The Martian Invasion of Earth (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 1 March 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Martian Invasion of Earth (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer David RichardsonScript Editor Matt FittonExecutive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: HG Wells, dramatised by Nicholas BriggsDirected By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Richard Armitage (Herbert), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Amy), Hywel Morgan (Curate), Ewan Bailey (Daniel), Richard Derrington (Ogilvy), Helen Goldwyn (Agatha), Christopher Weeks (Edward), Benedict Briggs (Boy), Nicholas Briggs (Martians / First Officer). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Available to order from Amazon UK

The last in Big Finishes series of H.G Welles adaptations, The Martian Invasion of Earth is of course a version of Welles’s magnum opus The War of the Worlds. The story has something of a history on Radio with Wikipedia stating fourteen broadcast versions. Most famously Jeff Wayne created a wonderful musical version starring Richard Burton (later re-recorded with Liam Neeson) and Orson Welles panicked America with his 1938 Halloween broadcast. Admittedly I was intrigued to see how Nick Briggs would handle what he stated was a ‘pet project’, when the story has been done many times and done well. I needn’t of worried however, with Briggs achieving that very rare mix of an adaptation that pushes it’s source material into new and interesting directions, yet allows it to be faithful at the same time. Not only that but he manages to rival the Orson Welles version in how utterly frightening it is.

Richard Armitage stars as Herbert Welles (not the first time one of his unnamed characters finds themselves taking their creators name in an adaptation) and it is partly his wonderful performance as a man struggling to keep it together in the face of a terrifying event that lends the play its horrifying power. By adding an extended role to the narrators wife (more on that below) this version works rather wonderfully as a love story. Briggs shows us how the narrator puts on a front for his wife, showing bravery before silently creeping away and sobbing. Armitage makes these moments truly horrifying and it is with this human factor that the play really succeeds.

The most startling change implemented by Briggs is the extended role he has given to the protagonist’s wife. In the original novel, the character disappears somewhat early on, only to miraculously reappear at the end. The tome is certainly a mail orientated one and our hero meets no significant female characters. Period adaptation or not, Briggs appears determined to make this adaptation current and thankfully that includes a strong and respectful female role. ‘Amy’) as she is called in this version) is played by Lucy Briggs-Owen who gives a powerful performance and has wonderful chemistry with Armitage. Briggs appears to have invested much time in her character, allowing her to become a wonderfully rounded character. At times she feels of the period and beyond it, having much to do and making meaningful decisions. Coupled with Briggs-Owens acting, she’s one of the highlights of this version.

Nick Briggs script also includes several interesting moments of commentary concerning some of the socio-political subtext featured within the novel. This includes interesting moments of discussion concerning colonialism, militarism and religion. At times this is somewhat heavy handed but for the most part it’s effective and certainly allows this version to be current and meaningful.

Ian Meadows provides incredible sound design, helping the audio to fully capture the feel of a full scale onslaught with a very small cast. His version of the Martians war cry, is terrifying, particularly when listened to through headphones and mixed with the sounds of screams.  The soundtrack is similarly effective, a mixture of bizarre sounds and an epic feel adding to the chaotic atmosphere. Unfortunately it is let down by some ‘bombastic’ moments early on that don’t quite fit with the intimate nature of the horror as portrayed in this version. Thankfully these moments are brief and less frequent as the play continues.

For fans of the novel, they really can’t go wrong with this version. Alongside Jeff Wayne’s musical and Orson Welles 1938 version, this has to be one of the best adaptations of the novel. Nicholas Briggs really has outdone himself and along with superb performances from Richard Armitage and Lucy Briggs-Owen create a masterpiece and one of Big Finishes best.  





The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish) Producer David Richardson

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Brian Clemens, Ray Rigby and Richard Harris
Adapted by John Dorney
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Cast
Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Colin Baker (Dr Tredding), Adrian Lukis (Spicer)
Original Released: January 2014
Series Devised by Sydney Newman

Available to purchase from Amazon UK

The Avengers is an unusual show in that few programmes have evolved so quickly or become so self-referential over the course of its seasons. More than that, with most of the early episodes not just missing but extremely missing – with few to none of the telesnaps, off air recordings and other saving graces that allow Doctor Who fans to at least experience its junked instalments in some form – it’s a case of, arguably, a descent into self-parody where few have seen the ‘self’ being parodied.

So Big Finish are to be saluted for their resurrection of those early missing episodes – episodes potentially unrecognizable as The Avengers to those familiar with, and loving, the existing seasons – and being so faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the original. This dedication shows through in the extras where adapater John Dorney ruefully admits that for most episodes only the camera script, rather than the full original version, survives. Meaning in cases episode endings like "Action Sequence as Discussed" have to had to be interepreted by a mix of faithfulness, imagination and pure luck.

Of the leads, Anthony Howell has the easier job in playing Keel - a character the original version of which few have seen - and grants him a deep earnestness that plays opposite Steed nicely. The more difficult task falls of course to Julian Wadham in playing not only so iconic a character as John Steed, but having to play him initially as a quite different take on the secret agent before transitioning towards the man we know and love. While actors who've played the Doctor are often praised for their mecurial, 'turn on a sixpence' quality of sudden shifts from whimsy to outrage, Macnee's Steed instead changed gears from jovial charm to lethal dangerousness with the smoothness of a performance sports car. Wadham, perhaps wisely, doesn't even attempt to replicate that and instead for the most part a Steed somewhere in the middle - never quite as urbane or as ruthless, but with an element of both present in every line.

 

Hot Snow

If anyone had any doubt about The Avengers beginning as an almost completely different show to the one that gave us cat-suited Emma Peel, killer robots, and an intelligence agency run out of an office on the Number 707 bus to Picadilly Circus, Hot Snow blows them away with its grit and cynicism. A woman is gunned down in the street in front of her fiancé, junkies hang out in the waiting rooms of struck off doctors and slimy low level heroin smugglers search for a missing package of four grand’s worth of ‘snow’. Even an attempt by a middle aged swinger to invite our hero into a group sex session with her and her husband seems seedy and slightly depressing, rather than something to elicit a purr of naughtiness from Steed.

