Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Colditz

I hated "The Time of the Doctor" Christmas special almost as much as "Journey to the Centre of the Tardis" which I bitched about in my intro to The Wrong Doctors. A lot of emotional weight was put on a character we're just getting to know: Clara. Celebration of the Eleventh Doctor rounded down to him summarizing himself and trying to sound witty. Then, of course, there was the stupid amount of time spent on his impending "death" when the episode before already revealed the Twelfth Doctor. Not to mention that the Clara that got spread throughout the Doctor's timeline shouldn't exist anymore. That last point shares some similarity with today's subject. I'm heading back early in the Big Finish range to their 25th release. This is the start of Klein's storyline with the Seventh Doctor and Ace arriving in Germany (this story is pre-Hex).

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/colditz-627
Colditz (2001) By: Steve Lyons

The Board Game
Impressions
The Doctor and Ace arrive in the courtyard of a castle and are soon shot at by guards. The Doctor is shot, and he and Ace are captured. They find they are in Colditz Castle, a prison for high risk captives, in Nazi Germany. While Ace is threatened by the menacing Officer Kurtz, the other officers tend to the Doctor and try to get him to reveal his secrets. Soon, someone from high command arrives to help extract the secrets, but this Dr. Elizabeth Klein knows far too much about the Doctor.

Colditz Castle is something that fans in the UK might already know about, but here in the U.S. it is largely unknown outside WWII buffs. Ace mentions she played the board game and there have been a few films and a TV series featuring Colditz. Anyway,this audio deals with quite a few great things. The Seventh Doctor's scheming comes into focus when Klein gets one step ahead of him. Meanwhile, Ace faces a no-win situation and must figure out new ways to deal with her problems.

Our Hero
The Seventh Doctor shows almost too much brilliance and deduction in realizing who Klein really is. This isn't a bad thing since the Doctor should always be ahead of the plot, but it borders on prescience in this episode. This is a minor quibble since his back and forth with Klein is one of the best parts of the episode.

Ace begins the episode with her usual boisterous teen self, but comes away quite a bit different. She is threatened with physical and sexual violence; plus, she faces death death several times throughout the story. Her iconic optimism and cheek sharply contrast with the grim reality around her.

Imprisoned Observers
Flying Officer Gower is a senior British Officer imprisoned in Colditz. He has a working relationship with Commander Schäfer that allows him to get supplies and even get some of his men out. He and Schafer are close to being friends, but Ace's demands put their friendship to the test.

Commander Hauptmann Schäfer is a commander in his base who's just trying to do his job. He's a likeable Nazi! On a character level he's similar to many characters in Doctor Who that do their best to survive in their own corrupt systems; however, this is really brought home by his association with an organization as infamous as the Nazis.

Villainous Foes
Officer Kurtz is a malicious man who loves his country and would do anything to get higher up. He practically salivates over Ace, which is enough to make your skin crawl. He is the stereotypical every-Nazi that is required in most period dramas.

Elizabeth Klein is a Nazi higher up who knows a little too much about the Doctor. I won't spoil her backstory here, but I don't think I'll have a choice moving forward. It's a good story that should only get better with more fleshing out.

Another Prison Atmosphere
This prison is much more lax than the one in Prisoners of Fate and is much more literal in its imprisonment aspect. The grounds are well laid out, but the security is more lax.

In the End
A fate worse than death forces Ace to reevaluate herself. Even the Doctor must reassess his cavalier attitude.

Overall
Klein's strange backstory creates a lot of questions that will hopefully be answered later. The fact that not all the Nazis were stereoscopically evil men puts this story above many war tales. It has a somewhat generic lesson about the dangers of time travel, though there are much more interesting ideas in the Klein-Doctor relationship. This Seventh Doctor story works so well that it's no wonder they brought Klein back. Hopefully the rest of her stories will be this good.
8/10

It's only $3 at Big Finish!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

It's A Wonderful Life

Merry Christmas! Last year, I reviewed my favorite Christmas film. This year I shift gears and focus on Frank Capra's classic:

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) is a Christmas classic rivaled only by Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street in holiday television airtime.

Impressions
On Christmas Eve, many denizens of the town of Bedford Falls pray for one man: George Bailey. In the heavens, several stars speak to one another about this incident and summon Clarence to prevent him from committing suicide. First, Clarence is given an overview of George's life. George longs to travel and go to college, but life has other plans for him.

A reversed Christmas Carol about a poor man who's done the right thing all his life gets supernatural help on Christmas Eve. The film covers George's life in key moments; most of which involve the happiest days of his life turning sour or his dreams being delayed by duty. The moral is that a good life will be rewarded with great friends and family. This film also introduced the idea that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.

Our Hero
George Bailey has only ever longed to see the world, but after his father passes away, finds himself trapped in his tiny hometown. George is bound partially by duty to his father's memory, but more by his conscience regarding the very real possibility that he can make his town better. The best part is that George is no saint. He's a bit of a do-gooder, but has his dark moments. The most compelling of which comes at the film's climax, right before he contemplates suicide. In fact, much of the third act involves the character being run ragged.

Enriched Observers
Mary Hatch is a childhood friend of George's. She's spunky and charming and a great match for George. The film provides enough doubt about them ending up together that the audience winds up rooting for them when they get stubborn. There is one small issue in the film: how does George never being born affect Mary's eyesight? In the alternate universe where George was never born, Mary is a spinster who work at a library and wears glasses, perhaps eyestrain?

Uncle Billy Bailey is the nutty uncle with a heart of gold. After George's father dies and George takes over the family's savings and loan, he keeps his absent minded uncle on as a clerk. His uncle is largely on the periphery and his nuttiness is only shown. He keeps several strange animals, including a raven in the office.

Clarence is the guardian angel, second class, who is sent to prevent George's suicide. He's humble, if bumbling, and is willing to take quite a lot of punishment to save George. He also wants to get his wings, but that almost seems unnecessary in the light of his selflessness.

Greedy Foe
Mr. Potter will do anything to make a quick buck. He's out to wring the town for every dime its worth. He's a more realistic scrooge. An unrelenting money grubber who'll do anything to get ahead. Definitely a banker for the modern era.

