised on TV. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Big Finish excel at. They take a supporting character and make them shine and Billis has never shone more brightly than here.

Synopsis: A devious antique dealer, a property developer and a heartbroken hairdresser. Three strangers sit on a train that’s going nowhere.

They are joined by a mysterious figure.

Bilis Manger wants to tell them how they died.

This release contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners.

Dead Man’s Switch is a very different kind of Torchwood story. Dark and sinister. Writer David Llewellyn takes full advantage of the audio medium and offers us up a atmospheric homage to 70’s horror, especially when they reach the twisted ending. This wouldn’t be out of place as an Arrow film.

The three guest actors are perfectly cast, Murray Melvin plays the role with such gravitas and I can’t wait for him to return once more.

Review – Space: 1999 – Breakout

This is Wilf Base Alpha.

I cannot know if you will receive this message but I’ve just heard ‘Breakaway,’ the new Space: 1999 audio drama from Big Finish.

Why would they do this? This ‘reimagining’ of the TV programme from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who brought us the likes of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO. Twenty years to the day after the 13th of September 1999, when the events of the original 1975 series began.

The Andersons and producer Reg Hill were known for intricately beautiful miniature effects and stylish designs in futuristic adventures on the small screen, the sort of thing parents show their kids when when they want them to grow up to be engineers.

By the time Space: 1999 was broadcast they’d made some progress toward widening their audience, mixing their love of technology and thrills with some nice moments of humanity. But the programme remained primarily a visual spectacle.

Big Finish love stories, however, and this one’s worth bringing into the future. A cataclysm with dire consequences for all Humanity is played out on the eve of its first foray to a distant planet.

A mysterious and deadly illness strikes the pilots of Eagle transporters, spacecraft servicing space voyage preparations at Moonbase Alpha. The base’s chief medical officer Helena Russell is aided in her search for a cure by John Koenig, who flies out from Earth to take command of the lunar city. As the nature of the disease becomes apparent, the scope of their crisis expands to disastrous proportions.

Big Finish have invigorated the adventure with a better sense of pace (that’s not to say they don’t let moments hang where they should) and a refreshing emphasis on character drama. The delightful gadgets of the original ‘1999’ can still be heard in use – Eagles, Moonbase travel tubes and hand-held Commlocks – it’s just that a model-maker’s sort of skill is instead applied to the intricacy of the soundscape.

There’s an interesting use of music in this story. Beyond simply hinting and sweetening action in progress, composer Benji Clifford inserts brief musical interludes to excite us in tantalising moments, such as the retrieval of an escape pod containing an unidentified passenger. Fans of the original series will appreciate familiar melodies amid the score, in addition to a familiar but fresh version of the original theme tune.

The unique selling point of this audio drama is no gimmick: it’s obeisance to the fact that what happens with the characters is everything. It makes this speculative exercise of the imagination into something we respond to as if it were really happening. Eagle transporters are cool but the challenge of surviving one crashing is really where it’s at.

Commander Koenig is played by Mark Bonnar, an actor familiar to Doctor Who viewers as the working father Jimmy in The Matt Smith story Rebel Flesh and as the supervillian known as The Eleven, who besets Paul McGann’s Doctor in audio. Mark hails from Edinburgh and follows the likes of Hugh Laurie in delivering an American accent good enough to live in. His Koenig is very relatable; the pain of each challenge glows darkly over him but his endurance shines brightly.

Maria Teresa Creasey is a new name to many of us – California born and New York educated, she’s nonetheless been rolled into a variety of UK productions. The Dr Russell she plays here is refreshingly active in the way she squares off against the impossible situation presented. It allows us to get get a good sense of her character early on. Big Finish have assembled a good pair of leaders in Creasey and Bonnar.

This 2019 view of an imagined, futuristic past makes an interesting novelty. A particular ‘minced oath’ dropped by Helene is a few years out of date by our standards but it comes from a time far beyond 1975. It’s not too far off from 1999, though. It kept me on my toes as I speculated on what might and might not be possible for the inhabitants of this story’s world.

A contemporary zeitgeist captured here (and one of my favourite Anglicisms) is brinkmanship. Both versions of ‘Breakaway’ begin by hiding Moonbase’s dire situation from Koenig but here, the stakes are higher: crowds of the general public are on Alpha, unaware of the expanding epidemic of pilot illness. The administration on Earth responds to this by redoubling its efforts to cover it all up.

Writer/director Nicholas Briggs has sanded smooth a number of rough edges that marred the uneven TV pilot. Sci-fi’s best known writer Isaac Asimov famously had a go at the old series’ scientific implausibility. The fantastic catastrophe played out in audio presents us with a nice combination of nods to real science and plausible fantasy. This puts our focus back on the drama and adds weight to its consequences.

Flawed as it was, the old Space: 1999 sometimes captured the awe felt by those of us who remember the Apollo space programme. I can barely wait to hear how this new crew face the unknown because what we can count on is that the characters and situations here are in good hands.

Space: 1999 – ‘Breakaway’ is available now from Big Finish.

Beeblepete out.

Review – Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon

The Dimension Cannon gives the character Rose Tyler her own series, in four audio dramas by Big Finish Productions. Billie Piper reprises her role as the first of The Doctor’s travelling companions in 21st century Doctor Who.

Shop girl turned sci-fi action hero Rose Tyler is consigned to a parallel universe with her mum, Jackie (Camille Coduri) and a parallel version of her dear departed dad, Pete (Shaun Dingwall). They’ve turned their attention to helping protect not only their world from extraordinary threats but also many other Earths. They’re following in the footsteps of Rose’s beloved Doctor: the charismatic, time-travelling space alien whose defence of Rose’s Earth left her separated from it – and him.

The Dimension Cannon offers Rose a chance to bring The Doctor back into the fight – and into her life again. For short periods of time the cannon allows her to visit other parallel universes that offer clues to the whereabouts of The Doctor. On her first trip she’s reunited with a parallel version of Clive, a conspiracy theorist who was murdered in Rose’s universe. Bark Benton reprises the role of Clive throughout the set and it’s good fun to have him back.

The four stories take us to four new parallel versions of London, where we’re introduced to startling alternate versions of the well-loved characters that head up this series. This collection of audios is not so much a spin-off from Doctor Who as it’s a spiritual follow-on from ‘Father’s Day,’ the episode that introduced us to the ‘original’ Pete Tyler and led us through dark times leading up to his death.

Chasing The Doctor inevitably means getting to know the locals in each different London and Rose finds she already knows many of them all too well. She gets personally involved in the lives of the people she meets, encountering Jackie, Pete and others in slightly different forms. It makes arriving in each universe a treat for the listener – and leaving each of them is tough all round.

Big Finish tie-in plays lure us into the audio realm by offering us characters and situations that are proven successes on television. They honour these successes with intriguing stories that at least equal their predecessors in quality. Rose’s story in Doctor Who has a lot of heart – and heartbreak. These new tales are equally engaging character pieces.

By presenting so many alternate versions of the original roles played by the cast, the normally-invisible work of the actors gets a bit of a peek into the limelight. I was properly immersed in and moved by the drama here but I also enjoyed listening for the subtle differences between the characters parallel to each other.

I’m very much opposed to more for more’s sake; I hate seeing delightful series run down by commercial supplements. You’ll find none of that here in Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon. This box set revisits the Tylers in a clever way that gives us more of what we’re counting on in ways that constantly surprise.

Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon is available now from Big Finish.

Review-Torchwood: The Hope

The Big Finish Torchwood range is always advertised with “This release contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners” never has that statement been truer, than with this release. One of the many things James Goss excels at, is bleak. After giving us all nightmares with Corpse Day. He’s back with The Hope.

Megwyn Jones is one of the most hated women in Britain. She used to run a home for troubled children in an isolated part of Snowdonia called The Hope. For a long time there were rumours about what was happening there, and then one day it was realised that the children had gone missing.

Ever since, Megwyn’s kept her peace. Is she innocent? Is she guilty? Where are the bodies?

An audio play about a convicted child-murderer is never going to be an easy listen. However, James Goss has carved something of a masterpiece here. This is an audio that definitely rewards repeat listening.

Burn Gorman and Tom Price had such brilliant chemistry, in Corpse Day that I’ve been waiting impatiently for a follow up, ever since. Their chemistry is still present and their scenes together are pure gold. Andy’s eternal optimism is a perfect foil for Owen’s eternal pessimism. They also get a chance to shine separately, in scenes that are up there with the most horrific in Torchwood’s history. Siân Phillips is mesmerising as Megwyn Jones, you instantly dislike Megwyn-but you’re also fascinated by her.

The Hope couldn’t be any further away in tone, than last month’s ‘Serenity’. But that’s what makes this series so great. I enjoyed Torchwood on TV. But Big Finish Torchwood, is Torchwood at its absolute best.

Review-Torchwood:Serenity

Serenity Plaza is the most exclusive gated community in South Wales.

Jack and Ianto have gone undercover as a happily married couple. There are rumours that something’s wrong at Serenity Plaza and they’re determined to investigate. But the problem is that Serenity Plaza is just so rigidly normal.

Suddenly, Jack and Ianto have to confront the problems that normal couples face. Sharing a house together, doing the washing up, entering the residents’ baking contest, and hoping to win the Best Kept Lawn.

Competition is fierce. Because this is Serenity Plaza. And you’d kill to live there.

Torchwood: Serenity is James Moran’s first Big Finish audio, so it’s fitting that it’s a sequel to his series 2 episode ‘Sleeper’ and this does what any good sequel should, it develops the threat originally presented and adds layers and complexities-all whilst playing to the strengths the medium of audio allows. Moran has crafted a continuation, that logically feels like the next step in the story.

Jack and Ianto’s relationship has always been popular with fans, so it’s great to have an outing featuring the pair. John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd are clearly having a lot of fun here. The script is full of innuendo, with GDL playing Ianto as a Stepford Wife-type. He even gets to turn his Welshness up to 11.

I laughed a lot and I laughed hard with this audio, this is one Torchwood fans won’t want to miss.

Episode 201:Torchwood-Sargasso

In which Martyn flies solo and brings you a review of the latest Torchwood release by Big Finish.

The seas of planet Earth are choked by plastic. Plastic that no-one has a use for and no-one can get rid of. Rhys Williams finds himself stranded on a container ship in a sea of debris. People on board are dying. Because, luckily, someone’s found a solution to Earth’s polluted waters. The Nestene Consciousness can never have too much plastic.

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Torchwood: The Green Life

At first it seems like Captain Jack Harkness, leader of the ‘beyond the police’ Torchwood organisation and time-travelling Doctor Who companion turned eco-warrior Jo Jones (née Grant) would be quite a contrast when paired. But in ‘Torchwood: The Green Life’ the two are bound as much by what they share as what divides them.

Jo, in this story, is decades older than the girl who once travelled with The Doctor. Everything she learned from her time with UNIT is sewn into this Jo of today and much more besides. This woman is a good match for the immortal Jack, whose dashing young appearance only partially conceals how much of his strength is devoted to enduring a string of painful deaths and centuries. Big Finish audio dramas never shy from the role appearances play in stories when it’s relevant: here we have a pair of lovely fan favourites set amid some gruesome situations.



We’re back in Llanfairfach, the Welsh locale of the 1970s Doctor Who serial, The Green Death. The story then – of pollution-bred giant maggots and a technically-adept evil corporation – continues here. As Jack and Jo clamber over old territory we learn new things about them both.

Katy Manning has kindly returned to play Jo now and again in the past couple of decades – in television and in audio – and each time we get a hint or two about the character’s life since the 1970s. Here there’s quite a bit of her back story, particularly with regards to Llanfairfach. It’s a treat to hear the world of Jo Jones expanding into a mini-franchise of its own.

John Barrowman has been equally generous in his support, for the Torchwood franchise and for the ‘Whoniverse’ in general. He continues his regular contributions to Torchwood on audio here, with a bit of a new challenge: the gentlest members of Jack’s team were never as ‘right on’ as lovely Ms Jones. In Jack’s world, he and his go to some rather harsh extremes, they take their lumps and then find some way to make peace with themselves afterwards. Jo presents him with a world where there are certain lines that are simply not crossed. Where right and wrong don’t often intermingle. Where loyalty is everything.

The legacy elements of this story are taken in genuinely new directions. We get some detail about how the scientific advances of the 70’s Wholeweal community have developed in the years since. We learn a bit more about Llanfairfach as a population centre and its lifestyle in 2019. And we’re presented with something new that has gone very, very wrong. It’ll certainly inform a listener’s first real-world glimpse of a self-driving lorry.

Review-The Diary of River Song 4

After adventures with the eighth, seventh and sixth Doctors. River Song finally meets with the legendary Fourth Doctor, in The Diary of River Song Series 4.

When River Song visits a place where time has vanished, a genie escapes its bottle… the Discordia are freed – nihilistic time pirates, in devilish form, altering the past to make sure they never lose.

Emma Reeves and Matt Fitton’s Time in a bottle, has a fascinating story idea. There’s a place in space with no time. That’s such an interesting concept for a story. However, I can’t help but feel this story is wasted in a box set format. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a strong concept, with great writing and a superb cast, with writers at the very top of their game. I just feel the time constraints of a boxset limit the stories true potential.

This would’ve made a very interesting four-part story in its own right.

Regardless, it’s a solid introductory adventure that sets up the premise and introduces the main villain. It also takes the interesting angle. It feels like a good old fashioned pulp adventure. James Bond-esque in places. It pits River against her intellectual rival and shows her at her most Doctor-like state.

7/10

‘Kings of Infinite Space’ may not have the most original plot, but it is very entertaining and rewards repeat listening. It’s easily the strongest of the set. It’s well paced, paradoxical and fun. Alex Kingston and the rest of the cast are on top form. It feels like a Moffat era Doctor Who story. There’s action, humour, with a great use of the vortex manipulator and the locations that time travel opens up. It’s everything you could want from a River Song audio.

8/10

‘Whodunnit’ is an oddity in this boxset. Now, that isn’t me saying it’s bad. Far from it. The concept is interesting, with some thought-provoking philosophical discussions, the characters are three-dimensional and it’s well paced. However, it just doesn’t fit this box set. Like time in a bottle, this would’ve made a great main range story. Given more time to fully explore the premise, this could’ve been great. But I felt it interrupted the flow of the story ark.

That said, it’s an interesting listen with a fun take on the cliches of murder mysteries.

7/10

Someone I once knew, is the big one. The season finale, the one fans are excited for and it delivers. John Dorney brilliantly subverts expectation and puts an interesting spin on the River/Doctor dynamic.

Tom Baker and Alex Kingston have an instant rapport and a naturally brilliant chemistry. I would welcome future stories with this duo. Their chemistry is so natural, it’s difficult to believe they only met on the day of recording.

7/10.

Series four of ‘The Diary of River Song’ perfectly meshes the unique styles of the Steven Moffat era and Big Finish originality.

Not every story works completely and suffers from what most prequels do. Giving River companions is always going to be tricky, as we’ve never encountered or heard mention of them in the main show, you know they’re a goner the second they’re introduced.

At times the fourth Doctor feels more like a plot device, than an active companion. But this set is an absolute joy to listen to and has left me excited for series 5.

Written By: Emma Reeves, Matt Fitton, Donald McLeary, John Dorney

Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast:

Alex Kingston (River Song), Tom Baker (The Doctor), Adele Lynch (Gammarae), Fenella Woolgar (Professor Jemima Still / Formidian Queen), Josh Bolt (Spod), George Asprey (Melak), Nicholas Asbury (Dante), Ewan Bailey (Human / Alien / Robot Voices), Tim Bentinck (Franz Kafka / Samsa), Alex Tregear (Miss Vermillion / Vermillion), Christopher Naylor (Lord Simon Whist / Captain Bartholomew / Discordia Underling), Shvorne Marks (Cissy / Thelma Sketch), Nigel Anthony (Rakkezar / Drayl), Nathalie Buscombe (Garen / Galerayna). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs.