Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor’s Tour Of The Dalek Universe Continues

Dalek Universe 3 is the final collection of audio plays in this series which features David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Big Finish Productions continue to explore new stories with past Doctors. Ken Bentley is the director of this trilogy. This time, the Movellans are back to continue their battle campaign against the Daleks. The Doctor is accompanied by Anya Kingdom, who is still played by Jane Slavin. Terry Molloy reprises his role as Davros, which is quite a treat. The Doctor also learns that an old friend is behind the birth of the Movellans in a pretty decent plot twist.

Lizzie Hopley starts off this set with The First Son which sees the return as Alex Kingston as a Movellan that strangely resembles Professor River Song. Matthew Jacobs-Morgan, Noma Dumezweni, Paul Panting, and Nicholas Briggs make up the guest cast. This is rather an amusing take which sees the Doctor not entirely sure of River Song is actually there in some kind of undercover capacity or if she served as kind of template for a Movellan somehow. It’s pretty confusing, and Hopley does a great job of holding the audience in suspense until the big reveal. Kingston is still charming and engaging as River Song. Tennant is still compelling as his Doctor and displays his usual fun mania.

Matt Fitton writes the final two episodes entitled The Dalek Defence and The Triumph of Davros. The origin of the Movellans has a tragic but fascinating reveal. The Doctor and Davros are actually taken prisoner together and become reluctant allies for a time. Molloy remains superb as Davros. Tennant performs with his usual gusto. Anya Kingdom, with her strange and tragic family history, becomes a very likeable foil with this Doctor. Slavin has performed quite a lot with Big Finish, and she really sinks her teeth into this role.

The saga has a satisfying conclusion here. The Doctor had been separated from his TARDIS and was sent back to just before the Time War had broken out. The Movellans being reintroduced was great since we saw so little of them on the television series. The Movellans are a race of androids who were a torn in the side of Daleks. Davros at one time was found and resurrected to break a logical impasse that kept either side claiming victory in their long running war.

I didn’t struggle to stay engaged with this one. Enough old friends appeared to make this worthwhile. I hope David Tennant still finds time in his busy schedule to continue his participation in Big Finish recordings.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Companions Have More Stories To Tell

The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor: Volume One is a Doctor Who audio boxset which features more adventures told from the perspective of various companions. This version of the Doctor would be played by William Hartnell if he was still among the living and able to participate in these Big Finish releases. There are four episodes directed by Lisa Bowerman.

The Sleeping Blood written by Martin Day starts off this set with Carole Ann Ford returning to mic as Susan. Darren Strange pitches in as the guest actor. As the Doctor is stricken with a debilitating illness, Susan has to help thwart a terrorist attack aboard a research center. This is not the most memorable of adventures either way. It does have a pretty strong ending, and Ford does well with her performance. This just didn’t keep my attention as well as I had hoped.

The Unwinding World is written by Ian Potter and stars Maureen O’Brien as Vicki with Alix Dunmore helping out as the guest actor. This is another one that I am having a harder time remembering with any great clarity. Vicki is separated from the Doctor and working some kind of office job, but she is planning to return to a more exciting life once she is reunited with the TARDIS.

Simon Guerrier writes the last two stories which has Peter Purves returning to the role of Steven Taylor. The Founding Fathers and The Locked Room are a drastic improvement. Steven was left by the Doctor to rule a world. He abdicated the throne and is now an old man with granddaughters. His favorite granddaughter has followed in his footsteps, and she hears another story where the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki meet one Benjamin Franklin in London as an alien influence keeps them locked out of the TARDIS. Finally, Sida, who is played by Alice Haig, finally meets the Doctor when an old enemy makes an appearance on Steven’s planet.

This set has a bit of an unremarkable start with the first two stories being somewhat forgettable, however Guerrier saves it for me at the end. Really, Purves is also a fantastic narrator as well. He does a pretty good impression of William Hartnell’s Doctor. It isn’t like he can do a great imitation, but there is something about his performance as the Doctor that I like. I will likely have a more favorable reaction to the other two stories once I hear them again. Potter and Day aren’t terrible as writers, but their contributions just didn’t grab me all that tight. In spite of that, I am still pleased to add this particular set to the collection.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Before The Eleven, There Was The Nine

The Nine is a Doctor Who audio boxset featuring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor presented by Big Finish Productions. This set contains three stories all written and directed by different contributors. The Eleven was introduced a few years ago and is another renegade Time Lord. He has an affliction where his previous incarnations exist in his current body. This Doctor has apparently faced this particular insane Gallifreyan earlier than the audience knew. We learn that having merely nine personalities inhabiting one form isn’t much better than eleven voices.

