The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 6 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 24 August 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 6 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by: Berkley Mather, Ian Potter, John Dorney
Adapted by: Rae Leaver
Based on storylines by: James Mitchell and John Kruse
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Starring:
Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Michael Lumsden (The Deacon),John Culshaw (Sir William Bonner),Dan Starkey (One-Ten), Pete Colins (Harry Black)
Music by: Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Cover Art by: Anthony Lamb
Duration: 180' approx
Originally Released July 2016

Big Finish’s exploration deep into the darkest heart of the missing Avengers episodes was always going to be a finite journey. There are, after all, only so many adventures for Steed and Keel to reconstruct.  And so this penultimate boxset sees the usual number of instalments reduced from four to three.

As with Volume Five, we’re also exploring some of the most missing of episodes where only a couple of typed pages of outline – of the type Terry Nation might have delivered to Dennis Spooner’s doorstep before vanishing into the night in his sports car – survive. And ironically this again creates a consistency and characterization the more complete episodes sometimes lacked. It was an inevitable reality of sixties television production that many writers would only have seen a handful of episodes of the show they’d been commissioned for. The difference in having a Steed and Keel crafted by people who’d followed this endeavour all the way through is notable.

 

The Frighteners

One of the key problems in any crime-of-the-week drama is the insertion of the regulars into the case. Some shows make this straightforward by having their leads be police detectives simply assigned to the investigation. Others almost made such a feature of the improbability that, Murder She Wrote style, audiences began to wonder if the lead was actually a serial killer and each episode a meticulous frame job. The Avengers has pinged back and forth from Steed recruiting Keel to help with a mission of national security that he’s been assigned, and Keel begging a return favour from Steed to help some patient or friend in need.

Of the former, The Frighteners is a bit of an oddity. It never quite convinces that “the Department” that Steed works for would trouble itself with a ‘frighteners service’ – a criminal enterprise renting out experts in intimidation and warning beatings. In fact, this particular case of a millionaire attempting to have a lothario gold digger warned off his daughter seems like something Steed would firmly file under “Not My Problem.” It may have worked better with the beaten lothario one of Chelsea doctor Keel’s patients and Steed dragged in that way.

It is, however, wonderfully daft. One of the frighteners gets his neck broken in a fight with Keel and Steed and is then extorted into helping them – led around town as their informant on the threat that they otherwise won’t bring him to the hospital to get his broken neck fixed before his spinal column gets cut by the jagged bone.  And the final resolution is so completely left field that adapter Rae Leaver suggests that it’s the result of someone fluffing their line in the original television recording and then the entire case winging an entirely new ending off the top of their heads.

 

Death on the Slipway

Our second case in this boxset is much more up Steed’s alley. A shipping yard responsible for construction of the Royal Navy’s latest experimental nuclear submarine is suspected of being targeted by the usual Unnamed Eastern European Foreign Superpower. Steed’s assigned to keep an eye on things, undercover as an metallurgist from the Admirality but immediately finds himself helping the police investigate a suspicious death. Very few Avengers stories are whodunnits but present themselves as games of cat and mouse between our heroes and their targets and this is no exception. But it’s an exceptionally satisfying one as we follow the two strands in parallel – Steed following the clues to identify the mole at work on the site, and the foreign agent trying to evade him and his increasingly fraught relationship with the British asset he’s blackmailed into helping him. Steed may be approaching Peak Flirt in these scripts but there’s rarely been the sense of danger and high stakes as is to be found here.

 

Tunnel of Fear

It’s hard to identify exactly what makes Tunnel of Fear so relatively forgettable for an Avengers episode. Whatever the reasons, the end result is a rather by-the-numbers story. It does stand out in featuring one of Steed’s other assets – a wrongly convicted man whom Steed has gotten out of prison in return for infiltrating criminal gangs for him. It’s a wonder Keel isn’t jealous as that’s usually the sort of work he gets landed with. The use of hypnotism feels very weak though, even if it gives Julian Wadham the opportunity to have fun playing Steed’s complete refusal to be hypnotized.

One unique point of interest, though, is that since this audio was released the original TV episode has actually been found. Allowing us a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the story John Dorney had to write almost from scratch to the actual end result.

