A journal in time and space

It has come to my attention recently that I've been remiss in not putting an explanation for my journal at the front, so I have pinned this post in the hopes that anyone who comes to this journal will see this first.

I have been a lifelong fan of Doctor Who ever since the time when at 5-years-old I watched The Seeds of Doom. Doctor Who immediately replaced Star Trek as my favorite TV series and it has been so ever since. I'm an American and watched Doctor Who on my local PBS station, which meant that within the span of a few years I had seen all of the Doctor Who then available. This included everything from William Hartnell through Colin Baker. It became obvious to me when they showed the Hartnell and Troughton years that something was missing and I did some research and soon discovered that some episodes had been wiped. This started my quest to find the novelizations for all of those stories, which also resulted in me finding and reading a lot of the novelizations for existing stories as well. Eventually, I moved from Florida to South Carolina where they no longer showed Doctor Who. I was ten at that point and it was a struggle to keep my addiction fed.

Thankfully, the VHS releases started coming to America around this time and I soon set up a policy with my parents wherein if I received a good report card we would order one of those stories (nowhere in SC in those days actually carried Doctor Who videos at the store). I also kept up with the novels known as the New Adventures, which started around that time. Those stories carried on from Survival and gave us the continuing story of Doctor Who. However, becoming a teenager meant that by around the time that I turned 14 my interests were divided. I still considered myself a fan of Doctor Who but other than watching my VHS tapes occasionally I didn't really do much with it. Then when I turned 16 the TV movie came out and although it has its problems I credit it with rekindling my love and interest in Doctor Who. After that I bought all of the New Adventures and Missing Adventures and caught up and I stayed caught up with the books until they were cancelled. I also started listening to the audio adventures from Big Finish when those came out.

I was ecstatic when the New Series was announced and couldn't wait to see new Doctor Who. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. In my opinion the quality of story telling was far worse than that of the novels and audios, so I stopped watching that with Journeys End and continued with the novels and audios. Yet once the 50th anniversary came it seemed sad that I wasn't doing anything related to it, so I decided to start this blog. This blog is an attempt to examine Doctor Who on a story by story basis starting with the TV series and the audios from Big Finish. Eventually this may also expand to the novels but those are far more time-consuming to review, so I'll start with this first. These reviews will contain my opionions and observations on these stories, which will hopefully be different from what I term "fan orthodoxy" which you can find in many of the guidebooks. I hope that this will help both long-time fans of the series as well as people who are just beginning to look at the classic series of Doctor Who. To further help that latter group, I've included a final rating and recommendation section to each entry. This will tell them how good the story is and will also tell them where I think that it's something that needs to be watched or listened to or not.

I'm always looking for feedback, so if you have any please let me know.

Each review will have the following format:

Blurb - This is where the synopsis from the back goes.

Format - This tells you what kind of story this is, whether its a TV show, movie, book, or audio drama. It also may give you the style of the adventure such as a companion chronicle, full cast drama, or novel.

Setting - This tells you the time and place of all the action in the story if known.

Continuity - Mentions links to other stories and indicates for past Doctor stories where they happen within the television series and possibly linking to other expanded universe sources.

Canonicity Quotient - This will only appear for Doctor Who expanded universe entries. My order of relevance to canon is Original Series - New Adventures/novels published by Virgin publishing, novels published by BBC books, Big Finish audios, short stories, new series of Doctor Who. This is the section where I discuss how well this story fits in with the rest of Doctor Who weighted per my list above.

Discussion - This is where I give my thoughts on the story. MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! I also put my rating of the story out of 10 points at the bottom.

Recomendation - This is where I give a very brief reason why someone should or should not listen to, watch, or read the story. This will be spoiler free.

Update 7/20/19: I've decided to cover other Big Finish series in addition to Doctor Who. I may remove some sections if I feel that they don't apply for reviews of that series, but the format will generally be the same.

Now for a list of the reviews so far:

[TV Series (click to open)]

Season One:
An Unearthly Child (Serial A)
The Daleks (Serial B)
The Edge of Destruction (Serial C)
Marco Polo (Serial D)
The Keys of Marinus (Serial E)
The Aztecs (Serial F)
The Sensorites (Serial G)
The Reign of Terror (Serial H)

Season Two:
Planet of Giants (Serial J)
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Serial K)
The Rescue (Serial L)
The Romans (Serial M)
The Web Planet (Serial N)
The Crusade (Serial P)
The Space Museum (Serial Q)
The Chase (Serial R)
The Time Meddler (Serial S)

Season Three:
Galaxy Four (Serial T)
Mission to the Unknown (Serial D/C)
The Myth Makers (Serial U)

[Big Finish Audios (click to open]
There are many ways to sort the Big Finish Adventures. I will do this by sorting first by the Big Finish range that the story falls within. I will then sort chronologically by the season of the TV series in which the story falls. In some cases these are guesses and I will be a 'c' next to those stories. The names of either the narrators or the characters involved in the story will be listed in parentheses after the story.

The Companion Chronicles:

Season Zero (Prior to An Unearthly Child):
8.05 The Beginning (Susan)
9.01 The Sleeping Blood (Susan)
8.02 The Alchemists (Susan)
5.06 Quinnis (Susan)

Season One:
3.07 The Transit of Venus (Ian)

Season One-b (Between Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants):
3.01 Here There Be Monsters (Susan)
6.10 The Wanderer (Ian)
7.07 The Flames of Cadiz (Ian, Susan)
7.10 The Library of Alexandria (Ian)

Season Two:
Special The Revenants (Ian)
8.09 Starborn (Vicki)
6.02 The Rocket Men (Ian)
8.08 The Sleeping City (Ian)
9.02 The Unwinding World

Season Two-b (Between The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four):
4.07 The Suffering (Steven, Vicki)
11.01 Fields of Terror (Vicki)
1.01 Frostfire (Vicki)
11.02 Across the Darkened City
8.03 Upstairs (Vicki, Steven)
9.03 The Founding Fathers (Steven)

Season Three:
6.07 The Anachronauts (Steven, Sara Kingdom)
3.05 Home Truths (Sara Kingdom)
4.01 The Drowned World (Sara Kingdom)
5.01 The Guardian of the Solar System (Sara Kingdom)
5.08 The Perpetual Bond (Steven, Oliver)
5.12 The Cold Equations (Steven, Oliver)
6.05 The First Wave (Steven, Oliver)
2.01 Mother Russia (Steven)
7.05 Return of the Rocket Men (Steven)
8.10 The War to End all Wars (Steven)

Season Four:
11.03 The Bonfires of the Vanities (Polly, Ben)
11.04 The Plague of Dreams (Polly)
3.09 Resistance (Polly)
5.09 The Forbidden Time (Polly, Jamie)
6.08 The Selachian Gambit (Jamie, Polly)
7.08 The House of Cards (Polly, Jamie)

Season Five:
3.02 The Great Space Elevator (Victoria)
4.08 The Emperor of Eternity (Victoria, Jamie)

Season Five-b (Between The Wheel in Space and The Dominators):
1.02 Fear of the Daleks (Zoe)

Season Six:
6.11 The Jigsaw War (Jamie)
4.02 The Glorious Revolution (Jamie)
5.02 Echoes of Grey (Zoe)
6.03 The Memory Cheats (Zoe)
7.02 The Uncertainty Principle (Zoe)
7.11 The Apocalypse Mirror (Jamie, Zoe)
8.12 Second Chances (Zoe)
8.06 The Dying Light (Jamie, Zoe)

Season Six-b (Between The War Games and Spearhead from Space):
2.02 Helicon Prime (Jamie)

Season Seven:
2.03 Old Soldiers (The Brigadier)
4.09 Shadow of the Past (Liz)
7.04 The Last Post (Liz)

Season Seven-b (Between Inferno and Terror of the Autons):
1.03 The Blue Tooth (Liz)
6.09 Binary (Liz)
6.12 The Rings of Ikiria (Mike)

Season Eight:
5.10 The Sentinels of the New Dawn (Liz)

Season Eight-b (Between The Daemons and The Day of the Daleks):
3.03 The Doll of Death (Jo)

Season Nine:
3.10 The Magician's Oath (Mike)
5.03 Find and Replace (Jo)

Season Ten:
Special The Mists of Time (Jo)
6.04 The Many Deaths of Jo Grant (Jo)
7.09 The Scorchies (Jo)
8.04 Ghost in the Machine (Jo)

Season Ten-b (Between The Green Death and The Time Warrior)
4.03 The Prisoner of Peladon (King Peladon)
7.12 Council of War (Benton)

Season Fourteen:
7.06 The Child (Leela)

Season Fourteen-b (Between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock)
2.04 The Catalyst (Leela)

Season Fifteen:
3.04 Empathy Games (Leela)
4.10 The Time Vampire (Leela, K-9)

3.11 The Mahogany Murderers (Jago and Litefoot)
7.01 The Time Museum (Ian)
8.11 The Elixir of Doom (Jo)
9.04 The Locked Room (Steven)

The Lost Stories:

Season One-b:
2.01 Farewell Great Macedon (Ian, Susan)
2.01 The Fragile Gentle Arc of Fragrance (Ian, Susan)
3.07 The Masters of Luxor (Ian, Susan)

Season Two:
The Dark Planet (Ian, Vicki)

Season Six:
2.02 Prison in Space (Jamie, Zoe)
3.08 The Rosemariners (Jamie, Zoe)
4.02 The Queen of Time (Jamie, Zoe)
4.03 Lords of the Red Planet (Jamie Zoe)

Season Eight:
4.04 The Mega (Jo, Mike)

Season Fourteen-b:
Special The Foe from the Future (Fourth Doctor, Leela)

Season Fifteen:
Special The Valley of Death (Fourth Doctor, Leela)

The Destroyers (Sara Kingdom)

Short Trips:

Season One-b (Between Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants):
5.01 Flywheel Revolution (Peter Purves)

Season Two-b (Between The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four):
5.09 Etheria (Peter Purves)

The Early Adventures:

Season One-b (Between Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants):
1.01 Domain of the Voord (Susan, Ian)
3.01 The Age of Endurance (Susan, Ian)

Season Two:
3.02 The Fifth Traveller (Vicki, Ian)
1.02 The Doctor's Tale (Vicki, Ian)

Season Two-b (Between The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four):
1.03 The Bounty of Ceres (Vicki, Steven)
3.03 The Ravelli Conspiracy (Vicki, Steven)

Season Three:
1.04 An Ordinary Life (Steven, Sara)
3.04 The Sontarans (Steven, Sara)

Destiny of the Doctor:

Season Zero:
01 Hunters of Earth (Susan)

Season Six:
02 Shadow of Death (Jamie)

Season Seven:
03 Vengeance of the Stones (Mike Yates)

The Fourth Doctor Adventures:

Season Fourteen-b:
1.01 Destination: Nerva (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
1.02 The Renaissance Man (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
1.03 The Wrath of the Iceni (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
1.04 Energy of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
1.05 Trail of the White Worm (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
1.06 The Oseidon Adventure (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
Special: Night of the Stormcrow (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.01 The King of Sontar (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.02 White Ghosts (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.03 The Crooked Man (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.04 The Evil One (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.05 Last of the Colophon (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.06 Destroy the Infinite (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.07 The Abandoned (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
3.08 Zygon Hunt (Fourth Doctor, Leela)

Philip Hinchcliffe Presents:

Season Fourteen-b:
1.1 The Ghosts of Gralstead (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
1.2 The Devil's Armada (Fourth Doctor, Leela)
2,1 The Genesis Chamber (Fourth Doctor, Leela)

[BBC Audios (click to open]

Season Fifteen-b (Between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation)
Hornet's Nest
1. The Stuff of Nightmares
2. The Dead Shoes
3. The Circus of Doom
4. A Sting in the Tale
5. Hive of Horror

[Stargate (click to open]

1.1 Gift of the Gods
1.2 A Necessary Evil
1.3 Shell Game
1.4 Perchance to Dream
1.5 Savarna
1.6 Zero Point
2.1 First Prime
2.2 Impressions

Sleep Walking

Stargate 2.2 - Impressions

Blurb: Plagued by blackouts, painting strange pictures in his sleep, Major Evan Lorne begins to fear that he's losing his mind. Has the stress of life in the Pegasus galaxy pushed him over the edge? Then, when Atlantis itself begins to behave strangely, the Major wonders if something else entirely is going on. But with his behavior becoming increasingly erratic, who can he trust? And can the soldier convince his colleagues that the answer lies in his paintings?

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Major Evan Lorne. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2009.

Setting: Atlantis, the Pegasus Galaxy.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories Lifeline and Doppelgänger.

Discussion: One of the advantages that the Stargate audios have over the series is that they were forced to use a small cast. They didn't need to write stories that included all of the major characters. That allowed for smaller, more personal stories that fleshed out the personalities of whoever they used. They also made sure to use a good number of the recurring characters in their stories, since those needed that background work more than the regulars. One such character is Major Lorne. He was a part of Atlantis for 4 seasons and even appeared once on SG-1, but in all that time he got little to develop his character. Impressions attempts to rectify that.

What's interesting about an audio story like Impressions is that it makes a wide use of visual imagery. That might seem like a mistake for a story performed on audio, but it's actually a very clever device. There'd be no way on television to create images that evoke the impressions that Lorne describes in the story. By describing it on audio, though, the listener's imagination creates the images. Each person will imagine something different, but that's ok because it's necessary that it provides the correct effect not that it has a particular look. The plot isn't spectacular. Shepherd says that this kind of thing happens all of the time, and on the face of it that's true. Yet, this is a story that thrives based on the way that it's framed and the ideas that it expresses. It takes what's known about Lorne and creates a story that only would work with his character. It tells an interesting story about art as a means of communication with something incomprehensible to our normal perceptions and thought processes. It also creates some wonderful tension between the framing segments and the story being told.

One aspect that's really well utilized by the framing segment is the music. This story has the best music to this point in the Stargate audios. Not only is it great for adding to the suspense, having a catchy beat that makes you want the story to move forward, but that's juxtaposed with pauses in the storytelling. The overall effect is one of nervous tension, and it's very effective in the story. It allows the listener to sympathize more fully with Lorne's own terror about his state of mind and what he's going to do about the situation.

The story has the usual Stargate sound effects that are performed with the usual Big Finish skill. Kavan Smith puts in an adequate performance. It doesn't seem as if he has any issue performing in audio, but there isn't anything special about it either. Nick Briggs plays Doctor Glennie, the psychologist assigned to evaluate Lorne. It doesn't seem to be intentional, but he comes off as a smug, jerk. He's also incredibly unprofessional, telling the major a rumor that a coworker has the "hots" for him. I'm not sure what author Scott Andrews was thinking with the character, but Dr Glennie is definitely the weak point of the story, and there's really no reason for him other than to give Lorne a reason for telling his story.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: A really great story, making effective use of imagination and music to tell a story that couldn't work in the same way with any other character or any other medium. It's philosophical and interesting and will give you more of a feeling for major Lorne. On the downside, the performances aren't particular great, and one of the two speaking roles is absolutely annoying. I still recommend listening to it.
Teal'c HideSeek

Stargate 2.1 - First Prime

Blurb: Teal’c’s past as First Prime of Apophis comes back to haunt him when Colonel O’Neill and Daniel Jackson are taken captive by the system lord’s forces. As Teal’c struggles to free them, he finds himself confronted by an old friend and fellow Jaffa, Sebe’t. Can this warrior really be trusted? Or has Teal’c reopened an old wound that can never be healed?

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Teal'c. Published by Big Finish Productions and released May of 2009.

Setting: The planet known only as P5J818.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories Upgrades and The Serpent's Venom.

Discussion: "First Prime" is a term charged with meaning in Stargate SG-1. It's the title for the commander of any particular System Lord's Jaffa. Yet, "First Prime" has a special meaning in SG-1. It's the title that Teal'c held until he decided to side with the Tau'ri and be branded as a traitor among his own people. What always surprised me about that, though, was that the series never capitalized much upon that fact. Yes, in a global way he was an inspiration to other rebellious Jaffa, and the series did deal with how his decision effected his immediate family. It was just surprising that Teal'c never seemed to meet any former friends among the Serpent Guard. He was the commander, so he should have known many of them, personally. The series also never addressed who became first prime after him. Thankfully, author James Swallow takes the opportunity to address all of these issues with his story.

First Prime deals with Teal'c's rebellion on a far more personal level than the show ever did. It showcases Apophis' hatred of his former first prime and the lengths that he'd go to ensnare him. It also shows how Teal'c's decision effects a good friend and distant family member, Sebe't. It also answers the question of who became First Prime after Teal'c left. It's all placed against the backdrop of Teal'c's trying to find balance through Kelno'reem and being unable to find it. Swallow admits that it seems odd for Teal'c to narrate a story given his taciturn nature, but that actually heightens the interest in the story. What would be so important that Teal'c would feel the need to recount it? Some choices did seem to stretch credulity a bit. How would Apophis know that P5J818 would be a planet that the SGC would visit anytime soon? Did he have Sebe't camping out for months or years or did he scatter multiple snares and SG-1 was just unlucky enough to find the one that had Teal'c's former friend on it? Yet, it doesn't feel like it's a plot that wouldn't have popped up in the TV series, so it's only a minor nit. The challenge that Teal'c undergoes is an interesting one; since it not only speaks to the heart of who he is as a character but also puts into focus the consequences of his choices and ties back to his meditation and his reasons for internalizing the events that happen during this story.

So much of the joy of this story, though, is in the performances. It's no surprise that Christopher Judge is sought after for voiceover work and voice acting, because he is simply tremendous. Teal'c speaks mostly in monotone, but Judge gives him subtle inflections of intonation that speak volumes. It's incredibly subtle, but so consistently well done that it's a pleasure to listen to him. It's also nice that Swallow seems to "get" Teal'c's manner of speaking, giving his narration and his dialog the right verbage, so that it sounds authentic for how Teal'c would speak to himself versus how he would speak to others. Another beautiful highlight of Judge's performance is that when he has to recount what Daniel and Jack are saying he gives their dialog in the flat, Teal'c monotone. It seems so authentically like what Teal'c would do that you can't help but smile when you get to those parts.

While long time fans know that Judge would most likely give a great performance, the real surprise was Noel Clarke as Sebe't. I really enjoyed the cadence of his accent and thought that it sounded exotic but authentic. I have no idea if he imitated a real accent or if he just made something up, but it sounded like the way someone from a foreign country might speak, which was the important part. It fooled me enough that I was surprised to discover late that this was "Mickey the Idiot" from the new series of Doctor Who. Clarke does a good job at making Sebe't feel sympathetic. As a former friend and a family member of Teal'c's, he should. Yet, Clarke also effectively makes use of the relationship between the two warriors that is related to us through flashback. They always had a friendly, competitive spirit. Clarke builds on that relationship and twists it just enough so that when Sebe't in the present must feel enraged by Teal'c betrayal that it seems just a natural extension of what the listener has already heard. It's a really great performance and there's a definite chemistry between Judge and Clarke that is probably worth the price of the CD alone.

The music was really effective in this one. There's a lot of use made of the wistful Stargate riff that Big Finish has used as a main theme. Since this is a story that's told through the bookends of meditation, it helps to give the story a slightly surreal and melancholy aspect that helps to develop the atmosphere of the story. The sounds are good as always. Stargate activation, Stargate travel, staff weapons, zats, jungle noises, fight sounds, clanking chains, prison bars, and others help to flesh out the setting. It's become almost a cliche to talk about Big Finish's sound library, but it is done particularly well in this one.

Final Rating: 9/10

Recommendation: An outstanding story for Teal'c. It answers some questions about the character and the consequences of his actions that the series never managed to answer while also maintaining an interesting story and letting two voice actors really spark off each other in an emotional story about men who were almost brothers that now must come to blows. I highly recommend it.

Stargate 1.6 - Zero Point

Blurb: Zelenka reluctantly finds himself aboard the Starship Apollo as part of Colonel Carter’s drive to survey the area of space surrounding Atlantis’ new planet. It’s a sensible idea, he understands that – but it’s also very dull. Dull, that is, until the ship discovers an entirely new life form…

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Doctor Janet Frasier. Published by Big Finish Productions and released September of 2008.

Setting: The spaceship Apollo.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories Reunion and Doppelganger.

Discussion: In some ways it disappoints me that Big Finish wasn't able to get more of the "stars" of SG-1 and Atlantis in for some audios. I'd have loved to hear Richard Dean Anderson or David Hewitt do some of these, for instance. Yet, with some of the stronger supporting cast members it gives them a chance to really shine. That's the case here with Dr Zelenka, the "sidekick" to Rodney McKay. Although his role increased as the series progressed, Zelenka started in the background, chafing under McKay's leadership and ego. Zero Point lets Zelenka take center stage and showcase his own qualities as a hero.

Actor David Nykl doesn't miss his chance. He presents Zelenka in an engaging light. The man's matter of fact almost understated speaking pattern is there. Yet, the story gives him the opportunity to reflect and give us a window into the man he is within. Zelenka is thoughtful and worries about the consequences of his actions. Yet, he also can't stand to allow innocent creatures to die, no matter how alien they may be. Nykl presents the frustration of a man that seems locked into a no-win scenario and his grim determination to ensure that they find a way to avoid genocide. Nykl's in-character impressions of McKay are the best. The impressions themselves are of a pretty poor quality, and I think Nykl could probably do better. The point is that this is Zelenka quoting Rodney, and that's what makes the caricatured conversations so funny. It shows the complete disdain that Zelenka has for the man and makes it very, very funny.

He's assisted by Ursula Burton as Captain Helen Sharpe. She's not a character from the TV series, but Sharpe gives us what we need to know, portraying her as a no-nonsense military woman. She's kind and open when off-duty, but becomes grim and determined when the situation gets tense. Through it all, Burton manages to keep Sharpe seeming likable. She's willing to contemplate the use of incredible lethal force, but only as a last resort in order to protect her own. Her reluctance comes through and keeps her from becoming the typical close-minded military figure that fights the scientists just because they don't like being told what they ought to do and enjoy violence. The only weird thing is that Zelenka says that she's an astrophysicist like Colonel Carter, but nothing that Sharpe says or does gives any hint that that's so. Still, that's a writing failure rather than anything in Burton's performance.

The story isn't incredibly deep, which is symptomatic of a lot of these stories. It pulls the idea from The Day After Tomorrow that a planet can go through a cold snap so severe that the ocean instantly freezes. This is of course ridiculous and one of the worst examples of science in a movie ever. I'm not sure if it's genius or laziness that has author James Swallow actually referencing The Day After Tomorrow in the story. Either way, the bad science made it particularly hard to focus on what was going on. The aliens were interesting, though, and it was nice to have the Atlantis crew encounter something that wasn't another humanoid alien species. It also gave Zelenka a problem to solve. The pre-credits sequence added to the tension of the story, and all-in-all even though the "misunderstood alien" plotline has been done to death the presentation was pretty good.

Big Finish are of course the masters of their craft. There was some nice work playing with the sound of recorded voices when the alien is sampling the conversation between Zelenka and Sharpe to figure out human speech. There's radio chatter, explosions, other assorted ship noises added in as well. It all helps bring Zelenka's story to life and give this some extra character.

Final Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: A fine first outing for Dr Zelenka as the hero of the story, Zero Point takes a pretty thin sci-fi story and makes it work, because it never forgets who it's about. This is about Zelenka winning the day and his performance and character moments are what we're supposed to care about. This is a pretty satisfying one, and I recommend that people listen to it if they can get ahold of it.
Dr Frasier

Stargate 1.5 - Savarna

Blurb: Returning from a mercy mission, the Prometheus is attacked and Doctor Janet Fraiser is kidnapped. Finding herself amongst a crew of outlaws, the Doctor must treat a desperately ill patient and keep herself alive long enough to escape. But are things all that they seem?

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Doctor Janet Frasier. Published by Big Finish Productions and released August of 2008.

Setting: The spaceships Pegasus and Savarna.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories Death Knell and Heroes: Part 1.

Discussion: One of the great things about the Stargate audios is the chance to revisit old friends from the TV series. Obviously for me writing ten years later that's true of any of the characters. Listeners at the time, though, must have been overjoyed to hear Dr Frasier. I was always disappointed that they killed her off as a way upping the stakes heading into what they thought was going to be the final SG-1 storyline. It was so offhand and done in one of the absolute worst episodes of the series. It seemed like a poor sendoff to such a wonderful character. That's why it's so great that Teryl Rothery was allowed another chance to perform as the character.

The performances are one of the highlights of this story. Rothery admits in the interview that she's never done an audiobook before, but her familiarity with radio plays and voice acting in animation shows through in her strong performance. One of the things that differentiates a lot of these productions is whether the actor just reads the narration in their character's voice or if they actually perform it as if their character is telling the story to someone else. Rothery really puts the effort in. At times she's thoughtful as she considers past events, pausing as she loses herself in her thoughts. She elevates the reading by varying her tone and pace. It really makes you feel as if Janet Frasier is trying to process the events that she's experienced. Her performance makes you feel as if she never left the role of Dr Frasier. She's forceful when she needs to be and compassionate the rest of the time. The warmth of the character really comes through. The story allows Frasier to explore her roles as a doctor, a mother, and a soldier and Rothery rises to the challenge, showing a conflicted character who has to resolve the competing impulses within her to determine how to respond to the situation. She also doesn't do a bad job matching the cadences of Sam or Jack when she has to read their lines, which probably speaks to the years that she had working with them. My only issue is with the writing and not with her performance. I understand that Big Finish employs British writers, but Frasier is an American character. An American would never say that someone needs to be "in hospital". They'd say that they need to be "in a hospital". They also wouldn't say that someone "was sat on a chair". They'd say that someone "was sitting on a chair". For an American listener that distinction was really, really jarring.

Rothery is ably assisted by Toby Longworth as Luka. Longworth has a really great voice for audio, and he's also really interesting to listen to. The Irish accent feels a little too "on the nose" for a group of space drifters, but I understand that when trying to create an alien society it's helpful to inject some Earth stereotypes to reduce the need for explanations. He does an excellent job of playing as the "man who doesn't talk about his life or feelings but actually has a heart of gold". He plays the role as a confident, strong man who's quick to take offense with conviction, but when it looks like he's lost everything he gives the character the proper amount of panic and frustration. There's never a moment when you don't believe in Luka, and that's really necessary for you to enjoy this story.

The plot isn't the most complex, but to be fair Stargate typically didn't have the most complicated plotlines. It's clear from the way that the story is set up as Janet the doctor and mother vs Janet the military woman that there will be twists in the story. It then becomes obvious how things will shake out based on the way that they start. The narration helps you along the way as Janet hints at the path that the story will take. I think ultimately that the plot isn't the important thing here. The story is primarily about Janet and about what she would do if she were put in this situation. It answered that question, but I think the real emphasis was on the characters, and the performances the cast were able to give.

As always the sound production is excellent. There are typical Stargate sound effects such as the beaming effect. Then there are things like hospital diagnostic equipment, cell doors, communication equipment, and others that help to enhance the narration and aid the listerner's imagination to consider this as a fully developed world.

Final Rating: 9/10

Recommendation: It's the welcome return of Teryl Rothery to the role of Dr Frasier! Some strong performances by herself and Toby Longworth help to elevate a fair script into a very enjoyable listen. I highly recommend it if you can find it.

Stargate 1.4 - Perchance to Dream

Blurb: Doctor Carson Beckett finds himself in an uncomfortable situation when he becomes a patient in his own infirmary. After a disastrous mission, Beckett is brought back to Atlantis with a broken leg – and a bad case of amnesia.

But that's the least of his troubles. Cared for by Doctor Gilbert, Beckett watches as a strange affliction overcomes his friends and colleagues. One by one, members of the Atlantis crew are brought in, unconscious and unresponsive yet with no sign of trauma. What's causing this peculiar illness? And why doesn't anyone want to hear what Carson has to say about it?

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Doctor Carson Beckett. Published by Big Finish Productions and released July of 2008.

Setting: The city of Atlantis

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories Inferno and Allies.

Discussion: There are a lot of advantages to using the audio medium. Often, you can create scenarios that are scary just because you're missing one of your senses. Something can sneak up behind someone on audio or have a terrifying voice or aspect that may not be as terrifying if you could see the creature. Big Finish is usually good about understanding the subtleties of using audio for maximum impact. Yet, this time they bungled it by putting a Wraith on the cover of the CD. This is a story that would have never been as interesting on TV because you would have seen the wraith in the flashbacks, you would have seen Dr Gilbert, and you would have put two and two together. In this one we have the mysterious indication that various people in Atlantis are being fed on by a wraith. No one can see it, and there's no wound on the bodies. Meanwhile, Carson starts interacting with new character, Dr Gilbert, and we start realizing long before Carson does that no one can see or hear him. That made it pretty obvious from the get go that there was a wraith masquerading as Dr Gilbert that was somehow incorporeal. I initially thought that it was a wraith who had somehow partially ascended ala Anubis, but other than that it was easy to predict the direction of the story. It would have been nice to come to those deductions on my own, but knowing a wraith was in this and knowing that Dr Gilbert was the only other character in it made it too easy to figure out.

The plot is one of those deep examinations of someone's character. Beckett wonders why everyone is ignoring him, and we get some wonderful insights into his thought process. We also get him pondering his mortality and how he feels about passing on. The plot that interleaves with this is pretty basic as Carson, who is the only one that can see the wraith, has to battle it to send it back to the dimension where it had been banished. It works well enough, but some things don't seem to be adequately explained. Why do the doors open and close for Beckett and the wraith if they don't have a physical existence, and why doesn't anyone notice the doors opening for what they'd see as nothing? Also, why does the wraith give back the energy it stole when it's already being banished again? There was zero incentive to do so. Of course, it was necessary to have a happy ending and ensure that the continuity with the TV series was maintained, but it just seemed to come out of left field.

As far as the cast is concerned, I really enjoyed listening to Paul McGillion for this. I also was surprised to discover that the Scottish accent isn't his natural way of talking. He mentions in the interview that his parents are from Scotland, so it makes sense that he can use it so naturally, but it was still a surprise for me. I think that he does a good job with the audio format. He never deviates from Beckett persona, which in some ways is disappointing. We don't get any imitations of the speech patterns and mannerisms of his fellow cast members. Still, in a way that helps to make this a more personal story. It's Carson's introspection rather than a story he's telling to another person, and that gives the story a personal touch that helps to synchronize the listener with Carson's melancholy. Sarah Douglas is fine as Dr Gilbert and the Wraith. I didn't get much from her performance. As Dr Gilbert she came off as a strict authoritarian and her wraith voice was so treated that little of her performance shown through. Everything that she did certainly worked well enough, but doesn't require any special mention.

I still absolutely adore listening to all of those Stargate sounds. It's all the same whether I'm listening to the ocean around Atlantis or hearing the crackle of machine gun fire from an SGA soldier. I really enjoy living in this world again, and Big Finish does not disappoint by using their audio palette of Stargate series and other sounds to create a vivid world, but also evoke the style of Stargate: Atlantis.

Final Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: What would have been a mystery story is let down by the cover of the CD case. It's a nice, introspective tale for Carson Beckett, and Paul McGillion performs the role admirably. Despite the disappointment with the plot, the performance is strong, and there are definitely enjoyable moments in the narrative. I'd recommend listening to it if you can track down a copy.
Daniel Vala

Stargate 1.3 - Shell Game

Blurb: Vala Mal Doran finds herself in a particularly sticky situation when an old foe catches up with her. With only Daniel Jackson able to fight her corner, Vala may have to do something that's really not her style – tell the truth.

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Vala Mal Doran. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2008.

Setting: The planet Holdus.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories The Pegasus Project and Insiders.

Discussion: Unlike most people that watched Stargate SG-1, I wasn't aware of Claudia Black when she joined the series. I didn't see Farscape until many years later. When she came into SG-1 I found her to be incredibly annoying, and I never bought the romance with Daniel. Now that I've seen Farscape I'm starting to understand that a lot of love for the character was transferred from the devotion of the fanbase to Aeryn Sun. I'm somewhat interested to go back to SG-1 someday now that I'm informed by Black's performance as Aeryn to see if that changes my opinion of Vala. In any event, I found the final two seasons of Stargate tedious in the extreme, so I approached this audio with a little bit of trepidation.

The plot is a little thin although that might be a necessary evil of the format. Only having two characters performing means that the story has to be somewhat limited. This one is mostly told by an imprisoned Vala to Daniel as her lawyer. There's a lot of repetition in the things that she says, because Vala tells the story somewhat differently each time as Daniel tries to get down to the truth of what happened. Daniel believes that once he gets Vala to reveal the truth of what happened that he'll understand the situation. Yet, we discover at the end that the whole story hinges on a translation error. Both Vala and the warlord that she was stealing from believed that the Ancient artifact did something different than what it in fact does. The solution feels a little too easy and deflates the tension that had been building up to this point. That may have been intentional, since Vala's character lends itself to more whimsical stories. A sparse plot with a pat ending can work if the characters are thoroughly engaging, but that's not exactly the case here.

Claudia Black feels like she's struggling through this one. Certainly, the narration in the beginning is given with a bored, almost deadpan delivery that feels so out of character for the Vala that we've seen onscreen, especially since she's in a life-or-death situation. I'm not sure if that's Black giving a very meta performance and showing that Vala would take the narration as seriously as she takes anything, or if it just shows Black's lack of comfort with the audio medium. She certainly gets more animated whenever she gets to spark some lines off of Daniel, but the fact that her interview was given over the phone makes me wonder if she and Michael Shanks were even in the studio together to record their lines. That may explain why she feels muted throughout the story even as she transitions into her more over-the-top lines and gets to interact with Daniel more.

Shanks continues to impress. He's clearly enjoying getting to be Daniel again and he definitely differentiates his performance here from that in Gift of the Gods. As the secondary character he doesn't get to do a whole lot, but I do appreciate that he gives it his all.

The sounds and music have the same level of quality that I've come to expect from Big Finish, since they know their craft. Of course they recreate sounds like zats initiating and the Stargate activating, because those are required to sound authentic for a Stargate story. What really impresses, though, is that when they need to create a new sound or a new piece of musical accompaniment that it sounds like something that would have been on the show. I'm especially thinking of the music that they use once Daniel discovers the device's true purpose and Vala reverses the effect. That sort of comedic backdrop music sounds just like the kind of thing that they'd do on SG-1 for that kind of scene. The sound of the Ancient artifact also sounds authentic in the same way. There are also the typical sounds of dungeon doors, echoes, a piece of pottery breaking and such to allow the listener to engage with the story. Those elements really help when the story isn't full cast, because you have less characters to create the world. That's why it's so important that Big Finish does such a good job with them as they have here.

Final Rating: 6/10

Recommendation: It's an unreliable narrator story that ends up being resolved by a competent translation. Claudia Black gives an oddly muted performance despite her obvious enthusiasm for getting to play off of Michael Shanks again. It's certainly a more character-based story, and there are definitely things to enjoy for fans of the Daniel/Vala interaction. Still, the humor doesn't hit as much as it should and Black's low engagement works against the character interaction. I enjoyed it a bit more than that I didn't, but I definitely feel like it isn't worth going out of your way to listen to this one.

Stargate 1.2 - A Necessary Evil

Blurb: When Sheppard’s team encounter a culture with phase shift technology that keeps their entire population invisible - and immaterial - to the outside world, it looks like Atlantis might have found the perfect protection from the Wraith. Eager to make a trade for the technology, Doctor Weir embarks on a diplomatic mission to negotiate with the people of Lannavulin. But once there, it becomes apparent that not everyone is happy with the planet’s status quo...

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Dr. Elizabeth Weir. Published by Big Finish Productions and released May of 2008.

Setting: The city of Lannavulin.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories The Ark and Sunday.

Discussion: I've never really cared for Dr. Weir, especially once she was played by Torri Higginson. Jessica Sheen played Weir with conviction. In some ways that made her extremely annoying, but you at least understood where the character came from. Higginson portrayed a watered down version of Weir. Perhaps, ironically for this review, it was a necessary evil to make the character work in the TV series, but Higginson's Weir seemed to exist only to give half-hearted lip service to pacifism as she sanctioned military activities and even experimentation on sentient beings. Ironically, writer Sharon Gosling, a self-avowed Weir fan, showcases this heavily in her story. It casts a spotlight not only on Weir's hypocrisy, but also on her ineffectiveness as a negotiator and a commander. She makes promises that she can't make good on, and even though this is narrated by the replicator Weir, we learn that she never even tried to do anything in the weeks between this story takes place and the death of the original.

The story isn't helped by either the plot or Higginson's performance, which is overwhelmingly flat. She reads a little faster when delivering McKay's lines to indicate his excitement, but otherwise there isn't a lot to differentiate the various characters. The plot is threadbare. Once Vilith explains the situation in the city, it's obvious how things are going to turn out. It would have been nice if there was something in there to provide a surprise, but it felt as if Gosling was just trying to get from the beginning to end with as little effort as possible.

Timothy Watson as Minister Vilith is the one shining ray of light in this production. Not only does he have a wonderful voice, it's clear that he's familiar with the audio medium. With slight changes of intonation he portrays feelings as varied as anger, sadness, humility, resignation, or regret. It's a shame that the material didn't really help him to showcase his talents better, although Vilith is certainly allowed far more nuance than that afforded to Weir.

Looking back at it, there remain some plot holes that troubled me. Why didn't anyone from Atlantis go back to negotiate even after Weir died? The tech was certainly attractive enough to want to try again. Also, why didn't the ruling class simply remove the rebels and place them back in phase? That would seem to be more effective than fighting them with traditional weapons.

Productionwise the story was fair, neither being strikingly bad or good. The music and sound effects were there, but none of them were really memorable. Still, Big Finish knows its craft and always strives for high quality, so there's nothing that really lets you down on that side of things.

Final Rating: 5/10

Recommendation: A story that was meant to showcase how awesome Elizabeth Weir is instead highlights why she was such a problematic character. Higginson struggles with the audiobook format or perhaps the material just doesn't give her anything to sink her teeth into. Timothy Watson tries to save it with a fantastic performance as Minister Vilith, but even he can't make a dull script interesting. This is one that you can definitely skip.
Daniel Desperation

Stargate 1.1 - Gift of the Gods

Blurb: Doctor Daniel Jackson wakes up on the floor of his SGC lab, with no memory of what happened or how he got there. With him is Lt. Hunter of SG-12 – the team that should have accompanied SG-1 on their mission to P2K-797. But now, here they are, back on Earth with the whole of Stargate Command incapacitated around them.

So what happened? Why can no one remember? And why is the Stargate apparently connected to an alternate reality?

Format: Limited cast audio drama recounting a story in the life of Dr. Daniel Jackson. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April of 2008.

Setting: The SGC.

Continuity: This story takes place between the television stories Seth and Fair Game.

Stargate Note: Before I start, there are a few things that I want to note. I realize that the Stargate line from Big Finish is out of print, because MGM yanked the license. I also know that they're somewhat hard to find, because apparently when MGM revoked the license they did it with almost no notice, so Big Finish was not able to sell their remaining stock. Still, you can find these if you search. I've also heard that some library services have audiobooks and audio drama libraries digitally and some have found the Stargate audio stories on those.

Discussion: This is my first foray into Stargate from Big Finish. I was kind of excited approaching this, since I am a big fan of the Stargate franchise, and I know how much love and effort Big Finish put into their properties. The cover looked nice, as Big Finish covers typically do. I also liked that they got a big name like Michael Shanks for their first outting. I was interested to see what they'd do with Doctor Daniel Jackson.

The musical theme didn't impress me at all. I've heard Jason Haigh-Ellery speak at conventions about how MGM demanded a five-figure sum to license the Stargate theme music, so BF decided to just do their own. It's...sparse. When you think of the epic scope and grandeur of any of the Stargate themes and compare it to the simple ditty that Big Finish created it just does not compare. It's not only short, but it doesn't really sound like a Stargate theme with just some slight hints or teases to the music. The background music throughout the episode did a slightly better job evoking the Stargate feel than the theme did. The sounds were good, but you expect that in a Big Finish production. It's been so long since I've seen Stargate that I was just happy to hear the sounds of zats and the Stargate opening and closing. Even the gunfight scenes sounded like they came from the television series. It made for a really great nostalgia trip.

I was really impressed by Michael Shanks performance in this! In the interview at the end of the program he expressed his unfamiliarity with audio, but he did an outstanding job performing not only as Daniel but also in getting the cadence and tone right for the other members of SG-1. His standout performance was reading the lines for General Hammond where he could have been mistaken for Don S Davis. You can tell that Shanks put a lot of thought into his performance, because this is definitely an earlier version of Daniel from before his ascension. He still stammers a lot and seems far more uncertain of himself. It's clear that he's spent a lot of time in this universe and with these characters, because of how his performance is informed by the time period and in turn informs the audience of when this one is supposed to take place.

Assisting Shanks is John Schwab as Major Hunter. Hunter is played as a fresh-faced military man. Young and curious he takes his duty very seriously. Hunter goes through an arc where he questions his actions and in trying to correct his mistake ends up discovering how to resolve the story in the best way that it could have. Schwab makes Hunter instantly likeable, which helps with a character that the audience isn't familiar with, but needs to develop a rapport in the span of an hour. The uncertainty with which he speaks with Daniel at the end of the story feels real and helps to underscore the dramatic events earlier.

The plot is best when you consider the personal side of it. It opens with Daniel narrating a recent adventure, but it isn't until you get to the end and realize why Daniel is recording a narration of this particular story that you realize just how important that is and how well author Sally Malcolm has utilized the format to give you a story that would be nowhere near as impactful if told in any other way. This is a story about loss, not only of friends and comrades but of identity. It'd be a wonder if Daniel doesn't go through some kind of identity crisis after this one. Tying that in with Hunter's need to correct his mistake and the drama of an entire reality being on the line makes for a really satisfying philosophical story. It's hard not to feel a rush of relief as Jack is confronted with Daniel, alive, while at the same time Daniel is left with nothing but an empty feeling.

There are definite holes in the plot. Why does the machine even bother to create as much of the second reality as it does? Apparently, it conveniently recreates Cheyenne Mountain, but nothing beyond. Therefore, the SGC is intact but there are no resources to call upon outside. Why not just recreate the gate and a few feet in any direction? That's all that would be needed for the explosion. Recreating a sizable bubble means that you recreate people to resist you, which doesn't make a lot of sense. I was also confused how the Jaffa invaded the prime reality. While I understand that the Stargate wouldn't close why would they have opened the iris? Also, how did the Jaffa even open a wormhole if the two gates from the two realities were connected? Despite Malcolm having written for Stargate in the past it really seemed like she wasn't up with the lore or any explanations that she had were cut. I really would have liked to have seen those issues addressed, since it seemed so very out of place to ignore these staples of the SG-1 series.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: A lovely, introspective story as Daniel recounts a tale about death and loss. Big Finish does a great job recreating the Stargate charm and Shanks does not disappoint as Daniel Jackson or any of the rest of the team. There seem to be some significant plot issues, but if you overlook those the strength of the performances, sounds, and theme of the story will see you through. I definitely recommend listening if you can get your hands on it.
Polly Dolly

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 11.4 - The Plague of Dreams

Blurb: "Pray welcome, one and all, to this, a fantasy in two acts, presented, most humbly, for your pleasure. We bring you drama and magic, angels and demons, a tale of mysterious plague... of nightmares made flesh... of a war fought both in this world and those immeasurably distant. A war, in fact, fought through the mists of time itself. It will make you gasp! It will make you weep! It may even make some of you wake-up..."

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Polly Wright. Published by Big Finish Productions and released June of 2017.

Setting: Wild Heath, England, Earth: Late 16th century. The exact date is never specified, but it's sometime after Shakespeare has started writing plays. Polly narrates the story from a point slightly after parts of it have happened.

Continuity: This story takes place between "The Smugglers" and "The Tenth Planet". Polly mentions that they encountered pirates no too long ago (see The Smugglers). The Player says that the first Doctor's timeline has been compromised (see The Bonfires of the Vanities). He also mentions that the Doctor needs to go on to the South Pole to "die" (see The Tenth Planet).

Canonicity Quotient: It's a problematic story, since the Doctor shouldn't know about the Time War, and he shouldn't know that he's going to die at the South Pole. Sadly, it was inevitable with the fanwanky setup that they gave to this set, although thankfully that mostly only intrudes with this story. Of course, the Time War is a convenient plot device to skirt around continuity anyway, but it isn't cute when used this way, especially since it was completely unnecessary. 0.60

Discussion: What a delicious conceit this story has. I'm already a fan of Elizabethan times and Shakespeare in particular, but I don't think that a framing sequence in one of The Companion Chronicles has been this fun since "The Suffering". It's a very meta story, but that's the point. In many ways it reminded me of "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" and for a moment at the beginning I wondered if they weren't performing for the Gods of Ragnarok. But I loved the whole idea that Polly must perform an episode of Doctor Who for a live studio audience. Her confusion was endearing, and the Player was enigmatic and fun.

Substantially, there isn't much to this story. The travelers arrive. The locals have succumbed to an illness that causes them to sleep while their dreams manifest physically. The travelers start to succumb. Some lethal dreams arrive. Polly saves the day. Without the framing sequence this could have easily been in the Short Trips range. The play gives it substance while also speaking to the artifice of what Big Finish audio drams are really trying to do, how they try to wrap us up into a fictional world where we no longer see the divide between the reality and fantasy. That part was really fun and while the main story was a tired, old, predictable cliche they at least made it interesting through the framing sequence.

Characterwise there isn't much going on. Polly's brave and lets the Player mess with her mind without any real understanding or assurances about what's going to happen to her. Ben's not around for much of anything, although the fact that he dreams about pirates is a funny nod to his nautical background. The Doctor's supposed to get some development here with "The Choice" that producer Ian Atkins talks about in all capitols. The problem is that there isn't really a choice. They've already established that the Doctor is at death's door anyway. Either he dies at the South Pole or somewhere else. It's not like he has a good number of years left either way. All the talk about making him more heroic is silly. I always liked the fact that the first Doctor just happened to die. He didn't need a big, dramatic event around it. He'd just come to the end of the line. That combined with the whole need to shoehorn the Time War in just to justify a gap that's no stranger than other gaps that Big Finish has used just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Thankfully, the fun of this story does a lot to ameliorate that, but it is annoying.

The performances this time were fun. Anneke is clearly having a blast playing all the roles. Some of her 16th century village characters were amazingly fun, and some of her cackling and other sounds for the hallucinations were even better. The only issue that I took this time is that her first Doctor seems to waffle between Patrick Troughton and Hartnell. I realize that being a companion on a cusp of two Doctors must be difficult, but it was distracting. Chapman, on the other hand, puts in a tour de force. He gets to play The Player, Ben, the Doctor (once or twice), and many of the local characters. Chapman really gets to show his versatility here, and it was wonderful to hear all the various voices that he can play. I really enjoyed The Player who fits in so well with a Shakespearean performance while at the same time hiding depths to his character.

I don't have much to say about the production this time. The hollow sound that I noticed in "The Bonfires of the Vanities" isn't present here, which once again makes me wonder if the prior story had been recorded somewhere different than normal. The sound effects in this one were good. I loved the stage effects and the robots were as cheezy as a story this crazy should be. Yet, a lot of the effects this time were done with voices, so I don't have a lot to say in this regard. It still sounded professional and fantastic. I actually wish that we'd gotten to hear about the sound design on this one, but it's the only one of this series of Companion Chronicles that doesn't include an interview with the sound designer.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: A fun, meta story that examines how the act of performing creates a reality for the audience. There are some wonderful performances, some fantastic dialog, and great effects which will keep you from noticing where the story frays around the edges. I definitely recommend listening to this one.