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.





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.





Frankenstein Special EditionBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 August 2015 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Frankenstein Special Edition (Credit: Big Finish)Written By: Mary Shelley,
dramatised by Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Cast: Arthur Darvill (Victor Frankenstein), Nicholas Briggs (Waldman/The Creature), Geoffrey Beevers (Alphonse Frankenstein/DeLacey), Georgia Moffett (Elizabeth), Terry Molloy (Christensen/Proprietor), Alex Jordan (Captain Robert Walton), Geoffrey Breton (Henry Clerval/Felix), Lizzie Hopley (Giselle/Agatha/Lorna), Stephen Fewell (Krempe/Judge/Kirwin), Sarah Ovens (Justine/Female Creature)
The plot of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein is familiar to many.  The tale of the scientist who seeks to create life is one that has resonated through the centuries.  Therefore, I will not attempt to summarise the story, but instead deliver my impressions on the adaptation.

The drama is set out in 3 “volumes” and this, whilst surprising at first, mirrors the original novel's publication in 1818.  This structure suits the story well, separating it into manageable sections and allowing listeners to take a break, if necessary.  Moreover, it does seem to portray the fact that the author’s original intention was to have it be a short story, regardless of the fact that it was later expanded; it has the feeling of several stories woven together.  The pacing of the story is not marred by slow segments, as there is a constant sense of anticipation to see what will happen next even if you know the rest of the story.  The scenes and sequences flow well into each other, moving from the ship on which Victor tells his story to the various memories that come to him and serve as the main narrative device.

The musical score accompanying the cinematic sound design is well-suited, without being invasive.  By far the most prominent piece of score is the main theme, a slow haunting orchestral cue, possibly representing the creature’s slow and complicated construction or “birth” as well as Victor Frankenstein’s inexorable journey towards self-ruin.

The casting of Brigs as both Waldman and the creature is intriguing due to the way events occur.  His delivery change from the former to the latter makes for great dramatic effect, with every inflection bringing the pain and agony of the creature to bare on both the scientist who brought him into being and the listener. 

Arthur Darville’s Frankenstein is well chosen also, with the writing portraying him not as the classical mad scientist hungry for power, but more as a man who is overcome by ambition and the drive to succeed.  His interactions with the other characters, including the creature and the family’s servant are filled with emotion and his delivery, like Briggs and the rest of the cast, keeps the adaptation flowing towards what might be considered as an inevitable conclusion.

The ending of the final episode is not marked by the usual theme music from previous volumes or even an adapted version.  In an interesting twist, the story simply ends with the ship’s captain making a speech stating that he and his men must go on through the raging storm, with the scene fading out into silence.  In truth, whilst you might think that this wouldn’t work very well, it actually compliments the scene, as well as the action leading up to it, remarkably well.  It allows the listener to reflect on the drama in general, as well as the notions expressed regarding industry, ambition and judgement.  Moreover, the question of whether the captain actually stands by his word is also left unanswered.

The outtakes included as the final track were an interesting and amusing insight into the camaraderie of the cast.  They clearly demonstrate

The sound design in this adaptation is of high quality, as usually expected by Big Finish in ranges like Doctor Who.  The storm at sea and its desire to tear the ship asunder, to the one that marks the night when Frankenstein’s monster is brought into being, to the scenes in towns and cities.  All convey the era in which the story takes place with great care.

All in all, the story is timeless and Big Finish have done their part to further cement it as a prime example of gothic literature in the minds of future generations.  Regardless of whether you’ve listened to Big Finish’s work before, this one is sure to provide those new to audio dramas with a hard to beat introduction as to how enthralling they can be.  With characters that are all brought to life with great aplomb by the actors and the aid of sound design and music that enhances the cinematic atmosphere, this might just be the best Frankenstein adaptation yet.




Survivors: Series TwoBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 July 2015 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Survivors: Series Two (Credit: Big Finish)
Survivors: Series Two
Written by Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson, and Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley
Starring: Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch, Carolyn Seymour, John Banks, Louise Jameson, Bernard Holley, Tim Treloar, Fiona Sheehan, and Tim Bentinck
Released by Big Finish Productions – June 2015
The second audio series based on Terry Nation’s original series first broadcast in 1975, picks up events immediately following on from the last episode of the first TV series and approximately five weeks after the climax of last year’s first audio series. The audio series runs concurrently with the TV version, successfully allowing original TV characters Greg and Jenny to interact with new characters such as Daniel and Jackie, whose stories are picked up for this second series which exploits the rather generous continuity gap between the end of the first TV series and the start of the second. With most of the first audio series having taken place in the London area, the second returns to the West Country roots of the TV series with stories set mostly in the West of England and Wales. This provides the arc of this boxset with a more satisfyingly contained feel and yet some of the remote locations come across as being very dangerous thanks to some excellent sound design. It is also pleasing that having had the first series written mostly by regular Big Finish contributors this series has allowed two new writers to contribute, which adds a fresh feeling to the proceedings.

The set opens with Dark Rain, the first of two contributions from regular director Ken Bentley, who has a clear grasp on the characters’ voices from having directed the previous series. This cleverly serves to set the scene as we are reintroduced to Daniel and Jackie, the two main protagonists introduced for the first audio series, both sympathetically portrayed by John Banks and Louise Jameson. Simultaneously this story returns to the Grange community of the TV series, bringing with it the proper reintroduction of Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant, alongside fellow original series actors Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming as Greg and Jenny. Having only heard her fleetingly in the first audio series, it is great to have Abby return to a central role in the proceedings as her ongoing search for her missing son forms a crucial part of the arc of this second audio series. The culmination of the A and B plots bring all the regular characters together before sending them off to new adventures whilst also adding Tim Treloar as Russell into the mix.

The second story, Mother’s Courage, features an all-female cast as Abby, Jenny and Jackie continue the journey to look for Peter and find themselves at an all-women community with extremely hostile views about men. They are joined on their way by another new regular, Molly, played very sympathetically by Fiona Sheehan. Sheehan makes a powerful impression in this and the subsequent episodes and will hopefully return although apparently not in series three. This unique episode is extremely well written by Louise Jameson, and provides an opportunity to delve deeper into the views and attitudes of the women survivors.

As a direct contrast, Ken Bentley’s second offering, The Hunted, features the male characters, who are joined by Big Finish and The Archers regular Tim Bentinck as survival expert Irvin Warner. This story really pushes the boundaries of how dark this series is capable of being with some scenes particularly towards the conclusion which are all the more distressing for being on audio. There are also some more pleasant surprises including a very touching scene, played with great sensitivity by John Banks and Tim Treloar.

The scene is neatly set for the finale, Savages by Matt Fitton, which brings together perfectly all the strands from the mini-arc that has run through this boxset. Without wanting to give too much away a special mention must go to Bernard Holley for his key role in the proceedings.

Survivors returns with a third audio series in November, with two further series already confirmed for 2016. On such strong form as this, long may it continue.





Blake's 7 - The Classic Audio Adventures: 2.3 Mindset/2.4 Ghost ShipBookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 April 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Blake's 7: Mindset (Credit: Big Finish) Written by Jacqueline Rayner & Iain McLaughlin Directed by Lisa Bowerman Big Finish Productions, 2015 Blake's 7: Ghost Ship (Credit: Big Finish)
“When I first met Vila, he said he planned to live forever ...”

“I believe his precise words were that he planned to live forever or die trying! Let us hope he hasn’t tried too hard!”

Cally and Avon, Blake's 7: Mindset  

As the Liberator crew continue their search for missing crewmate Dayna Mellanby, the middle chapters of Big Finish’s latest series of Blake’s 7 full cast audio dramas head more into the fantasy realm that were the staple of some episodes in the original TV series’ third season (the latter part of which these audio tales are ostensibly set).

Indeed, BF producer Cavan Scott states in the extras for the instalments Mindset and Ghost Ship that there was a conscious effort to revisit the tone of some episodes from that season, such as Tanith Lee’s Sarcophagus, which had a spooky, ethereal quality to them. This is a brave, calculated risk on the BF production team’s part, as the more fantastic episodes of B7’s original run aren’t fondly remembered by fans and some are to this day still scorned by them. While Sarcophagus may be remembered as an exceptional piece of fantasy (I don’t count myself as someone who thinks it’s an especially classic episode), B7 had its share of clangers when it tried this genre as well (eg The Web, Deliverance, Dawn of the Gods, Ultraworld, Rescue). Further, B7 is better remembered for not just its hardcore SF element but also for its realpolitik intrigue and suspense (no self-respecting TV program would want to be fondly remembered for episodes like The Web!).

