ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – UNIT: Cyber-Reality

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest UNIT boxset, starring the Cybermen and the Master. Grab your VR goggles, we’ve got a code silver. Oh, yes, and beware of spoilers after the “read more” tag!

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Our enjoyment of UNIT sets, in the past, has varied quite a lot. It’s a range that has had some difficulties finding its feet, I think it’s fair to say. They have nailed the more experimental and political sets, but the more traditional fares of the even-numbered sets haven’t quite been perfect. Cyber-Reality is a definite improvement – it is very much a big, fanservice-filled product, that doesn’t reach the heights of Silenced or Encounters, but it manages to make the aesthetics and themes of the range cohere and seep through the traditional Who tropes. The Master and the Cybermen are not really here for a deep, nuanced session of thematic exploration, but even then, you can see that there are strong visions beyond them. This set “gets” it. It gets what the range is about, it gets what the Cybermen, especially in their latest, and arguably best, version, are about; and it gets, perhaps better than any other story so far, what the Jacobi Master is about. It doesn’t really push any boundaries or challenge the listener, but that’s okay. I feel like the range is allowed to just be breezy fun trad every once in a while, as long as it is intelligent about it. That’s really the best way to describe this set: intelligent trad. There are worse things to be.

SCRIBBLES: Cyber-Reality, as a whole, is an enticing cocktail of ideas, themes, and continuity elements. The selling point of Kate and Osgood going up against Derek Jacobi’s exceptional Master and the Cybermen is utterly tantalizing, and writers Guy Adams and Matt Fitton waste no time assembling a heady mix of themes and concepts to construct around it. I think it’s no reach to say that there are some of the most exciting ideas the Cybermen have ever had here, as well as what is for my money the best characterization Jacobi has yet gotten on audio. Furthermore, there is some delicious satire of data mining and exploration of VR gaming. Unfortunately, there’s a but. While the elements in this set are all exceptional, the plotting doesn’t always land, and the human element is often lost in a more cerebral landscape. If you adore the concepts, and there’s every reason to, this set will be enough. But if you want to be stirred beyond that, you will have slim pickings, though there is one startlingly good character-based exploration that I will get to in the full spoiler section. The concepts also don’t quite reach an intellectual payoff, despite all being exciting elements, leading to a delightful concluding episode with an unfortunately perfunctory resolution. This is a set I would absolutely recommend, but for the sheer wealth of possibilities it suggests with rapid-fire enthusiasm, rather than for the overall product.
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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood: Believe

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, let us pray together to our Lord from Space, for Tibère and Scribbles are talking about the first full-cast Torchwood set, “Believe”, written by Guy Adams. Grab your scalpel and your expensive books, it’s time for some religion. And some spoilers after the “read more” tag, as per usual.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: There’s loads to unpack in that one. I think that the best praise I can give it is when it comes to its structure. It’s a very polished, very well-crafted piece of fiction – Guy Adams has proven, earlier this year with Vienna: Retribution that he’s really, really good with these three-parts epics, and that holds true here. It’s not quite as good, and we’re gonna get into why soon, but it’s still a really engrossing experience: there’s something wonderful in piecing together the plot, which is told to us out-of-order, scenes taking a new, sometimes radical meaning as they are inserted into the narrative in different and sometimes contradictory ways. So, as set, it coheres. As a crossover … Well, people that want to buy to get the team interacting together might be disappointed – they spend most of their time apart, but really, I don’t mind that. Torchwood always was at its best in small, intimate interactions, and I do feel like all characters get their share of the spotlight. Sometimes in problematic ways, but it does find something to say about all its leads, which is pretty neat in a set that has to juggle five main characters! Finally, there’s considering it, well, as a piece of the rebooted Torchwood range. And then, well, there are bits that really work, and some that feel a bit odd. It’s certainly engaging, and rooted deeply into the aesthetics that have been established since 2015 while finding new angles to tackle them – but it does feel a bit too ambitious for its own good sometimes, and there are many thematic dead ends that could have been developed more. Really, a set like that is an event more like than anything – and I think it hits the mark on that front. The story itself maybe won’t enter the annals as an all-time great, but there’s still a lot to appreciate (well, appreciate – it’s a very, very uncomfortable story, and I would advise you to think about it if certain topics are triggers for you). That’s my hot take, pretty much. Believe it or not.

