Doctor Who Audio Review: Racnoss, Carrionites, And The Vashta Nerada Have An Appointment With A Doctor

Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters Volume 02

Classic Doctor, New Monsters Volume 2 is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions directed by Barnaby Edwards. There are four stories which features a Doctor from the classic era of the series facing an adversary introduced during the show’s revival beginning in 2005.

The collection starts off with Tom Baker starring in John Dorney’s Night of the Vashta Nerada. He is joined by a guest cast comprised of Pam Ferris, Lorelie King, Emma Lowndes, and Matt Devitt. The Vashta Nerada was a race made up of shadow that could devour a person in seconds. The gigantic resort known as Funworld has had its constructions ceased suddenly when reports of some kind of predator emerged. The owner and a group of galactic pest exterminators arrive and encounter a mysterious traveler known as the Doctor. The Vashta Nerada was introduced in the Tenth Doctor episode Silence in the Library where they were lurking around an abandoned planet-wide library. This time, it’s a global amusement park. This one seems a little too familiar at times, but Tom Baker’s Doctor still makes it worthwhile. Besides, I tend to like stories of this sort anyway. Dorney, as usual, provides a solid kickoff to the set.

Empire of the Racnoss is written by Scott Handcock and stars Peter Davison alongside Adjoa Andon, Nigel Planer, Andrew French, and Lisa Kay. The Racnoss were first seen in another David Tennant television episode entitled The Runaway Bride. The Racnoss are part humanoid and part arachnid with a particular way of speaking that involves a lot of hissing and spitting. The Racnoss were in only one episode, but this time we are treated to a previously unknown encounter with an earlier Doctor. They are said to be ancient foes of the Time Lords. The Doctor also finds himself enmeshed in quite the domestic squabble as well between the Empress, her husband, and the new consort. This episode was nothing spectacular, however it was not without some merit. It’s a reasonably enjoyable adventure with solid performances and great post production work. That’s usually how it goes with most of Peter Davison’s episodes for me.

Break out the potions and spells for this next one as Colin Baker steps up to the mic for Simon Guerrier’s The Carrionite Curse. The Carrionites resemble the popular depictions of witches….hooked noses, warts, and all. The Carrionites had an interesting weakness when it came to complex vocabulary. As one of the Doctor’s more verbose incarnations, he can make good use of that. The guest cast is comprised of Maya Sondhi, Andree Bernard, Adele Anderson, and Michael Fenton-Stevens. Anyway, it turns out this was a pretty fun one although there is a bit of grim ending. Colin Baker is great here, as he has been for many years with Big Finish.

The Vashta Nerada return to wrap up this set with Matt Fitton’s Day of the Vashta Nerada which starts Paul McGann, who is joined by Jacqueline Pearce, Jan Ravens, Himesh Patel, and Tim Wallers. The Doctor finds a laboratory that has been experimenting on Vashta Nerada to be used in the Time Lord. Even more troubling is when Cardinal Ollistra turns up to confound matters more. Of couse, The Vashta Nerada break out and sends the Doctor and his reluctant allies on a flight from the shadows.

The whole boxset is actually quite good. The Doctors are all very compelling which is of no surprise. The idea of mixing Doctors and monsters this way is perhaps inevitably predictable, but it was well executed here.

Book Review: Murder In The Machinery

The Steel Kiss is a thriller by prolific crime writer Jeffery Deaver. Lincoln Rhyme, the paralyzed yet still clever forensic investigator, returns with his partner, Amelia Sachs, with all of his various caretakers and fancy equipment to ferret out another unusual and outlandish killer.

Amelia has traced a killer to a department store in Brooklyn when an escalator malfunctions terribly and kills a man. Rhyme has retired from the life of criminal forensics and decides to put his formidable analytical talents to civil cases. Amelia and Rhyme have not been on the same page, but the investigations dovetail together. They find that a serial killer has found a way to turn various electronic tools and appliances unto weapons. Of course, Amelia becomes even more determined when her own mother becomes a target of this current lunatic.

At first glance, it seems a little hard to buy into this one, and that does not change much when one actually reads it. However, Deaver is a talented writer, and I enjoy the company and banter of the characters enough to not be that critical of the plot. There are a couple of side plots that are interesting. Rhyme takes in a new intern who has similar physical afflictions as himself. Juliette Archer’s spunk and intelligence are formidable enough to sometimes let this reader forget about her disability. There is another side plot in which an old flame and former colleague of Amelia’s is released from prison and asks for her help in proving his innocence of the crime that got him incarcerated. Of course, there turns out to be a bit more to the that story. There are a few twists and surprises that makes the journey worthwhile here, but it’s mostly the characters and relationships that helped to keep me engaged.

This is not a series I tend to read in order, so I have to piece some of the history together. This particular novel did keep me intrigued enough to look forward to the next chapter and the next revelation. Even if the credibility of the plot gets a little strained, there is plenty to talent and intrigue displayed for me to forgive Deaver for these imaginative indulgences.

It has been a while since I have delved into a bona fide classic, but I have put this off long enough. Time to meet Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century New England mechanic, who finds himself suddenly in the middle of Camelot at the time of King Arthur. The great Mark Twain has provided a story of A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, and I am long overdue to join in on that adventure.

Sherlock Holmes Audio Review: Will Sherlock Holmes Always Survive?

Sherlock Holmes: The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes

The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes is an audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. It has four episodes, all written by Jonathan Barnes. Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl return to the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively. The guest cast includes Alan Cox, Tracey Childs, Frances Marshall, Elizabeth Rider, and Natalie Burt.

This series takes the audience to Holmes and Watson in their twilight years of the 1920’s. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother, has died, and the master investigator believes it to be murder. The mysterious group known as the Society is on the move again. London is besieged by mysterious attacks, and Holmes must take up arms once again. Of course, Watson remains on hand to lend a noble hand and face the threats alongside his friend.

The first of the four episodes is The Prophet in the Rain which begins with a séance and a murder. Someone has apparently returned from the dead, and they are very interested in renewing an acquaintance with Holmes. It’s a rather intriguing start. but once again it relies on the mystical to thrust Holmes into another adventure.

The Body in the Garret is the second installment here where the attacks on London are escalating. A mysterious foe calling himself Agamemnon has emerged from the chaos. A serum has also been revealed that turns man into beast. The agents of the Society are turning up everywhere to threaten Holmes and Watson.

Which then brings on The Beast in the Darkness where Watson is in the clutches of the Society. Holmes is starting to suspect the true identity of the brutal Agamemnon.

Finally, the answers are revealed in The Shadow in the Water where Holmes, Watson, and their allies confront the mastermind of the Society, including someone long thought dead. They are trapped aboard a large ship in the sea with monsters out for blood.

Once again, it is Richard Earl’s portrayal of Watson that really shins here. Briggs’s performance of Holmes is not bad. I still prefer many of the predecessors, but I am getting too used to him paired with Earl. The story had a bit too much of the supernatural for my liking in a Sherlock Holmes. I usually like stories that are somewhat supernatural on their own, but having Holmes confront these elements on a regular basis does get a bit wearying. This does leave the series in a rather interesting place. The talent of the actors is undeniable. Briggs does a decent enough portrayal of Holmes, but I am not sure it will be that memorable.

It has some pretty genuine suspenseful moments. Ken Bentley does pretty well as director, but he has been at this for a while now. I enjoyed it well enough, but I am usually biased in favor of Big Finish products. Anyway, it should prove satisfying for Big Finish fans, but overall Holmes enthusiasts likely won’t see this as a necessity.

Film Review: Tim Lake Gets A Few Chances To Get It Right

About Time' Review: Richard Curtis' Charming Time-Travel Romance - Variety

About Time is a romantic comedy with some fair amount of drama and a dash of fantasy added to the mix. It is written and directed by Richard Curtis. It was first released in 2013. Domhnall Gleeson is the lead actor and is joined by Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsey Duncan, Margot Robbie, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson, and several other fine castmates.

Tim Lake is a young man who has come of age in Cornwall. He comes from a loving family, but he is a bit socially awkward. Bill Nighy, as the father, lets Tim on a rather unusual secret. Apparently, the men in the family have the ability to travel along through own timeline just by going into a dark closet and concentrating on when they would like to visit. There are some helpful warnings going along with this revelation. Tim decides to use his gift to improve his luck with women.

Tim meets Mary, played by McAdams, and falls in love. Of course, that doesn’t always go smoothly, but the time traveling comes in handy, but Tim finds there are caveats to this gift.

So this is a strange movie but it is loaded with charm and heart. There is a surprising depth to this one, which is impressive coming from a writer who helped create Mr. Bean. Anyway, the film is full of eccentric, amusing people. Nighy is particularly good, but he usually is. Gleeson is quite compelling as a young man trying to find his way in life and love. Really, everyone does well in their performance.

There is no explanation as to why this particular family possesses such a unique gift, the writing is so good that thread was fine dangling right where it was.
This is one of the few movies I have seen recently that worked on almost every aspect. Is it a perfect movie? Perhaps….

Book Review: The Queen Of The Board

The Queen's Gambit by [Walter Tevis]

The Queen’s Gambit is a novel written by the late Walter Tevis and was first released in 1983. There was a wildly popular Netflix limited series recently released.

If one is not familiar with the series or this novel, it involves an orphan who becomes captivated by the game of chess. She also gets captivated by pills and booze as she gets older. There really is not much to say here without a bunch of spoilers. At least, I am not sure what else I can say here plotwise.

I will say that it is worth the read. I enjoyed the Netflix series, and the book was pretty good. Sometimes the actual chess scenes can come across as a little dry, but I am not sure how a writer who chooses chess as a backdrop for the story can solve that. Chess is an interesting game, and I wish I could get better at it, but it is not the most thrilling of activities to put into writing. The rest of the story if quite compelling. Outside of the main character, Beth Harmon, the other people with whom she interacts have their own moments of interest. I liked the variety of competitors she faces as she progresses her way through the national and international tournaments.

The Netflix series is pretty faithful to the source material, although it’s the television series that delves more into Beth’s past a bit more than this novel, which is a rather interesting twist.

I was rather pleased with this reading selection. So I am marching onto the next literary destination and revisiting quadriplegic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme in Jeffrey Deaver’s The Steel Kiss.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor’s Granddaughter Has Her Own Fight

Doctor Who: After the Daleks

After the Daleks is a Doctor Who audio play released by Big Finish Productions and is one of the latest episodes in The Early Adventures range. Roland Moore is the scriptwriter with Lisa Bowerman back in the director’s seat. The Doctor has just left his granddaughter on 23rd century Earth where she is going to embark on a new life with David Campbell after the Dalek occupation was ended. Carole Ann Ford reprises the role and serves as narrator for the story of what happened to Susan just after the Doctor’s departure unfolds. Sean Biggerstaff, Lucy Briers, Jonathan Guy Lewis, Oli Higginson, and Nicholas Briggs make up the guest cast here.

What Susan does not know is that one Dalek is left behind, and an ambitious former collaborator with the Daleks has his designs on regaining power to reshape the recovery from the Daleks into something that would not benefit everyone. Susan gets her first real taste of dark side of politics, as if there is a real bright side. A couple of characters from the original serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth have ben recast. Lucy Briers is the daughter of the actress who played the character Jenny back in 1964. Sean Biggerstaff plays David Campbell, who is the man Susan stayed for.

It’s hard for me to appreciate a Doctor Who story without the Doctor, but I ended up getting more drawn into this one more than I expected. Ford really shines with this one, and gives Susan a bit more steel and courage than what was seen in the television series. Marcus Bray, played by Jonathan Guy Lewis, turns out to be rather shocking in his despicability and duplicity, which serves this tale mightily. Lewis can sometimes sound a little over the top. but this is all done with audio, so it may be rather unfair to fault him too much for that. There is a side plot about Jenny trying to find a way to restore her brother, who was converted into a Roboman. The Robomen were surgically altered serve the Daleks. The Doctor himself is not around, but his shadow remains, and his legacy carries on with his granddaughter’s commitment to helping the Earth recover from a brutal invasion.

Big Finish is pretty solid with the writing most of the time, but I am pleased to note that this episode was rather special. I still prefer having the Doctor around though.

Book Review: Rapp Powers Up

Total Power is a recent thriller to feature Mitch Rapp and is written by Kyle Mills, who has been continuing the series originally created by the late Vince Flynn.

In this installment, ISIS operatives collude with a disgruntled American to take down the US power grid which would leave the whole nation in the dark in more ways than one. CIA unleashes its top operative, Mitch Rapp, to find the people responsible and see what could be done to restart the country. This time, Rapp must contain his usual fury and keep the mastermind alive so that the government has a chance to repair the devastating damage.

The plot seems to be quite fanciful, however Mills write a brief note assuring his readers that he did not have to make up much. Hopefully, the real world US government is rather more secure than what is written in Mills’ pages. Of course, the novelty of Rapp doing his thing on US soil brings a sense uniqueness to this novel. Mills continues to display his competence to continue the literary legacy left behind by Flynn. Things are about to be quite different for Rapp because the president who was rather supportive of his methods is turning the Oval Office over to a new occupant, but President Alexander has one more crisis to oversee. In spite of my instinct to consider the plot to be implausible, it’s still a compelling read. The could be just because I am such an avid follower of this series. Anyway, it’s a pretty good addition to the series, and Rapp still gets to kill a few bad guys. So check it out if you like to read about terrorists getting a brutal comeuppance.

We saw the Netflix limited series not too long ago, so it’s time to see how close the producers of The Queen’s Gambit followed the book written by Walter Tevis.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Ghosts On A Distant World

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Volume 04: The God of Phantoms

The God of Phantoms is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is the latest in a range known as Philip Hinchcliffe Presents. Hinchcliffe is one the most celebrated producers of the series during Tom Baker’s era in the 1970’s. This story idea was adapted by Marc Platt, another long-time contributor to the franchise. Ken Bentley is back in the director’s seat. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson headline this one again. The guest cast includes Aurora Burghart, Nigel Fairs, Glen McReady, and Sam Stafford.

In this rather long tale, the Doctor and Leela arrive on a colony world somewhere in the future. Ghosts are haunting the inhabitants, and people are disappearing. The Doctor also has a sense of familiarity that he cannot quite place. It seems that an old enemy is waiting in the wings, but the Doctor has no memory of a previous encounter. Also, Leela has an encounter which forces her to keep the Time Lord in the dark.

The story has quite a bit of intriguing elements which sparks my macabre imagination. Although the performances are solid and the sound effects are spot on, this wasn’t what I call one of the best efforts. It’s a six part story, and I am not sure this was the one that needed to be drawn out. Tim Faulkner plays the villain known as Flindor. Although the Doctor may have encountered this being before, he is not known to the fans. I have to say, one appearance by this character is more than enough. I just didn’t find this guy to be all that well realized or compelling as a villain. It still features my favorite Doctor, and the story still avoids being terrible. I am one of the fans with an appreciation for the Philip Hinchcliffe era, but I am not sure this episodes stands up as well as the previous ones in this range. The problem Leela has with keeping a secret from the Doctor or risk him losing his sanity is an interesting predicament. Baker and Jameson are both great to hear even in this adventure. Anyway, the story may have worked better being a standard four part length, but it isn’t like it’s a terrible experience getting some extra time with the Fourth Doctor and Leela.

In spite of my reservations about this particular installment, I do hope that Philip Hinchcliffe has some more ideas to share, and I also have no objection to Marc Platt’s continued contributions. Of course, my enthusiasm for the continued participation of Tom Baker and Louise Jameson goes without saying. Whatever Hinchcliffe presents next, I will be there to snatch it up.

Film Review: The Old Man And The Rooster

Cry Macho Release Date: Clint Eastwood's Latest Hits This Fall

Cry Macho is a modern day western drama directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. You may heard of him. The screenplay was written by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash. It was based on Nash’s 1975 novel. The cast also includes Dwight Yoakum, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven and Fernanda Urrejola.

Eastwood plays a retired rodeo star named Mike Milo who just loses his job at a ranch ran by Yoakum’s Howard Polk. Sometime later, Polk comes to Milo and asks a big favor. He wants Milo to retrieve his son from his ex-wife in Mexico. He says that the boy is being abused, and he wants to have a relationship with his son, who is in the care of an unstable mother. Milo agrees to this and heads down south. He meets the ex-wife, played by Urrejola, and yes, she is a bit of a loon, but she has money and guys with guns to affirm her poor life choices. Milo then is able to find the boy who is living on the streets and making some money by having his rooster, Macho, fight against other roosters. Yeah…cockfighting. Anyway, Milo and the boy, Rafo, meet. They have an argument and still end up together in Milo’s car on the way back to Polk’s Texas ranch. Of course, all kinds of obstacles and sidetracks occur. The mother sends her hired gun after them as they also try to avoid the attention of the Mexican authorities. There is a little romance on the way for Milo. Anyway, that’s the gist of this thing.

I have a somewhat reflexive affection for Clint Eastwood, so I was pleased that he was putting out another film when I first heard of this one. The story was not without interest, but Eastwood’s age is a real problem here. The man is just over 90 years old, and he almost looks every bit of it. Yes, he is still walking unaided and seems fairly fit…for a 90 year old man, but it was still too implausible that this was Polk’s best option to send to Mexico to get his son from an unstable woman with an armed crew. The rest of the cast was pretty well chosen. Minett has enough charisma to carry off his role of thirteen year-old Rafo. There is some great scenery throughout the film. The writing seemed a little stilted. The pace of the film often dragged as well. It’s not all bad, but it does require an almost painful suspension of disbelief. I think if Eastwood is still sharp enough to direct films. that’s fine, however he would do better to understand that his days of convincingly playing an action hero are over.

Book Review: With A World At War, LA Still Has Its Own Troubles

This Storm is a crime novel from James Ellroy that takes place in 1942 Los Angeles. It’s one of a group of novels known as Second LA Quartet. It was first published in 2019.

This is one of these novels where it is uncertain who the real protagonist is supposed to be. Everyone’s morals seem to be a little ambiguous. There is a body found at Griffin Park. Two police officers are later murdered at a night club. A gold heist is also at the heart of this. Many characters are in other works written by Ellroy. To be honest, I am pretty unfamiliar with these novels. My only real prior exposure to Ellroy is seeing the movie LA Confidential, which is based on one of the previous novels.

This is a very dense, busy novel. The setting was fascinating. Real historic cinematic figures such as Orson Welles are peppered throughout. Ellroy apparently really delves into the culture of the city and the time quite thoroughly. There is a lot of violence and sex, which is not surprising. The characters are pretty complicated. Ellroy is an interesting writer and has no shortage of talent, but he can seem a little long-winded. The novel does not read very quickly even though it is not written with any Victorian flourishes. I struggled to stay engaged with this one, however that may be more due to not being used to this author’s style of writing. I may have to try another Ellroy novel or revisit this one in a few years.

Ellroy is a consistent best selling author for a reason and I did enjoy the film LA Confidential, so I won’t try to dissuade anyone from giving this novel a try.

Next up, Kyle Mills continues the bloody exploits of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp with Total Power.