Mindset has been written by long-time BF scribe Jacqueline Rayner – again a deliberate choice by Scott to rekindle the spirit of Sarcophagus through a female writer. It’s a good decision, as Rayner writes for all of the regular characters extremely well, especially Cally (Jan Chappell) who plays a fundamental role in the story. Of course, some long-time B7 fans may still groan at the story’s formula, especially as it involves another Auronar telepath, Reno (Geoffrey Breton). In the TV series, Cally-centric and fantasy episodes (often the one and the same thing) would almost by rote exploit the character’s susceptibility to other telepathic influences, often involving other kin from Auron or villainous god-like telepaths that inspired Auronar culture. BF’s B7 audio series also hasn’t shied away from foisting new Auronar characters upon its listeners either (eg Gustav Nyrron). Fortunately, Rayner delivers a story where Cally is strong and steadfast whilst all of the other crew members are subdued or compromised. Jan Chappell takes full advantage of the opportunity to display Cally’s courage and compassion. Indeed, if it is not for Cally’s heroism, the Liberator crew would not survive at all. Ghost Ship is inspired by the premise of what happens to the unlucky crew member that has to sit on teleport duty for the course of an episode – a task that was all too often foisted upon the female contingent of the crew in the TV series. In this episode, teleport duty falls to Vila (Michael Keating) who subsequently finds himself haunted by mysterious apparitions aboard the Liberator while Avon (Paul Darrow), Cally and the rest of the crew teleport planetside to meet with a crime syndicate that may have information about Dayna. The listener therefore is privy to Vila’s superstitions and worst fears, as Keating virtually carries the narrative solo for a good 20 to 25 minutes.

Unfortunately, it’s still not the most engaging or dramatic sequence in Iain McLaughlin’s script – Vila inadvertently locking himself in a storage room and tripping over crates and other equipment, all while muttering obscenities at himself, makes for as boring listening as it would for dull visuals on TV. Fortunately, in spite of the material he has to work with, Keating’s performance is outstanding - he continues to play Vila effortlessly, with a combination of enthusiasm, customary dry humour and Vila’s propensity to panic.

Both episodes, apart from being heavily fantasy-driven, also play with Vila and Cally’s psychological make-up. Cally, who is one of the last of her people after the tragic events of the TV episode Children of Auron, craves the mental contact and affection that is only possible with another telepath and in Mindset is even momentarily tempted by an offer from Reno that would create a permanent union between them. Vila’s psychology is exploited throughout both episodes for entirely different reasons. In Mindset, Vila is drawn to the planet Karwen because Reno is able to exploit his greed for the fountain of youth. Once he is submerged, Vila is content to be left there because he doesn’t believe he is respected by the crew anyway; when he is revived, Cally urges Avon, Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and Grant (Tom Chadbon) to remind him that he is indeed a valued contributor. In Ghost Ship, it is precisely because of Vila’s reputation for cowardice that he is left behind on the Liberator. However, Vila is, as we see in this story and other B7 releases, more resourceful, clever and courageous than his allies and adversaries give him credit for. Indeed, it becomes clear later in the story that Vila has been left aboard the ship for good reason – precisely because he can be relied upon in a crisis, not necessarily because he is untrustworthy.

Mindset also plays with the view held by long-time B7 fans that there is a romantic connection between Cally and Avon – which is constantly denied by the latter. Indeed, Avon’s apparent coldness and disdain for other members of his crew across both episodes, including for Vila, Tarrant and Dayna (whom he argues he is only intent on recovering because she could, under duress, reveal intelligence about the Liberator and its crew) also hides the doubtless affection he does feel for members of his gang. On the other hand, he also seems happy to play dangerous games with their lives in Ghost Ship – which hardly makes him endearing to his shipmates. Mindset is the better of the two B7 instalments, mainly as Jacqueline Rayner gives all of the main characters decent air time and dialogue and tells a story that could have been plausibly done on TV. Ghost Ship, by comparison, relies too strongly on the audio medium to provide a spooky and (for Vila at least) a claustrophobic feel. It doesn’t quite work as a full cast play precisely because it doesn’t really need a large cast. In fact, the story would have worked more effectively as a Liberator Chronicle, given much of the story is dedicated to Vila’s trials on the ship and the other characters (with the exception of Avon, Orac and Zen) are only present in the first and last quarters of the tale. As a result, Chappell, Pacey and Chadbon are wasted in their roles.

As the middle chapters of this six-part series, Mindset and Ghost Ship are entertaining in parts, with plenty of humorous and eerie moments, coupled with Big Finish’s consistently high production values. However, as fantasy-based tales, they are, like some of the original TV serials that inspired them, lacklustre instalments. As mentioned above, B7’s strengths as a TV series were its hardcore SF/realpolitik morality tales which explored the main characters’ heroism and flaws and the impact their exploits would have on the political system they were trying to overturn. The next instalment in the series – Devil’s Advocate – promises a return to that more traditional format. It will also be interesting to see how the “search for Dayna” story arc develops as it nears its conclusion (after some more hints in Mindset and Ghost Ship) and whether some other hints in Mindset may have an impact in wrapping up this particular series of adventures – or if they will create angst for the crew in a future micro-season of B7 full cast audios.




Survivors: Series OneBookmark and Share

Friday, 10 April 2015 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Credit: Big FinishWritten by Matt Fitton, Jonathan Morris, Andrew Smith, John Dorney Directed by Ken Bentley Starring: Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch, John Banks, Louise Jameson, Sinead Keenan, Caroline Langrishe, Adrian Lukis, Chase Masterson, Terry Molloy, and Carolyn Seymour Big Finish Productions – June 2014
Having been a fan of the re-imagined TV version of Survivors which ran between 2008 and 2010 and never actually watched the original 1970s version I ought to have had very few expectations for this boxset except for the fact that upon release last year it garnered many favourable reviews. This series of audio adventures is designed to sit alongside the first series televised in 1975, written by Terry Nation. The first episode, Revelation, by Matt Fitton introduces a host of new characters in a story which vividly brings to life mid-70s Britain with its typewriters and telephones where the computer age has yet to arrive. Listening to a story full of people falling ill and in most cases dying is perhaps not to be recommended if, like this reviewer was at the time, you are feeling unwell and this may perhaps have explained why I didn’t much care for this first episode. Some of the performances such as Terry Molloy as Redgrave work very well but I’m afraid I found the American character Maddie Price (Chase Masterson, who seems to be becoming as ubiquitous to Big Finish as Beth Chalmers) to be rather grating although she did improve in the second episode.

I am however glad that I persevered with this boxset. Exodus by Jonathan Morris introduces Louise Jameson to the proceedings. Her performance as Jackie is a revelation and brings some much needed sympathy to the proceedings. In the meantime, the focus shifts onto the emergence of a colony at Feltham College headed by the sinister former lecturer, James Gillison (brilliantly played throughout by Adrian Lukis). This story also sees the first intersection between the new characters and the original series with a welcome cameo from Lucy Fleming reprising her role as Jenny Richards.

The third episode, Judges by Andrew Smith, moves events on several months from the initial outbreak of the epidemic to a point towards the end of the 1975 series. Opening with a scene featuring three of the original series characters – Greg, Jenny and Abby – it sees Greg and Jenny head towards the outskirts of London to look for supplies. This brings them into the web that has grown around Gillison and his colony in Feltham and thus reunites them with the other new protagonists. As the story progresses the apparent truth that Gillison is increasingly paranoid and clearly believes that his ruthless actions such as judicial murder are justified. The scene is set for a suitably explosive finale.

Esther by John Dorney picks up the story from the end of Judges with all the protagonists finding themselves held in virtual imprisonment within Gillison’s colony. There are some neat twists of characters switching sides but the end result is a satisfying if somewhat grim conclusion to this boxset. Despite some initial misgivings, the second half of the box set was a particularly enjoyable, despite the original series characters inevitably sounding slightly older than they were in 1975. There certainly seems to be a rich seem to be mined of new stories for these characters, even after forty years. I will be looking forward to the second audio series, particularly as this offers the prospect of a more prominent returning role for Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant.