Sunday, July 23, 2017

Drama in My Ears: Big Finish Productions Listened to May-July

While I had the best of intentions of blogging about the audio dramas from Big Finish Productions as I listened to them, it look like I’ve been falling down on the job. Rather than try to remember my reactions to everything I’ve listened to since March (my last Big Finish post, I think), I’m just going to jump back on the bandwagon with stuff I’ve been listening to more recently. 

As always, these aren’t really reviews; they’re just my thoughts I’ve had after listening to the stories. I’m not writing plot summaries, but I am providing links to the Big Finish pages for those stories, so you can get the non-spoiler plots there. Trailers can be found on those pages, too; I’ve never been happy about how the Soundcloud trailers look imbedded on the blog, and I’m feeling a bit lazy and cranky today, so I’m going to take the easy way out.

Falling (Doctor Who: Short Trips 7.05)

Written by Jonathan Barnes, this story feels less like a story and more like a "missing moment" or vignette adding some depth and context to existing tales. The Doctor, Polly (this one is read by Anneke Wills) and Ben encounter a fallen angel (or an alien with feathered wings who is from a time even before the time lords, who is falling through space and time for all eternity, and who can see the past and future) who tells them things that help them cope with upcoming (in the context of the TV series) changes. 

This one is set right before The Tenth Planet, so it should be pretty clear what sort of change the Doctor will be facing. We also get a glimpse into the future of Ben and Polly, and it’s really sweet. It’s the sort of story that is squarely aimed at long-term fans, but that is almost certainly the market for the Big Finish Short Trips. 

Corpse Day (Torchwood 15)

I was never a huge Owen Harper fan on the original series, but this story, featuring Burn Gorman’s return to the character since being killed off for the second time at the end of season 2, was really good. Like the best Torchwood stories, it uses science fiction elements to tell a story about issues that are truly human. This story was truly dark and scary, and even the levity of PC Andy couldn’t help me from feeling really creeped out. 

Vortex Ice/Cortex Fire (Doctor Who Main Range 225)

The second in a series of three releases, each one featuring two two-part stories, this time featuring the sixth Doctor and Flip, a character for whom I have a lot of affection. The first story is a twisty tale that takes full advantage of the series’ time-traveling nature. The second is a more straightforward adventure, with some really nice action and pacing.

The Haunting of Malkin Place (Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures 6.05)

This was another genuinely creepy one, and one that kept me guessing through most of the story. The episode 1 cliffhanger was particularly chilling. Overall, it was very reminiscent of a classic British ghost story. I just wish Romana wasn’t being written and performed to sound so bitchy and impatient with everyone all the time in this series.

I am way behind on the Eighth Doctor series, but I finally finished the Dark Eyes series! I definitely wouldn’t recommend anyone starting with this box set, featuring the final four stories in this sixteen-part adventure. However, as a climax to this long-running tale, it rounded things out nicely, with return appearances from the Master, the Daleks (including a story set in 1920s Paris in a nightclub similar to the Moulin Rouge), and brings the story of companion Molly O’Sullivan to a nice finish. And the Groundhog Day-type story featuring a young wounded soldier romancing companion Liv Chenka—played by the always-fantastic Nicola Walker—is heartbreaking and beautiful.

Shadow Planet/World Apart (Doctor Who Main Range 226)

The last of the series of two two-part stories, this time around featuring the seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex. I’m actually so far behind on the stories featuring this particular TARDIS team that this story doesn’t feel so much like a flashback to happier times so much as it’s the characters as I last saw them. (Well, the last time I saw them, Hex had been mortally wounded in the cliffhanger ending to the Angel of Scutari, but otherwise…) The first story is a fairly decent science-fiction action thriller, with a healthy dose of “How does that make any sense?” The cliffhanger leads directly into the second story, which is primarily a character study for Ace and Hex. It may have even more resonance for listeners who know the entire journey Hex goes through, but I still enjoyed it.

I may not have been the biggest fan of Owen Harper, but I was a huge fan of Naoko Mori's Toshiko Sato, so I was really looking forward to hearing this release. (I haven’t listened to her only other previous audio story yet.) This one is put together with the conceit that it’s a corrupt audio file downloaded from the Internet, so while mostly linear, we get some scenes played out of sequence. This allows for some poignant foreshadowing. It’s also got some connections to Tosh’s appearances in the TV series, which I won’t spoil here, but really make the whole thing quite heartbreaking. 

