25 May 2013

Sound doesn't wobble ('Doctor Who' audio)

For our next journey into the expanded universe, we cover the many audio dramas produced for Doctor Who over the years. Radio plays are still popular in the UK; the BBC’s soap opera The Archers has been running on Radio 4 since 1950, when that station was called the Light Programme, and still gets about six million listeners[1]!

There have been a lot of sound-only tales, so I will be going by the ‘series’ we have had.

Please note that this list excludes single-person audiobooks – many are merely dramatic readings of print works. I may well have missed some of the works – please let me know if I have.

We’ll start with the audios produced by the BBC and various independent companies; there are not as many of these.

Glorious Goodwood (1974)

A ten-minute, ultimately not broadcast, tale featuring the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, apparently intended to be broadcast in conjunction with an appearance at Goodwood racecourse. It was released on CD in 2005.

Doctor Who and the Pescatons (1976)

The first licenced Doctor Who audio (produced by Argo for LP release), narrated by Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and featuring Lis Sladen, along with Bill Mitchell, a well-known voiceover artist. My review is here. It was clearly not a great success as Argo did not do another one.

Exploration Earth (1976)

The first broadcast drama, aired as part of a BBC Schools Radio series of the same name; this also featured the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane.

Audio Visuals (1984-1991)

A series of 26 cassette-based stories with original Doctors, this one was definitely unlicensed[2] – if the BBC hadn’t chosen to turn a blind eye to it (it wasn’t that widely distributed), a copyright suit would have been a slam dunk for them. In fact, they didn’t just let it slide, they would later hire two of the key people involved for the revival; Nicholas Briggs to do monster voices and Gary Russell as a script editor.

While the originals are not available, Big Finish remade five of them for their own official range, such as Cuddlesome, which was released as a free CD with Doctor Who Magazine 393 and starred Peter Davison – and made a sequel to another.

Slipback (1985)

Aired during the 18-month gap between Seasons 22 and 23, this six part drama was aired on Pirate Radio Four, a Radio 4 children’s magazine show. Starring the Sixth Doctor and Peri, my review can be found here.

Paradise of Death (1993)

Another Radio 4 drama; this one with the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier and original companion Jeremy Fitzoliver investigating a strange death at a theme park.

It is available on CD and iTunes; as well as that, it became the final Target Books novelisation.

The Ghosts of N-Space (1996)

The four characters mentioned above made a repeat appearance in what would be the final official appearance of Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, in a tale set in Italy; I review it here.

Audio Adventures in Time & Space (1998-2004)

As well as videos, BBV Productions also produced a number of audios; the first being “The Time Travellers”, which featured Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, initially playing characters that were the Seventh Doctor and Ace in all but name… to the point that between season 1 and 2, the BBC had a stern word with them. The characters were duly changed considerably.

Most of the works are excluded from coverage by the Tardis Data Core, such as Lawrence Miles’ Faction Paradox series, loosely based on a group in the Eighth Doctor novels, but with a lot of references altered to avoid infringement.

A number of classic monsters turned up, such as the Zygons and the Krynoids (“Seeds of Doom”) – K9 also turned up in two audio adventures, with Lalla Ward playing “The Mistress” as they could not get the rights to Romana, a BBC property. In general, there was a lot of careful manoeuvring to avoid getting sued.

BBV stopped making these in 2004 and these are increasingly only available second hand.

AudioGo Fourth Doctor stories (2009-2011)

After a long break from the role, Tom Baker finally reprised his role as the Fourth Doctor in three series of audio adventures from the audiobook company AudioGo – titled Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest and Serpent Crest. These featured Mike Yates and new companion Fennella Wibbsey, the latter the Doctor’s housekeeper in his Sussex country home, played by very well-known actor Susan Jameson.

Then we move onto Big Finish Productions, by far the largest producer of licenced Doctor Who audio[3] since 1999. Their recently extended licence covers only the first eight Doctors; they cannot cover the Time War or the new era (those rights belong to the BBC), but this has not stopped the occasional cheeky reference[4] – they also have to stay away from anything too close to planned episodes. More than one of their team has gone on to work for the show proper – and some of these audios have been broadcast on BBC7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra).

Big Finish has featured nearly all the living classic regulars reprising their roles, with the exception of Matthew Waterhouse as Adric and Grace from the TV movie (the latter due to rights issues with FOX). In addition, they have created a number of new companions for their series, the most notable being:
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Evelyn Smythe, a retired professor
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Erimem, a princess  from ancient Egypt
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Lucie Miller, played by Sheridan Smith – now a well-known TV and stage actor in the UK[5].

