Tuesday, May 18, 2021

REVIEW | The Mutant Phase - Ranked "1" in Radio Times Top 5 Davison Audio Stories

The Mutant Phase by Nicholas Briggs

Directed by Nicholas Briggs

Music and Sound Design by Nicholas Briggs 

Recorded September 2000.  Released December 2000.

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton

Guest Starring Christopher Blake, Nicholas Briggs, Mark Gatiss, Alistair Lock, Jared Morgan, Andrew Ryan, Sarah Wakefield

And so finally we come to the winning audio of the Radio Times Poll for the 5th Doctor. This is the audio that beat all other Peter Davison stories to be crowned at number 1. For many people, this seemed like a bit of a strange choice. For Big Finish fans, received wisdom is that Spare Parts is the number one story. But this poll was much broader in scope and reached a lot more people than just the Big Finish fans.  So what is it about The Mutant Phase that led to it winning the number one spot?

Firstly, and most importantly, it is a terrific story. Nicholas Briggs has pulled out all the stops for this adventure and flips the listener backwards and forwards in time using various means. The characters are well drawn and there is a great twist with one of the characters which although flagged for the listener the complications that happen for him towards the end are both serious and comical.

The second reason this audio is a hit is it is the Daleks. This is only the third Dalek story that was produced by Big Finish and it was the first story to feature Peter Davison. It is also the first time that Nyssa encounters the Daleks so there is a lot of interest as she discovers how ruthless they can be. And although this is an original Dalek story it is also a prequel to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. So here we have Daleks who are yet to encounter the Doctor or the TARDIS and know nothing of the threat the Doctor can be. This creates a bit of nostalgia for the lover of the television show.

Another reason why this is brilliant is Nicholas Briggs. No one has greater passion or love for the Daleks than Nick and that shines forth in this production. And all the more so because the stamp of Briggs is on every part of the story. As writer, director, composer, sound designer, is there nothing this man can’t do? So, for some fans who get jealous this can be a drawback. For people who love one powerful vision driving through a story that is what they get here. The music cues are very Briggsy as are a lot of the plotting themes that come up. But the reality is that they work and you can see the embryo forming that indicates where a lot of Nick's writing will develop from this point.

Ultimately, this story won the poll because of Peter Davison. People were voting on the best Davison story and what has happened is people have voted on the best Davision. In this performance we see a master class in acting. Davison nails every emotion, every bit of timing, every joke perfectly. He uses silence powerfully so that we can feel the confusion in the Doctor’s mind. He uses humour to unsettle and provoke. Confusion, trepidation and anger are also part of his vocabulary. This story allows Davison to shine across all levels of his acting ability.

The Mutant Phase is a great Doctor Who audio. It tells a fast pace story, across the lightyears and the centuries. It introduces us to a range of interesting characters and the Doctor and Nyssa work perfectly in sync. Well worth a re-listen to see why the majority of those voting in the poll chose this as number one.

Philip Edney

Sunday, May 16, 2021

REVIEW | Alien Heart / Dalek Soul - Ranked "2" in Radio Times Top 5 Davison Audio Stories

Alien Heart by Stephen Cole 

Dalek Soul by Guy Adams

Directed by Ken Bentley

Music and Sound Design by Richard Fox @ FoxYason Studios & Lauren Yason @ FoxYason Studios

Script Editor was Alan Barnes

Released April 2017

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton

Guest Starring Nicholas Briggs, Geoffrey Newland, Vineeta Rishi, Alex Tregear and Eve Webster

Number two in the Radio Times poll is not one but two stories from two very accomplished writers. Alien Heart/Dalek Soul are two separate and yet strongly linked tales that push the Doctor and Nyssa to new levels.

When Big Finish started producing audios I was very in line with fandom who felt that a Doctor Who story should be four episodes long with the three cliff hangers. Over the twenty or more years of listening though, the structure of what television and how story telling works have changed. The stories I enjoy most have become the 50 minute stories that are contained in the box sets, often with an overarching theme, in a style that more closely resembles the look and feel of the show since it came back in 2005.

On the whole the main range has maintained the original pattern of four episode adventures, though along the way there have been attempts at different forms of story telling. The three episode story with a one part story was trialed for a while. But here we have two, two episode stories and they work magnificently.

Alien Heart by Stephen Cole kicks off the set with a mystery. A range of planets have been destroyed and what is to become with the next in line. The Doctor and Nyssa arrive to try and work out what has happened. Separating the Doctor and companion is a staple of Doctor Who but never before has a companion been forced apart on the backs of thousands of stampeding spiders. Now on separate planets the Doctor and Nyssa must work apart to save a planet of people who know nothing of space travel.

Billed as two separate stories I was not expecting the appearance of the Daleks in the first story. On reflection, it should have been obvious that the race who would be destroying planets needed to be powerful but the clues were leading the audience to believe something different. Mind you the reasoning behind what was going on was even more unusual. Just as you feel the first story is wrapping up it takes a sudden left turn and ends with a cliff-hanger.

Dalek Soul by Guys Adams is brilliant! Not at all what is expected and is able to stretch the acting muscles of both Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton. Neither seem to be behaving as you would expect and as the story progresses the gulf between what you would expect and what is happening grows wider and wider. The final reveal is a wonderful twist. 

When I first listened to this story four years ago I remember that I enjoyed it. But with the output of Big Finish being so great this is the first time I have gone back to listen to it again and it really is brilliant. Had it been one of the early releases I probably would have heard it ten times by now like I have with many of those first 50 releases. And if I had done that I think it would have been embedded in my mind as one of the best stories. 

This set of two stories wouldn’t have been what I would have chosen as my Number 2 based on my memory. But having listened again I can see why it is appealing to others. Two tight, fast paced stories. A very dark and foreboding tale. Davison and Sutton acting their socks off and getting to play against type. Excellent direction by Ken Bentley with fabulous, loud sound design. And Daleks! What is it about the Daleks that appeal so much to people almost 60 years after their creation? Well whatever it is, it also helped the Number 1 story get over the line – but that’s for another review.

Philip Edney

Saturday, May 15, 2021

REVIEW | The Lady of Mercia - Ranked "3" in Radio Times Top 5 Davison Audio Stories

 The Lady of Merica by Paul Magrs

Directed by Ken Bentley

Music and Sound Design by Steve Foxon

Script Editor was Alan Barnes

Recorded January 2013. Released May 2013.

Starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton

Guest Starring Rachel Atkins, Kieran Bew, Stephen Critchlow, Catherine Grose, Anthony Howell and Abigail Thaw


Number three in the Radio Times poll and the second entry for writer Paul Magrs is The Lady of Mercia. Another historical story (kind of) it is certainly not the “pure” historical that The Peterloo Massacre was. Though as well as being similar in being a historical, it is also similar in terms of taking place in the North of England and also in exploring themes of social class and funding.

The Lady of Mercia is a story set in two time zones, though the time travel between the two is not the conventional one you might expect. The TARDIS crew landing at a university in the North in 1983 and pretend to be experts in the Middle Ages as they try and detect a time anomaly. This is created by a scientist who accidently sends Tegan and a colleague back in time. In typical historical romp they meet Queen Æthelfrid and her daughter Princess Ælfwynn and the Princess is then brought back to present time. But the Queen and Princess are due at York to maintain their power. Tegan has no choice but to take the role of Princess and become the Lady of Mercia.


The Lady of Mercia is not a complex story, in fact Sarah Sutton said she understood this one, which is a rare thing. But although simple it has a number of elements of suspense and action that allows characters to be developed and to shine. Though some of the romantic elements of the stories and the complexities within couples probably doesn’t have enough time to develop very realistically. 

Though there is coupling a plenty, the most interesting relationship, and the one that develops the deepest is between Tegan and Queen Æthelfrid. This mother / daughter relationship grows throughout the story and so there is genuine sadness and loss when history does what history does and one of these characters meet their preordained fate. This is an excellent performance by Rachel Atkins and would be the first of more than 25 that she would bring to Big Finish. Janet Fielding plays off her perfectly and together there is real truth in their story telling.

Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton pair up for most of the adventure and all the required technobabble plays back and forth very naturally between them. As always there is genuine warmth between these characters and you can see why Nyssa is Davison’s favourite companion for his Doctor. In Big Finish terms this is the old Nyssa who is travelling with Tegan and Turlough again many years after she left the crew after the events on Terminus. But for this story that timeline doesn’t really matter.

Mark Strickson is sadly without much to do. Turlough remains relatively fixed in 1983 not really willing to put himself at risk. He does get some nice scenes to play off Abigall Thaw as Professor Phillipa Stone but neither character is taken as far as they could have been.

A small but impressive impact is made by Stephen Critchlow making his second of over 35 performances. His regular returns as an actor can be understood as you hear him play two very different but distinct characters in the story.

Special mention should be made of both director, Ken Bentley and sound design and music by Steve Foxon. With all the flipping between middle ages and 1983, this could have been extremely confusing, but there is never any doubt at all where we are. Before we hear a character speak we know where the scene is set but the sound design. Sometimes this is very subtle but it always works. There are also some mighty big battles created as well.

Although I wouldn’t count the Lady of Mercia as a classic it does do all it sets out to do and does it very well. Its and entertaining yarn, well acted, heart warming and is pointing you to a very large historical figure that we probably don’t know very well. With an excellent cast and great direction it is well worth a listen and re-listen.

Philip Edney

Thursday, May 13, 2021

REVIEW | The Peterloo Massacre - Ranked "4" in Radio Times Top 5 Davison Audio Stories

The Peterloo Massacre by Paul Magrs

Directed by Jamie Anderson

Music and Sound Design by Nigel Fairs

Script Editor was Alan Barnes

Recorded July 2015. Released March 2016.

Starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton

Guest Starring Wayne Forester, Gerard Kearns, Philip Labey, Liz Morgan, Jayne Standing, Robbie Stevens 

Number four in the Radio Times poll at first glance seems an unusual story for so high a position. The Peterloo Massacre is a “pure” historical and places our heroes in a time and place of great danger, except no one really realises what is coming except the Doctor.

Aside from William Hartnell’s Doctor, no other regeneration has had the opportunity, nor fit the bill so well as to play historical stories, as Peter Davison. His charm and innocence lend itself well with blending into history and playing as small a role as possible. His was the first Doctor to get a historical to play on television with Black Orchid since The Highlanders. And never again on the TV show would there be an historical. His Doctor also had had other successful historicals at Big Finish such as Eye of the Scorpion, The Church and the Crown and the Council of Nicaea.

So what is a pure historical? In fan talk it is a story that features no science fiction elements at all – simply the TARDIS used as a device to deliver the Doctor and his companions to the scene and then not used again.

So why do historicals work so well? It’s all about inevitability. With a story set in the future the outcome is unknown. But when a story is grounded in history the events are going to unfold in a certain way and the conclusion can not be escaped.

The other reason that historicals work so well is that they give people a passion for history. Many a period of history has been studied because of Doctor Who. From the Aztecs, to Pompei,  the French Revolution, the Gunfight at the OK Coral to the history of Rosa Parkes.

The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester was something I knew nothing about. But after listening to this story I wanted to do some research and discovered what a major event it was. Paul Magrs has written a very tight script and managed to create from a handful of characters the many voices needed to represent the different points of view that caused the disaster. From the wealthy, the militia, the workers, the protesters. Conflict was inevitable. But the scale of the massacre was truly dreadful to ensure the power and the wealth of the rich.

Paul says of his own story, “It’s a story about terrible unfairness and social injustice. It’s about hope and bravery being trampled into nothing by greed and prejudice, snobbery and hatred. And it’s about how hope can survive such terrible events.”

Director Jamie Anderson has managed to pull together an exceptional cast with very different vocal qualities. In some ways their accents show what role they are destined to play in the approaching drama. Jayne Standing in particular does an excellent job of creating pathos and emotion in her one and only Big Finish outing to date.

The strength of the guest cast allows the regulars to truly shine. Peter Davison gives an outstanding performance. Enthusiastic at first leading to realisation and deep sadness. He knows that he can’t change history but you can hear in his performance the desire to stop the inevitable. Janet Fielding plays the brashness of Tegan to great effect. Her no nonsense character fits in well with the situation and her desire to not allow the course of history to run smooth is clear. Sarah plays the hope of Nyssa with great effect. Strength through gentleness abounds and she reflects that character of the Doctor perfectly. 

Although The Peterloo Massacre would not have occurred to me as being one of Davisons top 5 stories, on re-listen I can understand why so many people enjoy it. It shows social conscience, it allows Peter Davison to inhabit all the of best characteristics of the 5th Doctor, it teachers history, it has a huge action scene and it reminds us there can be a better way. What more could you ask of a Doctor Who story?

Philip Edney

A Welcome Return to the Ninth Doctor's Adventures

In one of the most anticipated releases of the year, Christopher Eccleston returns to Doctor Who in the role that brought the ongoing story to the small screen back in 2005. 

And boy, what a welcome distraction this is, considering the current climate in fandom right now. 

Speculation was rife when it was first announced as to when this might be set in the Ninth Doctor's timeline. Would it be set before Rose? Would Billie Piper be returning as well? 

It became known early on that Rose would not be featured in the set. So now, with the release of Doctor Who - The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Ravagers, we enter a whole new era of unexplored Ninth Doctor stories, under the pen of Big Finish's Creative Director, Nicholas Briggs. 

There are three stories in the set and it features new companion Nova (Camilla Beeput) and mystery character Audrey (Jayne McKenna). 

On returning to the role, Christopher Eccelston said, “I've really enjoyed playing the Doctor again. As I've always said, he was always a joy to play. Somebody with that amount of optimism, enthusiasm and brains and heart – two hearts! It's not something you get to do often.” 

On the Sphere of Freedom, the Doctor is about to shut down an evil Immersive Games business empire. He’s assisted by a valiant galley chef called Nova. But his plan spectacularly fails...

Now, the Doctor must fight back to discover what could have caused everything to go so badly wrong. His journey takes him via Piccadilly Circus in 1959, Belgium 1815 and far flung future worlds where machine intelligences regard sentient life as mere biofuel.

Where does the mysterious old-timer Audrey fit in? Is the alien beverage Charganzi safe to drink? And is there really anything the Doctor can do to stop the entire universe from being devoured?

The cast is completed by Jamie Parker (1917, Valkyrie), Dan Starkey (The Paternoster Gang, Jago & Litefoot & Strax), Anjella Mackintosh (The Eleven, Timeslip), Ben Lee (Holmes & Watson), and Clare Corbett (Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter).

Producer David Richardson said: “To think, sixteen years ago the Ninth Doctor reached out, grabbed Rose Tyler by the hand and told her to run off into new adventures. And now he’s back, grabbing us all by the hand and leading us off to whole new worlds, new friends and new foes. It’s Saturday teatime 2005 all over again… and it’s wonderful to have him back.”

Doctor Who: The Ravagers is available now from www.bigfinish.com

57. PAUL SPRAGG - His First Interview

In this special episode, Dwayne shares the recording of an interview he conducted with the late Paul Spragg in London on 7th April 2011. 

*DISCLAIMER While mention is made of "The Paul Spragg Short Trip Opportunity" during this podcast, as at the time of publication, it has not been officially announced by Big Finish for 2021.

Music: In A Big Country by December

Website: sirensofaudio.com

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

REVIEW | Spare Parts - Ranked "5" in Radio Times Top 5 Davison Audio Stories

Spare Parts by Marc Platt

Directed by Gary Russell

Music by Russell Stone

Sound Design by Gareth Jenkins

Recorded March 2002. Released July 2002.

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton

Guest Starring Sally Knyvette, Derren Nesbitt, Pamela Bins, Paul Copley, Kathryn Guck, Jim Hartley and Nicholas Briggs as the Cybermen.

Ask any group of Big Finish fans what is the best story Big Finish has released and one that will keep being repeated over and over is Spare Parts. It is so good that it is one of only two stories that Russell T Davies had adapted for new Who when he became show runner, although admittedly, it is barely recognisable in the finished product.

It is no doubt with some surprise that Spare Parts only ranked number five in the 5th Doctor Poll conducted by Radio Times. A travesty? Well, many would argue that fifth place is still a strong finish. Big Finish fans may assess it should have been number one, but are there reasons that the thousands who voted, many of whom are outside the general Big Finish fan circles, didn’t place it number one? 

So firstly, why is it so loved by the Big Finish family?

Well it’s an origin story. It’s Genesis of the Daleks but for Cybermen. It’s what the keen Doctor Who fans always wanted. The story of Mondas and the reason why a race of humans would let themselves become emotionless monsters. This alone makes the story extremely popular.

Mind you it is a story that is told particularly well. Marc Platt who wrote one story for the classic series, Ghostlight, and was one of the few authors who transitioned from classic who, to novels to Big Finish. His writing is always distinctive, slightly kooky, exploring complex themes and often told in convoluted ways. Having written over twenty stories now for Big Finish, this was only his second venture following the successful Loups-Garoux. Marc manages to create an epic story, of a planet slowly surrendering itself to its fate through the eyes of a single family. This family mirror the values, the fears and the destruction of all Mondasians. 

The Hartley family are so effective in conveying the decay of society and brilliantly realised by great, naturalistic acting of Paul Copley as Dad, trying to hold what is left of his family together, Jim Hartley as Frank, headstrong son who is convinced he knows best and Kathryn Guck playing Yvonne who health slowly decays and finally creates one of the saddest scenes in the story. These three characters are the voice pieces of the different elements of the Mondas society showing us their values, their hopes and their fears. The normality of the family is contrasted by the unusual Sisterman Constant as played by Pamela Binns. Every story needs a villain, and Constant provides that role. Though as the story progresses you realise that she is just as deceived and lost as the other poor souls on the planet.

Star casting goes to Sally Knyvette, best known to Blake’s 7 fans as Jenna Stanis, who plays the creator of the Cybermen, Doctorman Allen. But unlike the evil creator of the Daleks, Davros, Allen is naïve rather than evil. Her desire is to save her race but through her trials and experiments she condemns her people and herself to emotionless slavery and begins to be a scourge on all of the universe.

Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton make the perfect pairing for this adventure. Both this incarnation of the Doctor and Nyssa has such vulnerable sides to their characters and a desire to help, that as options are removed from their hands you see their hopelessness of the growing situation. Nyssa’s closeness to the Hartley family leads her to suffer great grief, especially with the fate of her friend Yvonne. 

And so the Cybermen. Nicholas Briggs brings us another star turn and demonstrates why, when the Cyberman return to the new series of Doctor Who, he is the only one who could bring them back. This time realising the high pitched, sing song Mondasian Cybermen first encountered in the Tenth Planet. He plays various roles that become more menacing and finally take over from the humans who they originally were. But like Tenth Planet, the lead Cyberman still has a name, Zheng, betraying his human roots.

So, there is much to love about this story. But the reason why so many fans love it may also be the reason it didn’t make number one in the poll. It is dark. Very dark. It is more of a political thriller than an action adventure. There are no huge battles and there is no evil villain. And throughout the story is total foreboding. It has a huge downbeat ending, so loved by fans but not so much by the general public. And also Cyberman aren’t Daleks. And when it comes to the battle between Cyberman and Daleks and what people love – Daleks win.

So Spare Parts is number 5 on the list. Does that change how great it is? Or how fans will view it? No way. But it does let a couple of other great stories get noticed that hadn’t been recognised by fans before. For many I think Spare Parts will still be viewed as the best that Davison has to offer.

Philip Edney