Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Big Finish Doctor Who Capsule Reviews: Legend of the Cybermen, Cyberman 1-4, Whispering Forest, the Davros Mission

The Cybermen, are, in a lot of ways, the off-label Daleks. This was particularly true in their debut in the revived series, where a wheelchair-bound megalomaniac creates their race.

Lumic, I served with Davros. I knew Davros. Davros was a friend of mine. Lumic, you're no Davros.
The big problem with the Cybermen is that the Daleks already fill their niche in the Who ecosystem. They got there first and they do it better. They have a better design and they don't recoil like a vampire from a crucifix when you brandish your gold star for mathematical excellence.

It's hard to think of a Cyberman story that couldn't be told with the Daleks instead. However, I've always had a soft spot for these goofy metal jobbers. They've never been implausibly built up as an existential threat like the Daleks, and the body horror of their debut was actually somewhat unsettling.

Legend of the Cybermen:This story continues directly where Wreck of the Titan left off, and this allows us to jump into the action,

Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines reprise their roles as Zoe and Jamie, and the whole thing is one long love letter to fans. I didn't want this episode to end. I paused it unnecessarily in order to prolong the experience. I was grinning for the entire duration.

It crackles with clever dialogue. On believing that his wishes come true in the Land of Fiction, Jamie expresses a desire for "A bowl of whiskey and a lassie with a cheeky smile", and, when approached by Zoe with a sophisticated piece of technology which will restore his memory and is shaped like an apple, he observes, "I know my bible. Sensible men being led astray by lassies with apples."

On being corrected by the Artful Dodger, the Doctor calls him a "Penny Dreadful Pedant". "I never name-drop. Saint Augustine taught me that."
Doctor: Shepherded? You make me sound like a sheep.
Dodger: Herded?
Doctor: No, that's actually worse.
Zoe describes the Doctor's adventures as being "targeted at children, but loved by adults", and she mentions that his path here started with the pseudohistorical and led to the base under siege, two categorizations often applied to Doctor.

The Cybermen are headquartered in Castle Frankenstein, which just seems so apt. Its title is Legend of the Cybermen, and they're prominently displayed on the cover. But in the context of the story, their presence seems like it's supposed to be a surprise. (They don't show up until the very end of the first act, where a partially converted Oliver Twist asks for more gruel in his Cyberman voice.) I've thought about it a bit, and come to conclusion that it must have been sales driven, that customers will pick and choose titles based on villains (there's even a filter for it on the site), so it was worth the tradeoff. I don't think it ruined the story, but it certainly weakened it. 

However, everything about it was awesome. It has a frantic pace, which it sustains for the entire adventure, and one riveting scene leads right into the next. This might be the most enjoyable example of Doctor Who media that I've ever experienced.

Rating: 5/5.

Cyberman:  Scorpius, Fear, Conversion, Telos

For some reason, this is called Cyberman instead of the more sensible Cybermen. It never reaches the heights of Legend of the Cybermen, but it's still plenty good. These stories are a spin off of the second Eighth Doctor audio, Sword of Orion, where humans and androids are fighting a destructive war in the 26th Century. 

It was pretty engaging, had some nice continuity porn (the Cybermen are defeated when their radiation shielding is disabled), and each installment built solidly on the last, offering new perspectives from established characters. Paul Hunt seems like this smarmy, unctuous sycophant, but we learn that he was really a genuinely heroic man brainwashed by the Cybermen to make him betray mankind.

I liked it. It was a nice change of pace to have a Doctor Who story without the Doctor. 

Rating: 4/5

The Whispering Forest: Nyssa looks impossibly cute in that picture. Oh my God. 

I won't say that the Fifth Doctor doesn't have some good stories, but his boring ones always seem to follow the same format of Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough landing on some alien planet where the plot twist is telegraphed far in advance. 

In this case, it was a civilization descended from the wreck of a medical ship, kind of like the Sevateem if you replaced Janis thorns with obsessive handwashing.

I find myself saying this a lot about the Fifth Doctor's stories. They're not terrible, but awfully bland, and you could see the trajectory of this one within minutes. 

Rating: 2/5.

The Davros Mission: The Daleks have always been an allegory for the Nazis. In this story, a Thal agent with the improbable name of "Lareen" (which reminded me of Lurleen Lumpkin, from the Simpsons) is some kind of Simon Wiesenthal Nazi hunter. While Davros is being transported to Skaro for trial, she sneaks on board the Dalek transport ship with the help of the unfunniest comedy relief since Jar Jar Binks. 

If you need another reason to hate this story, Lareen is voiced by Miranda Raison, of the Daleks Take Manhattan infamy, but at least her accent here is slightly more tolerable. Her "plan", so called, is to convince Davros to use the a version of the Movellan virus that the Thals have engineered to be a thousand times more lethal, as a weapon against the Daleks at this trial.

It seems to work, and Davros spends an inordinate amount of time crying. He's like Claire Danes, what with all his crying. But strangely, when presented with the chance to commit suicide by Dalek, Davros instead opts to take control of the Dalek race. It must have been a difficult choice. Lurleen's final thoughts are presumably either that she should have forseen Davros' betrayal, seeing that he's done something similar in literally every appearance, or that the Thal's probably shouldn't have given what was apparently their only sample of the virus to their greatest enemy. Either way, she dies, and Josh laments the time he spent listening to this.

Rating: 1/5.

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