The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 31 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Tim Leng and Alan Flanagan

     Produced and Directed by Scott Handcock
Cast: Alexander Vlahos (Dorian Gray), Guy Adams (Peter Jameson), Sophie Aldred(Sally Jameson), Tom Allen (Camberwell Haines), Samantha Béart (Catherine), David Blackwell (Simon Darlow), Lisa Bowerman (The Woman in the Woods), Jacqueline King (First Neighbour), Bruno Langley (Ben), Tim Leng (Second Neighbour), Colin McFarlane (The Narrator), Katy Manning (Isadora Rigby), Sarah Ovens (Teddy Quigley), Sakuntala Ramanee (Stella), Miles Richardson (Harry Wotton), Laura Riseborough (Holly), Hugh Skinner (Tobias Matthews), Bianca Stephens (Newsreader), David Warner (Santa Claus), Gabriel Woolf (The Man Upstairs)  

Big Finish Productions -  Released December 2015    

The Confessions of Dorian Gray first appeared four years ago in October 2012, originally as a weekly download only series. This seemed to be something of a risk for Big Finish to produce an original series created by Scott Handcock based upon a reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, with (at the time) relatively unknown actor Alexander Vlahos in the lead role.  However, the resulting series quickly gained a firm following amongst Big Finish listeners which has subsequently resulted in a further three series and several special episodes including appearances alongside Sherlock Holmes in 2012’s Ghosts of Christmas Past and 2015’s celebratory release The Worlds of Big Finish.

However, it seems all good things must come to an end, and Halloween 2016 sees the release of the fifth and final series of Dorian’s adventures across his long life from Victorian London through to the present day. It therefore seems apt to first review this penultimate release in the popular range which consists of two stories both set in December of 2015 which serve to set the scene for the impending finale.

First up we have the gloriously macabre Desperately Seeking Santa by Tim Leng. Only Big Finish’s casting couch could provide a release which opens with Doctor Who alumna Sophie Aldred being viciously murdered by no less stellar a guest actor thanDavid Warner, whose portrayal of the eponymous Santa is at the heart of this story. Warner shares some great scenes with Vlahos, who has continually excelled in his portrayal of Dorian. The story returns regular listeners to early December 2015, following on from the present day setting that linked the whole of the third series before series four resumed the series’ original anthology format with stories set at various stages of the 20th Century. Dorian has been reunited with the true love his life, the vampire Tobias Matthews, sensitively portrayed by Hugh Skinner, who was first introduced in one of the standout stories of the first series, The Heart That Lives Alone. Dorian and Toby are preparing to celebrate their first Christmas together but the activities of Warner’s evil Santa threaten to cause problems. There is also a brief reappearance by another of Dorian’s former lovers which seems to a hint of things yet to come. The proceedings are given an extra sinister edge with narration by Colin McFarlane. Overall, a great start to this set which indicates that Dorian and Toby’s Christmas is clearly going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons and not just because of some really bad carol singing.

Events take an even more sinister turn as we rejoin Dorian and Toby on Christmas Day itself for All Through the House by Alan Flanagan. Toby and Dorian arrive at a very old and mysterious hotel (although those familiar with Lerner and Loewe musicals will guess the significance of its name) where they start to experience some very strange goings on when they encounter characters who bear a startling resemblance to Dorian’s old friend Harry Wooton (Miles Richardson reprising the character from Big Finish’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray) and more intriguingly his sister Isadora, once again brilliant portrayed by Katy Manningwho previously appeared in series one’s The Twittering of Sparrows. Without wanting to give too much away this is very much an adventure story which is as dark and twisted as the series has ever managed. It becomes clear that events are being manipulated by the mysterious Man Upstairs about whom this reviewer will just say that he could only have played by Gabriel Woolf. There are surprises in store which guarantee that this story is compulsory listening for all fans of this series, especially If you have any intention of listening to series five. Basically, this second story is excellent and will justify buying this special release.

Overall, the two stories which comprise this special release continue to push the envelope as part of a great series of audio dramas. The second story in particular sets the scene for the impending release of the finale. Big Finish clearly gambled a lot in commissioning this series but four years on it’s clear that the gamble has continued to pay off with the combined creative talents of Handcock and Vlahos providing some of Big Finish’s finest output.


The Spirits of Christmas is available to buy now from

Survivors Series Four (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 21 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Survivors - Series Four (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson, Christopher Hatherall,  and Matt Fitton

Directed by Ken Bentley 

Cast: Ian McCulloch (Greg), Lucy Fleming (Jenny), Louise Jameson (Jackie), Fiona Sheehan (Molly), Zoë Tapper (Evelyn Piper), Ramon Tikaram (Theo), Jane Maud (Mildred Sanderson/Sarah), Paul Panting (Colonel Stephen Adams), Jonathan Oliver (Lewis Bartholomew MP), Terry Molloy (John Redgrave), Sean Murray (Dr Stewart/Terry Levinson), Alex Lanipekun (Roy), Vinette Robinson (Davina), Laurence Dobiesz (Michael), Enzo Squillino Jnr (Stan)

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

With the release of Series Five only a few weeks away, it seems an appropriate time to catch up on the fourth boxset of Big Finish’s extremely successful, dark, gritty and powerful audio revival of Terry Nation’s original 1970s TV series Survivors. It is terrible thing to admit, but when contemplating this release this reviewer finds himself to be at a loss for words. The problem being that whilst, taken on its own merits, this box set is just as strong as the three box sets that preceded it, there is a real sense of déjà​ entendu in terms of the repetition of the format which links the four stories of this box set.

That being said, The Old Ways by Ken Bentley is a very strong opening entry which takes us back to the original outbreak of “the death”. As well as providing a welcome cameo from Terry Molloy reprising his character of John Redgrave from the first audio series, this gives a great introduction to new character Evelyn Piper, played by Zoe Tapper who starred as Anya in the re-imagined Survivors of 2008-10. A neat way of squaring the circle by uniting actors from both TV versions. There is also a strong central turn in this episode from Jane Maud as the Prime Minister’s widow Mildred Sanderson. Having had a paramilitary group of thugs calling themselves the “British Government” in the last audio series, it is a neat contrast to now discover the fate of the surviving remnant of the actual government. It is however to be hoped that having revisited the starting point of the original TV series now in the opening stories of three separate box sets (with only series two having opened several months later), Big Finish will allow the series to move on a little in future releases.

For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson returns us to original series regulars Greg and Jenny (Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming on great form throughout) who are visiting a potential ally community with a quasi-religious outlook, The Belief Foundation, headed by an idealistic leader called Theo, played with great charm as charisma by Ramon Tikaram. As someone who was a teenager in the 1990s, Tikaram’s performance as Ferdy in the series This Life was extremely influential, and so this reviewer is delighted to hear this actor being regularly employed by Big Finish. I was also go as far as saying that of the four principal antagonists who have appeared in the audio series to date, Theo is by far the most compelling performance and after the chilling performance given by Paul Thornley in series three that is really saying something. However, herein the thorny issue of repeated formula begins to raise its head. Before moving on, some praise for Jameson’s excellent portrayal of Jackie, particularly in the scene where learns of the death of her friend Daniel whose loss is still felt by this reviewer.

The third episode Collision is a welcome contribution from a new writer Christopher Hatherall, who played Tyler in last November’s third series. It starts to become apparent that all is not quite as it seems in Theo’s utopia (this will ring bells for those who remember the villainous Gilligan from series one) as the survivors of the Tartarus bunker from the opening episode struggle to integrate with the Foundation. Meanwhile a young man called Michael seeks to make amends but a revelation about his past sets the scene for confrontation as Theo’s true motives become more apparent (although not especially surprising). There is a still plenty of tension as events build.

Forgive and Forget  by Matt Fitton brings about the expected crescendo. Perhaps the highlight is that the listener may not necessarily find themselves always supporting the decisions of the protagonists. There is, as expected, a predictably enjoyable confrontation between Greg and Theo but also some powerful scenes for Fiona Sheehan as Molly who continues to impress as she confronts her past head on.

Overall, this is another very strong entry to this audio series. However, having ended up with a very similar story arc to the three previous series each revolving around a single antagonist, it ends up losing something. It is to be hoped that the next couple of series can be less formulaic whilst maintaining the powerful storytelling and strong characterisation which continue to mark this series out as a must listen.


Survivors Series Four is available to buy now from

Dark Shadows: Echoes of the Past (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 6 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dark Shadows: Echoes of the Past (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Jerry Lacy, Ian Farrington, Philip Meeks & Paul Phipps

Directed by Ursula Burton

Cast: Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker & David Selby

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

Echoes of the Past is the second of two special releases to mark the 50th anniversary of the original television series of the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows. Unlike the full cast anniversary tale Blood and Fire, this is a collection of four separate, standalone stories, each narrated in character by a surviving member of the original cast.

Big Finish’s previous Dark Shadows audiobooks have usually featured two characters in a semi-narrated format similar to their Doctor Who range of Companion Chronicles. It is perhaps a slight disappointment that for this and the next release expected later this year, they have only used a single narrative voice for each story.

The opening story Trask the Exorcist is both written and narrated by Jerry Lacy, who probably knows the corrupt Reverend Trask better than most. It is an enjoyable tale of temptation with some great dialogue between Trask and a possessed girl which the author/narrator delivers with great relish.

The second story is The Missing Reel by regular Big Finish scribe Ian Farrington and read by David Selby as Quentin Collins, a character much missed from the previous anniversary release. This story finds the long-lived werewolf in 1950s Los Angeles on the trail of a missing reel of film from a horror film, only to cross paths with a super-fan who is determined to see the footage from his favourite film. This is another enjoyable well-told tale if not hugely original.

Next up is Lunar Tides by Philip Meeks. This finds Kathryn Leigh-Scott as Maggie Evans in the aftermath of the departure of Barnabas Collins during the period of the original 1970s series, struggling to make sense of strange events caused by unusual tidal behaviour and coinciding with the arrival of a young English girl. Again, whilst Leigh-Scott gave a strong portrayal of matriarch Patience Collins in Blood and Fire, this is a very welcome opportunity to hear her back in her usual character role.

Last, but by no means least of these four stories is Confession by Paul Phipps, narrated by Lara Parker as the ever popular witch Angelique Buchard. Angelique is alone apparently writing her final confession, but as ever the witch is not always to be trusted. This is a neatly twisted final tale and definitely the highlight of this particular boxset.


Overall, it is a pleasure to have four of the most memorable original series characters appear in these stories. It also serves to remind that whilst all four actors appeared in the full-cast anniversary special Blood and Fire, only one of their original characters appeared in that story meaning it was perhaps not as much of a celebratory release as it might have been. It might perhaps have been nice to have a set of stories with a linking thread (although this reviewer notes that something similar was accomplished with an earlier anniversary release, The Crimson Pearl  in 2011) but this is still good stuff and bodes well for the next release, another collection of short stories entitled Haunting Memories, just in time for the Christmas ghost story season.


Echoes of the Past is available to buy now from

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.