Doctor Who Audio Review: Sleepers And Snakes

The Sleepers In The Dust/Snake Bite is a Doctor Who audio book double feature from BBC Audio.

The Sleepers in the Dust is written by Darren Jones and read by Arthur Darville.  Darville is known to us Doctor Who fans as Rory Williams, husband of Amy Pond, and companion of the Eleventh Doctor.  The Doctor, Amy, and Rory arrive on a planet where they have to contend with a sentient form of bacteria.  Amy is stricken, and the Doctor and Rory have to travel back to the past to save her life.  The story is a little more complicated than I make it sound.  It’s not to be rated as anything on the level of classic, but it’s competently written.  Darville’s delivery is also compelling enough.  It’s a pretty solid effort here.

Snake Bite is written by Scott Handcock and also has some interesting pieces in the plot.  Frances Barber is the presenter here and she does pretty well.  The TARDIS lands in the middle of an experiment with wormholes, and the Doctor and Rory have to go rescue Amy yet again.  In another dimension, they find a race trapped and willing to split the fabric of reality to gain their freedom.  In case you couldn’t guess, this particular group of aliens resemble snakes.  I also enjoyed this story.  Barber does a good job in the presentation.

Neither story is really awesome, but both are enjoyable enough for me to not regret the purchase.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Hears A Cry

263. Doctor Who: Cry of the Vultriss - Doctor Who - The Monthly ...

Cry of the Vultriss is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is written by Darren Jones.  John Ainsworth is the director of this episode which stars Colin Baker alongside Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood.  Nicholas Briggs returns as the voice of the Ice Warriors as well.  Natasha Cowley. Adele Lynch, and Caroline Lawrie are part of the talented guest cast as well.

The Sixth Doctor is once again accompanied by Constance Clarke and Flip Jackson or Ramon, since she does have a wedding to which to return.  The TARDIS is forced out of the space/time vortex and crashes to a planet ruled by bird-like inhabitants known as the Vultriss.  The Vultriss have recently had a coronation and the new queen is set to welcome a diplomatic team comprised of the Ice Warriors, a race the Doctor has not always been able to trust.

There are some interesting aspects to this story.  The main villain is a female Ice Warrior played by Adele Lynch.   For some reasons, no voice modulation was used on the cast members playing the Vultriss characters.  I sort of found the effort to imagine these bird-like creatures sounding completely human to be a little off-putting.

Overall, I did find this episode to be well done even if I have some misgivings about not making the voices of the Vultriss more distinctive.  This particular TARDIS team makes a welcome turn.  The two women traveling with the Doctor are Big Finish original creations.  Constance Clarke was a WREN serving at Bletchley Park during the Second World War while Flip is a twenty-first century Londoner with an overdeveloped taste for adventure.  The relationship between Mrs. Clarke and Flip works very well with this particular Doctor.  Colin Baker continues to display an impressive energy now that he has been able to perform much better material than he had gotten on the television series over thirty years ago.  He has now been playing the role for Big Finish since 1999.

All of the basics were covered well.  The sound effects were convincing.  The performances were solid.  The business with the Vultriss sounding completely human is a minor issue, but I would still say that Darren Jones delivered with a gratifyingly intriguing story.  Of course, having this particular TARDIS crew is always going to help.

Film Review: Enemy In The Wire

The Outpost movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert

The Outpost is a recent war drama directed by Rod Lurie.  Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy adapted for the big screen from a book by Jake Tapper.  Scott Eastwood, Orlando Bloom, Milo Gibson, and Caleb Landry Jones.

The film tells the story of the Battle of Kamdesh, which took place in Afghanistan in 2009.  It culminates into the assault from about 400 Taliban soldiers onto an outpost manned by just over 50 United States soldiers.  I had not heard of this particular event, but it did result in two army soldiers receiving the Medal of Honor a few years later from President Obama.

There apparently was some controversy surrounding this because the base is badly placed surrounded by mountains, which allowed the Taliban to descend from on high. There apparently was a hold up with supplies.  Air support was not readily available.  Some people in command took some serious reprimands.  The actions of the soldiers at the base are unquestionably heroic though, and that is most important takeaway from this film.

This is pretty intense and gritty cinematic experience.  The performances were about as genuine as anything I have seen in a while.  There were some moments where it was hard to figure out who was doing what during the battle sequences, however it’s a war movie, so even that’s a little hard to criticize too much.

The movie is pretty jarring to watch at times.  The gore of some of the wounds is explicit, but fortunately the camera does not linger too much on that.

This is a true story where some US soldiers die terribly, so it seems strange to declare this as something to enjoy.  I will say that this is something to see and appreciate for not only skilled movie making, but also the depiction of true heroism.  The men are shown to be a little argumentative and flawed at times, but when it’s time to fight, the camaraderie is truly inspiring as well.  We all hear about the brotherhood experienced among those who choose to serve and experience combat, but I think this is one of the best films to truly capture it in recent years.

This was a film that I only happened upon when I was curious as to what was being offered for the first trip to a movie theater since the pandemic restrictions were imposed.  I didn’t know much about it going in, but I was glad to have seen it after I left. This is one worth checking out for both the technical achievements and for the emotional impact of the storytelling.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Places A Bet

House of Cards is a Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish Productions which takes place during the early days of the Second Doctor’s era.  It is written by Steve Lyons and directed bu Lisa Bowerman.  Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines return as Polly and Jamie, respectively and also provide narration.  This is also an episode in the range known as The Companion Chronicles.

The TARDIS has brought the Doctor, Polly, Jamie, and Ben to a casino in space in the far future.  Gangsters with heads resembling snakes are a menacing presence and represent the Sidewinder Syndicate.  The local crime boss is a woman named Fortune, and the Doctor plays for the highest of stakes.

It’s a fairly interesting story and setting.  Wills and Hines play well together here.  It is interesting to note that Wills actually says the Doctor’s lines even though Hines really can conjure up a pretty uncanny impression of the late Patrick Troughton.  Ben  kind of lets his taste for gambling get the better of him, which I thought was an interesting addition to his character.

Steve Lyons has written for Doctor Who in various forms for a lot of years.  I sort of thought his snake creature was a bit of a repeat of the race known as the Selachians, which he created many years ago.  I found that a little distracting, but the story itself was actually pretty decent.  The sound effects and the energy Hines and Wills mustered for  their performance are compelling enough for me to still find more than acceptable amount of enjoyment.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Little More Bliss Still Can’t Stop The Time War

The Time War Volume Three is the continuing saga of the Eighth Doctor’s involvement in the greatest of cosmic wars between the Time Lords and the Daleks.  Big Finish Productions has released another audio box set featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor with Rahkee Thakrar joining him in the TARDIS as Bliss.  There are four stories in this collection all directed by Ken Bentley.  The Doctor is reluctantly also working with a Time Lord known as Tamasan, played by Adele Anderson, trying to help as best he can without getting pulled into the front lines of the fight.  Andrew Fettes, Tracy Wiles, and Michael Jayston are part of the guest cast as well.

State of Bliss by Matt Fitton starts off with an intriguing and somewhat confusing story of Bliss and her planet of origin.  This story explores the idea of the multiverse of possibilities concerning her part in the Time War and her relationship with the Doctor.  It’s a interesting idea but probably a little tough to pull off just as an audio story.  McGann is pretty good here, but he has yet to put in a disappointing performance.  I am not sure that I find Bliss the most interesting of the Doctor’s companions, but Fitton is a competent enough writer where I wasn’t totally lost.  Likely, I will understand a bi more once I eventually listen to it again.

Lisa McMullin picks up the ball with The Famished Lands where the Doctor and Bliss find a civilization which is facing mass starvation due to the Time Lord.  The solution forced upon the populace may actually end up being far worse, and the Doctor will have to find a much better solution once he learns the secrets of how the people are still surviving in such dire circumstances.  This is a pretty chilling episode here and effectively presented.  I am not familiar with this particular writer, or I just don’t remember what else she has written for Big Finish.  This turned out to be a pretty good addition to the set.

Fugitive in Time by Roland Moore is next.  The Doctor and Bliss are joined by Tamasan to find a dangerous fugitive before the Daleks do.  This is also a solid addition to the set and sets up the final story by the prolific John Dorney.

He’s back….the darker side of the Doctor made real.  Michael Jayston returns as the Valeyard in The War Valeyard.  It may not be the most inspired of titles, but the story is interesting in that the Valeyard apparently believes himself to be the Doctor and tries to be a figure for good.  However the Valeyard may not be living in the right reality, and the darkness from which he is manifested may be too strong.  Jayston still sounds wonderfully menacing in this role.  It’s an interesting move for Big Finish to explore what the Valeyard’s role in the Time Lord would look like.

I enjoyed this collection for the most part.  Even the Valeyard coming back was handled pretty well.  McGann still sounds great.  Bliss is becoming a companion I am starting to appreciate more.  Thakrar provides an interesting sass in the way she says some of her lines.  The sound effects were well executed, but Big Finish rarely messes that up.  All four stories provided some variety in mood, which is mainly due to being four different writers.  I also liked the rather strained relationship between the Doctor and Tamasan.  Anderson is the third actress to play this role since the series started.  Thank goodness for Time Lord regeneration!

This is a solidly entertaining and somewhat profound release from Big Finish.  The cast performances remain compelling.  The stories have appropriately diverse settings and circumstances.  Not all of it was easy to follow, but I still appreciated the experience as a whole.  And the Time War will continue into a fourth volume, but that’s for another blog.

Book Review: A Very Nasty Murder Of A Very Wicked Man

Who Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Book 14)

Who Slays the Wicked is another historical mystery that features Viscount Devlin, Sebastian St. Cyr.  C.S. Harris raises the stakes for her elegant and indomitable hero when his niece is looking at being suspected of a pretty horrific murder.

Sebastian is happily married with a child and is still a member of the English aristocracy in 1814.  He has a very troubled family history and has been to war.  As an intelligence operative for his country, Sebastian has developed an interest and talent for investigation and is often asked by the local constabulary to lend a hand if a murder touches a little too close to the Crown.

Sebastian’s niece has been compelled to marry the loathsome Lord Ashworth.  Ashworth is known for cheating the hired help, abusive behavior and language, and some very twisted sexual interests.  He is murdered quite grotesquely, and Sebastian is not sure that his beloved niece is in the clear.  Either way, he wants to help.  Sebastian certainly has no affection or sympathy for the victim here, but Ashworth is only the first.  He once again has to search through the deception littering the chambers of power as well as the most dangerous streets of London to close in on a killer who will not hesitate add him to the body count.

This is a pretty bloody one here from C.S. Harris, but it was good.  I generally like this series so I won’t have anything overly critical to say about this novel.  Although Sebastian went through an emotional wringer in several of earlier novels, it’s nice to have him in some contented circumstances with his headstrong but loving wife and his young son.  The one major reservation I have about this series is that there are some events that seem a little repetitious such as Sebastian having to once again fend off a murderous attack in some alley by someone who doesn’t appreciate his nosing around.  I like that Sebastian isn’t just a cerebral protagonist and is an effective fighter when necessary, but I wouldn’t object to a bit more variety in the threats to his physical well-being.

The mystery itself was rather interesting, and Harris does employ the red herrings pretty effectively.  I was a somewhat surprised at the identity of the killer.  The novel also touches on the political and world events of the time.  Napoleon was a real threat at the time.  Also, there are some visiting Russian royal figures visiting that cause some distraction for the young viscount.  Harris has become quite adept at weaving real history into the more fanciful entertainment of her plots.

Sebastian St. Cyr can come across as a little too noble and confident to be all that believable at times, but he is never unlikable.  He also has enough darkness of his own to make him interesting to a reader and as formidable as the killers he is seeking.  Not only would I recommend this novel for my fellow mystery fans, but I would say the whole series is definitely worth the time.

