Of all the Blake’s 7 characters destined to grab centre stage in their own spin-off, I’m not sure I had ever anticipated Arlen (Sasha Mitchell). However, in retrospect, she’s one who was begging for a backstory; the insidious Federation security officer was responsible for bringing down the errant Blake, and all of Avon’s crew, during the show’s shocking finale.
Following Arlen’s story, this boxset has a wide timeframe. In the first adventure she encounters Cally prior to the telepath’s time with Blake, the second sits somewhere in Series B, and the third brings us Jenna Stannis, after her Liberator days.
The Eric Roberts incarnation of the Master has entered his renaissance period; a new series of solo stories, reunions with the Eighth Doctor and other Masters, and even a face off against River Song. Seeing this particular portrayal of the Master become so quickly beloved and reappraised is a real joy for me as I’ve always loved the deep levels of camp, pomp and Vincent Price energy that Roberts brought to the role back in 1996. A couple of years ago he got a chance to shine in his own solo set where he was pitted against Big Finish original creation Vienna Salvatori as well as a brief face-off with the Daleks, and that set is genuinely a stoke of genuine in reinventing just how the Master can be characterised and how he works as a villain. So I was eager to listen to Nemesis Express; another three hours with a personal favourite Master.
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Nine has a weird title. Originally announced years back as simply The Fourth Doctor Adventures: Series 11: Volume 2 following the naming scheme of Series 7-10, but with the transition of the greater Big Finish output going to box set releases with their own individual subtitles is given the title The Nine because the character of the Nine appears in the first story, The Dreams of Avarice, alone. The other two stories, Shellshock and Peake Season, are completely unrelated adventures for the Fourth Doctor, Peake Season not even meant to be released in this series as it was added later and recorded in 2020 and not in 2017-2018. A more fitting subtitle would have been Solo Volume 2 since this is a set which contains three stories where the Fourth Doctor is travelling alone after The Deadly Assassin and a friend of mine suggested on Twitter that this series was similar to the run of Virgin New Adventures which in the span of four books would pitch a potential companion, with Bernice Summerfield being the companion chosen. For this series it would be Margaret in the winning role but The Dreams of Avarice, Shellshock, and Peake Season have characters who feel as if they are meant to be companion candidates which would have enhanced the set had this been called Solo Volume 2.
The Trial of a Time Lord 2: Electric Boogaloo is not the title of the release I am reviewing today, but perhaps it should be and I mean that lovingly. The War Master: Self-Defence was announced on the hook that the War Master would be sharing a story with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, and with this announcement I stopped paying attention to the releases of plot summaries which is why it threw me for a loop when at the end of the first episode the War Master is put on trial by a race of god like beings from before the Time Lords after an introductory adventure in the set sets up the premise. The middle stories are flashbacks, though one feels like it may just be a flash forward a la Terror of the Vervoids. There is also no adherence to the format of A Christmas Carol looking explicitly at past, present, and future, just an opener, what’s used by the prosecution, the defence, and the final verdict which brings the Tenth Doctor into the story. Like the best installments of The War Master: Self-Defence is hung on a very solid story arc where each episode serves some sort of purpose to layering the plot to a point that explores the genuine depths the War Master will go to get his way. Like Master of Callous before it, Self-Defence is one where everything is re-contextualised at the end and an emotional hit is pulled off that although you can see it coming from a mile away, it just clicks and enhances both the performance of Derek Jacobi as well as the side characters.
With each of the Big Finish Doctor Who ranges moving to box sets it means that yearly listeners will be getting sets with the First and Second Doctors, both of whom have been limited in recent years. Nicholas Briggs has emphasised the desire to make this a fresh start by using new TARDIS teams, exploring new eras, and going against the grain of the previous Early Adventures and Companion Chronicles in stopping the tradition of previous companion actors also voicing the Doctor and recasting both the First and Second Doctors. Michael Troughton will be taking over the role of the Second Doctor (already previewed in The Annihilators), however, instead of continuing with David Bradley as the exclusive First Doctor, a complete recast with Stephen Noonan taking the role was announced with The Outlaws and The Miniaturist (collected under the title The Outlaws). This marketing decision makes it a little confusing to discuss the story vs the collection so this review will be discussing elements of both overall without heavy spoilers. This set also expands upon a previously unused portion of the First Doctor’s timeline set immediately after The Savages so the companion is Dodo Chaplet, here reprised by Lauren Cornelius, which makes an interesting dynamic as here Big Finish have created a pitch to writers to combine two versions of her character. Dodo being a character who was written differently in essentially every serial, Big Finish have given Cornelius a mix of her portrayal in The Massacre and The Gunfighters which makes her proactive and takes away the British RP allowing a slightly toned down version of the accent Jackie Lane used in The Massacre. There is only one plot point which has Dodo falling for the Monk’s story about trying to be Robin Hood in The Outlaws.
The Eighth of March was a special release on International Women’s Day 2019 to celebrate the female characters of Doctor Who, essentially serving as example episodes for various series from (mostly new) female writers:The Paternoster Gang, The Diary of River Song, UNIT, and a story set in the Virgin New Adventures. Here we are, three years later and for International Women’s Day 2022, a three disc follow up has been released in the form of The Eighth of March: Prisoners of Time, exploring Lady Christina, Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter, a Romana spin-off, and a tribute to The Sarah Jane Adventures with two new writers, Abigail Burdess and Nina Millns and an opening story from Lizbeth Myles (who has been contributing to Big Finish since 2014). Like the previous box set, this is an incredibly versatile set as the only real brief is that there is a female lead and it is set in the Doctor Who universe, giving the writers free rein on what they wish to play with. There also are two female directors assigned to this release, Louise Jameson tackling the first episode while Helen Goldwyn directs the other two, both bringing their distinct style to give each story its own flair.
Survivors: New Dawn sees three further adventures for Abby Grant and Jenny Richards. Some twenty years on from the initial outbreak of ‘The Death’, this sequel series has caught us up with the two remaining central characters from the show.
Bayban the Butcher grants Colin Baker’s famously off-the-hook villain centre stage. Although best known for playing the colourful Sixth Doctor, he gave an entertainingly big guest performance years earlier in Blake’s 7; Bayban, a self-aggrandising baddie with a penchant for alliteration, came up against Vila in Series C’s City at the Edge of the World.
This self-titled boxset follows an appearance in the recent Avalonseries and there’s an audiobook origin story, Bayban Ascending, due in February too. While Bayban apparently died at the end of his only onscreen appearance, it seems you can’t keep a good berserker down. Continue reading →
October was already set to be a celebration of the Third Doctor era, bringing out the second Third Doctor Adventures set this year, but July saw the announcement of The Diary of River Song: New Recruit, sending River back to Season 7 with the Doctor travelling Europe and Liz and the Brigadier left back at UNIT. Of course, Tim Treloar reprises his role of the Third Doctor for the final story, but this is a celebration of the early years of the Pertwee era with a twist, putting River in the role of the Doctor and Liz as a companion making for a very different dynamic. Each of the four stories pastiches a Pertwee style story with the final one in particular providing one last twist for a Pertwee story which Big Finish have been unable to do until very recently which ends the set with one very pleasant twist. This twist is one which listeners would not want to have spoiled, and the TARDIS Wiki articles for these stories do provide spoilers so I implore potential listeners to avoid looking anything up about these stories. This review will only include light spoilers for plot details, but none of the big twists will be spoiled.