SCRIBBLES: I have a lot of admiration for this set. It is unafraid of controversy, which it is sure to generate, and tackles a number of phenomenal and relevant themes that are very much in connection with the ongoing pulse of the world. This is a three hour explanation of faith, transhumanism, and sexual coercion and consent. All three are also themes that are particularly important to me, two of which having deep personal connections to my life, and one being a casual academic interest. Unfortunately, I must say, I did not appreciate the way all those themes were handled. Author Guy Adams strives to say interesting things about vital, raw topics, but they do not all land where I wish they would. I was nearly unable to review this set, and briefly considered not even finishing listening to it, because it is a very triggering and dark story that plays risky games with aforementioned topics. I appreciate the boldness and vision, but I think the success of these musings varies greatly, and is in some cases fairly painful for me. It also has some odd impacts on some of the characterization, which is sure to be controversial. I only want to support the drive and ambition that leads to a writer feeling willing to engage with important issues, and I think Torchwood has often been good at that, but compared to a recent dark story, “Tagged,” I don’t think this has quite the same sympathy, understanding and deftness. “Believe” is a good attempt, but a very flawed one.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood, series 4: “The Last Beacon”

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles look at the newest Torchwood monthly story, the writing debut of Ianto actor Gareth David-Lloyd! Grab your trekking equipment, we’re going on a trip. A spoiler-filled trip, of course, at least after the “read more” tag, so mind your steps, and your heads.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: It’s always kind of a gamble when Big Finish lets an actor write for them. I haven’t liked all the previous stories of that sub-genre, that’s all I can say, and I’ll admit I was skeptical when I heard that Gareth David-Lloyd would be penning one of the fourth series’ episodes. But honestly, I was wrong. This is really good – it really feels like a new voice in the world of Who, and a compelling one with that. It has some flaws, like all first works tend to have, but it always feels like something new, original and fresh, and David-Lloyd could prove himself to be one of the most interesting writers of the range, with some time. It’s promising – while being a thoroughly fun time, which is never a bad thing in the world of Torchwood. Having these characters in isolation, just having a mostly carefree and fun ride, really does wonders for them – it’s the kind of episodes I really wish the televised Torchwood had more often. Not only does it make these characters more likeable and fun, but it also adds a lot of layers to them, in ways that never seem artificial or shoehorned in. Ianto never got that much of a backstory in the show, outside of his Canary Wharf trauma – and this does the job really quite well, making him into someone more interesting, more fully-realized. It touches something really lovely and emotional, really – it kind of reminded me of these summers I spent in the country at my grandfather’s, and I think that’s largely the point of the script. Turning the lovely landscapes of the past into one of Torchwood’s transitory, fantastical spaces. I’m all for that.

SCRIBBLES: This is sweet. Surprisingly so. Gareth David-Lloyd writes a love letter to the Welsh nature of Torchwood, and unlike Torchwood generally does, it really goes for showing that love. It’s something lovable as a result. Burn Gorman gets to play light comedy for a change, which goes a long way to making Owen a more bearable character, and serves as a nice contrast to his deeply disturbing and uncomfortable, though fitting, other two audios. And Ianto gets to be lovely and upbeat, which is welcome. It’s not especially deep, and the plot meanders here and there, but it wins you over with charm and warmth, uncharacteristically for Torchwood but entirely welcome. The meandering is the point, really, with a solidly assembled plot rattling away underneath that allows the sprawling comic set-pieces to land and manages to build to a lovely emotional moment in the end. Lovely, that’s the word for this.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Monthly Range: “The Helliax Rift”

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles talk about tbe latest Big Finish monthly range, where the Fifth Doctor gets to meet UNIT. Attention – and beware spoilers after the “read more” tag!

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: I honestly really, really liked this one. It’s certainly maybe a bit awkward in its ambition – both being minimalistic and emotional on one side, and the set-up for a new Main Range arc with a bunch of original characters on the other. But I really like what it’s doing, and what that might mean for the Big Finish ethos in the long run – it takes the tropes and building blocks of a Pertwee story and ends up taking them in a very different direction, focusing on emotion and character above all things. That, in itself, is remarkable – beyond all the debates about the actual quality of these characters, I think it’s about the most character-focused the Monthly Range has been in ages: the plot, when you get down to it, could be summed up in a couple of lines, and everything that happens in it really is down to character conflicts and the way they interact between each other. It’s a very modern approach to storytelling – I could genuinely see a shortened up, revised version of this airing in one of the Moffat series. This kind of engagement with the personal connected with the political is just something I find incredibly compelling to see unfold – it’s not executed perfectly, just like what the Monthlies have been doing with the character of Constance wasn’t perfect, but I applaud the effort and it’s a direction I wholeheartedly applaud.