 

A slimmer volume than most, The Avengers Lost Episode Volume 6 still contains enough drama, action and wit to satisfy any fan of our heroes. With Tunnel of Fear it also provides that rare opportunity for fans to get an insight into how close to the 'real thing' the other reconstructed scripts may have come. That alone makes it an essential purpose for the most devoted.

 





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. 





Omega Factor: Series 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 August 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Omega Factor: Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Roy Gill, Natasha Gerson, Louise Jameson, Phil MulryneDirected By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Louise Jameson (Dr Anne Reynolds), John Dorney (Adam Dean), Natasha Gerson (Morag), Alan Cox (James Doyle), Lucy Goldie (Claire McTeal), Roberta Taylor(Olivia Kirkland), Leighton Pugh (John Gardener), Orion Ben (Adhara Rahul / Nurse), Jamie Newall (Professor Peter Shand), Miranda Keeling (Lucy Williams), Gunnar Cauthery (Edward Milton), Elizabeth Payne (Grace Roberts), Ben Porter(Professor Stephen Wright). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

 
!

As I began Omega Factor series three, I must confess to feeling a little of what I can only call trepidation. With the quality of  the first two series being so high and after proclaiming them to be my favourite Big Finish products EVER, well one starts to wonder if ANYTHING can live up to those expectations. Not only that but series 2 ended on such a bizarre (but wonderful) cliff-hanger, that the challenge seemed two-fold. Of course, I forgot the immortal words of Yazz; ‘The only way is up…’

Under Glass- Roy Gill

Returning after the superb, The Changeling, Roy Gill’s opening script wisely keeps the Omega conspiracy and various dangling threads from the last series in the background. Instead it chooses to concentrate on the relationship between Louise Jameson’s Anne Reynolds and John Dorney’s Adam Dean. They’ve come a long way since season one and the chemistry between them allows Gill to experiment with introducing elements such as a potential love interest for Adam Green, whilst at the same time making it perfectly clear that he’s also developing a closer relationship with his daughter. Both of these facts send a clear message to the audience but also make perfect material for an opening story, particular when Adam’s new love interest is directly connected to the demonic threat. The guest cast are of course superb, with Roberta Taylor delivering a wonderful performance as Olivia Kirkland.

Let us Play- Natasha Gerson

Morag herself is the author of the next story in the set and boy what a story. Let us Play uses the contemporary video game obsessions to great effect, telling the story of a mysterious game that is having unpleasant effects on the students who have trialled it. Jamie Newall steals the show here as Proffesor Peter Shand, presenting a likeable but tragic character and delivering one of the stand out moments of the entire series thus far in his confrontation with this stories villain. One of the highlights of the set.

Phantom Pregnancy- Louise Jameson

After her fantastic episode last season, Louise Jameson returns with another tale. This story concerns a refugee who has mysteriously fallen pregnant. It’s a story that confronts some difficult issues, both socially but also personally, directly targeting Anne’s role as a scientist and her attitude to her work. At points I must confess to being a little confused as to exactly what the supernatural threat was and where it was coming from, though the real joy of this episode is its exquisite character studies. I must also state that whilst I admire the teams desire to try something different with the voice of the supernatural entity, it’s far more amusing than it is horrifying. However their minor niggles with another outstanding story in a series that has never failed yet. Special mention must be made of Orion Bens excellent portrayal of Adhara and one hopes we’ll have the pleasure of hearing her again. One also hopes that there’s more scripts to be had from the superb talent that is Louise Jameson. Another highly enjoyable story.  

Drawn to the Dark- Phil Mulryne

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this series is how it’s really tapped into the history of Edenborough and Drawn to the Dark is no exception. This story also features the return of Drexel and resolves the plot points that were left open at the end of the last series. Not only that but it offers tantalising hints into the history of Omega and provides a satisfying conclusion to three series worth of stories. The final sequence provides an epic conclusion and the story itself manages to stand alone as a great horror story, whilst also providing many treats for long term listeners.

It’s confirmed in the behind the scenes features that OF will be returning at some point for a fourth series and I for one cannot wait. OF continues to be one of the single best products put out by Big Finish and for my money the best. Highly recommended.