The hero on the receiving end of that indecent proposal, by the way, is Dr. David Keel, not John Steed. Dragged into the shadows of the London underworld by sheer chance when a consignment of heroin is accidentally delivered to the surgery where he works, he’s willing to sacrifice his career in his quest for revenge on those who murdered his fiancée to cover it up. In fact, he’s ambivalent about his own survival so long as he gets his chance to confront the man who pulled the trigger. Steed himself is a shadowy figure, happy to use Keel’s vendetta as leverage to manipulate him for his own agenda. It’s slightly a shame it’s impossible to appreciate Hot Snow, and Steed’s role in it, the way it was originally intended. Steed here is a dangerous, ambiguous figure happily presenting himself as a double agent to both sides but with his real intentions opaque to the viewer in 1961. Much of the tension in Hot Snow’s script is derived from whether Steed is going to betray Keel – he tells the doctor that he’s tricked the smugglers into thinking he’s delivering him to them to kill, and tells the smugglers that he’s tricked Keel into coming to a meeting so they can kill him. In 2018, we know which side he’s on, of course, but the clever edge to the script can still be appreciated.

 

Brought to Book

If anything, the second episode in the set smacks even more of a road not taken than the first. Trigger man Spicer has moved on to the employment of a new crime family, brought in as a ‘specialist’ to help settle a budding gang war in definitive fashion. Once again Steed (now describing himself as a ‘kind of civil servant … deep undercover’) is primarily interested in destroying both sides but offers the presence of Spicer as an incentive to Keel to be his asset. And once again there’s an edge of possible betrayal in the air. While Keel infiltrates one gang as a ‘mob doctor’ when Steed arranges him to be in the right time and the right place to assist when the gangster soon to be formerly known as ‘Pretty Boy’ has his mouth slashed, Joker style, as an opening shot in the war, Steed is already positioned in the other – planning an attack on the very flat containing Keel and his new chums.It all raises visions of a parallel universe where The Avengers continued as a show as fixed in its structure as The Fugitive – Spicer always moving on, Keel in pursuit to avenge Peggy, Steed succeeding in breaking up the new gang but Spicer escaping… But fortunately, the episode ends, appropriately enough, with Spicer brought to book (albeit in a way that probably wouldn’t pass muster with the modern Crown Prosecution Service) and Keel warily agreeing that Steed can call on him again if the case requires his particular skills.

 

The Square Root of Evil

Rather than pursuing that alternate reality, the third episode instead does a handbrake turn into something much more familiar. In fact, it’s such a swift turnabout in the show’s format that one can only imagine there must have been some fascinating meeting where it was consciously decided to change the tone and style of the entire series in what’s almost a second pilot, albeit one that assumes knowledge of the two prior episodes. From the classically Avengerish pun of the title – a pun that appears to simply exist for its own sake; as even adaptor John Dorney admits he has no idea what it has to do with the story – to the treatment of Steed as the lead and Keel as his sidekick (a sidekick who only even shows up about halfway through), the dumping of The Rising Sun as Steed’s base of operations (along with, thankfully, the highly dodgy Chinese stereotype of Lily) and of Colin Baker’s Dr. Tredding, who had been set up as a supporting character to worry and fret about Keel, all signal a serious re-think of what the show would be like. Steed’s lascivious manner and tendency to treat deadly danger at least half as seriously as a sane person would, both materialize fully formed here too.What still remains is the fairly unremarkable nature of the criminals they go up against. The heroin smugglers and protection rackets of the first episodes are followed here by a counterfeiting operation being run out of a garage. It also somewhat runs out of steam by the end. Having set up the drama in Steed going undercover in the gang by pretending to be a notorious Irish counterfeiter, under constant danger of exposure, original writer Richard Harris (no, not that one) seeming can’t decide where to bring the story next. So, after a few near misses, Steed is found out and simply punches his way through all the bad guys and across the episode's finish line.

 

One for the Mortuary

The final story in the set sees the rapid transformation of the show’s format continue apace. Just a few hours of listening on from Dr. Keel being introduced as a relatively fresh young doctor setting up in General Practice to deal with chilblains and dispense vitamins and he’s now the sort of figure to get invited to high level World Health Organization conferences in Geneva. In parallel, Steed is no longer doing anything so gritty or streel level as infiltrating a gang of small time heroin dealers and instead tasked with ensuring a microdot containing the chemical formula for a new world-changing wonder drug reaches the conference. Oh, and the villain du jour is a one eyed man with a sword cane.

It’s a gone a bit… Avengers.

Even a diversion where Keel draws an erroneous conclusion from a clue and winds up having a bizarre conversation at cross purposes with a taxidermist specializing in pet memorials feels like the sort of thing that latter seasons of The Avengers would make a unique selling point of the show. The key thing grounding the show at this stage to the world we began with is that Keel seems somewhat befuddled by just how insane things are getting.   In time, The Avengers would become a show where even the local milkman seemed to have a knowingly ironic sense of the pop spy world they live in. For now, it remains the story of an ordinary man moving deeper into an extraordinary world.

 

A fascinating bit of television archaeology, this set allows us to almost see into Clemens’ brain as he reassess what type of show this could be. In a sense, and appropriately for a show originated by Sydney Newman, this set allows us to see both the original premise and it’s “Dalek moment” when wilder elements began to be added to great success.

 





Blake's 7 - The Classic Audio Adventures: Vol 4.1: Crossfire - Part 1Bookmark and Share

Monday, 29 January 2018 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Blake's 7 - The Classic Audio Adventures: Vol 4.1: Crossfire - Part 1 (Credit: Big Finish Production, 2017)Written by Steve Lyons, Simon Clark,
Mark Wright and David Bryher
Directed by John Ainsworth and Nigel Fairs
Big Finish Productions, 2017
Stars: Paul Darrow (Kerr Avon),
Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally),
Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan),
Yasmin Bannerman (Dayna), Alistair Lock (Zen/Orac),
Clare Vousden (Winterhaven), John Green (Mordekain),
Hugh Fraser (The President), Rebecca Grant (Gwen Parker), Walles Hamonde (Gunner Kalvert), Roger Parrott (Mavlek),
Becky Wright (Goddess/Distributor/Curator), Abi Harris (Alta-Six), David Warner (Tavac), Donovan Christian-Carey (Herrick), Rebecca Crankshaw (Zeera), Daniel Collard (Jallen)

“We have to tell the others! We need to be ready!”

“Ready for what?”

“Servalan will do anything to cling onto her throne. We need to be ready for war!”

Cally and Dayna, B7 - Crossfire: Fearless

 

 

Following the successful relaunch of Blake’s 7 on audio, with the excellent Spoils of War boxset, Big Finish wasted little time in late 2017 following it up with the first volume of Crossfire, part of a “season” of 12 new adventures across three boxsets. Unlike Spoils of War, which was an anthology of four tales loosely set throughout the third season of the original TV series, Crossfire is intended to fill the “gap” between that season’s penultimate episode Death-Watch and the climax Terminal. And if you think that that “gap” isn’t ripe for exploitation, well, as Avon (Paul Darrow) himself might say, “Oh, you’ll have to do better than that …”
Crossfire reveals that there is in fact quite a lot of fertile ground that can be covered, drawing not only on the rich content of the original TV series, but also from Big Finish’s own B7 output. The opening episode Paradise Lost sets the theme – and a very high bar – for this lot of tales and subsequent boxsets as an old adversary of the Liberator crew (played again with charisma and panache by Hugh Fraser) triumphantly returns. Newcomers to the B7 range of full cast audio adventures are recommended to listen to earlier instalments (notably the serials Mirror, Cold Fury, Caged and Devil’s Advocate, all available on download from the BF website for as little as £2.99) before they begin listening to this set, as they really establish the political state of play in the Terran Federation.
Paradise Lost is the strongest of this quartet of plays, even though it ceases to be a story in its own right half-way through and becomes the first chapter in an epic, broader political saga. Nevertheless, writer Steve Lyons sets up an air of mystery in the opening minutes and throughout the first half of the play. Vila (Michael Keating) and Cally (Jan Chappell), aided by a zealous Federation dissident Alana Winterhaven (Clare Vousden), materialise on the former tourism and entertainment spot of Erewhon (pronounced “air one”) in a bid to ambush President Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) who appears (to all intents and purposes) to be on the planet.

However, as the crew’s investigation reveals, the true villain of the piece turns out to be someone quite different yet familiar and equally as dangerous. Avon is subsequently forced to be quite ruthless (in a manner reminiscent of TV episodes Rumours of Death and the finale Blake) to protect his crew and his ship as they are unwillingly dragged into an unstoppable tide of events.
Steve Lyons’ script is also a terrific ensemble piece, as it gives all the regular characters, including Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and Dayna (Yasmin Bannerman), plenty to do within the story, as well as some great dialogue. Dayna ends up having a great verbal stoush with the villain, while Tarrant is introduced to Mordekain (John Green), an embittered former Federation space colonel who bears many of the cybernetic hallmarks and scarred psyche of the late Space Commander Travis without being a complete carbon copy of that character (Lyons carefully foreshadows Mordekain’s introduction through an earlier aside to Travis between Avon and Vila).
Tarrant and Mordekain’s conversation about military honour and duty would be dull in the broader SF genre but, thanks to the high quality of the writing and the strength of Pacey’s and Green’s performances, it is entertaining and fascinating. It’s also undercut by moments of light humour; when Mordekain reveals that he has remotely deactivated a landmine that Tarrant has stepped on during their exchange, Tarrant mutters disappointedly: “Oh! Oh, well, you could have mentioned it sooner! I’ve got cramp in my foot now!”
It’s a little disappointing then, that with such a dramatic, momentous first episode, the rest of the plays in the boxset are largely removed from this story arc. That’s especially when the second entry in the boxset – True Believers – is arguably amongst the worst pieces of drivel to be produced under the B7 banner!

True Believers is notable for using a single member of the regular cast – Cally – in the narrative. Otherwise, it’s a totally forgettable experience. It’s another example of BF attempting to replicate B7’s habit (especially in the third series) of experimenting with more mystical, fantasy-driven episodes from SF and fantasy writers (eg Tanith Lee). Of course, the lesson that BF hasn’t learned from history is that such stories in B7 were ordinary instalments and are largely unpopular with the fanbase 40 years on. Worse, some episodes often tied in with Cally’s telepathy and mental abilities, creating a cliched, cringeworthy trope.
Simon Clark is a renowned SF and horror scribe who has received much acclaim for Night of the Triffids (the authorised sequel to John Wyndham’s original Day of the Triffids, which Clark and BF have also adapted for audio). However, drafting a talent like Clark to write a B7 script is no guarantee of quality. The script is universally awful and, worse, unashamedly pulls the “Cally card”, as our heroine, her mind under assault from a powerful entity, teleports alone to a desolate, former Federation colony, whose human inhabitants are besieged by a horde of the planet’s indigenous natives under the influence of a malign being. (Never mind that in the logic of the story, and the broader context of the TV series, no one aboard the Liberator would just let Cally go off on her own, especially if she was under mental duress.)
Cally befriends a self-appointed high priestess (Rebecca Grant) who claims she can commune with the local goddess, and a young militia man (Walles Hamonde) who is besotted with the priestess. They embark on a quest to the Singing Grave, an ancient monolith of the 2001: A Space Odyssey variety, which also appears to be the source of Cally’s distress (and the malign influence). It doesn’t help that the performances from the guest cast are variable (although Roger Parrot is good as agitator Mavlek), and that even Jan Chappell overacts throughout the play.
There is a line from Cally in the play – “My brain is scorched!” – that sums up perfectly just how painful True Believers is for the listener by its close! Paul Darrow would be especially grateful that his services were not required for this script.
Fortunately, the third and fourth instalments rescue this boxset from being a disaster. Resurgence is a terrific episode, and a great ensemble piece, while Fearless is a Vila-centric episode with a twist.
If Paradise Lost and True Believers respectively could be described as political drama and (bad) fantasy, then Resurgence is just good old-fashioned space opera. It is a sequel to B7 series two opener Redemption and features the “resurgence” of another old foe. While TV series creator Terry Nation would not have envisaged the underlying concept of Resurgence as worthy of further exploration, writer Mark Wright demonstrates in his play the wonderful potential the antagonist had to be a perennial “big bad” – in the spirit of Doctor Who’s Cybermen and Star Trek’s Borg. Wright himself argues in the CD extras that the way the adversary was dispatched in Redemption always seemed a little too easy and convenient (designed to meet the confines of a 50-minute TV episode), and that it makes sense for something of that adversary to survive, and to reassert itself.
Resurgence is, in many respects, a retread of events in Redemption. However, the fact it features the later Liberator crew headed by Avon, and not the original crew lead by Blake, means that characters like Dayna and Tarrant react quite differently and unexpectedly to a threat they are encountering for the first time, as opposed to Avon and Vila, whose familiarity breeds contempt and acquiescence (“Oh! That [spoiler]!” Vila exclaims upon realising the identity of their attacker). Indeed, it is Dayna’s own troubled psyche that proves pivotal in the climax …
The “big bad” is well represented by Abi Harris as Alta-Six, who captures the intonations of her predecessors on TV perfectly. She even develops a catch-cry – “All infarctions will be punished with extreme force!” – that is reminiscent of Cybermen and Borg alike (eg “Resistance is useless! You will be deleted!” or "Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated!”). By the end of this tale, the implication is that the “big bad” endures, despite all the damage wrought by the Liberator crew – and that there may still be remnants of its deep space fleet out there that could respond to its call …
The final instalment – Fearless – is a heist tale. Vila and Cally infiltrate a black market auction, managed by a former colleague of Vila’s – Zeera Vos (Rebecca Crankshaw) – on an abandoned Federation station that is orbiting an unstable neutron star. As if conning the con-artist won’t be enough of a challenge, it’s not long before the Liberator shipmates realise that the other prospective bidder is Servalan …
The biggest twist of this story, however, is with Vila. It would be a spoiler to give away how and why he undergoes such a dramatic change in personality, but gone is the cowardice, the caution and insecurity – the qualities that embody Vila’s fear, as he says early in the tale. Instead, the Vila that arrives with Cally on the space station oozes confidence, arrogance, impatience, assertiveness and even a self-belief in his own animal magnetism! Not only does Vila attempt to make Zeera envious of his suddenly new-found charisma and wealth, he even passes off Cally as his girlfriend! And then in the climactic scenes with Servalan, he not only holds his own against her threats but startles her with some cheeky and suggestive retorts:


Servalan: “Stop talking Vila – right now, or I shall cut out that cowardly tongue of yours!”
Vila: “Oh, I can think of far more pleasing things you could do with my tongue!”
Zeera (in shock): “Vila!”
Servalan (equally as shocked): “I beg your pardon?”


It would have been all too easy for Michael Keating to really camp up his performance as this more brash, haughty and self-assured Vila but to his credit he doesn’t overplay it, particularly in the scenes with Servalan. He plays it straight and entirely convincingly. Strangely, in the CD extras, Keating isn’t even asked what he thinks of this new, super-improved portrayal of his character – which is extremely odd by the BF production team!
As a contrast to Vila, the only “cowardly cutlet” in sight is Zeera’s partner in crime Tano Herrick (Donovan Christian-Carey), a former technician who is on the Federation’s “wanted list” for desertion. His reaction when he realises that one of the bidders is none other than the Federation’s President/Supreme Commander/Empress is to panic:


Herrick: “Why didn’t you tell me about Servalan?”
Zeera (dismissively): “I didn’t think it mattered!”
Herrick: “It’s Servalan – (high pitched whine) Servalan!”
[And later] “Yet … (with even more hysteria) She’s Servalan!”

Ultimately, Herrick’s own fright and dread get the better of him, although if the Vila we’re most familiar with was in the same situation, he would be savvy enough not to panic quite so easily and endanger the lives of so many others in the bargain. It no doubt galls another sidekick – Servalan’s accompanying officer Jallen (Daniel Collard) – that he is the victim of such errant stupidity. As a hardened soldier, he remains loyal to his President and is withering of the Liberator crew, even as Cally shows the utmost compassion to try to save his life.
The only disappointment with Fearless is that for a hustle/heist story, the twist is so mundane as to not count as one. The joy of heist-themed tales is seeing how the major characters end up being heroes or victims of their ploys. In the 1981 B7 TV episode Gold, the twist is that the prize becomes worthless because the Federation changes the goalposts on the protagonists. In Fearless, the prize similarly proves a sham – except the protagonists are completely unaware of that as they flee before the big revelation. Only Servalan learns the truth and by that time she has abandoned her hopes of attaining the elusive prize altogether – although in Zeera, she finds a kindred spirit (Zeera is every bit as nasty and ruthless as Servalan, if not as refined). With the closing minutes of Fearless tying back to Paradise Lost, it’s clear that a new partnership is forged … It will be fascinating to see where it goes and how the rivalry between Vila and Zeera is developed against the larger wartime backdrop.
In all, apart from the dire True Believers (which is best ignored by listeners altogether!), Crossfire – Part 1 is a good start to a loosely connected story arc that promises to shake up the stability of Servalan’s Federation while also testing the resolve of the Liberator’s rebels. Who do they back in the impending conflict? Can they step to one side and hope that the lesser of the two evils wins? Or will they have to make a stand when it’s crunch time? If the quality of Paradise Lost, Resurgence and Fearless is any guide, the rest of the Crossfire saga promises to be suspenseful, entertaining and exciting.





Blake's 7 - The Classic Audio Adventures: Vol 3 - Spoils of WarBookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 December 2017 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Blake's 7 - Spoils of War

Written by Steve Lyons, Christopher Cooper,
Sophia McDougall, George Mann
Produced by John Ainsworth
Stars: Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Yasmin Bannerman (Dayna), Alistair Lock (Zen/Orac), Sara Powell (Rokon), Stephen Boxer (Tarkol), Daniel Collard (Aqulia/Guards), Sophia Hannides (Shuuna), Tracy Wiles (Valance), Keith Drinkel (Kaverin), Charlotte Watson (Imra)
Big Finish Productions, 2017

“You see, it pays to listen to Vila sometimes! I knew Blake before any of the rest of you, you know! This is the voice of hard-earned experience here! That ought to earn me some respect!”
 

Vila, ​B7: Liberation

 

Spoils of War, the first Blake’s 7 full cast drama release from Big Finish in more than two years, is a welcome return to form for this beloved former TV franchise. As a regular reviewer of the B7 audios, I had felt the turnover in output – the release of two micro-series of full cast B7 audio adventures in rapid succession, coupled with regular releases of the narrator-driven The Liberator Chronicles boxsets – had impacted on the high standards of writing and production and a rest would be beneficial.

As it was, this latest boxset experienced numerous delays anyway because of the untimely passing of Gareth Thomas, who played the eponymous title character Roj Blake (this volume was slated to be set during the second season of the original TV series when Blake was in command of the Liberator). As a result, rewrites were performed to more firmly set Spoils of War at various points of the TV program’s third season, following the outcome of the Intergalactic War between the Terran Federation and alien marauders from Andromeda.

All bar one of the regulars from B7’s third series appears in Spoils of War. Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally), Steven Pacey (Tarrant) and Jacqueline Pearce (the villainous Servalan) reprise their roles almost effortlessly (as if no time has passed at all since the demise of the original TV series). The part of female gunslinger Dayna, however, has been recast. The original actor Josette Simon turned down the opportunity to reprise the character in the previous micro-series of full cast B7 audio plays. Although her guest appearance alongside close friend Paul McGann in the Doctor Who audio adventure The Sontaran Ordeal gave B7 fans some hope that she might change her mind, Simon again declined to take part.

As a result, Yasmin Bannerman (who most recently played Adjudicator Roz Forrester in the Doctor Who novel adaptations) has stepped into Dayna’s role, much to her joy. In the CD extras, Bannerman confesses that she and her older brothers were B7 fans when she was a child and that she admired and adored Simon as Dayna precisely because she was such a positive, inspirational character (at a time when there were few positive portrayals of black actors on TV).

The recasting of Dayna is in some respects a “godsend” for the boxset’s first two writers – Steve Lyons and Christopher Cooper – as it enables them to reintroduce Dayna and Tarrant, as well as give Bannerman a strong entry point. Liberation and Outpost are meant to occur within a short period after TV episode Powerplay, when these characters first joined the Liberator.

As a result, the Dayna we meet in Liberation is a more insubordinate, impetuous character than she was in later TV episodes. Not only is she more inclined to question the authority of other members of the crew (including Vila and Tarrant), she’s not above starting her own little rebellion on the Federation world of Morphennial to free the leader of the local resistance.  While Dayna’s “little war” is mostly successful, it’s not without casualties, it puts another member of the Liberator crew at risk, and the prize the local rebels seek is a gross disappointment. Dayna comes out of the experience a more sober character.

At this stage in the program’s timeline, Liberation also outlines just how little trust exists in the revamped Liberator crew. Cally, Vila and Dayna distrust Tarrant because of his former life as a Federation soldier. Vila especially dislikes the changes to the Liberator’s crew, not only because he and Cally still know so little about the newcomers but they’re not even sure about Avon’s trustworthiness. Left behind on the Liberator to his own devices, Avon contemplates the merits (not for the first time!) of abandoning his crew and bailing with the crew’s supercomputer Orac.

Steve Lyons’ script is also a logical starting point for this boxset, considering the Federation is now at its weakest. The recent Intergalactic War has cut off a succession of worlds and bases from the Federation’s umbrella, and law and order on Morphennial has collapsed as the citizens suffer withdrawal symptoms from the pacification drugs and techniques that were glimpsed in the very first TV episode The Way Back. Captain Rokon (Sara Powell), craving of the additional manpower and resources she needs from the Federation, is losing the fight to preserve the peace and quell the anxious population while the de facto rebel leader Tarkol (Steven Boxer) struggles to rally the morale of his ageing, handicapped resistance comrades.

Powell (who impressed as the villainous PA to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor in the River Song adventure World Enough and Time) plays Rokon as a disillusioned, contemptuous and paranoid soldier. Boxer gives Tarkol a dry humoured portrayal, with flashes of a hardened, ruthless streak that leaves you questioning if Morphennial at the conclusion really is being left in safe hands.

Outpost, the second serial, continues the notion of the power vacuum in Federation space, as a cry for help from a desperate Federation technician brings Tarrant and a reluctant Vila to an abandoned Federation base overrun by space pirates. This is, by far, the most “fun” of the four serials, as it combines high levels of drama with black comedy. Like Dayna in Liberation, Tarrant’s introduction to Blake’s “glorious revolution” is Vila, whose timidity and distinct lack of heroism hardly fill the new recruit with confidence. Nevertheless, the chemistry between Pacey and Keating is excellent and they make a great double act:

Tarrant: “You don’t strike me as an idealist. Why do you follow Blake – or Avon, for that matter? What are you even doing on the Liberator?

”Vila: “I don’t know! I’ve never stopped to think about it! I don’t really follow Blake – although sometimes I worry that I actually started believing in him – and it’s not like me to believe in anything! As for Avon … Nice fella, if I keep telling myself that ... There is a chance he won’t throw me out the nearest airlock!”

The villain of the piece – “Space Captain” Valance (Tracy Wiles) – is the highlight of the serial. Her scenes with Vila are as amusing and mortifying for the listener as they are for poor Vila himself. While many B7 villains over the life of the TV series were camp, and Valance also fits this mould, she is also calculating and ruthless, as she demonstrates in her interactions with Federation technician Shuuna Rel (Sophia Hannides). Shuuna is herself quite flirtatious and scheming but ultimately her affinity for changing sides at the drop of a hat stretches patience only so far.

Close Enough is set much further into the season, after the events of TV episodes Children of Auron and Rumours of Death (which are referenced in the dialogue). This is possibly the best written of the four instalments, as writer Sophia McDougall gives us a story about telepathy that is – by B7 standards – quite fresh and original (in the TV series, it became staple for the Liberator’s resident telepath Cally to be possessed by some extra-terrestrial or extra-dimensional mental force). Close Enough is a well crafted, interesting piece about how the good purposes of science can be perverted (as are most good things in the Federation) to nefarious ends.

The character of Imra (brilliantly portrayed by Charlotte Watson) reflects the naivety of the impulsive young scientist as she seeks to realise her childhood dreams, seemingly at any cost – and most particularly at the expense of Avon who is placed in a unique, awkward and fatal situation. The ramifications of Imra’s experimentation has been explored superficially in B7 before (notably in the lamentable 1998 radio serial The Sevenfold Crown) but not with the quality and maturity of the writing and performances here.

Solus is a red herring of a title for the final instalment, as it is not about the deep space scientific research station that features in the opening minutes of the tale (and on the CD inlay artwork) at all. The episode continues the theme of mind control from Close Enough but in a wholly different manner. Indeed, the plot device is probably more reminiscent of Star Trek than B7 as Servalan makes an audacious play for control of the Liberator, only for it to backfire on her spectacularly and not only endanger herself and the crew but also threaten the rebellious population of a nearby world that is trying to secede from the Federation (indeed, a Deep Space Nine episode from the 1990s provided a similar scenario, in which the villain, smugly amused by the protagonists’ predicament, was also hoist by his own petard!). Much to their distaste, Tarrant, Vila and Dayna find themselves having to keep Servalan alive so that she can thwart the impending threat to the rebellious Federation colony.

Where Outpost and Close Enough focus on specific members of the Liberator crew (virtually to the exclusion of the other regulars), Solus is a great ensemble piece that strongly gives sufficient “air time” to all the Liberator’s characters (including Alistair Lock’s Orac and Zen), as well as Servalan. There are no other actors in guest capacities in this tale, and as a result the listener can more closely follow and appreciate the regular characters’ dilemmas and race against time to avert disaster. Bannerman in particular encapsulates the anger and resentment Dayna feels towards Servalan (the President did, after all, murder her father in the TV episode Aftermath) and towards Avon (who naturally does not approve of the rendered assistance). Pacey and Keating also have some great dialogue, with Vila performing a heroic gesture that astonishes even Servalan, while Darrow continues to play Avon as cold, calm and collected. Pearce clearly relishes playing Servalan; while her character isn’t as deliciously evil as she could be on TV, Pearce nevertheless has fun tapping into Servalan’s dark humour and playful side.

While the central conceit of Solus works quite effectively, the climactic solution is a weak one that lacks credibility and dispenses with the threat in an arbitrary way. Having convincingly generated a scenario whereby the Liberator crew are boxed into a corner with seemingly no way out, scribe George Mann then must overturn 55 minutes of magnificent work with a band-aid solution in just five minutes.

Servalan’s fate is left open-ended at the conclusion of Solus (there’s no doubt she will return, if only because she was in the TV series after this point in its timeline!). Indeed, it’s interesting to note that all the female antagonists – Servalan, Rokon, Shuuna and Imra – in the conclusions to all four serials inevitably have their comeuppances. Their duplicity, self-centredness and paranoia purportedly make them “bad” people — even though all these qualities exist to varying degrees in the Liberator’s rebels, including Avon (the fact they are all women, I hope, is merely coincidental, otherwise BF’s version of B7 could be straying into the very murky domain of gender politics!). B7 was not a program that was distinctly black and white in its definitions of characters, it was (within reason) a “warts and all” portrayal of a core group of rebels attempting to fight the system from outside of it while still being inextricably tethered to that system.

In all, Spoils of War is a great return to form for the B7 franchise after a couple of lacklustre efforts from BF in 2015. New producer, director and script editor John Ainsworth is off to a great start with this anthology boxset and I look forward to what he can achieve as BF embarks upon an ambitious three-volume linking saga called Crossfire. Strap in, standard by 11!





Hamlet (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 13 August 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Hamlet (Credit: Big Finish) Written by William Shakespeare

Script Editor: Justin Richards

Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: Alexander Vlahos (Hamlet), 
Miles Richardson (Claudius), Tracey Childs(Gertrude), 
Terry Molloy (Polonius), Daniel Brocklebank (Horatio), 
Deirdre Mullins (Ophelia), Samuel Barnett (Laertes), 
Jolyon Westhorpe (Rosencrantz), Geoffrey Breton (Guildenstern), Barnaby Edwards (The Ghost), 
Youssef Kerkour (Barnardo), Alex Jordan (Francisco), 
James Joyce (Marcellus)

Big Finish Productions - Released August 2017

“Not another one!” Recalling Brenda from Bristol’s much-quoted reaction to the announcement of the 2017 General Election I had a similar reaction to the prospect of yet another production of what is perhaps the most performed of all Shakespeare’s works. Hamlet is probably the well-known and widely regarded as the one of the most outstanding works in the whole of English literature. However, much as I am a fan of Shakespeare and certainly feel that his tragedies leave the comedies in the shade by comparison, I’ve always favoured his history plays especially that one about the hunchback king who ended up buried in a Leicester car park, which tend play up the political drama with a strong emphasis on tragedy and a dose of black comedy thrown in for good measure.

Whilst not being my personal favourite Hamlet certainly owes a debt to the history plays with plenty of political goings on for those paying attention (provided you’re not watching one of the film versions which chose to cut out Shakespeare’s intended ending with the arrival of the Norwegian prince Fortinbras at the head of an invading army) even though it focuses mainly on the tragedy of its eponymous central character.

This audio production marks a first (but hopefully far from the last) venture into the works of Shakespeare from Big Finish who have built their reputation largely upon the production of brand new adventures featuring established characters. Recent years have seen them take a few tentative steps into adapting classic works which have included last year’s excellent dramatisation of Dracula and most recently a series of adaptations of the works of H.G. Wells. This production has emerged as the brainchild of producer Scott Handcock and lead actor Alexander Vlahos who have previously collaborated on five series of Big Finish’s first wholly original series The Confessions of Dorian Gray. At this stage I should confess that whilst I thought Vlahos gave an excellent performance throughout that series, I was rather disappointed at the decisions taken on how it was brought to what has been described as a definitive ending last year.  When I first heard that the pair’s next project would be to take on Hamlet I was rather sceptical. I am however delighted to say that my fears that Big Finish were over reaching themselves were unfounded and that this is an excellent production which makes a genuine virtue of the audio medium. Whilst Hamlet remains oft-performed with many stage and film versions available to peruse, a quick online search indicates that there are only a few radio productions in circulation, and only one which was recorded within the last decade.

With so many recent TV actors stage renditions of the prince of Denmark to be compared with including Tennant, Simm, Cumberbatch and the prospect of Hiddleston in the wings, Vlahos is an almost uniquely youthful Hamlet. He is genuinely believable as a distraught university student who has returned home to find his father dead, and both his mother and his expected inheritance suddenly in the control of his uncle. He has a lot of fun with the advantages of being on audio and not give a theatrical shouted performance such as playful delivery of lines such as “words, words, words” and a delicately whispered rendition of the most quoted speech in the whole of English literature from Act III. The dumb show performed by the players in the same act is cleverly adapted into narration of Shakespeare’s stage directions. It is left up to the listener to decide how much of Hamlet’s apparent decent from melancholia at the feeling that he has effectively lost both parents to the very edge of apparent madness is genuine and how much is an act to keep his uncle and step-father guessing.

Miles Richardson, perhaps best known to Big Finish listeners as the enigmatic Irving Braxiatel from their long running Gallifrey and Bernice Summerfield spin-off series, gives excellent support as Claudius, the king who appears to be trying to act in his nephew’s best interest whilst hiding the secret that he has murdered his way to power. One wonders if Shakespeare missed a trick by not making Claudius more central to the action as he certainly shares common features with other anti-heroes including the aforementioned hunchback and the eponymous lead character of the Scottish play. If viewed from Claudius’ perspective the play has the feeling of being a pre-cursor to House of Cards, in which case Richardson is absolutely perfect to play the king with an uncertain grip on power and it was no surprise to learn that he was Handcock and Vlahos’s first choice for the role.