The Doctor and the Nine clash in The Dreams of Avarice by Guy Adams. John Heffernan plays the Nine. Richard Dixon, Ronni Ancona, and Mark Elstob round out the guest cast. Ken Bentley serves as director. The Nine has stolen a planet in which the Doctor is trapped. With the help of a skeptical detective, the Doctor has to retrieve his TARDIS, have the planet restored, and avoid getting arrested when this is resolved. Someone as bizarre as the Nine facing this particular Doctor is generally fodder for some worthwhile entertainment, and Adams delivers here. Tom Baker continues to sound enthusiastic and effective as he gets ever closer to his ninth decade. It’s a totally absurd story which wobbles a bit when it comes to clarity, but I didn’t care. The banter between the Doctor and Inspector Probert as they struggle to stop the machinations of the Nine makes the confusion irrelevant. The Doctor’s occasional dismissive attitude toward the Nine is also terribly amusing. The performances make this mess of a story work, and Adams is a good enough writer to pull this off. It has a lot of hammy performances and silly dialogue, but it still manages to entertain quite thoroughly.

Shellshock needed two writers, Simon Barnard and Paul Morris, to be brought to our ears. Nicholas Briggs returns to the director’s seat for this one. Alicia Ambrose-Bayly plays a German nurse who assists the Doctor during the First World War. The guest cast is comprised Finlay Robertson, Nicholas Asbury, Richard Hope, and Christopher Naylor. Soldiers are not only suffering nightmares, but they seem to share the same one. Also, a scientist is conducting experiments that alter the thoughts and loyalties of those who have doubts about the purpose of this war. The Doctor knows that human beings are capable of great atrocities, but some of this may have a more extraterrestrial influence behind it. Nothing really goes off the rails here, and the performances are up to par, however this one felt like it dragged a bit. It’s another one that I didn’t really hate, but I didn’t love it either,

Lizbeth Myles closes the book on this set with Peake Season with Jamie Anderson directing. The Doctor meets writer Mervyn Peake, who is played by David Holt. Jules de Jongh, David Sterne, Marc Silk, and Ava Merson-O’Brien all pitch in as the guest cast. I will be honest and admit that Mervyn Peake is not someone who was on my radar. Peake was apparently a popular fantasy author who died in 1968. The Doctor and Peake are transported to a strange city where they somehow get jobs as newspaper cartoonists. It’s a strange, fun episode that is not likely going to be listed as a fan favorite.

As usual, Tom Baker’s participation is what lifts the material from the threat of mediocrity. The writers are competent, and of course Big Finish remain masterful in their post-production work. The collection overall is entertaining and does not deserve to be overlooked.

Book Review: Give The Keys to Sherlock Holmes

The Three Locks is the latest novel from Bonnie MacBird to feature Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. There are three cases sort of interwoven together in one story. The Victorian duo are pulled into the world of illusion and escapism when they investigate threats leveled against an escape artist. A lovesick clergyman is worried about the disappearance of a wayward daughter of a famous college don. Watson is bequeathed a locked box that reveals some painful truths about his past.

All of this takes place during a London heat wave in 1887. MacBird makes the point that it is hot at the time of these trials quite well.

I am not sure that MacBird really competes with the mastery of Arthur Conan Doyle, however this was a fine attempt. There are times it feels a little long, but I cherish the company of this character enough to not mind that so much.

MacBird makes an interesting decision to conjure up a tragic family history for Watson. She also throws in a bit of unusual amount courtesy and compassion from Holmes which still seemed to fit in nicely with the other more well-known facets of his persona. She really brings home the strength of their friendship that was often glossed over by Doyle and some of the other pastiche writers.

MacBird does well tying up all three challenges in this novel. It also felt more genuine to have Holmes take on several cases at once. Doyle would allude to some of Holmes’s other pursuits in his stories, but it was pretty unique and impressive to actually read about Holmes juggling these puzzles at once.

This turned out to be pretty enjoyable. MacBird has written four of these novels with a Christmas addition to be out soon. She gets pretty close to emulating Doyle’s style at times, but it just doesn’t quite get there. Still, I think it’s a fine addition to the massive amount of Sherlock Holmes stories floating around the universe, and I like to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself would get some enjoyment out of this one.

Next up, reporter Jack McEvoy has found another killer to pursue in Michael Connelly’s Fair Warning.

Film Review: Mr. Harrigan Lends A Hand From The Grave

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a horror film written and directed by John Lee Hancock and is based on a novella by Stephen King. Donald Sutherland plays the title role with Jaeden Martell, Joe Tippett, Cyrus Arnold, Kirby Howell-Baptiste included in the cast.

Jaeden Martell plays a young high school student named Craig who is hired by the reclusive local billionaire to read to him. Sutherland plays the menacing Mr. Harrigan who develops a fondness for the boy. Craig and Mr. Harrigan develop an unconventional friendship. He is also dealing with some of the expected challenges of public school, including a bully named Kenny, which is played by Cyrus Arnold. The film takes place over a few years. Mr. Harrigan is given a cell phone and becomes quite adept with it under the tutelage of young Craig. When old age finally takes Mr. Harrigan down, Craig drops the cell phone into the coffin which apparently extends their connection. Mr. Harrigan had a rather ruthless way of handling people he felt had crossed him and believes that Craig should show no mercy to those who antagonize him. Not only does Craig miss his aged friend, he is still having to face his bully and the sudden loss of a favorite teacher. It appears that Mr. Harrigan is still willing to be of some ruthless help to Craig in spite of his lack of life. Craig finds that some of his challenges being removed by violent means brings a sense of guilt that was lacking in Mr. Harrigan.

Well, the cast was pretty good. Martell seems to be one of the better of young actors working today. Sutherland still managed to convey a pretty commanding presence in spite of his age. The performances were pretty good, and Martell and Sutherland worked well together. Arnold had a rather eccentric take as the bully, Kenny.

In spite of the performances, something did not work as well it needed to with this film. I found it to be rather slow at times. The overall effect felt easily forgettable. It does have an interesting premise, but once again I suspect the printed version is much better.

Book Review: How Do You Like Your People Cooked?

Tender is the Flesh is a novel written by Augustina Bazterrica, Argentine author. Since she likely wrote this in Spanish originally, a Sarah Moses is credited as being the translator.

This little not so cheery tale takes place in a world where animal meat has been infected with deadly virus that kills humans. Since not everyone wants to be vegan over that, cannibalism has been permitted and institutionalized. There are groups of humans that are designated to be slaughtered cattle. The main character is a fellow named Marcos, who is estranged from this family, and he works in one of these slaughterhouses. Someone sends him a gift of a prime female head, as they are now called. Instead of doing what should come naturally in this society, anyway, he decides to feed her and treat her like a human being. Of course, the relationship becomes more intimate which places the girl he names Jasmine and himself at great risk from the authorities.

This is not a terribly lengthy book, which is fine. It’s not badly written. It does show the depths of human desperation when some well-established traditions such as eating meat goes awry. There is a social message in the midst of this tale that I am philosophically at odds with, but anyone who really knows me would find that unsurprising. Marcos is an interesting main character going through some family crises. A subplot involves his father slipping into dementia and a strained relationship with his sister. Bazterrica certainly does not hold back when it comes to the more gruesome practices. There is a rather surprising ending that might have even impressed the great Alfred Hitchcock.

For those readers with a taste for the macabre, this is worth the time, especially since it shouldn’t take much of it. Does it necessarily hit it out of the park for me? Not quite, but it does satisfy my interest in occasionally breaking out of my more typical literary indulgences.

Now that stepped a b it out of comfort zone, time to return to an old favorite. Bonnie MacBird continues her efforts to provide new cases for London’s best-known consulting detective as Sherlock Holmes tries to unearth secrets protected by The Three Locks.

Film Review: A Curse That Brings A Smile To All

Smile is a horror film written and directed by Parker Finn. Sosie Bacon stars alongside a cast that includes Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stacy, Kal Penn, and Rob Morgan.

Bacon plays an idealistic psychiatrist who witnesses a patient commit the most bizarre suicide she has ever encountered. She then begins to see people appearing in her house and in crowds with these strange, fixed smiles that resemble the one her patient wore when she sliced her own throat. Dr. Cotter begins to worry that she is losing her mind, but she discovers a strange thread of these deaths that followed these spooky smiles.

This latest addition to the horror film genre has some good points, but the conclusion is a bit of a stumbling mess. There were some moments that were effectively chilling. Bacon is a competent actress. The escalating moments of terror were well paced. A curse that is marked by the smile of strangers is an interesting idea, but I hope this doesn’t turn into a franchise.

Smile has a promising premise and some elements that work well enough. Some of the dialogue falls flat. Jessie T. Usher plays the fiancée who tries to be understanding. There was not much chemistry between them, but I suspect it had more to do with the writing.

The film is just uneven throughout. It’s not completely dreadful, but it seems rather forgettable in spite of a somewhat original concept. Par for the course when it comes to horror films in recent years.

Book Review: Murder In The Mountains

Winterkill is a Joe Pickett thriller written by C.J. Box. It was first published in 2003. Joe Pickett is a game warden for the state of Wyoming in this story. He is a devoted husband and father with two daughters, although he and his wife have taken in a foster child who they admirable consider theirs as well. April, the child they have taken in after her father is killed and the mother goes off the rails, becomes the center.

Joe’s adventure begins when he finds a federal official has gunned down several elk which violates some hunting restrictions. When Joe arrests a hysterical Lamar Gardiner, he is unprepared for Gardiner’s escape. He later finds his suspect show with two arrows in the snow and near death. Joe Pickett gets involved in the investigation, but he is distracted and distressed by the arrival of his foster daughter’s mother. Also, a group of anti-government naturalists are in the area. In spite of the murder and mayhem circling around him, Pickett finds that he has to protect his family more fiercely than before.

I rather like Joe Pickett as a character because in some ways he tends to be one of the more stable of literary characters these days. He has a solid marriage and a sense of morality that stretches far and wide. It does tend to make him appear a bit uninteresting at times, however I am thinking the point is to place him in situations where his sense of morality is tested. Box also provides some fascinating settings. Nature itself often works against Pickett when he has a vital task to fulfill. The murder of Lamar Gardiner is actually somewhat resolved quite early, but Box still has some story to tell.

Joe Pickett is a reliable, likable protagonist, but he is not all that fascinating. Some of the situations he finds himself in are quite compelling. Fortunately, he is likeable enough for me to still be interested in his next adventures.

It is time to move on to something a little more fitting to the upcoming Halloween festivities with Augustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Weeping Angels Take On Two Doctors

Out of Time 3: Wink is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Production written by Lisa McMullin and directed by Ken Bentley. David Tennant returns as the Tenth Doctor and is joined by Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. The small guest cast is comprised of Joanna Van Kampen, Ayesha Antione, and Clive Hayward. There are plenty of cool sound effects to make up for the limited number of voices.

The Tenth Doctor encounters his sixth incarnation while in a city that is drowned in all-encompassing light. The locals have no sense of sight which makes them particularly vulnerable to the Weeping Angels. The Weeping Angels look like statues that are frozen in place when gazed up on. They displace their targets in time once they are close enough. Of course, the way to keep the Angels in place is to not blink or look away. The Sixth Doctor believes that winking at the Angels is a viable solution, but that still proves to be not as easy as he believes.

McMullin delivers a pretty competent script here. The performances are pretty sublime though. The Sixth Doctor is often considered to be more abrasive version, however these two Doctors work well together. There are plenty of the expected digs whenever one Doctor comes across another, but the disagreements end up not being too distracting. The Sixth Doctor gets in a very amusing line about his future incarnation’s more excitable exclamations.

The Sixth Doctor also benefits because his own cleverness his not overshadowed by the Tenth.

There is a bit of a fresh environment for the Weeping Angels to terrorize.

This episode comes out quite well, which is probably due to the performances of the lead actors. The guest cast is also well selected. The Angels tend to work better on the television screen, but the script is well written enough to make them still effectively creepy. McMullin also avoids having the two Doctors go all out with the insults but manages to still have a little fun with the contentiousness that tends to occur when various Doctors meet.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Gets Timejacked

Timejacked is a Doctor Who audio boxset presented by Big Finish Productions. It has a trilogy interconnected stories that feature the Twelfth Doctor, who was first played by Peter Capaldi. Helen Goldwyn takes her turn in the director’s seat. Since Capaldi himself has yet to participate in Big Finish output, Jacob Dudman steps in with a pretty solid impersonation. Bhavnisha Parmar joins as the Doctor’s kidnapper turned companion Keira Sanstrom. Charlie Hamblett, Hannah Genesius, Harley Viveash, George Naylor, and Holly Jackson Walters make up the guest cast.

The first episode, Flight to Calandra, is written by Matt Fitton. The Doctor is relaxing in his university office since he has been hanging out as a visiting professor for the past hundred years or so when an unexpected visitor breaks in, needing a lift home to the planet Calandra. Keira Sanstrom finds that something has gone wrong with her planet’s history while the Doctor realizes that something has gone wrong with all of Time.

Lou Morgan needs two episodes to have the Doctor to sort this mess out, which is how she gets to present the Split Second and The Weight of History. The Doctor has two versions of Keira and a reality coming apart to complicate his existence.

Well, as much as I would prefer to have Peter Capaldi play this Doctor himself, Dudman does a decent enough job representing his version of the Doctor. It’s not a bad set. I actually rather liked the dynamic between the Doctor and Keira once they got past through the whole kidnapping issue. The dialogue between the two was rather humorous. Of course, this iteration of the Doctor wouldn’t be the most subservient and cooperative of kidnapping victims. That works out since Keira isn’t actually evil. She is a renegade Time Agent and needs the Time Lord’s help.

As usual, the postproduction work holds up. The guest cast is solid in their performance. Until Capaldi decides to contribute to Big Finish’s efforts, Dudman’s vocal talents have to suffice, and he does a good job.