SCRIBBLES: “The Helliax Rift” is a very low-key story. I can see how it could charm; it eases the listener into some fairly standard UNIT investigations, before taking a veer in the back half toward a perfectly well executed science fiction character drama. I don’t think it sets a foot wrong in any particular way. But I think there’s more that could be done with it, and I wound up feeling somewhat frustrated in that regard. I still feel like I barely know any of the new UNIT characters, even the prominently used Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins, and I felt like I would have preferred to see less of them and more of the characters the second half turns its focus to, who have a story that functions in broader images, but never quite comes close to making me feel much emotionally. It reminds me of the early main range, I guess. It’s cozy, competent, a bit slow, and never quite rocking your world, but it’s not bad by any means. It’s charming. But when a story takes the emotional route, I prefer to see it commit to really making the audience feel, and this doesn’t really have that. It’s just a bit too broad and impersonal for my liking, despite the intimate nature of the story.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The Tenth Doctor Chronicles

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the Tenth Doctor Chronicles, with Jake Dudman as Ten and the return of Slitheen, Lady Christina and Sylvia Noble on the menu! Allons-y, mes amis, and don’t forget to brace for spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: The Ninth Doctor Chronicles blew us away. I think that needs to be restated before we get to this new set. Because that set went from something we had lacking expectations for to one of our favorite releases of the year. This set, as a result, doesn’t manage to be quite the same shocking success, because we know now just how well the format can work. This Tenth Doctor Chronicles set is both surer and a bit more baffling, I think. The production quality is surer. Dudman is an impeccable narrator, the direction by Goldwyn continues to work wonders, and the score is utterly delightful and helps hold the attention well. But, of course, Big Finish hasn’t had the same lack of Tenth Doctor content they have had with Nine and, soon, Eleven, so that puts this set in an interesting position of having to narratively stand alongside the Tenth Doctor Adventures (as well as other ranges like Tales from New Earth, which, of course, we loved). It’s hard to judge. But despite my mixed feelings about its position in the larger Doctor Who landscape, there’s some fantastic stuff here that’s well worth a listener’s while if they’re looking for a Tenth Doctor fix, and one of my absolute favorite releases of the year so far in this set, and I very much love how most of these stories allow more minor players to shine, just as the Ninth Doctor Chronicles did. That seems to be the best wheelhouse for these stories, and one I hope Big Finish leans even further into in future.

TIBERE: It’s a bit of an odd one. The Chronicles sets, in their very nature, tend to be a bit more off-beat and experimental, because, well, that’s generally just what you do when you don’t have the original cast on hand. That’s an approach that worked well with Nine, who’s kind of an outlier among Doctors, for many reasons – it’s a bit odd with Ten, who’s kind of defined by his popular, populist even, appeal. As a result, this is a very mixed set that doesn’t really have a unified identity or take on the character. Is it good, though? I think it mostly is, yeah – the first half suffers from being a bit too much of the same classic Tenth Doctor romp formula we already saw plenty of in November last year; but the second, penned by much more experience Big Finish heavyweights like James Goss and Guy Adams, gets into much more interesting and odd places. And, much like the Ninth Doctor set, it ends up on a story that pretty much justifies the price of the boxset on its own. Plus, I can only add to the well-deserved heap of praise Dudman has got – he is utterly flawless as Ten, but manages to make an extremely compelling narrator and gives a lot of nuance and personality to the side characters (to the point where I, on several occasions, had to check whether he was the one playing them – the guy knows how to use his voice!). It’s an uneven collection of stories, but definitely a compelling one – and I think I’d even go as far as recommending it over the previous Piper/Tennant set.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Ravenous, volume I