Blue- Sycorax Collective (Etcetera Theatre, Camden Fringe)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 18 August 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Blue - Sycorax Collective (Credit: Blue - Sycorax Collective)
 

Now in its thirteenth year, Camden Fringe has become something of a highlight for any fan of the London theatre scene; on or off the west end. Featuring three-hundred performances across nearly twenty-venues, it’s gained a reputation as an exciting home of inventive and creative theatre. One of these venues is the Etcetera theatre, housed above the Oxford Arms on Camden High Street. A wonderfully intimate space that is known as a home of diverse and original entertainment it’s the home of the London Horror Festival, has been called one of London’s ‘Great pub theatres’ by The Guardian. Perhaps more importantly, it also happens to be one of the founding theatres of the fringe itself. This year one of the performances their housing is ‘Blue’, the first production by ‘Sycorax Collective’ and being the Whovian I am, that name alone immediately had me hooked (yes my mind still goes straight to The Christmas Invasion- Shakespeare reference or not!). Doctor Who referencing company aside, Blue should be of interest to readers of this site as it uses a Science Fiction, fairy tale-esque plot to tell a wonderfully touching story about mental health issues.

Blue is the story of….well ‘Blue’ a young woman who lives on the moon with her pet Lobster ‘Spock’. Using a ‘Cbeebies’ esque voiceover who explains Blue’s life to us, the first half shows Blue as a character who could of stepped right out of a children’s programme in the vein of Mr. Tumble. She spends the day collecting star-dust, fishing and playing with Spock. The genius here though is that even between all the laughs and audience participation, we are immediately made aware that something is not…quite right. Dialogue such as ‘To make the world sparkle and hide the darkness in her mind’ is wonderfully secreted in an otherwise fun and gentle moment. What’s wonderful is that Kim Scopes, who performed the role of Blue, also wrote the piece. It’s clearly a passion project for her and she does herself and her colleagues immensely proud, channelling a range of emotions in a brief space of time. In particular the final five minutes or so is incredibly powerful and Scopes really throws herself into what must have been a very challenging role. Directed by Holli Dillon, the two work wonders together and I imagine they’ll be two to watch out for in the future.

Set design is, due to the nature of the performance and theatre, simple but in its simplicity lies its genius. Blues moon based ‘fort’ fits in with the childish, frivolous world of the story but the surrounding black drapes with tiny glowing lights (representing stars) hint at something darker. Even the stars on the backdrop appear to have been in the shape of a smiley face, further pushing the theme of forced happiness. And the Science Fiction? Well in the plays brief run-time we get to hear the classic Howell version of the Who theme, various Star Trek gags (including a rather brilliant waving joke) and Rock Horror references amongst others. Whilst all this certainly amused me, the real joy was in the poignant way the plays message was delivered. As I left the theatre I heard someone state that for anyone who had ever suffered mental health problems, the piece ‘really got what it felt like’. I think that’s the best compliment any artist can get.





The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 5 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 18 August 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Avengers: The Lost Episodes Volume 5 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by: Dan Starkey, Dennis Spooner, Phil Mulryne, and John Dorney
Adapted by: Rae Leaver
Based on storylines by: Terrence Feely, Geoffrey Bellman, John Whitney and Max Marquis
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Starring:
Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Stephen Critchlow (Doctor Jones),Chris Porter (Stefan),Faye Castelow (Carmelita), Alice Haig (Stella Creighton
)Music by: Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Cover Art by: Anthony Lamb
Duration: 240' approx
Originally Released January 2016

Steed and Keel are back for a fifth set of adventures. This time it feels like the show has finally settled into a groove midway between the more fantastical episodes and the dark and brooding crime investigations. In part that may be down to a solid three quarters of this set being based on some of the most lost Avengers stories of all. Only storylines survive from the original production of three of these episodes, resulting in more freedom for the adaptors to build a more consistent tone and characterization into their scripts.

