Star Trek Prometheus - The Root of All Rage (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Star Trek Prometheus - 2: The Root Of All Rage (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Bernd Perplies & Christian Humberg

Read by Alec Newman

Released by Big Finish July 2018

I had been pretty disappointed in the first Star Trek Prometheus audiobook, Fire With Fire.  It felt like a lot of wasted time before finally starting to get into an interesting story and mystery...and then it just ends and leaves you waiting for the next book.  So I went into The Root of All Rage expecting it to be more continuity and back references, and a real lack of anything fresh...but luckily, that nugget of mystery and story prevailed, and this second entry in the Prometheus tale builds wonderfully, and actually becomes a fresh new story.  And though it still doesn't have a complete ending, the cliffhanging tease in this story is more satisfying than the end of the first book had been.

While the references and returning characters from Trek lore aren't completely missing, they aren't as overwhelming as they had been in that first book.  Sure, Lwaxana Troi and Picard make an appearance in this one, and there are references to past episodes and characters, but the actual story of the Prometheus and the new characters are all expanded on in far greater detail.  The mystery of what is going on in this region of space and why the once peaceful race has turned to fanatical terrorism begins to unravel...and I found myself far more engrossed in the story this time.

I will admit I was a tad disappointed that the big reveal that the being that may be causing all the havoc might be a reference to a single episode of the Original Series...but they left it open enough and added a more interesting major detail that left me quite interested to see it all end.

This second book turned me around on the series.  The first book spent too much time showing off it's Trek history knowledge, but this one spends that same time building it's own characters and story.  Instead of referencing other Trek works, it adds to the vast Trek lore.  And that is a good thing.There are still some issues. I still don't think this series is accessible to newcomers.  If they could skip all the reference garbage from the first book and pair it down, then launch into the story of the second book, it might actually work as a fun new jumping on point.

Beyond that there is still the issue of Star Trek phrases being mispronounced, which is not terrible, but it does leave the audiobook feeling like slightly less Big Finish love was poured into it than some of their other ranges.  Still…story-wise this is a vast improvement on the first book, and I am actually quite interested to hear the conclusion in December.  It may not be great for newcomers, and big Trek fans may be annoyed with some of the mangled Trek words, but there is a good story at the heart of this book. 





Star Trek Prometheus - Fire With Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Star Trek Prometheus (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Bernd Perplies & Christian Humberg

Read by Alec Newman

Released by Big Finish July 2018

Continuity is a tricky mistress.  On the one hand, I am a fan of sprawling continuities with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and it is fun when those dots connect in fun and creative ways.  My fandom of both Doctor Who and Star Trek of evidence of this.  On the other hand, when writers get bogged down in the continuity of a franchise, it can become tedious really quick.  And there lies the major flaw of Star Trek Prometheus

The first half of this book is nothing but nods to continuity, what little plot there is in the first half is essentially the same bits of information being repeated over and over.  There was an attack, members of one race seem to be taking credit for the act, but they don't have the tech to pull it off.  It could be some other group but there is no evidence to suggest that so far.  I think that cycle of information repeated itself for about 4 chapters.  Just the same info being regurgitated to a different character. 

But in those early chapters that isn't what is important.  What is important is references!  We get a ton in the first half, and it becomes tiresome pretty quick. The novel isn't particularly interested in introducing us to the cast of characters on the Prometheus, and even when they do we have a Chief Engineer named Kirk.  And she is Captain Kirk's Grand Niece.  Give me a break.  But don't worry, he comes Alexander Rhozhenko! Miles O’Brien and Nog! And Spock for no real reason!  And Ezri Dax is a Captain.  Why does Trek's spinoff material require that all main cast members eventually be promoted to Captain or Admiral or beyond?  Ezri Dax was a Counselor with no real ambition for command.  And since they make mention that the fleet is depleted because of multiple recent wars and conflicts...why would all these characters end up being Captains?  There can't be enough ships!

While Deep Space 9 is quite probably my favorite Trek series, I do wish that Trek didn't keep resorting to War arcs in all of it's media.  Exploring a longterm arc about War is what set DS9 apart.  But now it just seems like all anyone is interested in doing with Trek.  It seems that the books have been doing that for some time, and even the latest Trek TV series, Discovery, took a crack at it.  I miss sci-fi concepts and exploration in Trek!

At any rate, there is actually an interesting story hidden underneath all the continuity porn.  There was a terrorist attack, and the book works a bit like a mystery about unravelling who was behind it all. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t actually solve it.  The novel itself ends abruptly, then leads into an epilogue which only serves as set up for the second book.  It is wholly unsatisfying, and it left me rather annoyed, especially as the book had turned a corner for me and stopped being so full of itself about celebrating the minutiae of the continuity, but actually about something deeper.  And then the book just ends with "buy another one to find out how this ends!"

I do wonder what the endgame is for Big Finish.  Do they plan to continue making more Trek stuff?  Is this a dry run to prove they can successfully handle the franchise?  As the Prometheus books were originally published in Germany, and were original to a specific company...did they only get the rights to do these three novels and that is it? As it is this isn't a particularly launching point for them.  It has little crossover appeal, and only really can satisfy mega-Trekkies who love continuity and references. And not just a ton of references to the old shows and movies, but this requires a ton of homework of the novel universe as well. It is not an easy jump on point for newcomers, and if Big Finish has any plans to continue with Trek, using this to show they can sell the property has a major roadblock.  And while their Doctor Who knowledge is top notch...as a fan there were nerdy nit-picky things that were mispronounced here and there, and it took down there Trek-cred, making one wonder if they should really take on this property.  I think they really could do some cool stuff, but nothing on par with Doctor Who.  They just couldn't wrangle the casts in the same way. 

This is a hard one to recommend.  Once it gets past the references to all sorts of Trek lore, it has the makings of a decent mystery story that is contemporary and intriguing...but it doesn't have an ending, and it doesn't stand on it's own in any way.  It requires tons of homework just to fully grasp what has been going in the Federation since Deep Space 9 and Voyager went off the air...and you clearly need the follow-up books to even get the full picture of what the Prometheus is about. 





The Time Machine (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 26 March 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Time Machine (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: HG Wells, dramatised by Marc PlattDirected By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Ben Miles (The Time Traveller), Nicholas Rowe (Mr Wells), Anjella Mackintosh(Uweena), Nicholas Asbury (Mr Filby), James Joyce (Mr Pollock), Hywel Morgan(Morlock Leader), Christopher Naylor (Mr Naylor).

Other parts played by members of the cast.

My second venture into Big Finish’s range of H.G Welles adaptations tackles his first novel, 1895’s The Time Machine. Welles story of a man who invents a time machine and travels into a horrifying vision of the future is a tale that should be familiar to many a Whovian as its influence upon our beloved show is beyond vast. That said, it’s not a particularly easy tale to adapt, given that the narrative occurs primarily in the first person with the unnamed ‘Time Traveller’, retelling his story to a group of friends in London. The future world unto which our hero finds himself is not one that allows easy dialogue scenes, as the two species he encounters cannot communicate with him. Big Finish has adapted the original novels narrative style, and what results is something akin to their earlier ‘Companion Chronicles’, with Ben Miles time traveler retelling his tale and other voice actors providing the sounds of the Eloi and Morlocks.

An audio drama in this style then relies heavily on the actor delivering it. Admittedly Ben Miles is not an individual I am particularly familiar with, but I am delighted he'll be playing the brooding Callan in BFs upcoming release because here he is fantastic. Throughout the course of the two hours, Miles goes through a variety of emotions, often with no one but himself to bounce off. Not only that, but the nature of Welles 1895 novel means that he is often required to break with the story for sections of discussion regarding such subjects as the class system. Reams of philosophical debate and huge chunks of descriptive dialogue are, with Miles skilled tongue, transformed into mesmerising or terrifying depictions of a future gone horrifyingly wrong.

One of the great joys of this version of The Time Machine (and the same can be said for The Martian Invasion of Earth though I failed to mention it in my review) is how much the script revels in its Victorian heritage. Unlike, for example, the 1960 film adaptation (which by the way is still my preferred version away from the novel) this drama doesn’t attempt to update its source material by having trips to events that are to us history but to Welles in 1895, was the future. Not only that but this version sticks rigorously to Welles central theme of class conflict, that is the cause of the development of the Eloi and the Morlocks. So no trips to WW1 here, no world war III sequences and nuclear holocausts. Not only then is it exceptionally close to its source material, but the entire atmosphere of the piece reeks of 19th-century fantasy. Indeed one can imagine that, were the technology around, that a contemporary audio version would have a similar tone. A wonderful score (which includes frightening electronic pieces for the travelers arrival into the future and a beautiful theme for our hero) perfectly captures the wonder present in Welles story, that has been so expertly transported to this version.

Which of course brings me to the sound design. In a production like this one can imagine it’s an incredibly hard thing to do after all the soundscape conjured up by the Big Finish team has to stop this piece appearing like a talking book. It must reflect what Miles is saying and compliment it and whilst not dominating the proceedings. Admittedly whilst on the whole, I thought they did a stellar job, there were a few choices which I felt were somewhat uninspired. The sound effects used for the Morlocks, which are made incredibly Simian in this version (I mean just look at the cover) are particularly ape-like and in my opinion a little too much. The Morlocks are on paper, truly terrifying creatures and although there is the reasoning within the plot (Darwinism in reverse) to make them Simian, having them screech like monkeys and nothing else is far from frightening. Perhaps if the ape-like noises had been enhanced somewhat the effect might have been better but as it stands it feels like a missed opportunity. Sadly the same can be said for some of the Eloi sound effects, which come across as intensely irritating and can have an impact on the drama when we’re supposed to care about them.

All in all, however, The Time Machine stands as a marvelous achievement and another great entry in Big Finish’s adaptations of H.G Welles. In fact next to the 1960 film, it might be my favourite version of the novel.





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.  





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





Dark Shadows: Haunting Memories (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 February 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dark Shadows: Haunting Memories (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Marcy Robin, Adam Usden, Lara Parker, Kay Stonham

Directed by Darren Gross
 
Narrated by Kathryn Leigh Scott, Jerry Lacy, Lara Parker,
& Marie Wallace
 
Big Finish Productions - Released December 2016

Haunting Memories is the second of Big Finish’s short story collections narrated by a member of the Dark Shadows cast. This time around, the four stories are linked by the theme of memories of key events which have shaped the lives of the central character.

Hell Wind by Marcy Robin, narrated by Kathryn Leigh Scott who played Josette Du Pres but in the third person. Years before the arrival of Josette’s notorious husband Barnabas, this is a story of a key event in her childhood as a hurricane devastates her family home on the island of Martinique. This is a well-crafted tale with some deft touches including Josette’s first encounter with a child of one of the servants named Angelique whose significance will of course be very familiar to regular listeners. The story concludes with quite a strong emotional punch as Josette has to come to terms with a terrible loss caused by the hurricane. Overall, a strong opening entry for this set.

Communion by Adam Usman is narrated by Jerry Lacy as Elias Trask. Elias is the father of Lacy’s regular character Reverend Gregory Trask who in the time of this story is a 16 years old and has been re-adopted by his father having been initially raised as a foundling. Set in 1861 during the hell of the American civil war, this is a story about Elias’ faith in God being tested in extreme circumstances and is narrated as if Elias is speaking directly in prayer. After rescuing a prostitute named Chastity from a town of “heathens” controlled by a notorious purveyor of prostitutes, Elias and Gregory are forced to flee for their lives. The story concludes with a pivotal moment which will set both men on a different path from that which they began although those familiar with Dark Shadows will probably guess the inevitable twist from the story’s opening line “In the dark, Lord, I am not alone.” Whilst being somewhat predictable in its outcome, this is an enjoyable story and certainly conjures some vivid images such as that of the brothel “Old Marge’s House of the Heaving Bosom”.

The Ghost Ship is written and narrated by Lara Parker who plays the witch Angelique and has written for her character before. In this story Angelique finds herself transformed from a ghost into a vampire, the form occupied by her one true love Barnabas, however the price of her transformation is the return to Collinsport of a ghost ship bearing a crew of dead souls. This is another enjoyable tale but although with so many of the central events of Angelique’s long life having been detailed in previous stories, it is perhaps inevitable that this memory is not quite as pivotal.

A Face from the Past written by Kay Stonham is narrated in third person by Marie Wallace who played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. In 1986, Elizabeth returns to Collinsport only to be confronted by a young estate agent who bears more than a passing resemblance to a young man she met many years before who ought to have been the love of her life, had fate not intervened and led her instead to become the wife of Roger Collins. This being Dark Shadows there is a supernatural element at play, and the encounter between Elizabeth and the young man ends with a bittersweet emotional climax which fits in exceptionally well with this collection’s theme of Haunting Memories.

In conclusion, Haunting Memories is a worthwhile follow up to Echoes from the Past. Whilst it is to be hoped that the next series of full-cast adventures, Bloodline (which featured in the trailers at the end of this release) will arrive in the not too distant future, these short story collections are certainly an enjoyable substitute with the next release, Phantom Melodies, due to be released imminently and a further three collections due to follow before the end of this year.

 

Haunting Memories is available now from amazon.co.uk