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles, alongside guest contributor Enigma (’cause y’know, discussing a series largely about women and feminism while we’re all dudes wouldn’t have been the best thing), tackle the return of Liv Chenka, Helen Sinclair, the Eleven and the Eighth Doctor in the first installment of the new four-boxsets-epic, Ravenous. Say Kandyman five times in front of a mirror, sit comfortably (maybe with a sorbet), and enjoy. Oh, and obviously, beware the spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: It’s an interesting beginning for a new major arc, really. It’s very different from the big, brash, epic beginnings of Doom Coalition and even Dark Eyes before it. It’s very slow and deliberate, mostly doing a lot of set-up for future sets and adventures. Scribbles told me that the finale of this set felt, in many respects, like it was this series’ equivalent to “The Eleven”, and I agree with him. It’s a prologue above everything else: and I guess that it can understand why some would feel a bit frustrated by being asked to pay twenty-five bucks for the prelude to a larger story. On the other hand, it’s not without certain advantages – there’s a real charm in having something a little smaller in scale, some fun, consequence-free adventures. It’s not really something McGann has gone since … 2011 and the last EDA series, I think? Gives the character some breathing room, deals with the loose ends, all that good stuff. It’s nice and efficient, but I think Ravenous mostly leaves you hungry for more. Ah ah.

SCRIBBLES: This set is different, really. Doom Coalition had a rigid structure of giving each box set one little piece of the arc. There’s ways that worked, and ways that didn’t. Probably the biggest complaints about Doom Coalition were lobbed at the second set, which introduced new elements but didn’t do much in the way of revealing new information, culminating in a finale that had a fun use of River but seemed not to deliver big moments fans were hoping for. This set feels pitched to sort of balance that out, I think. It’s a very slow beginning, and half the set feels like a journey to get to Ravenous as an arc, with mixed results. But when the elements did start to hit, I quite liked what they became. This set feels like a conscious deflation and move away from the epics of Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition, which is a welcome change of pace, but I must also admit to impatience to just finally get on with more Helen Sinclair. This set just feels kind of hard to judge right now. It’s all standalone pieces, yes, but knowing there’s more still feels like that’s what will determine how this goes down. The one thing I can say, there’s no highs like The Red Lady offered as a hook, but on the flip side, there’s nothing that misfires in quite the way The Galileo Trap did. It’s a safe, comfortable prologue to what’s to come.

ENIGMA: Um, well, stuff happened. Crap, I never really thought about it as a whole. I mean, for the most part each part was their own thing kind of tangentially related in plot. Good overall, I thought. Feels more like the New Who style than it has in the past two sets. And, um, no I don’t got a long paragraph for this section. I mean, it’s a nice break from the general doom and gloom I’ve been getting out of the Eighth Doctor Adventures books so far. Just nice to get through an Eighth Doctor story without any genocide. And also the nineties-ness.

TIBERE: I just finished reading “Alien Bodies” and … Yeah, there’s a bit of a tone whiplash! Still, I really like the way this series feels – they’re continuing the brand they’ve crafted for themselves in Doom Coalition, this mix of New Who style and plot with Classic ideas and characters.

ENIGMA: Yeah, I do like the box set styles. Nice mix of the Classic Style with the New to created an original format for Big Finish.

TIBERE: Really, I think there’s a larger pattern at work here – Doom Coalition kind of felt into a creative eruption, as far as Big Finish and the EU in general is concerned. The same timeframe that gave us the complex politics of the new UNIT, Gallifrey – “Enemy Lines“, Class … The politics of the Moffat era safely integrated and a gap year the show took, leaving room for other media to take the spotlight. Now, the context is very different. We’re all kind of waiting for the next big wave, which is going to be whatever Chibnall and Jodie bring to the table. And a lot of what Big Finish puts out feels that way, like it was biding its time. Gallifrey: Time War? Set-up. This? Set-up. Even the latest UNIT set has a lot of teases and build-up to major, future events. It’s not quite as good or ubiquitous as Doom Coalition, but I don’t think it’s trying to be, and I’m not worried.
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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood, series 4: “The Death of Captain Jack”

Welcome to DoWntime’s new, not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles enjoy the return of the Torchwood monthlies. Bow to King John, and beware the spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: The first series of monthlies opened with the fairly brooding The Conspiracy,” but since then, there’s been something of a trend toward opening with more lightweight romps. The Death of Captain Jackachieves something a bit greater than past openers by going for the romp with such twisted gusto, and achieves a lot of strength in fan-pleasing cameos that utilize a far broader cast than the monthly range has ever embraced before! There’s a lot of fundamental pleasure to be had from that, particularly for Torchwood fans, but even for those who’ve newly fallen in love with the series from Big Finish, with some affectionate riffing on one of the show’s less well-regarded moments. (We, being ever the contrarians, still will go to bat for The Blood Linebeing a masterpiece, incidentally, but there’s a gag here that got a big laugh out of me at its expense all the same.) It’s fun and frothy, with a lot of affection for the show shining through. Unfortunately, it sort of fizzles out. I highly recommend The Death of Captain Jackas a series of vignettes celebrating the gay, morbid weirdness that Torchwood is, but equally, I can’t sell it to people saying it will offer much more than that. It doesn’t have something to say, and scarcely even has much of a plot. That’s essentially the draw, but it keeps this from being much more than a fun ride through a bunch of already known variables, ever-so-slightly turned on their heads. It seems like it’s here to remind us what Torchwood is after Aliens Among Us put its heart into evolving that concept, and it succeeds, but it’s hard not to also feel like it just does that and nothing more.

TIBERE: It’s a bit of an odd one. I think that in a way, it’s very much of a statement of purpose after a very experimental, and slightly divisive (for all that we loved it, “The Dollhouse” wasn’t exactly a hit among the Torchwood crowd, from what I’ve gathered) series 3 that tried to explore the unseen corners of the Torchwood mythos. It’s very much coming back to the basic themes of the range, the parallel joy and toxicity of the show’s aesthetics, I think. So it is, in many respects, playing it safe: it’s a crowd-pleasing, fanservice-filled blockbuster, in a way the range never really attempted before – which might be a cause for worry. On the other hand, it’s just … fun. It’s darkly hilarious, really well-paced, and James Marsters’ deadpan delivery is a thing of beauty. It’s not terribly substantial, and it’s incredibly, incredibly self-indulgent, but really, is there a better way to pay tribute to the vain John Hart? Plus, when you’re into your fourth series, I feel like there’s this possibility to take a bit of a breather as far as establishing aesthetics and themes go – an episode like this one would have been worrying if it had come in 2015, but right now, I’m mostly seeing a range at the peak of its powers kicking back and having some low-key, loose fun. I mean, hell, something that contains both gay sex and references to Austin Powers in Goldmember has to be worth listening to somehow.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Monthly Range: “Serpent in the Silver Mask”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles are like, totally in the zone, tackling the latest monthly release from Big Finish, David Llewellyn’s “Serpent in the Silver Mask”. There’s like, totally spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, it’s another entry in a strong series of monthly releases. One that I admit took a path I didn’t entirely expect – I was really excited by the idea of replicating ideas from the giallo genre into Who audio, but outside of a few aesthetic nods, it’s really not what the audio is about.

SCRIBBLES: What this really is is a frothy comedy. It’s a good thing to have, and I had a very good time with it. Equally, it’s hard to say I’ll remember it too much down the line, but it hits a lot of tremendously enjoyable scenes in fresh ways in order to provide a good time. There’s gags in here that had me howling at their audacity, and that’s a marvelous thing to have, all tied up in a reasonably clever mystery pastiche that’s paced perfectly. It’s basically pleasant and unobjectionable. I can’t recommend racing out to hear it, but equally, I find it difficult to say anyone who does will have anything but a good time.

TIBERE: It’s I think a good example of what baseline quality Big Finish should be like – clever, witty, with enough original ideas and character moments to feel like a worthwhile addition to the Who corpus. One of its most notable specificities, really, that it’s only an hour and a half long – and that’s very good; in the past few years, a lot of the Monthly stories have felt like they were struggling with the two hours runtime, and really, I don’t blame them, it’s a tricky format to make work. If there’s one thing to single out among Llewellyn’s multiple qualities as a writer, it’s that he’s incredible with pacing (remember “Gallifrey: Enemy Lines”?), and it definitely shows here. No, it’s definitely a good time.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Tales From New Earth

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, we are meeting bears, cat people, new humans and gay trees as Tibère and Scribbles grab their backpacks and explore New Earth. So why don’t grab a bottle of sap (and mind spoilers after the ‘read more’ tag) and follow them!