Old-Fashioned Atmosphere
George and Mary's song, "Buffalo Gals," has not aged well. It is played at least three times throughout the film and gets incredibly annoying by the end. It doesn't help that Jimmy Stewart is not a great singer. The city is a great representation of small town America. From the Great Depression to World War II, the film covers some legendary periods in American history without really explaining the larger events since everyone at the tome knew them. Kids today should watch this for the history lesson alone.

In the End
A Christmas Miracle shows George his life's true worth.

Overall
This film is definitely a product of its time. Over two thirds of the film is devoted to showing George's life leading up to Clarence's intervention. This may be a bit long for some viewers: just watching the ups and downs of a man's life. In a modern film that would probably be twenty to thirty minutes of a three hour run time at most. However, there is a great spattering of humor and darkness to keep people interested through the start. Once Clarence pushes George into the alternate timeline, the film speeds up to almost breakneck speed. The story stands as a testament to the ability for one man to build a town through good deeds. This Christmas classic has a few errors, some questionable choices and some older pacing, but it remains necessary Christmas viewing.
9/10

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Prisoners of Fate

The conclusion of this section comes from one of my favorite authors: Jonathan Morris. This involves several plot threads from an earlier adventure that I haven't covered yet. I'll be going back to try and avoid missing background in the audios starting with the next trilogy, but this one will have to wait.

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/prisoners-of-fate-712
Prisoners of Fate (2013) By: Jonathan Morris

Impressions
The Tardis is forced out of its journey and lands near a prison. The Fifth Doctor, Teagan, Turlough, and Nyssa find that the world is controlled by a "chronoscope" that predicts criminal acts with perfect accuracy. Teagan is pulled aside by one of the workers who reveals that he is Nyssa's son, all grown up.

Doctor Who does Minority Report! And goes so much deeper than that. The imprisonment theme is masterfully worked into being unable to change time. Paradoxes, which are often swept under the rug, are worked into an intelligent scheme and built up with emotional relevance.

Our Heroes
Nyssa finally gets a worthwhile story and it is one hell of one. This story has Nyssa wandering into her own future. As such, she makes it part of her present and cannot go back without creating a destructive paradox. Nyssa breaks out of the shadows and challenges the Doctor in her own right. As the smartest member of the Tardis, it is fantastic to see her toss all logic aside and go with her gut.

The Fifth Doctor is not in the loop for a great deal of this story, but unlike, Eldrad Must Die!, he keeps up with, and even passes those around him, in realizing what is really going on. This episode highlights the Doctor's imperfection without making him look stupid, and that is reason enough to listen to this one.

Turlough and Teagan get the short end of the stick this time around, but that's what happens with three companions. They are relegated to pawns of the Chronoscope and plot movers. Turlough does some incredibly stupid things, but they're somewhat forgivable.

Important Observers
Galen aka Adric is Nyssa's son who believes, due to Nyssa's de-aging in The Emerald Tiger, that she's a Nyssa from before he was born. Galen lets his emotion overwhelm his intellect and becomes almost unlikeable as a result. Fortunately, his decisions are understandable.

Timely Foes
Sibor has been using the Chonoscope torule her tiny piece of the galaxy, but she has greater designs. The more disappointing of the two foes has her place in the story. Meglomaniacal villainy has its place and this story uses it effectively.

The Chronoscope is an awesome villain that has never been done before. Its identity can't be revealed without serious spoilers, but this villain is long overdue.

Imprisoned Atmosphere
The prison is fairly bland, but it is a prison. It's the music in the story that really ties together the heavy themes, complex plot, and emotional weight. All three cliffhangers in this story are taught with suspense and

In the End
Talk about a dramatic ending. There are no simple answers and the ending is no cop out.

Overall
A climactic tale that is so far from Eldrad Must Die! that the mention of it in this tale is a little jarring. Jonathan Morris provides a tale as awesome, if not a bit more so, than The Emerald Tiger. There are a few minor things that Sibor and significantly Turlough do that are silly but forgivable. This tale needs quite a bit of knowledge from previous audios and Nyssa's swansong Classic Episode: Terminus. However, the payoff is definitely worth it. Listen to this one; it is intense.
9/10

Check it out at Big Finish!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Lady of Mercia

The Fifth Doctor and crew return for a semi-historical adventure.

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-lady-of-mercia-711
The Lady of Mercia (2013) By: Paul Magrs

Impressions
In 1983, students protest the defunding of the Humanities department. The Fifth Doctor, Turlough, Teagan, and Nyssa are mistaken for visiting professors and invited to a conference on ancient warrior queens. The Doctor sets Teagan up as a visiting Australian professor after a snarky comment. While hobnobbing, Teagan and Turlough see one of the professors stealing an ancient sword. They track it back to a lab where the professor puts it into the machine. Soon, Teagan and the Professor are in Aethelfrid's castle in 918.

This story is a delightful romp through time. Unlike the last one, this adventure has a great cast of supporting characters that are essential to the plot. The idea of a time machine being built in 1983 seems a bit preposterous, but Back to the Future is set in 1985, so maybe not.

Our Heroes
Dr. Teagan Jovanka? Now that's funny! Almost as funny as Sister Teagan. To be fair, this is a great Teagan tale. She's taken under the wing of a warrior queen and actually develops a snarky rapport with her. This mother-daughter relationship softens Teagan and even forces her to do some courageous things in defense of the warrior queen.

The Fifth Doctor has brought the Tardis team to 1983 specifically to deal with the time machine. He gets distracted by Dr. Bleak's party. For any other Doctor hobnobbing with historians would seem out of character, but it is quite natural for the Fifth. His reluctance to show Dr. Stone his time machine is a bit paranoid. Does he think she's going to get ideas?

Turlough may have gotten some during this adventure. That's saying quite a bit as he doesn't do much but brawl with a student and help repair the 1983 time machine.

Nyssa has very little to do this time around. She follows and assists the Doctor...

Crucial Observers
Dr. Phillipa Stone is the inventor of the 1983 time machine. She is hiding something incredibly unsurprising from her husband, and it's not the time machine. That aspect of their relationship strains credulity a bit, but a historian would definitely stay with a physicist if they were inventing a time machine.

Dr. John Bleak is a historian who's been secretly funneling money into his wife's time machine. He then commits the incredibly stupid act of stealing a sword and getting himself set back in time. He's a bumbling coward whose cowardice borders on pessimism some of the time, but he never gets irritating.

Princess Aelfwynn gets a ride forward in time and the results are unfortunately as one might think. She slashes her way and and attacks some students. The doctor talking her down and her realization of her place in history are some of the finest bits of the story, though.

Queen Aethelfrid is a warrior queen who believes in the righteousness of her cause. She's at the end of her life and sees

Tumultuous Atmosphere
Between protesting students in 1983 and warring states in 918, there is quite a bit to listen to. The setting of each time is distinctive and rich, so the travel between the two flows well.

In the End
The moral of this story is somewhat similar to the Aztecs. The doctor must maintain the timeline while saving Teagan and Dr. Bleak.

Overall
Connected timelines with delightful characters make this adventure fantastic. The way the 1983 time machine works may leave a few questions, but it suits the story. There is also plenty of comedy that floats through this story, and it isn't limited to imagining Teagan in funny outfits. This might just be the best Teagan story ever; plus, it's a fantastic Fifth Doctor tale.
8/10

Check it out at Big Finish!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Rush

Rush (2013) is a Ron Howard film based on the lives of James Hunt and Niki Lauda

Impressions
Two formula three drivers meet and spark a rivalry that comes to a head in the 1976 Grand Prix.

Rush deals with how two men can become better through competition. The effect of James Hunt and Niki Lauda on each other is remarkable. Though most of the film focuses on the men, their significant others also have a role to play. James and Niki are treated as individuals and their struggle to deal with their love of racing and its inherent mortality rate.

Our Heroes
James Hunt is an English playboy whose passion is more for the perks than the actual racing. When he first encounters Niki, he thinks of him as just another jerk to beat on the track. However, their interactions cause him to refocus on racing and ultimately question his own reasons for being on the track.

Niki Lauda is an Austrian tactician who believes his only talent is racing. He is uncompromising about becoming the best and initially sees Hunt as just another hurdle. The role of lovable jerk is a difficult one to do right, but Niki certainly makes the cut. Many of his harder-edged moments offer a look into his desperation. He needs to be the best, and Hunt helps him find a reason.

Spousal Observers
Marlene is a socialite who chances upon Niki at a wedding. She accepts his love of of racing, but doesn't want to lose the man she loves. Marlene gives Niki something else to live for besides racing. She is everything he thought he didn't want and is part of what makes the film rise above petty rivalry.

Suzy is a fashion model who falls for the charismatic Hunt. Her effect is less about changing him and more about him failing to appreciate her. Their relationship is a dark look at the problems that the carefree Hunt has.

Racing Atmosphere
The period is reproduced in stunning detail which is expected of a big studio release. The grand prix goes all over the world, and each location is given a unique look and feeling. The crashes are vibrant, but the attention to detail is even more spectacular in the quiet moments. Most especially the scenes for Niki's honeymoon, in the rain, and at the hospital.

In the End
After a surprising (if you don't know the history) ending, Rush ends with some archival footage and a moving voiceover detailing the effect of the rivalry.

Overall
Though the film focuses the men, there are several satisfying races. The film is intensely satisfying on an emotional and adrenal level with a variety of amusing characters and heartfelt moments. I'll admit that this, much like Lincoln, is very much my type of film. If you enjoy well made docudramas, check this film out.
9/10

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Don Jon

I'm a big fan of Joseph Gordon Levitt, so I had to see his new film.

Don Jon (2013) is the writing and directorial debut of Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Impressions
Jon loves only a few things: his family, his friends, his church, his pad, his body, his girls and his porn. He meets Barbara who he believes he could be in love with; unfortunately, she finds porn disgusting and won't let Jon watch it anymore.

Don Jon is a tremendously funny comedy about the morality of the internet generation. That isn't to say that it goes for broad characterization; in fact, the character are quite unique but portray several qualities that exemplify the modern era.

Our Hero
Jon starts of as a woman-using, porn-loving, muscle-head and gradually matures as his values are tested by those in his life. His best moments are his confessions and his penance, done while working out. These are great laugh-out-loud moments and not the only ones in this film.

Trying Observers
Jon's family is almost stereotypical until the film goes further into them. Jon's father is a a perverted older guy who is extremely set in his ways. Jon's mother is the basic trophy wife who wants to see her son married with a family. Jon's sister texts away the her screen time, but isn't as big a waste as she first seems.

Esther is an older classmate who Jon sees crying before class one day. Their relationship helps Jon to come to terms with the failings of his own ideology. She is delightfully awkward and forthright in the way that only age and emotional turmoil can provide. Her initial characterization seems shallow, but she moves beyond that by the end of the film.

Beautiful Foe
Barbara is the sexy girl of Jon's dreams. She's also a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Unfortunately, she begins trying to micromanage his life and turn him into the man of her dreams. It is unfair to call her a foe, but she is the instigator of Jon's dilemma. She starts of with some reasonable requests but uses sexual favors to procure even those. By the time she moves to crazier things, it is far more difficult for Jon to get away.

Jersey Atmosphere
The locations are distinctive and provide a middle class feeling that could easily be transferred to any suburb. The location work is gorgeous. Each location serves to illuminate the characters who inhabit it.

In the End
The ending is abrupt. The film drops some of the more complex issues in favor of a loose moral. While the moral is a good one, it could leave one looking for more.

Overall
Don Jon works as both a comedy and a drama, with crude humor standing alongside some complex moralization. For a first writing and directing effort, this is a great start and makes me look forward to more from Mr. Levitt. He definitely used his star power to get this made and called in a bunch of friends to make it happen. This works in the movie's favor as the fun the cast and crew had making it bleeds through into the film. Also, bonus points for a necessary sex scene as completely un-sexy as it is. Even the nearly explicit porn can be forgiven. Check it out if you want a smarter comedy!
8/10

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Eldrad Must Die!

Moving on to the next story in the Big Finish Doctor Who Main Range, it's back to the Fifth Doctor and company. They face a villain from the Fourth Doctor's era from the final episode of perennial favorite companion Sarah Jane Smith. The villain, of course, is Eldrad and you'll soon get sick of hearing about him/her.

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/eldrad-must-die-710
Eldrad Must Die (2013) By: Marc Platt

Impressions
The Tardis materializes on a beach, so the Tardis crew decide to have some fun: Teagan and the Doctor head to the water while Turlough and Nyssa go to the tide pools. After Teagan injures her foot on some sharp rocks, they are approached by a marine biologist who berates them about being on the closed beach and scans them for radioactivity. The Doctor soon sees animals with crystals growing from the bodies of animals.

Unlike The Butcher of Brisbane, this story brings back an old villain, but Eldrad has no new plan. They try to make it fresh by mixing it with some of Turlough's backstory. Eldrad's plan relies on all of his enemies being incredibly stupid, and it almost works due to the Fifth Doctor's selective memory loss. The mass of extra characters tries to ground the story on earth, but feels like padding as the first act slogs its way to the Eldrad reveal that was spoiled by the cover.

Our Heroes
The Fifth Doctor has plot amnesia! He blunders around, being really curious about a bunch of things that he's seen before. The Fifth Doctor wanders, tossed by the waves of the plot, before coming up with a plan that's too little too late.

Turlough goes back to square one when an old schoolmate, who also happens to be from Turlough's planet, makes him subject to a new alien being: Mulkris. Thus, Turlough spends most of this audio being a puppet for other forces just like he was during the Black Guardian Trilogy in Classic Who. This story tries to make it out as some sort of turning point, but Turlough learns nothing new. His lack of agency makes his charater incredibly uninteresting. Out of character sections don't build character!

Teagan steals cars and tries to play babysitter to a crazed Turlough. She is far less annoying than usual since she's given things to do. They're mostly illegal, but she makes an effective criminal at least.

Nyssa can talk to animals! I almost forgot about that. She also gets to deal with the B-plot, which is more than she usually gets to do. She is quite at home commanding a military and it'd be great to see it in a more interesting tale.

Useless Observers
Charlie Gibbs is an old schoolmate of Turlough's. He acts as a foil to Turlough and host for Eldrad during the end. It's a shame he has all the gravitas of a bar drunkard.

Kate is a bossy marine biologist who's studying the crystalline growths and radiation. She's taken Teagan's role of being a bossy bitch, which could have easily been cut from the story and made it far better.

Mulkris is Eldrad's executioner who has pursued him with such zeal that she didn't even notice her planet going silent. Mulkris is actually one of the best parts of this adventure, but gets mired with some seriously stupid actions once again due to mind control.

Crystaline Foe
Eldrad has spread himself across the galaxy and awaits his return. Eldrad can influence others except when he's got something better to do. His plan seems doomed to fail from the start, making it unsurprising when his plan fails. Another villain who relies on everyone being stupid. Ugh.

Seaside Atmosphere
The setting is the best part about this story. They really should have just stayed at the beach and had some fun; it would have been far less boring. The animals are surprisingly well represented in this story despite being used only for audience empathy.

In the End
The Doctor does almost nothing while things sort themselves out. Okay, he does something, but he's so behind the plot of the clearly dumb villain that he may as well have done nothing. Eldrad's defeat drags on far longer than it should have.

Overall
So much padding, so little time. The Doctor forgetting things he's learned before does not make a great story, nor does the rehash of a few old episodes. Mind control leaves much of the cast as zoned out minions. There is little humor and almost no action in this tale. All that's left is a dull plot. Check out the Classic Doctor Who episodes The Hand of Fear and Mawdryn Undead for the better halves of this tale.
5/10

Buy it from Big Finish.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Seeds of War

To end the Sixth Doctor's Mel trilogy we arrive at the third installment:

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-seeds-of-war-709
The Seeds of War (2013) By: Nicholas Briggs and Matt Fitton

Overall
A woman and her father struggle to survive and talk of a war in the human colonies. The Sixth Doctor takes Mel to the opening of humanity's tallest freestanding structure: Kalsos Tower. The arrive dressed for dinner and naturally end up in the war zone. They get split up while exploring and a cave-in separates them. Mel runs into a soldier who informs her that the Tower is being demolished.

An impressively contained episode considering they travel between three planets without using the Tardis. The first half is so strong that it makes all the inconsistencies at the end all the more apparent. Three stories are juggled and merge into one, but that's not where things start going wrong. It gets to the very end and just goes stupid, but more on that later. There is also a news broadcast, which serves as propaganda for the residents, but not more than any other news agency parody.

Our Heroes
The Sixth Doctor is not in top form. He gets shafted with being out of character for most of this story, which is its real downfall. When the Sixth Doctor gets his charisma and gravitas taken away from him, it takes much of the fun from the script. It also makes the Doctor feel like more of a non-entity.

Mel is the emotional heart of this story. She develops friendships with the locals and even as something of a romance bloom with Barlow. Unfortunately, she doesn't get much to do aside from that and is almost written out of the action on Earth.

Struggling Observers
Barlow is a soldier for Earth tasked with setting charges to blow Kalsos Tower. He and Mel develop feelings for each other, but the plot conspires to keep them apart.

Sisrella is the other emotional link in the story. She gives us the point of view of the common folk as she and her father try to keep from starving. She gives a solid performance, but has little to do aside from trade barbs with an ex-beau and chat with Mel.

Overblown Foes
The Eminence and the Infinite  are more hyperbole than anything. They have cool names and a legendary history, but definitely don't do much in this story to back it up. Some creepy lurking and lots of whispering. The Eminence has some solid ideas, but bets them all on the heroes' stupidity: smooth.

Wartorn Atmosphere
The collapsing tower and the riot scenes are surprisingly easy to follow. All three locations feel different; something that becomes all the more impressive on audio.

In the End
Doctor allows some stupid deaths to occur due to some bad planning on his part. Also, the Eminence's plan relies on way too many variable, but then again "pride goeth before the fall." There is some genuine heartbreak from Mel over how things end, but it becomes more frustrating given that it concludes with a final retort from the impotent villain.

Overall
It's surprising to see that two writers are involved in this one, and I'd be interested to see if it was literally half and half or a collaboration. That being said, the parts mesh nicely; I'd just like to know who to blame.It's a fine Sixth Doctor story, just not up to his audio heights.
6.5/10

Get it from Big Finish!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Spaceport Fear

Happy Thanksgiving! If there's one thing the 50th special got me to do, it was step up my Doctor Who listening, so to continue from The Wrong Doctors:

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/spaceport-fear-708
Spaceport Fear (2013) By: William Gallagher

Overall
The Sixth Doctor and Mel land in a strange station. They discover they're in Tanatne Spaceport just as the Tardis is pulled into the station. The spaceport is locked down due to quarantine. Meanwhile, an Economy clan girl called Naysmith tries to complete her coming of age test by stealing food from the Business clan. Things go further awry when the ancient force known as the Wailer is unleashed.

This story utilizes the generation ship idea within the confines of a quarantined spaceport. The Business versus Economy idea is a good one with the class warfare theme being a running undercurrent. There is also a bit of genius involving cell phone games of all things.

Our Heroes
The Sixth Doctor is a font of intelligence and wit. He has never been one to trust in authority or to abide by the status quo, and this episode really gives him some things to work with. As always, the Sixth Doctor is a highlight of the episode, caring for all the spaceport survivors and even the monster.

Mel won't let the Doctor outshine her. She's just as feisty in her protection of the other characters and the Doctor. Unlike the last outing, Mel gets plenty to do and takes custody of the naive Naysmith.

Meek Observers
Naysmith is an idealist who follows the Doctor and Mel in hopes of a brighter future for her people. She's doesn't get the plot reveals for most of the audio, making her seem somewhat slow. She is a bright spot in what could have been a dreary episode, though if there's one thing that Sixth Doctor audios do it's entertain.

Pretty is Naysmith's plus one: read boyfriend. Unlike the compassionate Naysmith, Pretty is a freedom fighter who works to further the cause of his people. The role is a bit played out, but he lends understanding to the other natives.

Enterprising Foes
The Wailer is a terrific monster, though it sounds like "whaler" during the audio. Its wail and the dread is causes between both Economy and Business. It wrecks and devours its way through the episode, though there is more to it than an engine of destruction.

The Director is a villain who hides behind the rituals built since the station's lockdown. He's in it for the slow game; the snail paced game. He never quite made it to menacing, but he gives it a good go.

Airport Atmosphere
The writers really busted out the thesaurus for this one. The play on common airport features is executed with thoughtfulness and the puns are funny. The place comes alive with announcements and blasts. Even the Wailer's vein of destruction comes through load and clear.

In the End
A satisfying ending to a good tale, though the villain's plan does come off as rather stupid.

Overall
Some unique ideas mix with a solid sci-fi plot to produce a good episode. The Director is probably the weakest part, since his plan was as brilliant as it should have been. Still, his is a good entry in the series, but not as interesting as the Wrong Doctors. Check it out for more Six.
7.5/10

Get it from Big Finish!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Light at the End

Happy 50th Anniversary Doctor Who! As many of you may have guessed, I am a big fan of the show as well as the audios, and though my recent post (six months ago) regarding last season's quality was a bit dour, I didn't miss the special today, and, naturally, the kind folks at Big Finished have released their own 50th special:

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-light-at-the-end-standard-edition-861
The Light at the End (2013) By: Nicholas Briggs

Impressions
A man asks his kids if they've seen their mother. As the kids ask simple kid questions, a police box smashes into his roof. Meanwhile the Master plots with another individual to end all the Doctors at once. The Eighth Doctor chats with his companion, Charley Pollard, in the Tardis when a red light begins to flash. When asked what it is, the Doctor reveals that he's never seen it before.

This special celebrates Classic Who for fans who've seen nearly every episode and listened to a good chunk of the audios. An old enemy returns and we get not one, not two, not even five, but eight Doctors all encountering one another. The clips used for the first three Doctors will be recognizable to any fan but are well integrated into the story. The plot is just as zany as any Doctor Who plot with enough charisma to suspend your disbelief and cover up the plot holes. Those who've listened to the Eight Doctor series will also get the surprise appearance of another villain.

Our Doctors
The Fourth Doctor is, as always, overpoweringly clever with an idea and a distraction for all occasions. He remains commanding even when paired with the Eighth Doctor for a majority of the time.

The Fifth Doctor is the cautious pacifist and fills that role nicely. He even manages to seem brainy opposite the Fourth and Sixth Doctors, which isn't something he would have usually been able to accomplish.

The Sixth Doctor is as awesome as ever, sliding naturally into an analytical position. He is largely on his own, though he and the Seventh Doctor do share some time. The pair complement each other surprisingly well.

The Seventh Doctor is the last one to get brought into the story and he appears to do surprisingly little. He allows Ace to do more of the heavy lifting, he is likely a key part of the planning at the end since that is his thing.

The Eighth Doctor is more of a pragmatist. Unfortunately early on in the story he abandons an incapacitated Charley, which was incredibly out of character. He also looks a little weak compared to the Fourth Doctor who he spends the most time with.

Our Compaions
Leela does her thing, threatening and killing her way through the story. Sadly in her interactions with Charley, she comes off as rather harsh and unfeeling.

Nyssa does very little. She asks some questions and helps the Doctor figure things out but mostly acts as an exposition bot for the story. At least it wasn't Teagan.

Peri provides comic relief and she excels in that role. She's there to brighten the day with her naivete.

Ace blows stuff up.

Charley helps the Eighth Doctor figure the first set of things out. She is much better at this than Nyssa, but gets neutralized early and that's kind of a shame.

Withered Foe
The Master, in his zombie-like limbo state, cackles and taunts the Doctor all the way through this adventure. He isn't messing around either with some absolutely horrific acts and a brutal plan. Though parts of his plan are silly, and there is even some self-aware humor involving his evil supervillainish behavior, he does manage to be a serious threat.

Bland Atmosphere
Despite the epic nature of the story and the threat that is ultimately revealed, the setting is bland. A house and a weapons factory are all we get. Even the henchmen have bland Dalekish voices that have all the terror of a roomba. Well, the Tardis has to be grand enough.

In the End
The ending is the kind that I tend to hate, but I'll forgive this one. It is at least sincere and has a great outro for the Doctors.

Overall
As a fiftieth special this one certainly doesn't disappoint with a grand plot that allows each of the Doctors to show their strengths. Combine that with some great references to the classic series and some smart cameos, and a great adventure is born. The plot also hinges on something that is common to the show, but often taken for granted and used for comedy, though you'll have to listen to figure that one out. A few minor flaws can't get this adventure down. This is definitely one for classic Doctor Who fans.
8/10

Check it out from Big Finish in standard or collector's edition.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Wendigo

http://apolloreborn.blogspot.com/search/label/13%20Frightening%20Fictions
Night 13
The Wendigo (1910) By: Algernon Blackwood

Impressions
A hunting party sets off into the Canadian backwoods to hunt moose. Since the moose are particularly rare, they split into smaller hunting groups to become more stealthy. One of them is with their guide and notices that he has become particularly jittery. He wanders away from the fire, becoming more pale and sniffing as he does. He is called back, but neither sleep well. Soon he awakens crying in the night.

After last year's surprise hit, The Willows, it seemed only natural to include more Blackwood this year. The Wendigo presents many of things that made The Willows great with believable characters and an excellent setting. Once more the emotion is palpable allowing the reader to place themselves inside the scenario. Unfortunately, this story ends on a much weaker note than The Willows, which itself could've used a bit more a the end.

Our Hero
Young Simpson is a young student on a hunting trip with his uncle. He experiences the most horror in the tale. He is also not terribly observant, and he misses much of the action.

Rational Observers
Hank Davis is the other member of the team and Dr. Cathcart's guide. He doesn't do too much.

Dr. Cathcart is a psychologist who bring reason to the crazy events. His splash of reasoning provides some psychoanalysis that is interesting, but it destroys the tension of the piece. He is an intelligent character, which is nice in horror.

Punk is the Indian guide who doesn't count as one of the party. Casual racism rears its ugly head. This character is a solid character on his own, but is initial description really puts the time it was written to the forefront.

Hidden Foe?
Joseph Defago starts out as Young Simpson's guide before he begins to slip. It is his strangeness that drives the story and his reactions that create the most suspense.

Sublime Atmosphere
Once again, the Canadian back woods are represented with lush description. From the freezing rivers to the burnt down tress, everything is presented so you can almost see it.

In the End
The build to the end is superb, but the end itself is an incredible let down. Don't delve into this one expecting a scary ending.

Overall
While not as great as The Willows,The Wendigo is well-written and creepy. Unfortunately, that's about as far as it gets. Check it out if you enjoy weird fiction.
7/10

Get it free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle. Happy Halloween~!
Next October: 13 Days of D!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The King in Yellow

Night 12
The King in Yellow (1895) By: Robert W. Chambers

The first four tales feature the manuscript, the sign, and the specter of the titular character.

The Repairer of Reputations 7.5/10
America is in a state of peace. Living in the security of a militarized state, it has legalized suicide. However, a manuscript threatens the sanity of Hildred Castainge. Hildred, recently released from a mental institution after a fall from his horse, tries to cope with his life.

A bizarre story, which sets up the universe for the King in Yellow stories. Chamber's alternate history is as curious as it is unsettling. For all its pronouncements of peace, it shows a zealously militaristic and nationalistic U.S. Our unreliable narrator may be to blame as he interacts with the repairer of reputations. A great start to the set.

The Mask 7.5/10
Boris shows his friend Alec his new method of instant fossilization when he creates a stone lily. The friends are sculptors finishing up pieces for a show. Alec recently admitted his love to Genevieve, but was rejected in favor of Boris. The friends made up, but something is still nagging at the trio.

This one had a few twists and turns. It is not a standard love story, nor does Chambers fall into the trap of repeating his initial story. The King in Yellow elements make a very minor but significant appearance in this tale.

The Court of the Dragon 7/10
A man sits in church distracted by the sound of the great organ that is interrupting the lovely service.The narrator has found his mind filled with hateful thoughts since he read The King in Yellow. As the organist leaves the man feels relaxed, but soon he sees the organist leaving, yes again, as the man sinisterly glares at him.

Another profoundly weird tale and the only appearance of the legendary King in Yellow. Though strange, this tale is a simple one. The key points are the atmosphere it builds and the harrowing final line.

The Yellow Sign 6/10
An artist paints his model when he notices an obese man outside. He returns to his painting and finds it tinged with a sickly green tint. The more he tries to remove it, the more it spreads. Finally, he gives up on the painting and his model tells him of a strange dream she had where he lay in a coffin drawn by the fat man.

The yellow sign has some great imagery, but the story is similar to The Repairer of Reputations. The affects of the King in Yellow manuscript and the Yellow sign are both more oblique and more abrupt, leaving the ending more jarring than the previous stories.

The stories after this one aren't really horror stories.

The Demoiselle of d'Ys 7/10
A man falls asleep among some forgotten moors. He awakens to find a woman reacquiring her falcon and its prey. He asks her if there's a way out and she suggests that it takes longer to get out than get in. He decides to return to her estate and meets her anachronistic household.

The description of falconry lends realism to the world and the pride the woman has for it tells a lot about her. This tale is likely not for everyone and the ending is a bit cliche, though it does provide solid characters and a look back to a simpler time.

The Prophet's Paradise 6/10
Several mini-stories that mirror lines and tell a sort-of story. This is why I don't review poems. This is an interesting experiment that succeeds in being weird, but doesn't quite make it to creepy.

The Street of the Four Winds 7/10
A cat wanders into an old man's shop, so he pets her. As he pets her, he notices a garter around her neck and begins thinking about the woman to who must must belong. This one is pleasantly macabre with just the right feeling of tenderness.

The Street of the First Shell 6/10
People struggle with their lives amid war-torn Paris streets. A secret emerges between two lovers that threatens to tear them apart. An okay story that is very Parisian. There is some gorgeous imagery. The last three stories are based on Chambers' experiences in Paris as a young man.

The Street of Our Lady of the Fields 6/10
A Parisian man introduces his American friend to the lovely Valentine. They hit it off, but there remains something barring their relationship. An incredibly French tale of romance and complications.

Rue Barree 6/10
A young American abroad hears about a gorgeous girl  that all the guys are in love with. He forgets about her until he notices a beautiful woman on the street. Another classic tale of love abroad that has been told many times and many ways. This version is good with beautiful description as is typical of these tales.

Overall
If you're just looking for something scary, stop at the first three tales. However, if you like the style and want to read something different by Chambers, check out the whole collection. The transition between horror and more grounded fare can be a bit jarring, even with the transition pieces in the middle. Be sure to read at least the King in Yellow stories if you're a horror fan.
7/10

Get it free in Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Phantom of the Opera (classic novel)

Night 11
The Phantom of the Opera (1911) By: Gaston Leroux

Impressions
M. Leroux is piecing together evidence of the true happenings of behind some deaths, a kidnapping, and a ghost at the Paris Opera House. He recounts the various 'sightings' by the performers, which include the ghost being eyeless, noseless, and with head aflame. He then recounts the singular experience of Raoul and his attraction to the break out singer Christine. After leaving her room, he hears her speaking with someone, so he waits until she goes out. Then he checks again, but finds no one there.

This novel has been popularized through many different forms of media that I haven't seen, so I'm coming at this without many prior conceptions. The story is surprisingly comical. Even near the end there are some strange jokes and oddities to alleviate the tension. The story itself is told in segments, so it begins with rumor and ends with fact. The style makes the beginning a bit chaotic, but allows for more of a build in tension as the reader tries to figure out what's really going on.

Our Heroine
Christine Daae is an opera understudy who finds her big break after being coached by an angel. Despite being the main protagonist, the story is never told from her point of view. She is a young woman with mixed feelings, trying to decide between two suitors. She gets a surprising amount of agency given her position and uses it to test the two of them. Why is she in the heroine spot? Read the novel to find out.

Haunted Observers
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny is determined to win Christine's hand. He and Christine met as children once and he has been fond of her ever since. He does not approve of her relations with the ghost and seeks to save her. He's kind of a dunce, a hotheaded one at that, but not without genuine affection for Christine. He acts more as a parallel than a foil to the ghost.

The Persian Daroga is the only man who knows the Opera Ghost's past. He appears briefly at the start and becomes prominent at the very end. His story makes up the juiciest bit of the narrative.

M. Moncharmin and M.Richard are the new owners of the Paris Opera House. Their feud with the Opera Ghost relieves the drama of Christine's plight and allows for some humor as they adjust to the Opera Ghost's demands.

Hideous Foe
The Opera Ghost or the Angel of Music sees fit to train Christine to become a great opera singer. He is known as a hideous monster, but some of his actions betray a softer side. He has a definite sense of humor, albeit a morbid one on occasion. The fun of this novel is trying to piece together what exactly the Opera Ghost wants and that is something the tale does not give up lightly.

Parisian Atmosphere
There is a great deal of French manners in this book, so much so that the ghost takes advantage of it. The chaos of the opera house comes through loud and clear, as do the Opera Ghost's manipulations of it. The free versions even end with an extended description of the real Paris Opera House.

In the End
The ghost's secrets are revealed, mostly, and Christine makes her choice. The end of the story brought back some of the hallmarks from the middle of the novel and fixed some issues with the chapters immediately prior. All in all, a fitting end.

Overall
An enjoyable read with some patchy sections near the beginning and end. The roughness gets smoothed out fairly quickly though, making the overall experience a great one. Read it if you enjoy horror with a lighter, more romantic tone.
8.5/10

Check it out for free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Masque of the Red Death

Day 10
The Masque of the Red Death (1842) By: Edgar Allan Poe

Impressions
A kingdom is ravaged by a disease that leaves the victims convulsing and perspiring blood, not to mention, dead in half an hour. Prince Prospero decides to hole up in his castle. After half a year of hiding, he decides to throw a ball and decorates each room in a different color. The final room he sets in black with a clock so loud it drowns out the musicians and window panes the color of red blood.

Perhaps it's taken a bit too long to get to Poe. A true master of atmosphere and suspense, Poe builds a world of fear and denial, teasing the horrors to come with a description of the plague. This is a classic for all the right reasons, playing on man's fears and causing reflection on that fear. One need look no further than this tale.

Our Coward
Prince Prospero is the lord of a plague ridden land. Though little description of the prince himself is given, we get a feel of him through his actions and decorating decisions. He cares only for himself and his friends; thus, he earns the ire of the Masqued Individual.

Bloody Foe
The Masqued Individual shows up relatively late in the tale and taunts the nobles with a mask that resembles a dead plague victim. He is often seen as a metaphor, though one should actually reading the tale to find out why.

Lavish Atmosphere
The castle's decorations are meticulously described. Even the general happenings at the party are rendered so that one gets a feel for what's going on.

In the End
The Masked Individual leads Prospero on a merry chase through the rooms of the party. In the final one his secret is revealed. A great end to a chilling tale.

Overall
If you are reading this and you haven't read this story, read it! I'd forgotten how much I personally enjoy this story. It is one of the best horror fictions out there.
10/10

There's no excuse; it's free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Jewel of Seven Stars

Night 9
The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903 & 1912) By: Bram Stoker

Impressions
Mr. Malcolm Ross receives a letter from Ms. Margaret Trelawny requiring his urgent assistance. Her father has been attacked, and she could his support. He arrives and finds her father's wrist slashed in seven consecutive lines near a steel bangle.  Upon inspection of the room, an officer finds a letter addressed to her. It warns that he must be watched day and especially night for the assailant might return!

This one is a real slog. Everything takes forever with the action consisting of legal precedence superseding a man's health, supposing over pseudoscience and the etiquette of mummy decency. The second attack does provide some good action and pose an intriguing mystery, but then the novel turns back to the slog of daily events. It could have used less turmoil about some servants leaving and more about the mummy herself.

Our Hero
Silvio is Margaret's cat and does more toward solving the mystery than any of the human characters. He has an intense aggression toward a mummified cat in Mr. Trelawny's room. This allows the human characters to start heading in the right direction, sort of.

Idiotic Observers
Mr. Malcolm Ross is a barrister who loves Margaret so much that he'd do anything for her. He drones on so much about his infatuation that it is his prime characteristic. He's so blinded that even after he lists off the things that are clearly pointing to a bad end, he still does nothing. It's no wonder the cat gets heroic billing.

Ms. Margaret Trelawny is Abel's daughter. There is some mystery as to her motives, but she is shown so be a generous and kind woman, though somewhat useless. This is a shame after the portrayal of Mina Murray-Harker in Dracula. Stoker writes one of the most competent women in literature and then follows her up this this. Ugh.

Mr. Abel Trelawny is Margaret's daughter. His desire to revive the mummy nearly gets his killed at the start of the novel. He's a zany professor who enjoys spending his riches on frivolous things like possibly getting him and his daughter killed.

Eugene Corbeck is Professor Trelawny's assistant. He could clear up most of the plot up at the beginning, but he's one of three characters who keep pointless secrets to extend the mystery of the novel. Mr. Trelawny does at first, but he soon cracks. The other is Mr. Trelawny's lawyer who wastes a short time with his appearnce in the book. However, Mr. Corbeck remains tight lipped for far so long under the guise of 'secrecy' that it becomes stupid. It's secret because he swore an oath.

Lucky Foe
Queen Tera is an Egyptian Queen who ruled Egypt like Cleopatra. She was a powerful sorceress and made plans for her resurrection. Fortunately for her, the inept team of Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck stuble upon her. She is a foe more romanticized than dreaded by the characters, which is a shame, since she does make an interesting villain.

Romantic Atmosphere
Everything is so tinged by Malcolm's feelings for Margaret that the book is almost painful to read. There are some beautiful passages and clever suppositions, but it's so cloaked in mush that they're easy to miss. Also, everyone speaks in speeches that go on for at least a paragraph, so much so that short blurbs become noticeably more powerful than the long expressive speeches.

In the Ends
There are two versions of the story: one with a grim ending and one with a happy ending. They are both let downs, though the grim ending is at least intriguing whereas the happy one is just stereotypical.

Overall
Stupid characters, a snail paced romantic plot and two 'meh' endings would usually leave this one a bit lower on the scale, but there were some interesting ideas. While the thoughts on pseudoscience and the imagined technological feats of the Egyptians are drawn out, there are also some cool ideas for the steampunk fans out there. Many ideas come from Tera's own sorcerous plan, though some sections remain confusing all the way to the end. However, gone are the interesting plot twists, the truly clever foe and the diverse, necessary characters of Dracula. Ultimately, The Jewel of Seven Stars should be left only to the die hard Bram Stoker fans.
5/10

The 1912 happy ending version can be found on Project Gutenberg and Kindle, but if you want the original 1903 version, check out bramstoker.org. The only differences are a missing chapter and the very end of the novel.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The House on the Borderland

Night 8
The House on the Borderland (1908) By: William Hope Hodgson

Impressions
Two men head to Kraighten in rural Ireland for some fishing. On a day off they head to the south and discover a manuscript in a ruined house overlooking a pit. The manuscript details the former occupant's experiences in the house. The occupant first passes out and travels through the cosmos before landing in a circular valley surrounded by mountains: the arena. He encounters man's old gods of death and many others, including a massive Swine-Thing, before being whisked back and awakening on the floor of his home. However, his experience becomes more real when he and his dog are attacked by lesser swine-things in his garden.

The House on the Borderlands achieves a level of cosmic horror that H.P. Lovecraft reached for with his Mi-go, but did not attain. By tying his creatures to mankind's old gods, he gives his 'lost manuscript' a surprising level of validity. He also uses his four characters to great affect, making them both likeable and sensible. He also touches on the temporary affect that each man has and even humanity itself has on the universe.

Our Hero
The Recluse is a stubborn man who purchases the house and, even after witnessing its horrors, falls to its temptations. While it is difficult to tell, at times what forces are acting on him; they weave a pattern both subtle and sinister.

Loyal Observers
Pepper is his faithful pet dog who accompanies him on his missions into the unknown. Pepper has more personality than many well-written characters, and the love and loyalty between the Recluse and his pet is truly heart warming.

The Sister is an old spinster who either cannot see or ignores the strange things occurring around her. Another typical woman of her time, she cooks and cleans and can't handle anything. Yes, that's only three characters, read the novel for the fourth.

Infectious Foe
The Swine-things and their master are trying to take over the Recluse's house. Their purpose and their ties to the house, the arena, and the pit are a mystery. They are abominably frightening detail and serve as creepy antagonists.

Maddening Atmosphere
Cosmic horror is a genre that doesn't have a lot of examples, but this is a fine one. Hodgson renders the Recluse's trip through the universe as both chilling and fascinating. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel, this story takes the reader on a trip to the unknown depths of the universe.

In the End
The end is the worst part of the novel unless you enjoy making up your own ending. It ends much in the vein of bad found footage films or bad apocalyptic novels of the 1900s, e.g. it doesn't end.

Overall
The ending does diminish some of the joy of reading it all the way through. It might be more fulfilling to stop in chapter 22 or 24 then skip to chapter 27. This is worth reading if you enjoy surreal cosmic horror, though if you like good endings stay away from this one.
7/10 (ignoring the ending it would have been an 8/10)

Check it out for free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Damned Thing


Night 7
The Damned Thing (1898) By: Ambrose Bierce

Impressions
Eight men stand around a body and await the arrival of the witness. William Harker enters and relates the tale of how his friend, Hugh Morgan, died. He watched him savagely mauled by an unseen horror.

This story does a lot with very little. Whereas The Great God Pan left everything to the reader's imagination, this tale gives us a description of the attack and its grisly aftermath, but leaves the creature out of sight.

Our Protagonist
William Harker is a writer and a friend of Hugh's. He witnessed his death and cannot explain the shadowy force that was barely visible between them. 

Wild Observer
Hugh Morgan is a grizzled mountain man who encounters the thing when he notices his dog barking and sees a shadow in the distance.

Damned Foe
The Damned Thing is a creature that exists as a terror to those who live near nature. The creature is more metaphor than terror, but it is a thought provoking antagonist.

Wilderness Atmosphere
The isolation in Hugh Morgan's section gives the feeling of being stranded in the mountains.

In the End
Excerpts from Hugh's journal end the tale as he describes his mounting fear. At the very end, he makes some suppositions on what the thing might be and the nature of its existence.

Overall
A solid tale that provides interesting food for thought. It serves more as a parable than a horror story with some cool imagery and ideas. Read it if you like fantastic concepts.
7/10

Read it for free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle!