Category Archives: Audio News

The Grey Man of the Mountain

Who is the grey giant that haunts the mountain of Ben MacDui? What exactly has the Brigadier come to investigate? And will Ace, ever, get to the Edinburgh Hogmany street party she so desperately craves?

Big Finish’s Grey Man of the Mountain, by Lisbeth Myles, is, it has to be said, a bit of a curate’s egg. On the one hand, Ms Myles’s writing is accomplished and natural. Characters are expertly made real through their actions and exchanges rather than cumbersome exposition, and the narrative proceeds at a satisfying pace. Sound design is, as ever, fantastic: the mountain atmospherics are beautifully evoked, creating a real sense of place. And the background music is, pretty much, spot on for the period of the TV series it tries to fit into. 

Performances, too, are (on the whole) excellent. Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy as Ace and the Doctor inhabit characters they are intimately familiar with, and yet obviously nowhere near bored of playing: there’s a real joy from both that is easily passed from actor to audient. (Singular of audience. It’s a word. Honest.)

And mention must be made of John Culshaw’s performance as the Brigadier. In many, many cases – Tim Treloar as the Third Doctor, for example – the fact that the actor plays an interpretation of a character rather than an impression of someone else’s performance is a real plus. Here, though, Culshaw’s expert rendition of Nicholas Courtney’s Brig is exemplary, and would be a lesser thing were it not so close to the original. It is very hard to hear without seeing the TV Brig in the mind’s eye, and that’s no mean feat. It’s an absolutely glorious thing to have him back for an entire story.

So, why a curate’s egg then? Well, there’s no one thing that is majorly wrong, but a number of small things that add up.

The script is very funny in places, and played for comedy, especially in the first episode. However, occasionally that comedy is hammered home with incidental music that completely  overplays it, in one instance very nearly going the full shave-and-a-haircut. To my mind, this does the comedy of the moment a disservice. Thankfully, this isn’t the case for the majority of the story.

The music is also part of another problem for me: the Christmas motif. There is nothing essentially festive about the story, but being released in December there was obviously opportunity for a bit of yuletide reference, and that we get in spades. The Brigadier’s entrance is heavy-handedly Yuled-up by its incidental music, for example; and later in the story, an impromptu bit of Christmas singing feels artificially inserted in a somewhat laboured manner. I’m all for a Christmas story – but please, let’s have Christmas as a main character rather than a bystander.

My third issue was with the story itself. While beautifully written, it very much tells what happens rather than why it happens. There’s a bit of supposition later on regarding what might be going on, but to a great extent it is a series of events that occur rather than a mystery being solved or a larger picture emerging. As such – and despite one character’s story definitely going through an arc of sorts – there doesn’t feel like much of a satisfying third act to be had.

And lastly – and it really pains me to say this – one performance is just execrably poor. Not throughout, but enough bad acting that the fourth wall is repeatedly broken and the story undermined.

All in all, I am sad to say that I found this a disappointing listen. A lot of good things, and much that I look forward to hearing in the future (Culshaw and Myles to name but two); but enough small annoyances to make the whole thing less than the magic carpet ride it could have been.

The Grey Man of the Mountain is available from BigFinish.com

THE PLIGHT OF THE PIMPERNEL

Beware, minor spoilers abound…

Why are the Doctor and Peri aiding the Scarlet Pimpernel is his efforts to rescue French aristos from Mme la Guillotine? How has the Pimpernel proper become so injured that the Doctor is forced to take his place? Why is there an android stomping the streets of Paris? And perhaps the most perplexing question of all: how do the Doctor and his companion come to be in eighteenth century Europe conversing with and abetting a person who is, let’s face it, fictional?

It is to writer Chris Chapman’s immense credit that this latter question is adeptly avoided for almost all of the first episode of Plight of the Pimpernel – right up until the Doctor asks it, straight to the point and out of the blue. This piece of narrative is executed with subtlety and skill, the elephant in the room having been so well ignored up until that point that the listener either entirely believes the fictional universe the Pimpernel inhabits to be the one the Doctor is currently in, or wonders if this is a piece of ‘Robots of Sherwood’ style literary legerdemain in which we are invited to consider the Pimpernel an historical reality. That this rug of imagination is pulled out from under us in a single line is almost a laugh out loud moment.

And this skill is evident in Chapman’s writing for – almost – all of the story. Very obviously not a pure historical from the start, the script expertly sets up peril and a bevvy of questions demanding answers right from the get-go. The action sequences are exciting and pretty quick, which actually works in their favour; the ever-deepening mystery teased out with narrative that is every bit as efficient as the ‘but he’s fictional’ moment described above; and the characters, of which there are just the right number, feel like people rather than caricatures, with enough depth to gain the listener’s empathy.

Obviously this speaks to the quality of acting, direction and sound design too. With regard to the former, the performances are, as is rarely not the case in a BigFinish production, exemplary. Colin Baker’s Doctor – bombastic, sympathetic and taking of far too much personal responsibility in equal measure – continues to just get better and better; and Nicola Bryant’s Peri is, as always should be the case, every bit the equal of her companion. Her portrayal of Peri-playing-Lady-Blakeney is particularly good, with a voice that comes somewhere between Tracy-Ann Oberman and Linda Snell off of the Archers – not a criticism.

Jamie Parker’s Sir Percy is also a fine performance, the nobility and sacrifice of the Pimpernel being made evident right from the start, seamlessly translating into other equally believable aspects of his personality as the story progresses. Similarly Oliver, albeit a second-tier character in the writing, is made utterly believable by Joe Jameson’s performance. 

Sound design by Andy Hardwick is seamless, creating a very believable universe for the action to take place in. (Andy also created a ‘remote recording dialogue assembly’ – I don’t know what one of those is, but I imagine it’s made necessary by the pandemic, and therefore can only be part of his job having got harder. Further respect to him for that.)

I really only have one beef with this story, and that is that, in its closing, it falls back on an awful lot of exposition. There is one especially long piece in the closing moments that explains what the listener has just listened to over a period of time that is, I’m pretty sure, longer than the time it took to listen to it. 

I’ll admit I was surprised by this, considering the skill evident in the earlier episodes. It feels a little like Chapman ran out of time, or hit a word limit that he struggled to cope with, and fell back on a device that at least got the story told, but not in as satisfying a way as the earlier episodes told their parts. Having said that, after the closing moments there are actually a couple of extra scenes that, IMHO, were not really needed. I wonder if there may have been scope for a little honing there? A bit less tell and tell some more, and a bit more show of just the important bits?

Overall, though, a great listen, and one of my favourites of the main range of recent months. Big Finish continues to excel, and I genuinely look forward to more from Mr Chapman. 

Plight of the Pimpernel is available from BigFinish Productions

Masterful

Masterful is many things – a celebration of a classic character, the WHO version of an Avengers movie, a showcase for superb actors and a hysterical comedy.

The best way to describe the plot of Masterful is simple:  The Master.  That’s it.  This is a showcase for each of the surviving actors who have played The Master to step up, have their turn and provide three hours of glorious, riotous entertainment.   This isn’t high brow WHO, this is a broad comedy, a balls out bawdy celebration of the Doctor’s greatest nemesis.  James Goss has crafted a tribute that manages to succinctly capture the tone, mannerisms and essence of each of the Masters.

I would be remiss not to highlight a few of my favourite performances:

Michelle Gomez – she is simply stunning, a genuine tour de force from a performer who dominates each and every scene she is in. Missy is at her most wild, unhinged and gloriously funny.  Goss provides Gomes with dialogue that she chews on, and then spits out with such force and sheer vigour that it is impossible to ignore.  This lady is in the same scene as Derek Jacobi, and I can only remember her performance.  Stunning, legendary and a blue print of how a gender swapped Time Lord should be portrayed.

Eric Roberts – an utter joy.  Roberts captures not only his Master, but fully embraces the camp excesses of the part.  He is imply wonderful to listen to here, and a Television reprise is a must after this.  Roberts is worth the price of admission alone – he is fun, menacing and absolutely sensational.  A superb actor, who is cruelly and sadly overlooked these days.  A proper legend.

John Simm.  Simm goes full Frankie Howerd here, and his performance is all the better for it.  I was in tears of laughter at how he approached the part – absolutely wonderful – he plays this a bit more broad and camp then his last televised appearance – but no matter, this is Simm at his most entertaining.

Derek Jacobi – trust an old pro to find a bit of humanity and a bit of subtlety in his latest performance.  He is a unmitigated joy here. Savour him – a proper acting legend.

This is not to say that Mark Gattis, Geoffrey Beevers, Alex McQueen, Milo Parker are bad – they aren’t, each would be a star turn on their own, however the above performers are SO assured, their parts approached with such gusto that it is hard to look past their sterling work.

I must, in closing give a massive shout out to the legend that is Katy Manning, her Jo Grant, ably assisted by a Jon Culshaw powered Third Doctor.  She provides a tangible and welcome link back to The Masters first appearance.

I cannot end, without giving a much needed tip of the hat to Messer’s Delgado and Ainley.  Two superb actors who provided the platform for all those who followed to explore.  The world of Doctor Who is sadly smaller, and less fun without them.

The Master, we have attended, and we have enjoyed!  Here’s to another 50 years of crazy schemes, high collars, “Drezzing for the occasion” and shrinking rays, disguises, and beards (of all descriptions)

polly’s story – free this week

Big Finish are making one of the Companion Chronicles free this week and it’s well worth grabbing.

The Three Companions

The tale by Marc Platt features both Anneke Wills and Nicholas Courtney along with John Pickard and Russell Floyd.

The Three Companions – Polly’s Story by Marc Platt
Polly Wright has tracked down an old friend of the Doctor’s… Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, former Brigadier at UNIT. As they trade stories of their time travelling in the TARDIS, it soon becomes clear that their pasts are intertwined, and linked to a current crisis on the planet Earth. And there’s a third companion, watching them from a distance. A certain Thomas Brewster…

Callan volume two

Callan Volume Two

David Callan works for The Section, a top-secret counter-espionage organisation. He’s a killer, a trained assassin, and the best at what he does.

But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

With the aid of the burglar Lonely; fellow operative Meres; and Section secretary Liz, Callan fulfils the orders of departmental head Hunter and finds himself in very murky waters.  Murder, betrayal and model soldiers. It’s all in a day’s work for Callan.

Big Finish presents four more full-cast Callan adventures, adapted from series creator James Mitchell’s Sunday Express Short Stories by his son Peter Mitchell.