Matthew Jacobs wrote the screenplay of the film Doctor Who, starring Paul McGann in the title role. In the documentary film Doctor Who Am I, filmmaker Vanessa Yuille follows the British writer from his home in San Francisco into American Doctor Who fandom, particularly the conventions Gallifrey One and Long Island Doctor Who. Jacobs becomes our celebrity tour guide through this subculture but it’s signalled from the start that this is really his story, a personal journey that’s recalled and developed throughout the course of the film.
Drawn into the role of convention celebrity, we see Jacobs being rather flip with a fan early on as he sells an autograph from his table. We get the obligatory con-doc interviews with cosplayers, notably one identifying herself as a Time Fairy, with a lit-up dress and spinning orange scarves representing ‘regeneration energy’. She’s a great example of how fans wrap myth round themselves only to extend it with their own imagination. Art inspires art, and in response to the work he’s done, there’s been something waiting on account for Matthew Jacobs.
In writing the 1996 movie – which failed in its attempt to launch Paul McGann’s Doctor into a series – Jacobs confesses to “two fatal errors: we made him half human and we had him kiss.” Yet those two points have proved influential to The Doctor’s later relationships with Earth and its people. It seems more likely that beyond its poor TV scheduling, the show was just too weighed down by its own mythology to capture fresh imaginations. A good half hour is devoted to the star’s predecessor in the title role.
Matthew talks with former colleagues Paul McGann, leading lady Daphne Ashbrook and producer Philip Segal at conventions and in the workplace. Their own takes on Doctor Who and its fandom have developed over many years and it’s welcome input to a writer who for years actively avoided this world.
Perhaps not entirely fearlessly, Jacobs sits down with his critics in their memorabilia-strewn homes. Yet interest lies not in taking an old film to pieces but rather in what’s happening to Matthew Jacobs now. For each fan getting disappointment off their chest there are two recounting tales of delight and in one case even gratitude, from a fan who escaped into the ‘TV movie’ to survive great personal trauma. Soon Mr Jacobs begins to realise his journey through this documentary is fulfilling a similar role.
Doctor Who Am I is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, digital and in cinemas. For details:
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.
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.
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.
Drawn from Ben Aaronovitch’s novel Rivers of London, this serialised comic is co-written by Andrew Cartmel, who was Aaronovitch’s script editor on the Doctor Who television series.
Chapter one, page one we’re sat in a van with a trio conversing urgently in Russian. Balaclavas are pulled on, shotguns grabbed and then it’s out into a London morning for a meeting with The Night Witch.
Issue 1 is rich in the back story, much of it set in Russia. Politics and power, money and migrants and military women practising the Old Religion.
Varvara Sidorovna is doing time at HM Prison Holloway but her army past is causing trouble in her London present. This hasn’t escaped the attention of police constable Peter Grant, who spots the mysterious Faceless Man behind recent events just as the Russians have turned their attention to him as well.
Artist Lee Sullivan is also no stranger to the Doctor Who franchise. Here he shows his talent for pushing a lot of character out of the faces in his panels without resorting to outlandish facial features. He’s got a good exchange going with his colourist, Luis Guerrero; a reflective laptop screen and the ‘golden hour’ before dusk come to mind particularly.
During one flashback, an actual Russian stock certificate fills the page behind the panels, bringing a sense of high-def to the necessarily bold shapes of comic art. The technique was a good choice here; the last time I was so delighted by it was long ago in an adaptation of The Vampire Lestat.
The trickiest part of the read was that the visual focus of issue 1 is relatively even; main story and back story are interlaced but the transitions between the two aren’t very marked.
As a newcomer to The Rivers of London, I found the story stood alone quite well but after some research, it seems like this chapter puts PC Grant – the main character – into the background somewhat. Perhaps this is because it’s not the first tale from the novel and it’s only the first bit of the serial.
Night Witch issue 1 is a cracking bit of urban fantasy overall. The pace is good and the international angle contributes to a freshness that no modern tale of London can do without.
A maritime audio drama with a science fiction twist from the makers of Minister of Chance and Death Comes to Time.
Episode 3, They Thought He Was a Goner: It’s the morning after the very speed of light has been surpassed but aboard the RRS Venus May is starting to wonder if she woke up on the same ship as everyone else. Listen now in your browser or subscribe to all the episodes in iTunes or Android.
Writer/director Dan Freeman’s research on England’s south coast included sound effect recordings that bring the research vessel to life. The voice talent pulled together give nice aural contrast to the proceedings as well.
Returning to the mic from the Minister of Chance cast are Sylvester McCoy, Tamsin Greig, Jed Brophy, Simon Hickson, Stuart Fox, Simon Bugg and Richard Oliver.
They’re joined by Laura Cayouette (Django Unchained, Friends), Robert Picardo (Stargate, Star Trek), Thorbjørn Harr and Gorge Blagden (Vikings), Karim Saleh (Iron Man 2), Heida Reed (Vampyre Nation), Julian Seager (Poldark) and Tuppence Middleton (Sense8).
As with previous series this production is powered by you and I. Help unlock the next episode at the website for The Light of September.
1. Breakfast on Venus: a ten-minute stroll aboard the Royal Research Ship Venus as May Sutherland (Tuppence Middleton) joins the crew. Her look round culminates in a, erm, memorable encounter with Engineer Allan (Sylvester McCoy).
2. The Long Light Shakes: on the poop deck of the RRS Venus, Lorraine (Laura Cayouette) and May peer up at the International Space Station as it prepares to launch a faster-than-light vehicle. Yeah, Noel (Karim Saleh) thinks that’s ridiculous too.