 

Nightmare

The first of these, Nightmare, has been worked up from Terence Feely’s scant outline by the multi-talented Dan Starkey. Known to Doctor Who fans as the Sontaran butler Strax, he also appears in these episodes as Steed’s boss One-Ten and various other parts. But for Nightmare he sits behind the scenes and crafts an almost original tale of a missing scientist and Keel adopting the missing man’s identity to smoke our his abductors. It’s a story which nicely merges two sides – the nightmarish effects of the pscychoactive drugs Keel unwittingly gets exposed to, and the finely ratcheted tension when a doctor involved in the conspiracy finds Keel at his hospital’s A&E.

Starkey does a fine job with a potentially difficult task – working with fixed plot points without, perhaps, the supporting plot gubbins that made them make sense and having to put his own supports in place. Certainly, a bit where the villains essentially post themselves to Keel in a package feels like something Feely had now lost reasons for. Overall, though, Starkey’s created a perfect blend of modern storytelling standards and the old school Avengers spirit. If he did his own, completely original, Avengers scripts in the future it would be no bad thing.

 

Girl on the Trapeze

You’d be mistaken for thinking Girl on the Trapeze was a similar case, but here is the only instalment in this set where adaptor Rae Leaver had Dennis Spooner’s complete script to work from. It’s an atypical story from Spooner, who was always one of sixties Doctor Who’s most ironical and witty writers. But there’s little levity or humour here, in a story that begins with Keel witnessing a young woman throwing herself from a bridge into the Thames, and follows on into a Soviet plot where teenage girls are being drugged up to the eyeballs and smuggled across Europe. Well, I say ‘Soviet’, but of course in typical Avengers fashion the exact identity of the superpower to the east of Europe with its vast, and ruthless, intelligence apparatus goes unnamed. Presumably ABC were worried about getting letters of complaint from the Soviet Ambassador if they said the obvious out loud, which seems positively charming to modern eyes.

Nevertheless, the general tone is very much of the Spy Who Came in from the Cold mode and sits nicely in the Avengers canon as one of the rare stories to deal with spycraft and counter-espionage with the same grittiness as the crime stories about heroin and prostitution.

 

Crescent Moon

Phil Mulryne’s Crescent Moon deserves a lot of credit for its authenticity when it must have been tempting to expand it. Another case where only an outline remains of the original, Mulryne keeps the Caribbean island setting restricted to what the show could actually have accomplished. So there are lots of scenes indoors, where you could imagine the location being nodded to by a ceiling fan and wooden shuttered windows, and the exterior scenes full of back projection and a couple of bushes on a set.

Where Mulryne possibly does take advantage is in easing back on the slight edge of Imperialist nationalism that’s shaded previous jaunts by Steed abroad. Yes, we’re again in a former British colony, and, yes, we’re again in a situation where the ‘good’ local leader (ie the one friendly to British interests) needs help fighting off the machinations of the ‘bad’ local (ie the one who wants the British kept out). But there feels like a better balance at play here and all the characters have their own agendas and motives beyond national stereotypes. It also helps that Steed is treating it all like a jolly holiday rather than, as on previous adventures, actively trying to leverage some nation into signing away its resources.

 

Diamond Cut Diamond

I’m trying to imagine what Steed actor Julian Wadham’s face looked like when he opened this script and saw that Steed adopts a broad Australian accent for much of it, but I’d say it was a picture. In fact, is was probably an echo of whatever passed over Patrick Macnee’s features opening the original, now lost, script.

Fortunately, subtlety doesn’t seem to be the intention here and setting vocals on “Putta notha shrimp onda barbie,” seems perfectly in character for what Steed would actually do while going undercover as a womanizing (of course) Australian air steward with a history of unproven accusations of smuggling. Balanced against this, though, is some of starkest and best acting Wadham has been called upon to do. Finding himself blackmailed for killing a woman in a drink driving hit and run, Steed’s blacked out memory means he can’t be sure if it’s also a frame job or if he actually has killed someone. His raw horror and angst at the possibility makes for an usually, and satisfyingly vulnerable Steed beyond the flippancy and wit he usually shows the world.

 

Volume Five is possibly one of the strongest Avengers sets so far due to the comparative free hand the adaptors have been given by fate. Ironically that’s likely due to the tonal inconsistencies of the original show from week to week being ironed out to create a vision that feels more like The Avengers that lives in our memories than the actual show often did. With relatively loose continuity between all these sets, you could do worse than make this one your first purchase in the Lost Episodes range.