Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Big Finish Audio Drama Capsule Reviews: The Waters of Amsterdam, The Beautiful People, Terror of the Sontarans

The Waters of Amsterdam: I bought a subscription to the Doctor Who main range several months ago, and this was a part of it. I think I downloaded the story shortly after it became available, but didn’t listen to it until recently. Why would I? It’s not just a Fifth Doctor story, which are renowned for their astounding blandness, but a Fifth Doctor story focusing on Tegan’s backstory. You know, when she wasn’t traveling in time and space. Back when she was a stewardess. Riveting stuff, I’m sure.

But on Monday morning, I found myself without anything to listen to, so I reluctantly loaded it on to my phone, so I would have some background noise while I was working. I couldn’t have been more surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I think it’s the best Fifth Doctor story since the Kingmaker.

There are some concepts that are so bad that they can’t be repaired without fundamentally changing what they are. I considered Tegan as a character such a concept. There was no way to put a positive spin on her salient attributes. She was terminally annoying and that was that.

She’s mellowed a bit in the Big Finish releases, but is still recognizably Tegan, but now possessed of something new that I can’t quite define. Part of it is her chemistry with the Doctor. He’s got a bit more personality instead of the bland milquetoast he was in the series. There were some elements of amusing pedantry in his television portrayals, but never rising to the level of an actual character trait. He’s interesting here as the enthusiastic nerd.

Other thoughts: I liked the Queen in exile before she went into full-on mustoache twirling. I could take or leave Big Finish’s fifteenth variation on gurgly-voiced aliens, but the water sound effects were beautiful. Tegan gets some great lines (“Leonardo!”, “Did you go anywhere nice?” Very, very rarely.”, “Good landing” “We didn’t even have to grab on to the console or anything.”) Even the android gets good characterization. I’d like to see him again.

One of the best Fifth Doctor stories ever told.

Rating: 5/5

Companion Chronicles: The Beautiful People: I avoided the Companion Chronicles at first. The full cast audios have spoiled me. Who cares about somebody narrating a story when you could have a bunch of people acting out a story at about the same price?

Except this was a Romana II story, read by Lalla Ward. I love Lalla Ward as a reader. She was wonderful in Shada where she did a great Fourth Doctor voice.

The story was almost incidental. Something involving an evil weight loss clinic. The style was where it shined.

It was perfectly suited to Romana’s dry wit. ("The Doctor shambled through the doorway. For some reason, the Doctor was incapable of walking through doors naturalistically ")  It felt a lot like City of Death, and the language had a distinct Douglas Adams feel to it, with lines like “Someone had lavished a great deal of money on making it look like a great deal of money had been lavished on the place.” The Doctor later claims to be a researcher for a “Well known guide for the space traveler on a budget”, which did nothing to disabuse me of this notion.

I also like the idea (and have incorparated it into my head canon that) suggests the K-9 really does understand colloquialisms, but is just having fun with the organics.

Rating: 4/5

Terror of the Sontarans: The medium is the message, and there are recurring tropes in all forms media, dictated by the particulars of that medium. Audio plays have the “I’m going to loudly describe what I’m seeing!” Big Finish usually makes it work, but this one starts out like a bad session of improv. “The room is empty!” “Don’t say that to those statues behind you!” “Do you know where the garbage can is?” “You’re holding it!” The One Doctor played it for laughs, but it doesn’t work when played straight. This was constant in the story in the beginning, but they stop with it after the first part. (The creators address this a bit in the audio extras, to their credit.)

Bonnie Langford does a fine job, (as she usually does. She’s not bad, just not to my liking) but it really should have been an Ace story. If the Seventh Doctor is going to solve the problems by blowing things up, you just need Ace.

Rating: 3/5

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