BF has a general ‘no-recast’ policy when it comes to those characters whose actors have passed away, although they have made some exceptions.

This list covers most of them, but excludes subscriber-only releases and ones given away with Doctor Who Magazine. Some of these releases were box sets containing multiple releases or shorter bonus stories.

Main Range (1999-present, 180 released or announced to November 2013)

Featuring the 5th to 8th Doctors – indeed the first story featured three Doctors – this ‘main range’ is a series of full cast adventures, as most of these are, released one a month. A number of stories here have provided strong influence on later episodes of the TV series:

<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Colditz (2001): Which featured David Tennant playing a Nazi. Tennant featured in a number of audios before becoming the Tenth Doctor.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The One Doctor (2001): A comedy Christmas tale guest starring Christopher Biggins, this is the clear inspiration for “The Next Doctor”.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Spare Parts (2002): A Cyberman origin story, which clearly impacted on “Rise of the Cyberman/The  Age of Steel”.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Jubilee (2002): A Dalek story that is the strong basis for “Dalek” – boxes from ‘Jubilee Pizza’ feature there and in Torchwood.

Fourth Doctor Stories (2012-present, 22 CDs released or announced to August 2014)

Adventures featuring Tom Baker’s Doctor (natch) with Leela, although the second season featured Romana I – Mary Tamm recording seven plays before her death. There are none with Romana II – it is generally believed not to be a good idea to put Baker and Lalla Ward in the same room.

The New Eighth Doctor stories (33 releases, 2007-2012)

Featuring, for most them, Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller, these ones see a progressively darker Eighth Doctor, who notably changes his costume and hairstyle towards the end of the run. The first season of these was broadcast on BBC7.

Bernice Summerfield (71 stories released or announced to September 2013, 1998-present)

Lara Crofting before Tomb Raider, Bernice “Benny” Summerfield (voiced by Lisa Bowerman, who is also her ‘model’ for CD covers) made her debut in the Virgin New Adventures novel Love and War in 1992 (that novel has since got a BF adaptation)[6] and was so popular she got her own spinoff novel series after Virgin lost the rights to the main show. This was an audio spinoff of that – this was the first lot of audios that Big Finish did, before they got the IP proper.

The Companion Chronicles (2007-present, 85 released or announced to September 2014)

A series of two-hander audiobooks/mini-adventures, recounted by a companion with another actor playing a key role in the story, this series mainly covers the first four Doctors, all of whom were unavailable at the time of first commissioning (although others have featured), three by the good reason of death.

Counter-Measures (2012-present 8 stories in two box sets announced or released to July 2013)

A series focussing on a proto-UNIT, the Intrusion Countermeasures Group (ICMG) featured in “Remembrance of the Daleks”, as they investigate alien phenomena in 1964 Britain.

Cyberman (8 stories, 2005-9)

A two season set and the follow-up to the next entry, focussing on the Orion War in the 26th century, implied to be part of the Cyber Wars.

Dalek Empire (18 stories, 2001-2008)

A spin-off from four stories in the main run, this focussed on the Dalek invasion and conquest of the Milky Way in the 42nd century – along with another war 2,500 years later. This was BF’s first spinoff not focussing on a pre-existing character.

Doctor Who Unbound (8 stories, 2003-8)

A series of ‘what-if’ tales, looking at alternative universes and ‘unbound’ incarnations, such as the Doctor never leaving Gallifrey or a Doctor that believed the ends justified the means.

The Early Adventures (announced for 2014)

Featuring the early Doctors, few details are currently available.

Gallifrey  (2004-2013, 24 released or announced)

Set on the Time Lord home world, this series of political thrillers features Leela and the second Romana, the latter having become Lady President, as they deal with enemies alien and domestic.

Graceless (2010-present, 9 stories released or announced to June 2013)

A spinoff from the Key 2 Time arc in the main run (another hunt for the Key to Time), featuring two characters, Abby and Zara[7] from that.

Iris Wildthyme (2005-12, 10 audios)

Starring Katy Manning (who played Jo) as Iris Wildthyme, who claimed to be a Time Lady but was in fact something else – although she certainly liked the gin and tonic. First featuring in Paul Magrs’ non-Who novels, she made her way into the Whoniverse.

Jago and Litefoot (2010-present, 32 released or announced to December 2014)

Set in 1890s London, this spinoff featuring one of Robert Holmes’ most popular double acts (from “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”) is also one of BF’s most popular ranges, featuring the two characters solving mysteries.

The Lost Stories (2009-present, 23 released or announced to December 2013)

Stories intended for TV airing that were never made for various reasons i.e. other things were picked instead or external events intervened, such as the hiatus. This includes many of the planned tales for the original Season 23, but also other tales like “Farewell Great Macedon” (for the first Doctor) and the bizarre “Prison in Space”, intended for Season 6, that would have seen Jamie in drag and the Doctor have to smack Zoe’s bottom to deprogram her after brainwashing[8].

Sarah Jane Smith (2002-2006, 9 stories)

Featuring the companion in a modern day setting on Earth, after she left the Doctor in “The Hand of Fear”, this series was ended early when The Sarah Jane Adventures was announced and Lis Sladen became contracted for that. The final story, “Dreamland”, was ended on a cliffhanger (as a third season had been planned) and any plans to finish it off were permanently ended by Sladen’s death in 2011.

UNIT (2004-2005, 5 audios – UNIT: Dominion is not part of this range)

A modern day series featuring UNIT and with the Brig popping up – the last of these was David Tennant’s final audio role, released the same month he first appeared as the Doctor.

It’s clear from this that there has been a great deal of EU media – in fact, it’s been claimed, with much justification, that more works of fiction have been published about the Doctor than any other fictional character.

In our next edition, we look at one of the oldest mediums of fiction of them all… the printed word.

[1]The show is the longest-running soap opera still going since CBS’ Guiding Light was cancelled after 72 years in 2009. It was also the source of the BBC’s first shot in the ratings war with ITV – when Associated Rediffusion launched as the first franchise (for the London weekday slot) on 22 September 1955, The Archers killed off a character in a fire.
[2]This would make it fan fiction… but the significance of it is such as that it has to be included.
[3]They don’t just do Doctor Who. Their other ranges include Stargate SG-1, Blake’s 7, Highlander and 2000 AD… that’s just for starters. Original works include the Mervyn Stone mysteries, where a former sci-fi script editor loosely based on Terrance Dicks investigates sci-fi related murders. I’ve bought the first novel and review it here.
[4]BF are producing audios for Nine to Eleven this year, but details on these and who they will feature are unclear.
[5]One of Sheridan’s stage roles was in the West End production of Legally Blonde, where she got to slap and kiss Peter Davison.
[6]Paul Cornell’s best known novel. He’s written two TV stories, both Hugo-nominated (and both losing to Steven Moffat) – “Father’s Day” and “Human Nature”, the latter an adaptation of his own 1995 novel.
[7]Both human ‘Tracers’ (who could find segments of the Key… stop me if you’re not following this), Abby was called Amy initially, but her name was changed in the story, probably to avoid confusion with Amy Pond.
[8]The story was abandoned at a late stage; Robert Holmes had to write “The Space Pirates” as a replacement, while his other tale “The Krotons” was moved up the running order to take its slot.

Murder most geeky (Book Review: 'Geek Tragedy' by Nev Fountain, 2010)

My blogging seems to have slipped a fair bit recently – it’s no longer a certainty I will complete either the Bond or Doctor Who series by their deadlines as RL gets in the way. However, I’m still going and in the meantime, I’ve read a novel that I felt worth reviewing.


That novel is Nev Fountain’s Geek Tragedy, the first of three (so far) novels featuring amateur detective and TV science fiction writer Mervyn Stone.


Where we’re at


Mervyn Stone is an ageing former script editor on a (fictional) 1980s BBC science fiction soap opera called Vixens from the Void, a trashy affair with big shoulder pads and dodgy special effects. With little work since then, he finds himself unable to escape the show he worked on and does conventions for the money. Unfortunately for him, wherever he goes, murder follows.


The plot


Stone is attending ConVix 15, a convention being held in a tacky hotel near the M25 motorway, when one of the organisers apparently gases himself to death in one of the show’s original props, a ‘sentient’ car. Teaming up with a Special Constable, he investigates the murders (for there is more than one), while having to deal with crazy fans and crazier women, including Vanity Mycroft, one of the show’s former divas.


What works

·         While I’ve never been to a convention myself, the world of them seems convincingly portrayed; I suspect that Fountain has drawn on a good number of RL experiences, including those of Nicola Bryant (who he credits in the book).

·         The supporting characters are strongly done – especially some of Stone’s former colleagues.

·         There are a lot of great laughs in this book, especially at some of the awkward situations that our hero ends up in. There are also some little nuggets of humour that come out if you know your British works.

·         The mystery is genuinely well done and you don’t see the identity of the murderer coming – then again, I am generally rubbish at these things unless it’s an American show and one of the actors is particularly well known.