There are only two women in the cast but both give great performances. Tracey Childs is a harsher Gertrude than some previous portrayals. However, she does not seem too overtly under the spell of her new husband which lends the character a little more believability. Deirdre Mullins also gives a very believable performance as Ophelia who is perhaps the most tragic character of the whole play as she gets caught up in the games between Hamlet and his uncle and manipulated by her own father Polonius (an excellent performance from Big Finish stalwart Terry Molloy).

Of the remaining cast, honourable mentions should also go to the always excellent Samuel Barnett (of whom more soon in the upcoming Cicero series as well as BBC America’s Dirk Gently),Barnaby Edwards as the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, Daniel Brocklebank as Horatio and James Joyce in various ensemble roles including, if my ears were not mistaken, Fortinbras in the play's concluding scene.

It would be remiss to conclude without acknowledging the excellent atmosphere created by Neil Gardner’s sound design and the music of James Dunlop, whose previous work was a major contribution to the success of The Confessions of Dorian Gray.

One minor quibble, and this is based on a lack of knowledge of different versions of the text which exist, is the choice to pronounce the word “murder” as “murther”. Whilst I assume this must derive from an earlier version of the text than I’m familiar with which it would surely have made more sense for a production aiming to appeal to audiences who won’t be familiar with the play to use a pronunciation which would have made more sense to the modern ear. Script editor Justin Richards is however to be commended for having kept cuts to the text to a minimum and allowing this release to run for a full three hours. However, the line “remember me” appeared to be missing from the ghost’s departure in Act I which would have gone unnoticed had Hamlet not then quoted it a few lines later. Perhaps this was an edit which was overlooked. Overall these did not affect this reviewer’s overall enjoyment of this excellent production.

This reviewer’s appetite has now been well and truly whetted for more of the Bard’s works to find their way into Big Finish’s studios. Already a production of King Lear starring David Warner is on the way later this year and hopefully there will be more to follow in the near future.

Whilst it may not be this reviewer’s personal favourite, this production certainly goes someway to exploring the indefinable quality of what makes Hamlet such a special play to experience in performance but when asked to set down what that quality is one can only conclude by giving Hamlet himself the last words:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

Hamlet is available now from Big Finish and on general release from September 30th 2017





Game Of Thrones Season 6: Episodes Seven + EightBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 May 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Jaime Lannister and Bronn (Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/)

7 - The Broken Man

Written By: Bryan Cogman 

8 - No One

 Written By: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss
 

STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer, Carice Van Houten, Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams,   Diana Rigg, Rory McCann,  Dean-Charles Chapman,
Clive Russell, Jacob Anderson, Jerome Flynn,
Daniel Portman, Nathalie Emmanuel, Gemma Whelan,
Gwendoline Christie, Kristofer Hivju  + Conleth Hill

WITH: Jonathan Pryce, Julian Glover, Anton Lesser,
Ian McShane, Tim McInnerny, Bella Ramsey,
Richard E. Grant,  Essie Davis, Tobias Menzies,  Tom Wlaschiha, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Eugene Simon, Richard Dormer,
Paul KayeIan Gelder, Hannah Waddingham + Faye Marsay

AND: Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Ian WhyteHafþór,
Júlíus Björnsson, Ricky Champ, Margaret JackmanIan Davies, Murray McArthur, Ross McKinney, Tim Plester, Daniel Tuite,
Leigh Gill, Rob Callender,  Sam Redford, Ian Davies, Steve Love



Directed By: Mark Mylod 

Showrunners + Producers: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss

Game of Thrones is now available on DVD,
Blu Rayand streaming services Worldwide

The build up to a truly riveting climax for Season Six gathers apace in these episodes. Whilst neither move the story on drastically further, there is some welcome development for two characters that once formed one of the show's more unlikely, but also more entertaining doubles acts - namely the Hound and Arya.

When these two were last together they seemed to have formed a deep bond, but Arya never quite forgave the Hound for his murder of a childhood friend of hers, and followin Brienne (brutally and perhaps unfairly) beating him in one-on-one combat, she took the chance to rob him and leave him to die.

And yet he still survived.


Many readers of this site may at first do a double take, especially if they never picked up the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga. The Hound had only the briefest of resurrections there, but his passing mention was enough to confirm that he had not been killed off by his wounds (which also occurred in an entirely different location). Here we have a much more developed explanation, whereby a whole community of pious and kindly people save him from his grievous injuries (the most significant being an infected bite on the neck – which harked back somewhat to Khal Drogo’s fate).

Having Ian McShane as a one-shot guest star was a great decision by the production team. He really makes the most of his role as Brother Ray; which is primarily composed of sharp interplay with the rather more cynical Sandor Clegane. At times this focus on a beautiful picturesque country retreat in the Riverlands is very ‘anti’ Game of Thrones. There is even a pre-credit sequence that may make some viewers unsure they are on the right channel. But towards the end of The Broken Man, there are clearly ominous signs of something nasty on the way.

The motivation behind the Hound ‘breaking back’ to his old mannerisms of swearing and revelling in brutal killing is strong; he had bonded with an entire community that made him see the world he lived in as worthy of some optimism after all. The revenge on the breakaway group from The Brotherhood Without Banners is grim and bloody, but also immensely gratifying. It is also fun to see the reunion of Cleagane with Thoros and Beric Dondarrion, and how they eventually allow their former enemy to have two acts of vengeance (by hanging) rather than just the one. 

*

As for Sandor's cruel and lethal older brother, there is a snippet of his potential destructive capabilities (developed thanks to Qyburn). Although some deaths on the show have been more graphic than this, it still is a powerful moment as one of the Faith Militant is ripped apart – losing his spine, and bleeding profusely into a nearby drain.

Brother Ray (Credit: popsugar.com)

Yet the potential for a Trial By Combat  - which would be a guaranteed win for Cersei - is quelled thanks to the smart thinking of The High Sparrow, who prompts Tommen to change the law on how guilt or innocence is ascertained. Many fans have keenly hoped for a showdown of the two brothers since a brief face-off in Season One. Yet it remains something that has never quite happened thus far.

It is rather less clear-cut however for Jonathan Pryce’s beautifully-played zealot when it comes to getting ‘into bed’ with the Tyrells. (And there is a risque exchange with Margaery where he encourages her to resume conjugal duties with her much younger husband). Using her powers of intellect and wit, the Queen is able to show Olenna she still is bonded with the Tyrells. Thus it is clear to followers of the show that her public declaration on the steps of the Great Sept was tactical, rather than sincere.

Whilst that is some relief for the Queen of Thorns, she still has decided that enough is enough and embarks on a return home to Highgarden. Her verbal abuse of Cersei is a terrific one-to-one scene – to my mind such exchanges are the bread-and-butter of the show. Olenna's firm put down of Cersei as possibly ‘the worst’ person she knew in her long life is a great one-one-one scene for Diana Rigg and Lena Headey.

**

Arya has her best material of the season so far, as her carelessness in wondering the streets with no disguise and sure-fire she can return home almost costs her life. That she trusts Lady Crane to nurse her back to health also proves decisive; the 'Waif' finally ensures the marked woman is slain, for the purposes of the Many Faced God

That the younger Stark lady uses her former blindness - which perhaps lasted several months in actual chronology - in the final showdown with her enemy is clever and poetic. Perhaps a brief scene of these two fighting in the dark would have been welcome, but the cutaway to The Hall of Faces and Jaqen's reaction soon after is still a rousing moment with which to end the second of this pair of episodes. Finally a girl is truly not 'No One'.

**

Elsewhere, we follow the other principle surviving Starks as they try to reclaim Winterfell from the Bolton-Karstark-Umber 'axis'. Jon is desperate to accumulate an army, even if know it is going to be comfortably outnumbered and less disciplined than that of his enemies. He has at best mixed success.

Initially, he manages to find the one remaining Mormont who is left intact and relevant to the North; the young girl Lyanna. However, despite not even being eleven yet, she has a gravitas and cool logic which  makes her a formidable presence. Davos is the most confident in interacting with her, and it recalls the fine interplay Liam Cunningham had with Shireen actress Kerry Ingram. 

Bella Ramsey's debut on the show rivals Maisie Williams' early days in the role of Arya, and she makes what could be a silly and overly comedic scene play out beautifully.

Speaking of comedy, how welcome it is to see 'Percy' from Blackadder - otherwise known as Tim McInnerny. He of course can do serious roles justice -  as was the case in Doctor Who - but there is always a tinge of melodrama with this actor. Yet this is by no means a bad thing, when much of Thrones takes itself so seriously. His refusal of Jon is painful to see, but totally understable given how poorly the late Robb handled politics, in a region where self-preservation and insular thinking is commonplace. Also, this particular 'lost avenue' takes place in Deepwood Motte – an area of the Westeros map which is given much more prominence in the books. The showrunners do a fine job here in acknowledging their source material but carving out a different path.

More positively for the 'born again' Jon, the Wildlings will be with him come hell or high water. They have of course already faced the army of Wights, and whilst they suffered a heavy defeat at the time, they do know a worse enemy is looming that keeps coming back. Consequently an alliance is galvanised, with Wun Wun (the lone surviving giant) helping the process.

Sansa has little direct impact in negotiations. However we know from The Door that Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale could help. A short scene depicts her receiving a letter, and the hope would be that the older Stark daughter has some options, which others in the 'good' Alliance do not have.

What is also notable in these Northern scenes, is that whilst Jon and Sansa have grown a great deal, they are not the best at the subtleties of politics and negotiations – which makes viewers wonder if either would quite manage on the Iron Throne, were the opportunity to present itself.

**

As for the Blackfish potential source of aid, some great work is done in exploring just how this is ultimately a dead end. It also functions as an interesting emotional journey for Brienne and Jaime. Since the Red Wedding, there had been next to no mention and absolutely no screen time for Clive Russell. So it is to the benefit of this present season that this fine character actor bows out with his two very best performances.

With Jaime dismissed from the Kingsguard, and having lost two children (with Myrcella’s murder hitting him especially hard) there is a bit of a redux for this great character. Flashes of the brute with a ‘charming’ smile begin to show again. Not much softness is displayed by the golden-handed warrior when he puts Walder Frey’s sons in line. Even less mercy is evident when he threatens Edmure Tully with a catapault demise for the child he gave to Roslin Frey. Bronn himself has had near enough of Jaime by now; knowing that the often-said 'A Lannister Always Pays His Debts' did not materialise in his case. 

However, I have some minor issues with the Riverrun sections. One is that some of the dialogue for Bronn and Podrick is a little too self-indulgent and crude. The suggestion that Pod likes Brienne is very silly, as they were always just an odd couple of clumsy slow-witted serving boy and serious, proficient fighter. It may show some of Bronn’s frustration with not having a romantic partner after all the hard work he has done of late, or it may just be an attempt to do broad humour to please some of the ever growing audience of the show.

Another disappointment is that the Blackfish simply gives up on fighting for Sansa, even though he would be a good addition. However, this does help the story itself as later Jaime does not ask his men to pursue Brienne and Pod, as they row away down the river. (He certainly would have done if this notorious enemy of the Lannisters was present). Further, director Mylod opts to not show the final stand for Ser Brynden Tully, and we must assume the character either inflicted a fatal wound or two, or was instead swiftly dispatched by Jaime’s men.

**

Finally, some words on the other regions across the Narrow Sea. After her rousing speech atop Drogo, Dany has virtually nothing to do in this section of Season Six. However, she makes a surprise appearance once the Siege of Meereen begins in earnest. Without a line of dialogue, it is still very telling just how angry she is with Tyrion for his handling of both the city, and the politics with the Slave Masters who had visited not long ago. Peter Dinklage continues to be very watchable, but some of his recent dialogue is not of the highest quality, and could easily grace routine fan fiction. The lack of source material does sometimes work against the show, but it depends on a given storyline, and also if the director can paper over the cracks. The farewell scene between Tyrion and Varys is good setup for the later siege, and raises suspense if these two will ever reunite. However, once again they freely walk around Meereen without any guards for backup.

A much better section sees the relationship of Yara and Theon further developed. With his ability to father children, or indeed to have any kind of full physicial relationship taken away from him by (the mercifully distant) Ramsay, Theon still is struggling to feel worthy of being a player in the Game. But Yara manages to achieve some kind of response, through making her brother feel outraged over the phrase ‘a few bad years’. His torture will never leave his trouble psyche, and neither will his guilt for what he did in Winterfell with the Ironborn. But he still has potential to prove himself. Also Yara is quite brazen in showing that she has a preference for women, but treating them like objects – at least in the context of the ready supply of whores in Pentos.


Many pieces on the board have been set now. The biggest (and final two) episodes of the season should result in a rush of excitement and drama, as the 2016 run of Thrones reaches its destination point.