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, this was a breath of fresh air, really. Big Finish is often summed up as being torn between a “odd, ambitious and experimental” poll and a “curating the tradition” one, but they have an entire branch of stories who don’t really fit these categories and instead just focus on being pure raw fun with loveable and precious characters. Jago & Litefoot is the one that springs to mind – and really, this feels a bit like a continuation of it in a way. Not exactly in tone and aesthetics – it’s bigger and brasher and queerer, as adapting Davies demands – but certainly in that it provides that wonderfully easy-listening feel of sliding into a familiar, fun setting. There are good politics, good characters, good representation, and a lot of really absurd ideas. It’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’s a joy to listen to – that’s certainly helped by a really slick and tight production, too. No, really, it’s just a really nice and enjoyable listen. Good stuff.

SCRIBBLES: I think the word for this set is “fun.” It takes the bombast, campy strangeness that Russell T Davies’ alien worlds were known for and fills it with heart and joy, while finding a few places to talk about the importance of diversity along the way. Does the world need “Tales of New Earth?” Probably not. But we’re very fortunate to have it, and I think it’s one of the freshest and most undemandingly enjoyable spinoff series Big Finish has had. I’d recommend it quite highly, and I think it’s something that should be encouraged and supported to continue into further series. It has, for a weird little corner series, shockingly high production value, with some of the finest music Big Finish has ever had, fine ideas, fine new characters, and some truly delightful weirdness to enjoy. And really, I think, no Doctor Who audio to come in 2018 will be able to match the pleasure of a polar bear strapped to a jetpack while the sickest guitar riff ever blares triumphantly.

TIBERE: I mean, if that image fills you with delight–

SCRIBBLES: And unless you’re a soulless, wonderless monster, it should.

TIBERE: –then yeah, you can go buy this set in all good conscience. It’s full of moments like that. Plus, I mean, bears. And otters. And cats. It’s cute. It appeals to the part of my brain that binge-watches cat videos at three in the morning.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Vienna: Retribution

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles get to tell you about one of their absolute favourite Big Finish ranges. Read it. Failure to comply will result in level 3 punishment. Spoilers after the ‘read more’ tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: This is a genuinely excellent set, let’s just get that out of the way, because we’re going to feel repetitive saying that whatever happens. This is just a very good story. It capitalizes on every aesthetic strength Vienna as a range has previously established (and if you’re not familiar with that, go check out spotify right now) while finding new levels of political and emotional depth to thrive in. Retribution mixes the wonderful, twisty mind games of the range with the crime drama that Vienna has been exploring from series 2 and a newfound moral backbone (hot off the heels of the destruction of space capitalism in “Impossibly Glamorous”; seriously, do yourself a favor and listen to all of Vienna, that one has killer corgis, it’s great). This new series hits hard in all the best ways, while never being anything less than a joy to listen to. And what’s more, I think we both agree, it’s the sort of storytelling we need in the present climate. It’s escapist fun with some fantastic, fantastic ideals, and it’s more inclusive than the range has ever been, matching wonderfully with the activism lead actress Chase Masterson has been pursuing in real life. As a series, this is quite possibly the finest Vienna yet, and I would highly recommend this to everyone.

TIBERE: Vienna is one of the best ranges in all of the Big Finish back catalogue. Straight fact for you. And another – it’s also one of their most overlooked, while it offers some superb satire and social commentary through the prism of fun, incredibly intricate and well-plotted adventures starring a cast of strong, likeable female characters. With any luck, the release of this latest installment, which for the first time adopts the format of three-part overall story penned by a single author, Guy Adams, who had already wrote the stand-out episode of series 3 (“Big Society”, or Space Donald Trump vs Living Architecture, haven’t you got it by now, SERIOUSLY, LISTEN TO ALL OF VIENNA), will change things, because holy mother of god, this is some absolutely incredible audio content. The plotting is great, but that was to be expected; the social elements are biting and corrosive, but that was to be expected – no, where this boxset really surprises is in the way it has of taking the relatively simple set-up of Vienna, with its larger-than-life, purposefully stereotypical characters, and giving them a surprising amount of poignancy, complexity and conflict. It’s quite a big shift for the range, but one Adams pulls off incredibly well and naturally. It feels like a natural extension, like lovely, organic growth that allows leads Chase Masterson and Sam Béart to let their (considerable) acting abilities soar. It’s an absolute wonder, and it needs to be recognized as such. Buy it, spread the word, we need more Vienna in the world, because it honestly makes it a better place. There’s not going to be many audio Who stories this year which will top this.

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