I was going to write about how this was fun, but a bit atypical for the series, and not my favorite Jago & Litefoot box set. And then I read that Trevor Baxter just passed away, and that this will be the final Jago & Litefoot series. (At least, I hope that’s the case; I would rather Big Finish just end things here than try to continue it, even for a wrap-up story, without both leads.) So I find myself no longer able to look at this one quite the same way, and I’m not sure what I want to say about it right now.

The Tangled Skein (Sherlock Holmes 2.4)

The first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche I ever read was a weird science fiction novel postulating that Homes and Moriarty were actually time-traveling clones from the future. Even as a kid, I thought that was a bit far-fetched and silly. This (relatively) early Sherlock Holmes story from Big Finish, adapting a novel by David Stuart Davies, has the usual hallmark Big Finish quality production and acting, particularly from Nicholas Briggs as Holmes and Richard Earl as Dr. Watson. But it’s also a sequel to the Hound of the Baskervilles, and it’s also a crossover with Dracula, who is very much a real vampire here. So, ultimately, it takes on a bit of a fan-fiction sort of feel to it, and I felt it was a little less satisfying than traditional Holmes stories.

I feel a bit odd saying that; I just finished reading Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box by George Mann, which is a Sherlock Holmes story set in Mann’s Newberry and Hobbes steampunk universe. I found the book a bit disappointing because it was more of a traditional Holmes mystery investigation, and not so much of the antic craziness of the Newberry & Hobbes stories. Here, I’ve got the craziness of Holmes vs Dracula, but I felt like it weakened the story. If Holmes lives in a world where things like vampires exist, how well do his cleverly rationalized deductions hold up? 

A classic Holmes quote, which I’ll paraphrase rather than look up, is, “If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Well, if you remove things like vampires from the “impossible” category, what else is possible? Ghosts? Aliens? Time-traveling clones from the future? 

This is the last story from the otherwise completely fulfilling second series of Sherlock Holmes from Big Finish. From this point on, all the stories are written by the generally reliable Jonathan Barnes, most of which were released as box sets. I’m glad I can finally start sinking my teeth into those.

I haven’t heard any of the previous stories Big Finish has released featuring Rufus Hound as sixties villain the Meddling Monk. So this is my first exposure to this version of the character. While presented as a lecture by the Monk to the employees of a galactic corporation about the pros and cons, dos and don’ts of invading Earth, it actually tells a subtle, second story of its own that only became clear the longer I listened. It’s funny, in the way that most Big Finish stories are funny in a way that brings a wry smile to the face rather than belly laughs. I’m looking forward to hearing this version of the Monk in his recent appearances in Doctor Who dramas now.

I have to admit, the Short Trips—which are basically single-reader audiobooks of short stories—was a line I had kind of pushed to the side in my listening, favoring the full-cast dramas. In recent months, though—prompted by the two-part Jago & Litefoot story wherein they meet the tenth Doctor, plus some surprises—I’ve been making a point of at least trying to listen to the current ones as they come out, and I’m really enjoying them. They’re perfect for those mornings when I want a shorter walk, but don’t have a half-hour episode of anything to listen to. And the stories have been really good.

So that’s it for the Big Finish stuff I’ve listened to recently. I’ll try to be more consistent about writing about them; I've listened to more besides these since the last time I wrote about Big Finish, but didn’t write anything down at the time, and now I can’t remember my initial thoughts about a lot of them.

This week's Funko Pop! of the Week is the second in the Monsters of Wetmore Forest line, which are creations original to Funko. While the first, Tumblebee, is sold out from Funko and now going for at least twice the original price on auction on eBay, it looks like Butterhorn is still available from the Funko Shop.

According to the web site description, Butterhorn is the storyteller of the group. So I had to get one for my desk at work. Interestingly, the box and web site artwork—presumably the original design—shows her with a small mouth, which is not present on the actual figure. Personally, I prefer the look of the figure. The lack of a mouth is more in line with the overall Pop! aesthetic, and also gives her a bit more of a cute and enigmatic look.

That’s it for this week. See you next week!

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