So I am in this little book club in the Texas Panhandle, and occasionally we land on something outside of my own personal wheelhouse of literary amusement.  I am diving into the world of non-fiction with an interesting little chronicle Joel Stein.  Next up is a book entitled In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than  You And You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book.  It sounds like an obnoxious title, but I do my best to reserve judgment until I read it.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Little Trip To Cadiz Goes Up In Flames

The Flames of Cadiz is a Doctor Who audio play from the range known as The Companion Chronicles.  It is another release from Big Finish Productions and is written by Marc Platt with the ever reliable talents of Lisa Bowerman in the director’s chair.  William Russell and Carole Ann  Ford reprise their rules of Ian Chesterton and Susan, respectively, and share narration duties.  Guest actor Nabil Elouahabi plays a character named Esteban.

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and his companions so Spain during the Anglo-Spanish War in the late sixteenth century.  History says that Cadiz will fall victim to the raids led by Sir Francis Drake, but the presence of a particular group of time/space travelers may derail that flow of events.  Ian is taken captive by the Inquisition alongside a man named Esteban, and the Doctor, Susan, and Barbara must conduct a rescue in the midst of war.

Ford and Russell have done too many of these things performances to not come through with making this fairly compelling.  Their age has yet to be a major detriment to their energy and chemistry in these releases.  I an a little behind with this range since this episode was first released in 2013. I don’t know that much about this piece of world history depicted here.  The Doctor makes a pretty serious blunder which I am not sure I liked as part of the plot.  Elouahabi does fine in his role as well.  I am not sure this episode was as enthralling as I hope.  It’s another one that avoids being necessarily bad, but this probably won’t be one I return to anytime all that soon.  I will listen to it again one day, I am sure, but it will likely be a while.


Book Review: Have A Little Moonlight To Sip On

The Girl Who Drank The Moon is a children’s fantasy novel written by Kelly Barnhill and has apparently won a literary award or two.  Why am I reading a children’s novel? Well, I am part of a book club.  To be fair, the page count almost reaches 400, so it isn’t for very young children.

The plot involves a society who believe they need to sacrifice certain children to a mysterious witch in the woods, however the witch is not as terrible as the people and takes in the child to raise as her own.  The girl is fed moonlight which awakens her own magical abilities as she gets older.  A young member of the Protectorate decides it’s long  past time to rid themselves of their supposed obligation to this witch.

Anyway, the novel isn’t my usual preferred literary diversion, so I had some trouble staying drawn into this tale.  I didn’t notice anything glaringly terrible about about the author’s prose style.  It probably deserved the acclaim from whoever decides such things, but it’s all subjective and this particular genre isn’t my forte.  It is still interesting enough for me to be glad to step outside my box a little.  I am sure those who enjoy fantasy literature more would have some thing more profound and complimentary to say.  I do believe that many adults would find it complicated enough to enjoy even if it is marketed toward the younger viewers.  It is a New York Times Bestseller, so I am sure others more in tune with this type of fiction would have plenty of legitimate reasons to find enjoyment.  I certainly hope Kelly Barnhill does have a long successful career in whatever genre she lends her talent.

Next up is a return to early nineteenth century London where the Viscount Devlin finds himself embroiled when in the murder of one the most loathsome men he has ever known, and the police are starting to suspect his niece of the crime.  C.S. Harris reveals Who Slays the Wicked in what is to be next literary diversion.

Film Review: All Fun And Games Until The Ghosts Show For Real

Malevolent (2018) – Review | Netflix Horror Movie | Heaven of Horror

Malevolent is a horror film released on Netflix in 2018. It was directed by Olaf de Fleur and written by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopolous.  The film’s cast includes Florence Pugh, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Celia Imrie, and Stephen McCole.

A couple of siblings named Jackson and Angela run a team of supposed ghost hunters who basically scam those who believe they have haunted houses.  Then they meet Mrs. Green and find the apparitions to be more than they could ever try to concoct.  Then it seems that Mrs. Green has some very disturbing secrets of her own and some chilling methods of silencing screams.

So I found this film to be fairly good considering the genre.  It does not have a very impressive budget, but the crew seems to make good use of their limited funds.  There are some effects and moments that do cause the spine to tingle a bit.  Pugh seems to be a rising star in recent years, and I have yet to find anything wrong with that. She seems to do well enough in the lead role.  There are some odd decisions made by some of the characters toward the end.  Of course, with horror movie, I often find the endings to be somewhat problematic.

Although this falls a long way from being in masterpiece territory, it is fairly interesting enough to avoid me judging it a complete waste of time.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Doctor Who Brings The Hurt

Only the Monstrous is a Doctor Who audio box set with three episodes featuring John Hurt as the incarnation the Doctor refused to acknowledge.  The producers and fans know this version as the War Doctor.  This gets a little tricky since he refuses to claim his usual moniker or name.  John Hurt, before his recent demise, had done some voice work for Big Finish Productions.  The War Doctor was realized onscreen during the fiftieth anniversary episode of the television series entitled Day of the Doctor, which also starred David Tennant and Matt Smith.  This particular audio saga was written by Nicholas Briggs.  I will usually go into some depth reviewing each episode, however this will be a little different since there is only author, and the individual stories all lead into one larger story on one planet during the Time War.  The War Doctor was the incarnation that fought more actively in that massive conflict between the Time Lords and the Daleks.  This was the incarnation with the stomach to cross lines that his other selves an would have blanched at.  This is not an evil version of the Doctor, but he is decidedly more dangerous in many ways.  He will make the tougher decisions when the usual merciful or humane options could prolong the agony of the War.

Hurt is joined by a pretty impressive gathering of acting talent such as Jacqueline Pierce, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Beth Chalmers, and Barnaby Edwards,  Briggs returns to the mic himself to voice the Daleks as usual.  John Banks and Barnaby Edwards are welcome reliable contributors to Big Finish audio plays as well.  Carolyn Seymour, Alex Wyndham, Kieran Hodgson, and Mark McDonnell round out the guest cast.

The Innocent is the first episode which sees the War Doctor barely survive a blast from some big cosmic bonb that destroys a Dalek fleet and crash lands him on a planet known as Keska.  Keska has its own war with a race known as the Taalyens.  He meets a woman named Rejoice and recovers a little of his previous humor from his earlier iterations.  After the War Doctor decides to help the Keskans in this small potatoes sort of war, he finds himself returned to the Time Lords where another mission awaits him.

The Thousand Worlds and The Heart of the Battle are really one story where the War Doctor returns to Keska after the Taalyens and the Daleks have joined forces to devastate the world.  The War Doctor is reunited with Rejoice, who is much older, and has to extract another Time Lord determined to find a peaceful resolution to the Time War… a task in which the War Doctor has serious doubts as to its success.

I was a fan who was not too excited about the unveiling of the War Doctor when it first happened on television.  The acclaim that John Hurt has received is well earned.  I just typically don’t like these sudden adjustments in canon when it comes to the Doctor’s past.  Still, I enjoyed this set quite a bit.  John Hurt masterfully brings out all kinds of complexities in his performance as the War Doctor.  There are times I recognize characteristics of the other incarnations, but some of these new dimensions did end up being quite captivating.  Hurt shifts effortlessly from a crushing sadness over what he has already done to preserve Gallifrey to a sudden fury over what he is left to do.

Jacqueline Pearce as the ruthlessly ambitious Cardinal Ollistra is also a wonderfully cast foil for this darker version of the Doctor.  Pearce has always been great as the icy ruler or commander of some force or entity.  It’s always great to hear her participate in these audio dramas.  It’s a shame that she has also passed away recently, but there are plenty of her works for Big Finish I have yet to hear.

Nicholas Briggs is an executive producer for Big Finish and is always busy in some capacity for the company, but he is primarily a talented writer.  His ideas rarely fail to intrigue me, He was a great choice to kick off this new exploration of the War Doctor. Only the Monstrous is the first of four sets featuring the War Doctor, and I am now intrigued enough to follow through with the remaining three.