Thin Ice
Episode / April 30, 2017

Aired 29 April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Following a pair of solid episodes tasked with establishing the new dynamic between Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Pearl Mackie’s Bill, ‘Thin Ice’ takes to exploring the moral compasses of the two leads while further refining their relationship in the process. The two are clearly idealists and hope to do the best for everyone they come across, but writer Sarah Dollard is able to poignantly explore the differences in the foundations of those ideals as the story of a monstrous serpent beneath the Thames during the last Frost Fair unfolds. While that setup may make it seem like ‘Thin Ice’ is a cold and calculating dramatic piece, the story is actually quite adept at shifting tones and styles, adding an especially mercurial sense of unpredictability to the Doctor by doing so that pays immense dividends as the truth behind the serpent is revealed. Indeed, the prolonged tongue-in-cheek conversation about Pete, the companion who never was, underscores the camaraderie of the two leads and is certainly a comedic highlight in the fledgling series as normal companion questions about traveling in time are deftly handled. Yet the story quickly strikes at the heart of the Doctor’s…

Alien Heart and Dalek Soul
Audio / April 28, 2017

Released April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW It’s been quite some time since Big Finish’s Monthly Range has toyed with its format and offered stories of any length other than the traditional four parts. For three consecutive release, though, Big Finish is offering two two-part adventures, one pair featuring each of its stalwart Doctors. The two-part story has been used successfully in The Companion Chronicles, The Fourth Doctor Adventures, and The Eighth Doctor Adventures ranges, but Stephen Cole’s ‘Alien Heart’ and Guy Adams’s ‘Dalek Soul’ mark the first two-part entries in Big Finish’s longest-running range. The use of the Fifth Doctor to introduce this string of releases is particularly shrewd as well, as Peter Davison’s tenure featured the final three two-part stories of thirty minute episodes, stories that were by no means classic but that highlighted just how strong and versatile Davison was in the role. With Big Finish effortlessly transitioning from its trilogy with the boisterous introductory era of Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric to the more earnest era that never reached television featuring just Nyssa alongside the Doctor, this first pair of stories again spectacularly highlights Davison amidst events of surprising scope. In ‘Alien Heart,’ the Doctor and Nyssa discover…

Delta and the Bannermen
Episode / April 26, 2017

Aired 2 – 16 November 1987 Following the general disappointment and rather overt backlash to what Doctor Who had increasingly become under producer John Nathan-Turner, it’s no surprise that the first year of Sylvester McCoy’s tenure featured rather experimental stories that broke from what had become tradition in order for the programme to find both itself and public acceptance once more. Unfortunately, and even more than with ‘Paradise Towers,’ the actual execution of ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ doesn’t manage to live up to the potential that its central concept presents, resulting in a rather sloppy affair littered with intriguing notions. Indeed, there is something quintessentially British about the fifties pulp stylings and a toll booth traveling in time and space as Nostalgia Tours offers tourists the opportunity to explore a holiday camp in Wales of all places. However, despite the purposeful underlying sense of absurdity, there remains a tremendous disconnect between the tone of the story and what actually occurs, a fact likely due to the troubled scripting process that required several major rewrites. What begins as a rather light-hearted story suddenly features mass murders at the hands of a crazed madman, but there never seems to be any resounding…

Paradise Towers
Episode / April 25, 2017

Aired 5 -26 October 1987 ‘Paradise Towers’ is certainly not a perfect Doctor Who tale by any stretch of the imagination; however, despite its inconsistencies in both tone and pace, it unabashedly represents a fresh breath of experimentalism that suggests the programme is truly ready to embrace a new era after the rather bland introduction of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in ‘Time and the Rani’ that had failed to properly introduce the actual characters of the Doctor or Mel to the audience at home. Even though it’s clear that both the writing staff and McCoy have not yet settled on a definitive characterization for the Seventh Doctor as he shifts between bumbling and hesitant and darker and more contemplative, ‘Paradise Towers’ firmly embraces 1980s cyberpunk culture without holding back, using its more absurd science fiction elements to speak about remarkably relevant social topics without feeling the need to reach the levels of grim despair such attempts did in Colin Baker’s era. Within the confines of the titular towers, urban decay, fascism, gangs, and even cannibalism reign supreme, but the story somehow manages to balance a line between terror and absurdity that never demands that the audience take it completely seriously…

Dethras
Audio / April 24, 2017

Released April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW The Fourth Doctor Adventures has long been one of Big Finish’s most conservative ranges, often pitching the stories so that they effortlessly fit into their intended era but sometimes sacrificing novelty and ingenuity in doing so. However, that pattern has slowly been changing over the past couple of years and especially with many of the early releases of this current sixth series. ‘Dethras’ as the latest release not only features an immensely intriguing core concept and setting to bolster its atmospheric and engaging mystery, but it also instills a sense of season seventeen’s lighter stylings into the more grave and earnest season eighteen period. Upon finding a World War II submarine adrift in space with only three crewmembers and a chimpanzee on board and no explanation for the rest of the missing crew, the Doctor and Romana immediately become entwined in a grand mystery as they try to make sense of the strange goings-on within the ship’s hull as well as of the strange noises coming from outside. The first episode is something of a slower-paced affair understandably more concerned with building up the mystery with compounding confusion, but this approach does at least…

