You’ve Got Eyes Out To Here

Last weekend I was invited to Glasgow for a 50th birthday party. In the wake of a No vote to Independence, it felt a lot like a wake. Today, it seems the bolstered UK has found £3 billion for war while the Elgin foodbank is still accepting donations. It feels as if escapism is more necessary than ever in this jingoistic culture.

With some irony then, the current Dr. Who series, with a Scottish leading man and Scottish show runner, struggles somewhat to fire me with enthusiasm. The Robin Hood episode was an insubstantial romp while Moffat’s portentous Listen was merely a soap romance wrapped round a saccharine glimpse of the Doctor’s childhood. Only last week’s cartoony Time Heist –  a bizarre tribute to Hustle with a Dickensian message – managed to entertain and that,in part, due to a throwaway cameo of Abslom Daak.

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So what of the recently completed series of  single-disc Fourth Doctor audio adventures, starring Tom Baker and Lousie Jameson as Leela? Are they boom or bust?

The season began with The King of Sontar: a Time Lord mission for the Doctor as he encounters the eponymous potato-head. A genetic anomaly, Sonataran super-soldier Strang plots universal domination.

John Dorney’s story is a cliched plodder, despite the presence of David “Silver” Collings but it did introduce friction in the relationship between Four & Leela.

White Ghosts: Alan Barnes delivers a Base Under Siege story on a planet which experiences a single’s day’s light every 1000 years. It begins as a Triffids-style story then descends into a genetically-engineered vampire adventure. Four is also quite ruthless.  Confused and unsatisfying.

The Crooked Man: John Dorney’s creepy play  of “Imaginary Fiends” in a wintry seaside town. A baby is menaced rather distastefully in a story that, while it has roots in the Patrick Troughton era, felt more suited to BF’s Dark Shadows range.

The Evil One: the first of a trio of vanilla adventures from Nicholas Briggs. The Master, posing as Inspector Efendi ( oh, COME ON), turns Leela against Four. There are some giant insect aliens  on a space cruiser named the Moray Rose ( from an Irish folk song, rather than any horticulture up here).  Slight.

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Last of the Colophon: Jonathan Morris delivers the most eerie and atmospheric story in the series but it’s still basically a retelling of The Invisible Man. Gareth “Blake” Thomas plays the sinister, crippled Morax.

Destroy the Infinite: a gung-ho (gung Who?) adventure by Briggs, recounting the Doctor’s first chronological encounter with the gaseous Eminence and its Infinite warriors. I listened to it on Nairn beach. Can’t remember much about it at all except it sounds very RP. I wish the Eminence were the Embodiment of Gris referenced in The Daleks Master Plan.

The Abandoned: a claustrophobic but wearingly self-indulgent fantasy originated by Louise Jameson herself.  A disturbed and omnipotent Time Lady-  prisoner but formerly part of the original crew of the Tardis – unleashes her imaginary friends on Leela and Four. Ironically, too actorly for me.

Zygon Hunt: This story captures the haunting Geoffrey Burgon chamber music soundtrack to tv’s Terror of the Zygons . On an alien planet. A party of roistering, futuristic knights on safari is infiltrated by the eponymous shape-changing monsters. Briggs’ third disc is, again, very predictable but a rather comforting story for that very reason.

For me, aside from some of the incidental music, many of the 4th Doctor Adventures sound like impressions or imperfect recollections of TB’s era.  That said, they’re probably more authentic than Paul Magrs’ whimsical confections for AudioGo.

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However, unlike the Eighth Doctor series with Sheridan Smith ( or the inexplicable award winner, Dark Eyes),  the Fourth Doctor’s life was clearly mapped out on tv. There is a gap between the departure of Leela and Romana’s assignment- and possibly a small space when she too left-but BF’s policy is not so  much to plug gaps but to evoke a period. And it isn’t convincing in the main,  largely because of the ageing voices of the principals.

Most of these discs are undemanding, if unoriginal, fare for Dr. Who fans. A few would be recognisable, faithful tributes if you were at all familiar with the mid-70s series. Essentially, they all represent  the ” heritage industry” arm of the endlessly productive Big Finish machine.

There is an imminent box set based on story ideas proposed by mid-70s producer Philip Hinchcliffe. I will check it out but I’m not very hopeful.

Coming soon: Titan Comics’ new Dr. Who titles; Secret Origins of DC Super Heroes; and Multiversity.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

 

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Finally Someone Who Can Talk Properly

It’s been a very long time since I posted about Dr. Who.  It’s been quite an eventful summer for the old Time Lord. I review the audio plays, books and comics so you don’t have to.

Breaking Bubbles: another portmanteau disc with four stories of the Sixth Doctor and Peri. For me the best efforts were Nev Fountain’s The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night Time and Una McCormack’s An Eye for Murder.

The former is obviously a parody of Mark Haddon’s novel, pitting Sixie against an invasion of alien garden gnomes. Of course, he’s assisted by an autistic teen –who sounded a little too mature for my taste. Clever but a little sentimental. I bet Moffat kicked himself if he heard it.

The latter was my favourite: a pastiche of Dorothy L. Sayers as alien tech becomes part of a Nazi plot at a ladies college.

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Revenge of the Swarm: a very “Trad” Seventh Doctor adventure. BF revives the prawn puppet that was the Nucleus of the Swarm from 1977’s The Invisible Enemy. The first two episodes reveal the origins of the viral antagonist and the next two are a Tron parody as the life form attains control of the Hypernet.

McCoy’s Doctor is at his most manipulative as he prepares to gamble the life of his Scouse companion Hector. Philip Olivier adopts a gravelly timbre for “possessed” Hector; his screams as Hector’s Hypernet avatar is devoured by the Swarm are actually quite harrowing.

Tales of Trenzalore: advertised as the 11th Doctor’s Last stand, this is the hard copy of an ebook which sees various classic Who monsters revived for the siege of Christmas Town as seen in The Time of the Doctor.

I liked Paul Finch’s sailing adventure Strangers in the Outland: an Auton story which reveals the secret of Eleven’s wooden leg!

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Engines of War: the latest BBC hardback is a untold tale of John Hurt’s war Doctor. A bland Dalek story, it pits a generic older Doctor against his Skarosian arch-foes. He’s assisted by an equally generic girl rebel, Cinder. I was instantly reminded of Gerry Conway’s late 80s series Cinder & Ashe: a merc-and-orphan DC urban crime tale.

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The novel is weighty but lacks style and is wholly predictable-especially for Cinder. Inoffensive but quite inessential.

Prisoners of Time: IDW’s 50th anniversary collection. Each tv Doctor (aside from the War Doctor) has an adventure illustrated by a different artist. There is also a series arc as an embittered former ally abducts Companions in each installment.

The highlights are: Zarbi in the London underground circa 1868; Jamie and Zoe in a space shopping mall with the Ice Warriors; John Ridgway reuniting Sixie, Peri and Frobisher in his classic storybook style; Roger Langridge’s chubby Wildean Eighth Doctor and Grace; and Martha Jones vs Quarks at the Griffith Observatory.

Unsuprisingly, perhaps, the story has a Secret Wars-style payoff where all those Doctors and their companions face off against

SPOILERS!!!

 

No, not River Song- Todd off Corrie aka Adam from The Long Game. There’s some charm to the episodes but it’s really just  all the toys lined up on the counterpane . Thank goodness The Day of the Doctor didn’t take that route last November.

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So: what of the Capaldi Doctor?

His debut was a plodding retread of The Girl in the Fireplace with the over-exposed and unfunny Paternoster Gang. The second episode was a trippy Cycle 24 rehash of Lost in Space’s “Trip Through The Robot”. The third, a campy romp with Robin Hood. ( If this were the US , there’d have been a crossover with Jonas Armstrong’s Robin Hood in 2008)

I dislike the discordant new version of the theme and the literal intrepretation of the titles i.e. clocks. Clara remains the ultimate Mary Sue. The Twelfth Doctor himself seemed like a brusque professorial crow. By the third episode, he resembled Chic Murray as an undertaker. The ageing bovver boy-cum-magician outfit that echoed Pertwee’s glam flash had morphed into a suave coat that might suit Paisley’s John Byrne. Twelve can double-take hilariously and his catty remarks to Clara are quite funny.

I’m not enthused so far, unfortunately, by the general “dark” direction of the series. I wonder if the pendulum swing to an abrasive middle-aged Scot was perhaps too drastic a change from the eligible young men of the last nine years. However, as possibilities swirl around us in the next few days, it might just seem that change has arrived, indeed, ” not a moment too soon”.

Coming soon: Titan Comics’ new Who titles and the third series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures. Plus Justice League Canada!

Next: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.