·         The book is aware of the conventions of the genre and plays with them well – the well done prologue (in the style of an episode guide) talking about a death in a fire makes it obvious something is up with that. It also just about gets away with a genre fundamentally hard to justify in a modern setting.


What doesn’t

·         This isn’t a book for kids – there are some very adult moments in this and on occasion, Fountain overdoes it.

·         The story takes a little while to get going.




An enjoyable, but not perfect novel; certainly worth looking at if you’re a Doctor Who or British sci-fi fan.




20 May 2013

My name is... WHAT?! 'Doctor Who' 33.13, "The Name of the Doctor"

I’m not going to do a standard ten-point review for this; I can’t do ten points without being spoilery. So I’ll be brief.


This was a bit of a dragger of an episode; there were moments that could have done with being somewhat shorter. It is also clearer that the show is spending money on effects instead of a large cast; nearly everyone had prior form on the show. However, we had moments of great drama and a superb explanation for Clara.


The revelation of the ‘Name’ and that ending… that’s going to be speculated on for months and talked about for years.


Roll on 23 November.



19 May 2013

Pentecost 2013

Today is Pentecost, the start of the Church year. On this day, we remember the arrival of the Holy Spirit in an upstairs room in Jerusalem, with the result that 3,000 people were saved after hearing the Good News in their own languages.

The Holy Spirit shows that God continues to work within us even after Jesus' (temporary) departure and that we are to evangelise to all people, no matter what their background.

Happy Birthday Christianity!

14 May 2013

The Cyberman Gambit (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.12, "Nightmare in Silver")

The Doctor, Clara and her two charges travel to the biggest theme park in the cosmos, only to discover that it is not only closed, but contains Cybermen…


·         We jumped pretty much straight into this, although the reveal of the title sequence cliffhanger was more than a bit clichéd.

·         Matt Smith had a great time playing two roles – truly hamming it up as the Cyber Planner (not that he avoids the ham usually) in a turn that reminded me of performances of Jekyll and Hyde.

·         Clara didn’t do the best job this week – getting handed military command and reacting in that manner seemed a bit off.

·         Got to say that I liked the reveal of how the chess game was initially operated – look up the Mechanical Turk for the inspiration.

·         Warwick Davis did a great job as Porridge and I liked the reveal of his true identity; I’m sure many people in his position would have wanted to be ordinary just for once.

·         When is this set? I guess it’s one of the Great and Bountiful Human Empires.

·         Superb CGI work in this episode; you could never have had shots like this in the old days.

·         The military unit looked more than a bit unmilitary; while they may well have been a punishment platoon, no military would let the Captain have that fringe.

·         Really, really effective Cybermen – they came up with a counter strategy for nearly everything that the humans threw at them.

·         The final shot of the episode was again something that we’ve seen before many times before.




An enjoyable episode, but nothing stellar. Next week’s finale could be very interesting indeed.



11 May 2013

:gulp: :burp: #bearchow - US Upfronts 2013

My thoughts on the renewals, cancellations and new pickups – I’ll do this by network.



·         Revenge got renewed, but that show is now starting to twist for the sake of twisting. The EP jumped ship earlier this season and I don’t see this going on for too much longer.

·         Body of Proof was a big surprise renewal last year and a hard call this time – but it was cancelled; the age of the forensic show appears to be ending.

·         Lucky 7 looks an awful lot like a US remake of the BBC series The Syndicate, but can that concept work for a 22-or-so episode run?



·         CSI: With an early renewal (and all its stars back), this show may be old, but I’ve enjoyed it for over a decade – frequently with my dinner. I can see why this is the most-watched show on Earth.

·         NCIS continues to be undemanding fun, but if any of the leads chose to leave the show, it’s going to have a hard time adjusting – they’ve been entrenched (mostly) for seven seasons now.

·         The Good Wife remains a critical darling, but at some point soon, CBS will decide to call this one a day – the ratings have never been brilliant.

·         Jerry Bruckheimer continues to be a big player in TV – he’s got another show of his picked up… which will replace the cancelled CSI:NY, a series that lost steam a while back.


The CW

·         Arrow’s early renewal was no surprise – it’s a good show with great stunt work; plus Barrowman needs the work.

·         The Tomorrow People is one of those shows that could work or fail.




·         I chose not to bother with the second season of Touch – nor did many people. Its cancellation was no surprise whatsoever.

·         US & Them: Why does the US insist on remaking perfectly good British shows when they could just show the originals for a fraction of the cost? I suspect, though, they’d subtitle some of the


·         Abrams gets another pie with Almost Human; that could be a hit or an early cancellation.

