Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 18 July 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Roy Gill
Directed by Ursula Burton & Joseph Lidster

Cast: Lara Parker (Angélique Bouchard), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Patience Collins), Mitchell Ryan (Caleb Collins), Joanna Going (Laura Murdoch Stockbridge), Andrew Collins (Joshua Collins), Daisy Tormé (Abigail Collins), James Storm (Abraham Harkaway), Lisa Richards (Euphemia Spencer Stockbridge), Christopher Pennock (Uriah Spencer Stockbridge), Marie Wallace (Dorothea Summers), Nancy Barrett (Isobel Collins), David Selby (Theodore Collins), Matthew Waterhouse (Reverend Samuel Cunningham) and Jerry Lacy (Malachi Sands) with John Karlen (Alfred Loomis), Ursula Burton (Peggy Griffin), Alexandra Donnachie (Sarah Filmore), Scott Haran (Lamech Gifford), Walles Hamonde (Roderick Haskell), Daniel Collard (Robert Hanley), Michael Shon (Wolf) and Natalie Britton (Storm Elemental).

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

This is the first of two releases to mark the 50th anniversary of the original television series of Dark Shadows. Of the two releases, Blood & Fire, on paper at least, would appear to be the more exciting prospect of the two as it is a full cast audio drama featuring numerous surviving members of the original TV cast alongside several actors from other series who have appeared in several previous dramatic readings and full cast releases including Matthew Waterhouse (Doctor Who) and Scott Haran (Wizards vs Aliens). However, where this prospect falls down is that most of the original series actors are not playing the characters with whom they are most readily identified, as such fans of some popular Dark Shadows characters such as the vampire Barnabas Collins and the werewolf Quentin to name but two of many, will be rather disappointed that they do not appear. This isn’t quite the same level of disappointment that was experienced by Doctor Who fans over their 40th anniversary special Zagreus which purported to be a multi-Doctor story but for this reviewer at least it was a similar experience.

Aside from opening and closing scenes set in hell, again another slight disappointment as the uncredited person playing the Dark Lord for this release was not anything like as sinister as the portrayal given by Nigel Fairs in previous audiobooks, the story is set almost entirely in 1767 which is established in the TV canon as a momentous year in the lives of the Collins family and the birth of the infamous haunted house Collinwood in which almost the entirety of the original TV series run from 1966 to 1971 was set. The witch Angelique has been sent back in time by the Dark Lord to destroy the Collins family a generation before the birth of Barnabas, the playboy turned vampire with whom she has been obsessed for the last 200 years. As ever Angelique is portrayed by Lara Parker who knows the character well and gives a strong performance. She encounters another original series character in the form of Joanna Going as the first incarnation of the tragic Laura Murdoch Stockbridge who is destined to be continually reincarnated throughout the history of Collinwood as a phoenix, as such Laura proves to be very much of a match to Angelique as she gains her powers for the first time. The Dark Shadows audio series is normally fairly accessible to those such as this reviewer who have never watched any of the television series, so it was rather a shame that I was left feeling the need to check on Wikipedia as to the significance of Laura Stockbridge’s appearance in this story. However, many long-term fans will have found plenty in this release to enjoy. As already mentioned it is littered with cameos from surviving cast members with prominent roles given to actors who have been the mainstays of the dramatic readings including Katherine Leigh-Scott as the matriarch Patience Collins, and Andrew Collins as her son Joshua who is destined to become the father of Barnabas, the role which Collins inherited on audio from the late Jonathan Frid. Jerry Lacy portrays one of the best original characters of this story, the sinister architect Malachi Sands and David Selby appears as another Collins ancestor Theodore, whilst John Karlen appears a direct ancestor of the caretaker Willy Loomis.

Overall, there is plenty of fan service to be had in this celebratory story which does include some suitably epic scenes and any fans of both Angelique and Laura will be particularly pleased. Anything that encourages listeners to want to delve into the history of this rather unique series can’t be all bad and along with everything else Big Finish have produced in their extensive Dark Shadows range, it remains a much more worthwhile use of one’s time than watching the travesty that was Tim Burton’s 2012 Dark Shadows film. This reviewer will however be looking forward to the other anniversary release, Echoes of the Past, a collection of dramatised readings featuring not just Angelique but also Reverend Trask, Quentin Collins and Maggie Evans.





Survivors - Series 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 1 July 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Survivors - Series Three (Credit: Big Finish)ritten by Jonathan Morris, Simon Clark,

Andrew Smith, Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant), Richard Heffer (Jimmy Garland), Chase Masterson (Maddie Price), John Banks (Daniel Conner), Fiona Sheehan (Molly), Andrew French (Dalton Roberts), Paul Thornley (John Vincent), Damian Lynch (Marcus), Miranda Raison (Janet), Lisa Bowerman (Gloria), Christopher Hatherall (Tyler), James Joyce (Jonathon), Louisa Clein (Pam), John Voce (Walter)

Big Finish Productions – Released November 2015

Big Finish’s acclaimed continuation and expansion of the original 1970s TV version of Survivors continues with another excellent set of four interlinked stories, although listeners should be warned that the darker adult tone established in the first two series does not let up here. Once again, the action is moved away from the rural setting of many of the TV episodes with the audio medium being put to full advantage through the use of a range of settings from a cross-channel ferry through to the Post-Office Tower in Central London amongst others.

The opening episode, Cabin Fever, consists mostly of flashbacks as Jonathon Morris delves into the back story of Molly played by Fiona Sheehan, probably the most interesting of the new characters created for the audio series. Revisiting the horror of the outbreak of the deadly virus proves just as effective as it did in series one, it also serves to introduce the cruel character of John ‘Vinny’ Vincent, and his group of mercenary thugs who call themselves “the British government” (the irony of listening to this against the backdrop of current events was not lost), whose story runs throughout this box set, and is excellently portrayed by Paul Thornley. His chilling charisma gives The Archers’ notorious manipulative bully Rob Titchener a run for his money. The episode concludes with a shock twist that makes listeners realise that Vinny is not to be messed with.

The second episode, Contact, is written by Simon Clark who is the author of Night of the Triffids, the sequel Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic classic and therefore he feels very much at home writing for this series. This episode reintroduces Chase Masterson as Maddie Price, the American Lawyer from the first audio series who ended up stranded in the UK following the virus outbreak. This reviewer confesses that he may have been rather hard on her character in his review of that series as she seems a lot more agreeable in this box set. The story also marks the return of another original TV character Jimmy Garland as played by Richard Heffer, who slots back into his old role effortlessly after forty years.

The action of Contact segues almost seamlessly into regular Big Finish scribe Andrew Smith’s episode Rescue which sees Jimmy reunited with the only other original TV series character to feature in this box set, Abby Grant, once again effortlessly reprised by Carolyn Seymour who is fast becoming a Big Finish regular thanks to several appearances in their Doctor Who range. The rescue which the episode title refers to is not without cost as Vinny claims another victim and the scene is set for a serious reckoning.

Leaving by Matt Fitton who also script edits the series is a suitably epic finale, whilst one character does indeed achieve their ambition of being able to sail off into the unknown (albeit with a pleasing hint in the behind the scenes interviews that we may not have heard the last of them), the final confrontation is not without cost and one of the most likeable of the new characters created for this audio series is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. This reviewer is still in two minds (as it seems was producer David Richardson) as to whether the right choice was made to kill off a character which a large swath of the audience would have identified with but in the final analysis this is a dystopian future in which survival is not guaranteed for anyone, and at least they get to go out in a blaze of glory.

To reiterate my introduction, this is an excellent third box set even despite the shocks there is still some hope left at the end. Listeners can only hope that the chances of a future coming to pass where a right wing group such as Vinny’s “British Government” might wreak havoc over a decimated country are a lot less likely than they might have been forty years ago. However, there is a worryingly believable quality to the story and in particular to the performances of the more extreme characters. It is a sign of the audio series’ strength that despite only two of the original TV cast appearing, one of whom was not even a series regular, this reviewer is still eager for more.





Big Finish: DraculaBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dracula (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Bram Stoker, Dramatised by Jonathan Barnes

Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: Mark Gatiss (Count Dracula), Deirdre Mullins (Mina Murray), Joseph Kloska (Jonathan Harker), Nigel Betts (Abraham Van Helsing), Rupert Young (John Seward), Alex Jordan (Arthur Holmwood), David Menkin (Quincey P. Morris), Rosanna Miles (Lucy Westenra), Elizabeth Morton (Mary Westenra), Ian Hallard (Renfield), Edward Petherbridge (Mr Swales), Katy Manning (Sister Agatha).

Big Finish Productions – Released May 2016

Listening to this audio adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, this reviewer, who has never read the book, was struck by how familiar so much of the text is and how profoundly it has seeped into contemporary culture. And yet to hear such familiar dialogue as “The children of the night, such sweet music they make” in its proper context shows that this is a story which remains as unsettling as ever despite the many variations which have appeared over the last 119 years, a true classic of the horror genre. Following on from their successful 2014 collaboration on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, writer Jonathan Barnes and Producer/Director Scott Handcock have once again teamed up to produce an adaptation which remains extremely faithful to the original novel with only occasional alterations made to allow for the expediency of the medium of audio drama. The original novels’ format of being presented as a collection of journal extracts and letters lends itself very well to adaptation with any new scenes added by Barnes slotting in so seamlessly that only those extremely familiar with the novel would recognise them.

The cast are all excellent. Mark Gatiss, who has presented programmes talking about his love of the character of Dracula in the novel and of the famous film portrayals of the Count by Lugosi and Lee amongst others, gives a perfectly judged performance which avoids the trap of overacting in the style of Bela Lugosi and instead allows the text to speak for itself in a confident understated manner. Also anyone fearing that this incarnation of the Count will sound like Gatiss’ portrayals of the Master in Sympathy for the Devil or even Mycroft from TV’s Sherlock need not worry as his deep-throated Transylvanian accent renders him almost unrecognisable. Joseph Kloska and Deirdre Mullins are well matched as Jonathan Harker and his betrothed Mina Murray with Mullins being given particular prominence as this adaptation chooses to make Mina much of a lead heroine than some previous versions have chosen to do. Kloska of course gets to narrate much of the famous opening chapters which see Harker arrive as unsuspecting guest of the mysterious Count in the heart of the superstitious horseshoe of the Carpathian region. They are well supported during the subsequent sections by the three suitors of Rosanna Miles’ Lucy Westenra in the form of Dr John Seward (Rupert Young), the Hon. Arthur Holmwood (Alex Jordan), and the brash American Quincey P. Morris played by David Menkin. These three eventually join forces with Nigel Betts’ (again not too overplayed) Professor Van Helsing to form an enjoyable ‘Scooby gang’ of investigators as the curse of the vampire spreads to England’s shores. The remaining cast includes Ian Hallard, who gives a sympathetic portrayal of Renfield, Edward Petherbridge in a brief but enjoyable turn as Mr Swales, and a convincing performance from Katy Manning who is entirely unrecognisable from her usual self as Sister Agatha.

The production is well supported by James Dunlop’s score, especially the discordant opening theme which will surprise on first listening but gains much with repeated hearing. Extracts from the score are included on the extras disc whose cast interview section will be of particular interest to Dracula aficionados.

Overall then, an excellent addition to the Big Finish Classics range which may well encourage listeners to explore Barnes’ contributions to the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes range including the forthcoming release The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile, the Big Finish Classics range will continue next year with an audio version of Nicholas Briggs’ current stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.





The Judgement of Sherlock HolmesBookmark and Share

Friday, 20 May 2016 - Reviewed by Ben Breen

The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes (Credit: Big Finish)
The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes
Written By: Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast: Nicholas Briggs (Sherlock Holmes/Sherrinford Holmes), Richard Earl (Dr Watson), John Banks (Inspector Lestrade, Colonel Sebastian Moran), Tim Bentinck (Mycroft Holmes), Gemma Whelan (Mary Watson), Jemma Churchill (Helena Eidelmann), Terrence Hardiman (Dr Esau Thorne), Nicholas Chambers (The Reverend Samuel Griffiths), Joannah Tincey (Miss Jessica Hendrick), Dai Tabuchi (Dorje), David Killick (Lord Colney, The Earl of Pettigree)

Published by Big Finish in November 2014
Order from Amazon UK

This review is, almost embarrassingly, a short one.  However, there is a reason for that.  The plot would, I feel, take far too long to summarise to a satisfactory standard so I decided to merely talk on the cast and my overall verdict on the piece.  Moreover, as a reviewer, I had a large amount of enjoyment out of this adventure when I first heard it.  Therefore, I wish to leave that experience for those who wish to listen to this intricate story without knowing too much about it beforehand.

To those who are familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective works, they will know that Sherlock Holmes stories are structured in such a way as to keep you listening intently and on the edge of your seat the whole way through.  Big Finish’s take on this iconic character does exactly that, regardless of whether you have encountered their interpretation before.

After the apparent demise of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor John Watson retires and settles down into a life of ostensible simplicity.  However, after unexpectedly encountering his old friend alive and well, Watson begins to, in part, unpick the pieces of what happened in the time since they last worked together.  However, it gradually becomes clear why Holmes asks his former partner to assist him in taking down the events he chronicles, as the plot wends its way to a dramatic climax.

It is interesting to note that even from the beginning of Watson’s introductory narration there are references to adventures undertaken and plans thwarted that have (to my knowledge at least) not been discussed.  This makes for interesting listening, keeping attention focused on the words even to hear a hint on any of these additional tales, even if no such word comes.  The opening monologue serves as a useful and welcome lead in to the main plotline, establishing the time period and Doctor Watson’s current circumstance.

The plot, though woven through with, what might seem to be, complex and numerous interlinking threads, pulls you along with it, allowing the listener to be taken in by the characters, the auditory landscapes and the spectacle of a story that takes you through the trials and tribulations of Holmes, Watson and various other characters.

All performances to be found in this adventure are confident and well delivered, with Briggs as Holmes and Earl’s Watson having an immediate chemistry from their first interactions, regardless of whether you’ve heard their preceding adventures.  The cast all interact well with each other, with the result feeling almost cinematic in nature and enabling the events to unfold with occasional unanticipated results (a change from the stereotypical and possibly predictable murder mystery that might be associated with Holmes).  The piece, as a whole, interlinks what could be considered as incongruous elements into a story that allows for the listener’s imagination to navigate locations that are, to say the least, at times, unusual.

The score featured in this adventure is second to none, though at points it is slightly too loud (particularly the main theme).  However, even at the points where it is not present, the ambience and sound design make up for the lack of score, building the atmosphere and settings in a realistic manner.  Speaking of the sound design, the landscape is mapped out in a way that makes the world the characters inhabit even more believable, from the carriages and horses to the weather and the elements.

Regardless of whether you’ve heard the Big Finish interpretation of Sherlock Holmes or not, I’d suggest you give this adventure a listen.  The amount of detail and effort that has been put towards replicating the style, atmosphere and characterisation in Doyle’s works is evident, with the company’s own additions and casting choices improving on what might be considered a pre-existing formula.





Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force AwakensBookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 February 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Director: J.J Abrams
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt


Production Companies: Lucasfilm Ltd + Bad Robot Productions

 

Based on Characters by George Lucas

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures


Released: 18th December, 2015

 

Please Note - Spoilers Feature Throughout The Review.

 

One of the most hyped movies in recent times, The Force Awakens mostly justifies all the hoopla. It also goes to a long way to banish the feelings of aghast dejection that movie goers and sci-fi fans alike had when The Phantom Menace first manifested itself on the big screen.

My biggest concern in the preceding months was that handing over to Disney may not be enough to alleviate the problems that were so apparent with a George Lucas who had far too much creative control compared to the original trilogy. I had heard great things about J.J. Abrams, but had not managed to catch any of the films he helmed. I also was not yet a Star Trek aficionado, so had little idea of the skill Abrams possessed in taking a lot of well known tropes and breathy heady new life into them.

Of course, as anyone who has seen this blockbuster will attest, the plot has been done many times before, and not least in A New Hope. The basic concept of an evil force in the galaxy determined to crush any resistance they encounter, and who do not spare a second thought in destroying any number of planets to achieve the goal of ultimate power is  present and correct here. Having a vital piece of information hidden in a droid is also brought back, but crucially the difference this time is that information only sets up the very end of the film, and is distinct from the customary action climax. Instead, a turncoat in the shape of Stormtrooper FN-2187 - now renamed 'Finn' - is able to offer vital knowledge so as to help the destruction of the weapon.

However, there are many other reminders of the 1977 classic, with some being more solid than others. A beginning on a desert planet where a young person who has been estranged from family yearning for a better life. A hot shot pilot who plays their part in the final battle, and does so without batting an eyelid - even if he risks total destruction. A masked villain who harbours resentment for an old man who has played his part in countless battles. And that aged genial figure quickly becoming both respected and loved by the younger heroes we are introduced to.

 

The arc with Finn is definitely the freshest, and his romance with Rey is engaging. How they spark off one another ends up being rather coy, when compared to the one with Han and Leia from the original trilogy. The film even avoids a predictable pay-off for them, by leaving Finn in a coma-like state. The former warrior of the First Order does get the consolation (if one could call it that) of a peck on his forehead by the lady he so cares for.

Daisy Ridley does wonders with the stretches that introduce her, featuring almost no dialogue. It takes a chirpy, tiny droid to get her into the adventure, but from then on this athletic young woman never looks back. I found myself always engaged by Rey, and she is a very much a 21st century-type female, who just happens to be situated in this 'Galaxy.. Far Far Away'. The range of emotions shown by Ridley is strong, and she combines both the light-hearted banter and the material that verges on melodramatic with aplomb.

Finn is decent in terms of character and acting execution, if perhaps given more than a fair share of mundane material. I wish he had been in a battle or two proper in serving the First Order, and the consequences of those actions only now had caught up with him. Also it would make his handling of some Stormtroopers later on more believable. But all the same, John Boyega is a fine choice for a man who has a heap of emotions, and is trying to figure out his new direction in life.

Despite my age, and the demographic BB-8 is aimed at, I still found this new droid utterly spellbinding, and a crucial part of what made the film enjoyable across its two-hour-plus running time. I thought I would miss the iconic pair of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, but I accept they had a pretty reasonable quotient of material in all six of the prior Star Wars entries. It is still a delight to have them turn up briefly: the golden protocol droid irritated by his patchwork red arm; and the diminutive techno-wizard, (as well as co-pilot to Luke) suddenly whirring to life and completing the much-sought-after map.

 

Turning to the despicable villains now, I was quite impressed by the key antagonist of Kylo Ren, who is enjoyably caught in two minds. He clearly cannot banish the good in him and has some form of a conscience, but also is desperate to project an image and demeanour that is purely antagonistic and malicious. There is that tantalising hope for a good few seconds he will come back with Han, but ultimately he chooses the Dark Side. There is still however not the same ability to let the negativity and hatred infuse him with total power, and that may be one factor why he struggles in the fight with Rey - even accounting for his injury. The inferiority complex regarding how much he matches up to grandfather Darth Vader is also intriguing. The film just gets the balance right, in having a moody, tantrum-prone villain who still has menace and gravitas. I look forward to more screen time with Adam Driver in this pivotal role in later Episodes.

However I have issues with the secondary opposition. To my sensibility, General Hux was a very limp and forced villain. We have witnessed slimy, jobsworth types on the side of the Empire beforehand, and also there have been incompetents like the ill-fated Admiral Ozzell (Michael Sheard) from Episode V. But Domhnall Gleeson is mostly just bluster and glares, and not much else. Normally he is a rock solid dramatic actor, but perhaps he does not fit into this type of movie so well. The gripping build up to the destruction of the New Republic worlds still works, but would have been even more powerful with an actor that conveyed a cold-hearted and detached self, as was the case with Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin  in the very first film.  

For a big Game Of Thrones follower like myself, I was excited to have Gwendoline Christie now playing a similarly powerful, (but here now) clearly evil warrior. We do not see her Captain Phasma unmasked, however. If she is to indeed return I hope this is remedied. She has a great amplified voice, and we somewhat fear for Finn when she notes his disobedience. Perhaps one or two scenes cut for time with Phasma would have helped make her feel more relevant to the film, if retained after all.

Too little time is spent on Supreme Leader Snoke for me to have an opinion one way or the other. The mystery for now is whether he is indeed as colossal as he appears, or just using a hologram program to try and make up for some form of insecurity. How and why he turned Kylo to the Dark Side must also be expanded upon, as the dialogue given carries very little explanation.

On a clearly positive note though,  I did enjoy the use of the Stormtroopers throughout. Several brief moments were there to show how they were not just killer drones but had a bit of life and humour of their own. The Daniel Craig cameo may well pass over many viewers' heads, but it is still a winning moment, and also an important one as Rey first masters the renowned 'Jedi Mind Trick'.

The snow-covered fight in woods is a beautiful scene, and arguably overshadows all the frenetic action with the Resistance overcoming 'The Weapon' (which makes the previous Death Stars look like small-fry). Kylo Ren is injured, and so relies upon adrenaline as he faces a Rey who is developing Force powers every single passing moment. However, she should still be beatable. What transpires however, is Kylo desperately lashing out, and he is lucky not to perish. But then this first episode of a new trilogy has great plans for future clashes between the two. A convenient fissure that separates the two combatants by a sizeable  distance is perhaps contrived plotting, but also a nice way to add meaning to the usual 'Enemy Base exploding' cliché.

All three of the original trilogy ' triumvirate' are back in the form of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The latter two have significant parts to play in the actual plot, but get very limited screen time - particularly in Hamill's case. But this does not hold the film back, and actually works to the benefit of a saga taking on new direction and purpose now that a different crew and distributor is behind it.

I will focus mainly on Ford's Han Solo. He is the cream of the original trilogy ensemble crop for most viewers, but there was all sorts of speculation as to how big a role he would have this time round. The first act takes place in a dizzying rush, before the story gains focus with the arrival of Solo striding onto screen, and still with Chewie (Peter Mayhew) by his side. Though the on-off smuggler looks haggard and worn, he still oozes joi de vivre and has that classic sardonic wit. He quickly bonds with both Rey And Finn, and helps make their story take on another dimension or two. Some speculation has occurred since the film's release that Han and Leia are not only Kylo's parents, but Rey's too.

Certainly it would add more meaning to Han's conclusive death at the hands of the son, who was named 'Ben' after the late Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. The scene plays out well enough, if also perhaps quite telegraphed. The aforementioned battle in the snow needed a big loss to justify the raw emotion Finn and Rey show in taking their stands against Kylo. I still partly question if Han could have kept a safer distance and tried to persuade Kylo to disarm, but then that is easy to say from the outside. Clearly Han's heart ruled over his head for once and he pays dearly. 

I am totally convinced that this (most likely) final turn for Ford is one that is much better than Return Of Jedi once was. There at times it seemed Indiana Jones was having a guest role in the Star Wars universe. Ford clearly responds well to Abrams' direction, and shows the level of acting chops he acquired in the meantime; not least when he gained an Oscar nomination for Witness. To have the heart of the movie feature Ford is a great way to involve established fans, but also makes the journey for the new characters feel a lot more poignant. And although Han faces the full force of a lightsaber, and his body falls down a massive chasm, this ultimately is a good way to go out for such a swashbuckler. 

Carrie Fisher is in some respects unrecognisable as Princess Leia, as far as looks and voice are concerned. Of course, over three decades have taken their effect on her since Episode VI was released. Fisher has had a very up and down life, but always been a likable Hollywood star, and her presence is most welcome. She manages to infuse the emotions for Han equally well: one moment there is disdain, quickly followed by another moment of long-term love and warmth. She also does well to bond with Ridley with the most meagre of dialogue, and that makes the closing stages of the film stronger. There clearly will be more need for Fisher in Episode VIII on the evidence presented. 

As for Leia's brother, I am delighted to say that the final scene with Luke is a winner. John Williams' backing music fits perfectly as the camera pans round the island where the last of the Jedi has chosen to hide himself on. I half-suspected that the film's title indicated that there is little Luke, but he is still the MacGuffin and so drives the majority of events. His presence is strongly felt in the nightmarish vision Rey has when visiting a part of the temple, and that experience makes the final decision to locate the heroic son of Anakin Skywalker more significant as well.

 

This film is a true must-see for all Star Wars fans, and anyone who likes escapism with vigour, humour and romance. It should create a whole new generation of youngsters spellbound by the Force, the Good versus Evil faceoff,  and the various space battles involving TIE Fighters, X-Wings, and the legendary Millennium Falcon.

Final Score: Four Lightsabers Out Of Five





Blake’s 7: The Liberator Chronicles Vol 11X – RemnantsBookmark and Share

Monday, 23 November 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
B7-Remnants
Written by Simon Guerrier
Directed by Ken Bentley
Big Finish Productions, 2015
Stars: Paul Darrow (Avon), Sally Knyvette (Jenna),
Alistair Lock (Orac)

“It strikes me that Blake would choose this moment to make some rousing speech, to make us feel better about our impending fate.”

“Well?”

“I’m not Blake.”

Avon and Jenna

 

In just the third episode of the Blake’s 7 TV series (Cygnus Alpha) way back in 1978, Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) was tempted, at the urging of Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow), to take the Liberator and abandon Roj Blake on the penal planet below. Avon insisted that Blake was a crusader; under his leadership, they would always be fugitives from the Federation, and his cause would eventually get them killed. Jenna, much to Avon’s chagrin, gave Blake a final chance ...

Simon Guerrier’s script for Remnants, Big Finish’s latest subscriber-only B7 Liberator Chronicles instalment, builds on the initial idea floated in Cygnus Alpha and takes it one step further. As soon as the B7 signature tune fades, the listener, much like Jenna, is thrown straight into the story as a wounded Avon teleports aboard the Liberator. Jenna barely even has a moment to register that their comrades – Blake, Vila, Cally, Gan – are missing before Avon heads for the flight deck of the Liberator and the ship comes under attack from Federation pursuit ships. It is only after Jenna effects their escape that she learns from Avon that Blake and the others are dead, the victims of a heist gone pear-shaped. Jenna is then faced with a difficult choice. Does she stay aboard the Liberator with Avon, as the Federation hunts down the last vestiges of Blake’s rebels, or does she strike it out on her own and at least have the chance of going underground?

Remnants is a great two-hander, one of the better instalments in The Liberator Chronicles after some recent hit-and-miss efforts in Volumes 10 and 11. Perhaps this is because we have two members of the original cast narrating the story rather than Big Finish’s habit of pairing a regular with a guest actor. Paul Darrow is on-song as Avon, possibly at his most devious and crafty in this story (his husky, breathless, almost velvety tones hint that Avon is secretive from the get-go), while Sally Knyvette impresses as Jenna, maintaining calm, self-assurance, courage and even a ruthless streak, as it seems her world comes crashing down around her.

Indeed, what is fascinating in this story is the uneasy relationship that Avon and Jenna share, and how we as the listeners become privy to what they think of each other. We know that they are not by any means close friends and there is no strong bond of trust between them; they are more colleagues with a begrudging respect for the other’s specific talents and skillset (she being a pilot and a smuggler, and he a computer hacker and criminal genius). It is particularly interesting to hear some of Jenna’s thoughts about Avon’s potential for leadership. As far as she is concerned, Avon “wasn’t Blake and never would be. He’d never be the leader of men, the wellspring of revolution”. She doubts he is even vaguely interested in taking up the fight to the Federation in Blake’s absence (even though we know that in the life of the TV series that is precisely what Avon does, albeit not for the idealistic cause that motivates Blake).

It is also clear that there is no likelihood of romance between them either, although there are still pangs of jealousy on Jenna’s part – she is quite repulsed by the idea of Avon chatting up Molybdenum Brown, a female space pirate whom he considers recruiting as the Liberator’s new pilot. Jenna muses: “Avon flirting – no one wants to see that!” Of course, Avon defends his persuasion with all the cool-minded, rational detachment that you would expect of his character: “There’s a trick with most women, I’m sure it’s a trick with men too – if that’s more your line ... You give them your attention and they think you care. I simply wanted information. Would she make a good pilot? Was she likely to double-cross me?”

It is therefore not surprising by the serial’s conclusion that Avon’s logic and pragmatism wins out over Jenna’s emotional, romantic and idealistic traits, and the gulf of mistrust established between them in the story deepens. There is a strong sense of betrayal between Avon and Jenna that Knyvette beautifully conveys when she thunders: “Avon, you gambled with all our lives – and it almost didn’t come off!”

No doubt some listeners will feel that Guerrier’s script also is something of a gamble and a little too confected. The idea (for the most part) holds up – if you don’t think too much about it – and indeed some of the doubts that Jenna expresses at the end of the episode reflect what the listener is also thinking. Nevertheless, Guerrier, the two principal actors, Alistair Lock (briefly) as Orac, director Ken Bentley, sound designer Martin Montague and musician Jamie Robertson manage to deliver an entertaining story that overcomes its production limitations and ups the ante in the imagination.

Remnants is a welcome return to form for the B7 franchise after some indifferent instalments over the last year (both in the full cast audio adventures and The Liberator Chronicles). It’s just a pity that this serial has coincided with the likely cancellation of The Liberator Chronicles (the 12th boxset has been delayed until April 2016) and undisclosed plans by Big Finish for the renewed Blake’s 7 licence next year. Remnants shows that a good two-hander story, coupled with a strong cast and excellent writing, can still rival any chapters of BF’s full cast drama output.

 








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