Reprising his performances during Matt Smith’s era of Doctor Who, Ian McNiece is back as Winston Churchill. Big Finish’s new box set departs from their well-honed format of unmediated aural adventures, with McNiece narrating as well as performing in each episode. The narration does cover a few bits that I felt it shouldn’t, notably an action sequence in the first story and the introduction of a famous historical figure in the third. I mention this to balance what I think has been a refreshing experience and a success overall.
Churchill’s narration includes recounting the words and actions of the first three new series Doctors. This has the brilliant effect of bringing the Christopher Eccleston Doctor to Big Finish, complete with the Ninth Doctor signature tune. The Doctor changes, the title music changes. Across the stories, one can spot the different speech patterns of each Doctor, even as related (and occasionally imitated) by McNiece.
There’s still plenty of full-cast audio action aboard, moved along nicely by the ‘companions’ of Churchill. As his new secretary, Hetty Warner (Emily Atack) leads many scenes apart from Winston and works well with both her employer and The Doctor. Kazran Sardick (Danny Horn) returns from Dr Who’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ and provides a good contrast to the 20th century way in which Churchill reacts to being dropped into Roman Britain. In the final piece, another supporting artist from a Matt Smith Christmas special returns, Holly Earl As Lily Arwell. She looks after Winston at a particularly action-packed point in his twilight years.
The first story is the most conventional, with an alien object dropped into wartime Britain. The second shatters that mould as we find Churchill’s Black Dog – his controversial mental issues – woven into the story. In the third, Winston lives amid the subjects of his own history books and the statesman’s fascination for butterflies is rolled rather surprisingly into the fourth adventure. Additionally, there’s a nice bit of Nick Briggs’ Dalek voice work in this set.
Doctor Who: The Churchill Years brought a delightful, fictionalised Sir Winston into my home over a couple of winter evenings. So pleasant was it that I might just sit down with Churchill’s own writing for just a bit more time with this true-life legend from long ago.
Pepsi Max and the Empire Cinema Leicester Square sponsored a showing of Back to The Future, Part II. The show was scheduled to coincide with the time shown on the time-travelling DeLorean: Oct 21 2015, 04:29 PM.
The car in question was waiting out in Leicester Square, where – guess what – the rain had just stopped. I dodged the amused tourists, snapped a few pics and headed into Cafe 80’s.
A copy of the cafe seen in the film was constructed in the Empire Cinema’s concession area and a mix of contest winners and press were invited to echo Marty McFly’s plea: “All I want is a Pepsi!” The costumed waitress seemed delighted enough even though I quoted the almost identical lyric from Institutionalized instead. I got my Pepsi, though: a replica of the ‘Pepsi Perfect’ bottles seen in the film.
No sooner had I explored the place (and a hoverboard someone left lying around) than a familiar old man in mirrorshades and his young companion showed up. The geezer hopped up on a table and explained to us how our presence in the adjoining theatre was required for our trip Back to The Future.
The cinema kicked in a bag of popcorn to sweeten (and salt) the deal and there was a brief introduction by ‘Doc’ and ‘Marty’ before the lights went down. The film was preceded by adverts for hoverboards and Pepsi and Jaws 19 and a special bit that Christopher Lloyd shot for the occasion.
I remember Back to The Future quite well; I’ve seen it loads of times but here’s the kicker: today was my first viewing of Part II. My review in brief: Who’s for Part III?
The natural impulse for genre fans granted new material, before they’ve even enjoyed it, is to put it on the shelf. Its ability to ‘fit in’ seems so important at first but why would we want exactly what we have? What we get with these Third Doctor Adventures isn’t a lonely replay of a dusty videocassette. It’s the fresh sound of a graduate Doctor.
From Peter Davison to David Tennant we’ve seen our favourite performers return in victory laps on audio that have become regular gigs. The actors don’t sound quite like they did on telly but before long the wonder of the experience takes over. Suddenly we’re not reliving the past; we’re experiencing a special sort of future.
The occasional sibilant ‘s’ of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, the easy confidence, that delightful vocal texture, they’re all there but so is Tim Treloar. The Welsh actor has certainly taken on the southeast England style of Jon Pertwee but most importantly, he’s gone beyond the skill of the impressionist to give us a character that fits right in with the remarkable animal that is this 21st century return to the Pertwee years.
Alongside are Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Richard Frankin as Mike Yates. Having been delighted with their performances as Iris Wildthyme and the retired Captain Yates, it was lovely to hear them cast their voices back a few decades into the characters that made them famous. Of course, we’re getting a graduate Classic Jo and a graduate Classic Yates but this should be no surprise (or worry) to regular listeners to Big Finish audio drama.
Before long, The Doctor is disturbing the room as he upbraids a bureaucrat, Jo is making battle armour out of her faith in him and Yates is, well, getting chances to be more heroic than ever. Big Finish is generous like that. And the gap in the shelf behind me is forgotten completely.
Having dropped five paragraphs on why things shouldn’t slavishly imitate our best-loved Pertwee adventures, I must mention that the music is absolutely spot on. Prisoners of the Lake has the musical style of The Sea Devils but with a very welcome melodic quality and Havoc of Empires has a Dudley Simpson style with friendly tones evocative of the Third Doctor’s first serial on TV.
The only true oddity is the narration sprinkled throughout the stories which might have been Big Finish treading carefully, couching Treloar as both narrator and Doctor. They needn’t have bothered but certain action sequences play quite well-narrated, whereas in dialogue the characters would have had to illustrate the action for us in odd sorts of ways.
Big Finish know well each era of classic Doctor Who and their output is forward-thinking, waxing creative and progressive in precisely the areas of the old series that we’d like expanded or redressed. The Third Doctor Adventures continue this trend. Roll on, Doctor Treloar!
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