·         Enlisted is the first US military comedy I’ve heard of for a while; as the US moves out of over a decade of ground war, this might go down a bit better than a few years back.

·         Brooklyn Nine-Nine: What is it with the NYPD? They’re turning up everywhere these days.




·         Last Resort (cancelled earlier this year) was an interesting concept that was shoddily executed; I only stuck with it with difficulty. At least it got enough warning to put together a fairly good ending.

·         Parks & Recreation has started airing in the UK and is rather enjoyable in its own strange way – pleased it got its sixth run.

·         I see that we’ll be getting an Ironside remake – never seen the original, though. Before my time.


Other networks


·         As soon as I saw the opening ratings for Defiance, I knew it was going to get an early renewal.

·         Leverage has lost something in its fifth and final run – it mucked about with the formula too much.

·         Southland has been ended after five seasons too – this was an interesting, if somewhat depressing show, that reminded me somewhat of The Bill. Worth noting that it was picked up by TNT after NBC cancelled it.

·         Seven and done for Burn Notice – seven seasons seems to be a common length for a show, possibly due to contractual reasons. At least it will be able to get a proper end.


Thanks to TV By The Numbers (especially the Cancellation Bear) for focussing on what cannot lie.,. the ratings. I’ll be using them again next season.

06 May 2013

James Bond: The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton’s first outing as 007 was one of the first James Bond movies I saw, when I went through a total of four on a holiday to New York in December 1999, where I saw my first one in a cinema – The World Is Not Enough and three others during the course of a TBS series of re-runs.

It’s also one of my personal favourites – I’ve watched it at least four times counting this re-watch. As such, I can focus less on the magnificent story (it’s got one of the best plots of the series) and more on other details.

Dalton’s Bond is tough, but personable – it’s easy to see how he could be see such a charmer, even from my heterosexual male point of view. The action scenes, accompanied by John Barry’s masterwork of a score (his last one for the series in fact) are brilliantly staged. The set design is mostly superb (although with odd niggles like an Emergency Exit sign in English only on a Soviet plane) and there are great one-liners throughout. Even Joe Don Baker’s not bad.

Two people let the side down somewhat - Jeroen Krabbé and Maryam d’Abo. Krabbé is the worst thing in the movie; he can’t act and his scenes as Koskov are annoying. Maryam d’Abo is great to look at, does some great facial acting and handles one of the better written Bond Girl parts, but when she opens her mouth… her voice is irritating. Someone should have gotten a better vocal coach to soften her voice a bit.

Having learnt a bit about diplomatic bags via an episode of Castle, the bit about Koskov’s fate works even better.


This stays just as good on re-watch and its status as one of the best in the series remains. If you want to introduce someone to 007, warts and all.


A Battenberg episode (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.11, "The Crimson Horror")

The Doctor, Clara and the Vastra gang try to stop an insane factory owner in 1893 Yorkshire.


This one was a fast-paced episode that rattled along with barely time to breathe:


·         Great pre-titles sequence; it had the air of a classic pastiche of Victorian times about it.

·         Dame Diana Rigg, bringing out a far more Yorkshire accent than most of her roles have had, did a great job throughout, although crediting her as ‘Dame Diana Rigg’ seemed a bit strange.

·         The ‘sat nav’ joke was excellent; although the name of the kid was obviously telegraphed.

·         Strax, Jenny and Vastra were wonderful, although I’m not sure what ‘limbo vapour’ is…

·         Starting a story in media res that way was a novelty for the show and worked well in this case, even it is seriously overused at other times.

·         There were some superb supporting characters, especially the pathologist.

·         The alien we saw was well realised – kudos to the creators for this.

·         Matt Smith had less to do than usual, but was still good; he can certainly rock a bowler.

·         Clara seemed a bit more subdued – she wasn’t in much of this and when she was on, her normal sass wasn’t fully present.

·         Bringing the two kids along for a ride next week could either be great or a recipe for disaster – the show does not take minors on the TARDIS and I suspect many would not like for the Doctor to have a kid companion.




Another treat from Mark Gatiss, but this is a Battenberg cake of an episode… enjoyable, but too many will make you sick.



03 May 2013

UK local elections 2013

32 of 34 councils have declared in these elections and while Labour didn't do as well as it could have, we were the only party (apart from No Overall Control) to gain councils.

UKIP's record performance is worthy of note, but one should not draw too many conclusions from what is basically a vote of the Tory heartlands - the major cities were not up, including London (I didn't have a vote this time, but I will next year).