Smile
Website / April 23, 2017

Aired 22 April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Every now and again a foe comes along that seems perfectly suited for a particular incarnation of the Doctor, and pairing robots that kill those around them for not smiling and being happy with the sternness and consternation that pervades the characterization of the Twelfth Doctor certainly seems like a natural choice. Unfortunately, after a solid and more deliberate opening half in which the Doctor and Bill get to know each other and the strange world before them, the intrigue of the Vardy threat simply doesn’t have quite enough weight to successfully carry ‘Smile’ to a balanced and engaging resolution. Writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce shows no hesitation is putting the focus of the story squarely on the shoulders of Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, and the chemistry the two innately share shines brilliantly throughout. After a strong introduction in ‘The Pilot,’ Bill is further fleshed out as a dynamic and multifaceted character who is keenly aware of the details in her surroundings while managing to process the strange world that being with the Doctor presents her. It is a bit of a shame that ‘Smile’ doesn’t take the time to explore Bill’s reactions to…

Revelation of the Daleks
Episode / April 18, 2017

Aired 23 – 30 March 1985 Doctor Who, like any long-lasting programme, changes along with the times to better resonate with the audience and drive home its message. With that mindset, it’s unsurprising that the show in the 1980s would start to go down a darker and bleaker path, one that threw aside the rather black and white lines of good and evil that had defined the show for so long. Unfortunately, the writing often let down the realization of some very clever ideas and instead focused on unwarranted violence and brutality, an aspect brought to the forefront with the characterization of the Sixth Doctor. With the show coming under increasing pressure from the BBC, the return of the Daleks provides a momentary reprieve that ends Colin Baker’s first full season on a relatively high note. It’s telling that the Doctor is something of an observer throughout ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and that events likely would have occurred in the same fashion if he had never shown up. Perhaps this was a purposeful attempt at shaking up the storytelling dynamic, but it is intriguing that a story in which the Sixth Doctor less prominently focuses seems to flow much more…

Timelash
Episode / April 17, 2017

Aired 9 – 16 March 1985 It’s fair to say that Colin Baker’s first full year in the titular role is a decidedly mixed one. While ‘Vengeance on Varos’ is undoubtedly a classic and ‘The Mark of the Rani’ and ‘The Two Doctors’ can certainly be enjoyed within a certain context, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ is a tale that lacks in almost every respect other than shamelessly delving into past continuity. Unfortunately, the biggest issue throughout this run is that the relationship filled with such seeming animosity between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is only intermittently improved as any particular moment in any particular story warrants, creating an underlying sense of unease around the two leads that the writers and production staff simply don’t meaningfully address. As a result, when a story such as ‘Timelash’ comes along with its decent ideas amid a flurry of nonsense and overacting, the continuing maelstrom between the heroic leads only serves to further weaken the overall result, and ‘Timelash’ has the dubious honour of consistently ranking near the bottom of fan polls. Nonetheless, it is intriguing to see a programme built upon the foundation of time and space utilizing those components as a weapon,…

The Helm of Awe
Audio / April 17, 2017

Released April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Legendary producer Philip Hinchcliffe once more returns to Big Finish with another character-driven story intended to recapture the core essence of his televised era featuring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Given the positive response for this small collection so far, it’s clear that the popularity and love for this era is as strong as ever, and the trickling of releases manages to maintain an air of spectacle and novelty even as they compete against Big Finish’s own The Fourth Doctor Adventures. With the fourth story across three volumes of Philip Hinchcliffe Presents, Hinchcliffe grounds his story on the Shetland Isle of Bothness as the locals prepare to celebrate the Norse fire festival of Up Helly Ya. Yet amidst the intensified blending of Scottish and Scandinavian roots, the Doctor and Leela find themselves tracking an ancient artifact of unimaginable power. Hinchcliffe and adapter Marc Platt brilliantly and perfectly incorporate elements of true Norse mythology to both drive the plot forward and to flesh out the superb environment and tightly-knit community, avoiding the pitfall of sacrificing pacing in order to explain the facts while doing so. The dichotomy between elements of 1970s modern life and the…

The Pilot
Episode / April 16, 2017

Aired 15 April 2017 After some sixteen months since the airing of the last full series of Doctor Who, ‘The Pilot’ is an apt title for an episode tasked with re-introducing the Doctor and the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Time Lord as well as with introducing new companion Bill Potts played by Pearl Mackie. With the focus squarely on the burgeoning relationship between the Doctor and Bill, one based on Bill’s intrinsically likable inquisitiveness and practical intelligence, ‘The Pilot’ is accordingly not a story that by itself fundamentally alters the long history and mythology of the programme. Indeed, using Bill’s sexuality and the fact that her mother died so long ago simply as character traits rather than prolonged plot points, the story is instead able to focus on quickly rounding out the character with traits rather than with intrigue, highlighted by her willingness to learn by attending the Doctor’s university lectures without even being a student and to ask questions about what others would take for granted. The storyline itself is fairly straightforward as with most companion debut stories, but ‘The Pilot’ does still manage to present a suitably intriguing- if misunderstood- foe. Even if the resolution feels somewhat anticlimactic…