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.

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.

Billie Piper gets Big Finish spin-off

Billie Piper is returning to the Doctor Who universe in Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon, a new audio series made in association with BBC Studios.

It follows Rose’s journey through dying parallel worlds, and also stars Camille Coduri as Rose’s mum Jackie, Shaun Dingwall as her dad Pete, Mark Benton (Legend!!) as alien investigator Clive Finch and Elli Garnett as Caroline Finch.

The four episodes follow Rose’s mission to seek out the Doctor, the only person who can save the doomed multiverse.

Picture credit-Big Finish

Billie Piper said:

“I love how normal Rose is, and yet really extraordinary. She lived a normal average life but she is incredibly curious and has an enormous capacity for love and empathy and is really spirited. She is extraordinary.”

The four new adventures are:
1.1 The Endless Night by Jonathan Morris
1.2 The Flood by Lisa McMullin
1.3 Ghost Machines by AK Benedict
1.4 The Last Party on Earth by Matt Fitton

From the worlds of Doctor Who, Rose Tyler – The Dimension Cannon will be released in September 2019, available for pre-order now on CD at £25 on CD and £20 on download.

Big Finish review-The Siege of Big Ben

Jackie Tyler has everything she’s ever wanted: a loving husband and two children. But a terrible, far-reaching plan is underway, and only Jackie and a single friend stand in the way of it.

But the Doctor isn’t the man he was…

The Siege of Big Ben is a highly anticipated release. Ever since we left the Tylers and the meta-crisis tenth Doctor at the end of series 4, (10 years ago!) fans have wondered what happened next. Thankfully, Big Finish has given us some answers with this release.

This can’t have been an easy thing to write. Not only did Joe Lidster have to tell a gripping story that lives up to the fans expectations. He had to re-introduce us to the parallel Earth, or “Pete’s world”.

A base under siege scenario is a stablemate for Doctor Who. But Lidster manages to beautifully subvert what could be a repetitive format and turn it into a glorious character piece.

The script draws parallels between The Doctor being more human, and the human, being more like The Doctor we know and love. Having Jackie be the most Doctor-like character in the story adds an interesting dynamic.

The script is sharp, the direction is smooth and David Roocroft’s sound design is inspired. All in all, The Siege of Big Ben is a story about love, loss and the difficulties that come with moving on. You feel all of these things whilst listening. Camille Coduri oozes charm and instantly reminds you, why we all love Jackie Tyler.

This world is waiting for further exploration and I hope, this leads to some full-cast adventures.

10/10.

Check out our other Big Finish reviews.

Big Finish review-Torchwood: Goodbye Piccadilly

Sgt Andy Davidson wakes up in the 1950s. He’s chained to a bed, his clothes are missing and the building’s on fire. Norton Folgate needs his help. The streets of Soho are swarming with gangsters, rumours and betrayals. Somewhere out there is a mysterious alien artefact, and Andy and Norton have to get to it first. Because tonight they’re going to save Torchwood.

I’ve been looking forward to another adventure with Andy and Norton, since last year’s Ghost Mission. There’s just something about this pairing that works so well.

Goodbye Piccadilly is absolutely gripping, from start to finish, the script is sensational. The direction is smooth, the sound design is flawless. Tom Price, Samuel Barnett and the supporting cast all give pitch-perfect performances.

What’s great about this audio, is that all of the London events-bar the alien invasion and the time travel, are real.

James Goss took his research for this story extremely seriously, he looked at books such as ‘hidden London’ for inspiration and it shows. The life drawing class, the police raids and, gay men being hosed down are all things that actually happened in the 1950’s.

Big Finish has once again proved that Torchwood Big Finish, is Torchwood at its best.

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

REVIEW: BIG FINISH: JENNY — THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER

She’s got planets to save, civilisations to rescue, creatures to defeat… and an awful lot of running to do!

It’s difficult to believe the character of Jenny debuted in Doctor Who 10 years ago. Since then fans have wondered whatever happened to The Doctor’s daughter?

The character was rife for further exploration and it’s amazing the BBC never thought to bring her back.

Thankfully, we have Big Finish. They’ve taken the character and given her a range of her own.

The scripts are sharp, funny and perfectly honed. A lot of work and love has clearly gone into this box set. The stories are kinetic and full of real world allegories; which in lesser hands could’ve come across as clunky.

Georgia Tennant and Sean Biggerstaff have an instant chemistry as Jenny and Noah. A personal highlight, is the fact that they allow Jenny to be fun. She makes jokes, which work well and relives tension in scenes. The mystery surrounding Noah is intriguing and you finish the audios with even more questions about him.

Big Finish have done it again. The Doctor’s daughter is fantastic, a breath of fresh air. The theme music is epic. familiar but different. It perfectly encapsulates the Doctor’s nature in Jenny. The stories and the cast are engaging. The sound design is flawless.

Jenny-The Doctor’s daughter is firing on all cylinders. A perfect synergy between cast and crew. I’m practically begging for series 2.

Written By: Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Christian Brassington, Adrian Poynton

Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Georgia Tennant (Jenny), Sean Biggerstaff (Noah), Siân Phillips (COLT-5000), Stuart Milligan (Garundel), Sarah Woodward (Vesh Taralesh), Clare Corbett (Lukaku), Arabella Weir (Angie Glazebrook), Silas Carson (Ood Leader), Rosalyn Landor (Vanessa Elledge), Olivia Darnley (Emily Cole), John Dorney (John Macguire), Pik-Sen Lim (Old Woman), Arina II (Shoon-Wei), Sara Houghton (Alitta), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Po), Adèle Anderson (Dreyda), Anthony Calf (Cal). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer: David Richardson
Associate Producer:Georgia Tennant
Script Editor:John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

REVIEW: Star Trek in concert

As part of the Royal Albert Hall’s Films in Concert, two showings of Star Trek were shown over the weekend. Saturday showed 2009’s Star Trek. Sunday showed Star Trek:Beyond.

Both screenings were accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and conducted by Ernst van Tiel.

We attended the Saturday event.

Image credit-Penny Smallshire

I’ve attended concerts like this at The Royal Albert Hall, many times. But some how each time feels like the first.

For those who are unfamiliar with these concerts, the films are played on a suspended screen, above the musicians. The dialogue is intact, with the Orchestra performing the soundtrack and sound effects live.

Not only are these amazing musicians a sight to behold on stage, but the evening provided a phenomenal audio experience that no Blu-Ray can possibly live up to.

My personal highlight of the evening was the Orchestras performance of the Star Trek theme, over Leonard Nimoy’s “space the final frontier” speech. They received a seven minute standing ovation for this.

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What I took away from this event, is just how beautiful and timeless Gene Roddenberry’s vision is. This is an experience I will cherish for a life time.

I highly recommend attending one of these screenings. Click here to find out information about the next one.