ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Bernice Summerfield: True Stories (audiobook)

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: So this is something a bit different, isn’t it? Not an audio drama, but an audiobook. There of course has been a long, long tradition of Bernice Summerfield books in Big Finish, sometimes criss-crossing with the Main Range – and they have gone back to it this year, as a sort of fun aside, going beyond the main plot of sets III and IV.

SCRIBBLES: The main thing, really, is that this book exists for people like me who are griping that Benny hasn’t gotten quite enough to do in the Unbound universe arc, which, in the most recent set in particular, has favored the Doctor’s perspective. It’s something, really, you’ll know from that whether you want to get. It’s not the most world-changing set of stories ever, though there is one piece in here I’d go to bat for and say is one of the finest explorations of the Unbound universe setting ever and is worth digging into for that alone, but really, it exists to satiate a very specific appetite. There’s limitations in how far it can go with that: I rather wish the Benny relating past stories format was taken beyond just the Unbound time period so we could see more of her with her old gang, which I dearly miss. The New Adventures reboot, good as it has been, has felt like a bit of a distraction from that world. But in the meantime, this will do, and that seems to be exactly what it was made for. It scratches one particular itch not everybody will have, but I personally am very glad to have it scratched.

TIBERE: It basically exists only as comfort food for hardcore Benny fans. Which, thankfully, we both are. It’s not something you’re necessarily going to want to check out if you’ve discovered her through the New Adventures range and aren’t interested in something else – but if you’re nostalgic for the original Benny range, this is a good way to recapture the feel of it all. Regardless of the quality – consistent, but not especially high – of the stories, this really exists to have a set of Benny stories that are pure, classic, unadulterated Benny stories. Down to bringing back Kate Orman to pen the opening tale – her last contribution to the range being the original text of “Walking to Babylon”, adapted as an audio by Jac Rayner in 1999. That’s … That’s some Rona Munro shit right there. But eh! It’s nice fanservice. I felt appropriately catered to. Not going to say it’s the best thing under the sun, but it’s an excellent way to spend a few hours (and, at around five hours for ten pounds, it’s a nice deal, too).

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Short Trip: “All Hands on Deck”

Spoiler-free thoughts

TIBERE: So, this is a sequel of sorts to last month’s Short Trip, “A Heart on Both Sides”. We reviewed it, we really loved it, you can check it out here. Well, I say sequel. More like, another little thematic vignette on the horror of the Time War. It’s … Interesting, I guess? And … Yeah, really not as good as the first.

SCRIBBLES: I find this story pretty hard to react to as a story, because it isn’t, really, It’s more twenty minutes of nostalgia and loosely connected incident that isn’t particularly interesting, building to an astonishing scene that feels more like the beginning to a greater story. And that scene is very, very worth hearing, particularly for the low cost this story is available for. But in comparison to the highs A Heart on Both Sidesachieved with plot, theme, and character, this feels a little lackluster. Not reprehensible, actually very enjoyable, but a bit quieter and less eventful than it needs to be.

TIBERE: Basically. I do find the beginning of the story interesting, though, if not especially good. In part because this is a post-“To the Death” audio written by Eddie Robson. Now, very much was – or so it felt – the brain between the Eighth Doctor Adventures range.

SCRIBBLES: Moreso, I’d call him the heart. He’s engaged with the fallout of the range once before in spectacular fashion with The Secret History,” and it’s lovely to just hear the mundane moments that fill Susan’s life after all that transpired. It’s less aggressively raw than I’d have hoped, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without merit.

TIBERE: It feels like him almost reclaiming the range, in a way. That range always felt conflicted, between the very trad efforts offered by Nicholas Briggs and some other writers (“To the Death”, or “Vengeance of Morbius”, being prime examples of that ethos), and the care-free, fun, character-driven version Robson offered. I do agree that these initial bits feel a bit aimless in the context of the story, but they do take some degree of additional meaning when placed within the context of the EDAs. And if you’re a fan of the EDAs, I think that’s a really indispensable purchase – it kind of finds some thematic resolution that the actual finale didn’t offer. So yeah – it’s definitely not the best thing under the sun, but it offers interesting commentary on the past and opens new prospects for later on. Not great, but interesting, that’s the assessment.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Short Trip – “A Heart on Both Sides”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle Big Finish’ latest short trip, following Nyssa at the heart of the Time War. Beware terrorists, and keep on reading.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts

TIBERE: Big Finish has started, of late, to use its Short Trips range (which are, in case you reader are not aware, short thirty-minutes stories with one or two actors) to tackle some New Who themes and characters – we got Ten and Eleven meeting Jago & Litefoot earlier this year, and it happens that today, just as we were starting to write this talk, they announced that Jackie Tyler would star along the Metacrisis Doctor in two stories by Joseph Lidster next year. So, well, we had to get on that train and start reviewing those, hadn’t we? Because seeing how Big Finish tackles and problematizes the New Series, well, that’s kind of our job, I suppose. So here we go, writing about the two Time War stories they are releasing: one with Nyssa this month, and another with Susan in October.

SCRIBBLES: I must admit, I was pretty cynical about the idea. In general, I don’t think third person narration is the strongest angle Big Finish has in its wheelhouse, and I tend to worry that the shorter stories give less space to develop. And while there are a few aspects of this story I’d have liked more time to expand on, it surpasses all expectations and really, really works. It finds some fantastic moments of meaning in juxtaposing its lead characters, all to shine a light on an aspect of the Time War that has generally not been developed despite being a vital piece. It works. Very well.

TIBERE: I think the background BF has in short story anthologies (like the Bernice Summerfield ones they use to release as tie-ins to the audios) really help them to create really short, but effective little stories. A strong concept that doesn’t overstay its welcome and explores some really fascinating thematic ground – really, the interaction of Old and New is something Big Finish tends to do very well (look at Doom Coalition), and this is no exception. It’s a gripping, political, extremely-well written little tale, and I think it’s fair to say it has put newcomer Rob Nisbet (who has so far only penned a Companion Chronicle and this) on our watchlist of writers to watch out for. Strongly recommended (plus, it’s cheap!).

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, volume IV – Ruler of the Universe

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. Spoilers are tagged accordingly.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles sink into a therapist’s couch to talk about the latest entry in everyone’s favourite time-travelling archelogist’s adventures (well, maybe not if you prefer River).

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: This … This is interesting. It’s also very good, but above all, it’s interesting. We both love Bernice Summerfield and her audios, and I think it’s fair to say we both have enjoyed the New Adventures range quite a lot (volume I, especially, being one of the best Big Finish releases of all time). But they have had their problems – throwing the Doctor, be it the Seventh Incarnation, or the Unbound, David Warner-played one, wasn’t without certain problems. The focus on Benny’s own personal life, and the struggles she had to face as a single mother and the leader of a vast ragtag bunch of misfits were largely gone, replaced by strong, but much typically Doctor Who-ish narratives (down to the theme song, which has shifted to the Who theme since 2014).

SCRIBBLES: This set is a pretty finely-crafted character arc, and I really have to give a lot of kudos to the fine writing on that. And yet, and I hate to say this, it doesn’t really have all that much Benny in it. This is David Warner’s showcase, and he excels, but it’s hard not to miss the title character, all the same.

TIBERE: I’m probably a bit more positive than you on it – because yes, while it doesn’t change the problems the range has had before and still has, it at least draws attention upon them. The Doctor’s presence is relevant here in a way it wasn’t necessarily before – and the whole set felt like a very pointed, very relevant, and oh so very James Goss-esque interrogation on the relationship between Benny and the Doctor, and between the Classic and modern versions of the show.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Monthly Range – “Time in Office”

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. Spoilers-free, and then less spoiler-free thoughts follow after the ‘read more’ tag.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Monthly Range entry, Eddie Robson’s “Time in Office”. Rise, gentlemen and ladies, the council is now in session.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood – Aliens Among Us I

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the long-awaited Torchwood sequel, “Aliens Among Us”. Cardiff says no to hate, but we say yes to that boxset. Spoilers after the read more tag. CWs: discussion of sexual harassment,

 

Spoiler-free thoughts

Torchwood and politics never mix.”

“Maybe they should.”

TIBERE: Well, that was rather amazing. It’s a little bit hard to put all the puzzle pieces together and to deliver a final verdict on “Aliens Among Us”, because we’re dealing with a heavily serialized twelve episodes arc we have only seen a third of; but, just from the first four stories, I think it’s safe to say it’s shaping up to be something truly, truly special, and maybe one of Big Finish’ greatest storytelling successes. Of course, it’s an occasionally frustrating – infuriating, even, experience, that loves to tease and build-up and leaving you unsatisfied. But at any rate – even if they end up screwing up massively (which doesn’t seem likely considering the level of talent involved), the ideas, the concepts and the themes on display here more than justify the existence of this range. Maybe we can’t yet say how good it is at storytelling, but there’s no way to attack its ambition. This feels like Torchwood, and Big Finish, at their most creative, courageous and cutting-edge. I’m all for it, and I’d probably say that if you have to buy a single boxset this year, that one is probably the one to go for.

SCRIBBLES: It almost feels too soon to call, doesn’t it? There’s so much up in the air at this point. I feel like the closest point of comparison is Miracle Day, another serialized story across a bunch of episodes with occasional episodic concerns, which didn’t really make a big statement about what it was going to be until the halfway mark with The Categories of Life.All we can judge right now is the setup and character work, and that certainly is promising. While not as high concept as “Children of Earth” or “Miracle Day,at least not yet, “Aliens Among Us” has set up fascinating and tremendously relevant political storytelling that looks to place characters new and old in remarkably interesting places, while not entirely losing the delightful identity of individual episodes along the way building to that. It feels raw, and, yeah, rather incomplete at this point, but it’s really already set to be an absolutely essential piece of Torchwood and the Doctor Who universe at large.
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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood, series 3 – “The Dying Room”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “The Dying Room”, by newcomer writer Lizzie Hopley! Seat comfortably, don’t mind the handcuffs, and take some more water, here we go …

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: It’s a nice one. Not necessarily what I’d call a highlight of the range, but considering the range is about the strongest thing BF does at the moment, that’s not exactly a condemnation. It’s a very effective way to expand the Torchwood universe, a bit like “The Dollhouse” was, except instead of finding new and weird territories to explore, it digs into the show’s past, channeling the aesthetics of something like “To the Last Man” or the Victorian bits of “Fragments”. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a very-well executed story that builds up to some great, incredibly fun twists – with a dash of utterly lovely politics. And dammit, when you examine what the story is about, at the end of the day, it’s about the most Torchwood thing to ever Torchwood – the spirit of the show and of the range is alive and kicking here. And as always, it’s a joy.

SCRIBBLES: It proves “The Dollhouse wasn’t a one-off, that’s the main thing to take from it. In our eyes, I think, it’s safe to say that’s a good thing. Like that story, it takes the unique lens of Torchwood and extrapolates it to a different genre to examine the results. The results are, while not quite on the level of Juno Dawson’s camp masterpiece, very enjoyable, and what’s more, very Torchwood, particularly once all the pieces of the story fall together. It finds a bit of space for Torchwood’s campy queer lens in the midst of a Nazi exploitation torture story, and makes that the triumph to focus on. Not going to blow anyone away or convert them to the range, but it’s nice to come out of the third strong series of these audios with a story I just can’t help but say to, “That was so, so Torchwood,” even in the absence of any characters from the show.
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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Classic Doctors, New Monsters volume II

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 BF’s latest boxset, full of old and new favourites. Also, Five and the Racnoss. Eh, the door was opened, there was light, they just kind of came in and the others didn’t want to make them sad. Anyway. Let’s go.

 

Spoiler-free verdict:

SCRIBBLES: Well, that was a rather nice surprise, wasn’t it? I don’t believe either of us were particularly won over by the first outing of this range, but this hits the spot well. Every story here, really, makes an interesting case for the juxtaposition of their classic Doctors of choice with the modern era and find meaning for their characters, all while expanding in logical ways on new series monsters (whereas in the first set, elements like the ending to Falling Angels made me wonder how much the writing even understood the new series). Every monster here, no matter how different the approach, and they do get quite different, feels like an exciting and worthwhile extrapolation of the modern show in a way that Big Finish really has always provided to other eras at its best. And this fresh exploration of modern narrative space befits the writing of the Doctor, too. Even in the weakest story here, every Doctor really gets a chance to shine in a way they rarely do, using the weight of the modern series to inform explorations of who the Doctors once were, and every lead actor rises to the occasion admirably. It feels coherent and polished and high quality, making a case for the existence of this range that actually has me hoping there will be a volume 3 sometime soon.

TIBERE: It’s weird, BF seems, this year, on a big mission to make their most improbable and kind of unneeded projects succeed. The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, UNIT – Assembled (I mean, I wasn’t too into that one, but it was compelling in its own way), and now this. I’m surprised, but happy about it! But back on topic – this is a good set. Very good, I’d even say. Among the many problems of the first one (writers mostly on the less experienced side of things, a general feeling of rushed production, weird picks for who faces what …), one of the most annoying was they way the stories felt like they had nothing to say, nothing to add to the monsters we knew. That’s not really the case, here – no matter the execution, all of these are cool, compelling premises that do really feel like they expand the universe, and feed into the TV stories organically. Mostly, it’s a sort of laboratory for BF writers to throw some cool ideas and concepts and twist the original premises of these creatures in new ways – and yeah, that’s hardly the deepest kind of stories you’ll encounter, and I wouldn’t cry “masterpiece” at any point, but there’s a real joy in that. Those are good romps, solid action movies – that, importantly, don’t use their nature as romps to get stale and uncreative. It’s a lot of fun, and I’d definitely recommend it.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood, series 3 – “The Office of Never Was”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “The Office of Never Was”!

doors closing”

going up!”

SPOILER-FREE THOUGHTS

SCRIBBLES: Rather excellent, all in all. Ianto’s always been a bit of an odd character in Torchwood, a focal point for fandom but rarely explored as the central focus onscreen. This is easily one of the meatiest explorations of him, and of his place in Torchwood. Every character in the series has a bit of darkness to them, and it was clear Ianto did judging by the whole keeping a Cyber-converted woman in the basement incident, but here, we really get to see him stripped down and desperate in a really wonderful way. It’s not quite the tallest triumph of this range, but it is very, very good at what it does, and what it does is something this range could always use. So, highly recommended, really.

TIBERE: It’s James Goss. Surmise. I mean, I know we do tend to praise him maybe a bit too much, and if we keep going a restraining order might be on its way, but still! The man is brilliant, and this is a perfect exploration of why his writing style is so good, and why it fits Torchwood so well. Admittedly, it’s not a revolution or anything, it doesn’t do the kind of things “Cascade” or “The Dollhouse” have done this year, and I think you could say there is a sort of comfortable Torchwood audio formula at work now – the writers have settled into their groove. But eh, said formula is terrific – taking, in every new story, a specific aspect of Torchwood and examining it in very critical, dark and upsetting ways. Can’t really mention what that story does in the spoiler-free part, but it manages to find a new and compelling angle to base a Ianto story on while being utterly faithful to the tone and principles of the show. It’s a lovely conceptual horror tale with absolutely stunning sound work and direction (seriously, can we agree that the TW audios have like, the tightest production work in all of BFdom?), and that’s plenty enough already.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: The Lives of Captain Jack

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 Lives of Captain Jack”. A very rich (we wrote more about it than about some TV episodes!), very Marxist, very gay boxset from Big Finish.

 

Spoiler- free verdict

TIBERE: It’s a good set. If you got to take the obvious route and compare it to “Diary of River Song”, it works much, much better. It’s just a solid set with a good handle on Jack’s character, that aims for a collection of very specific, if not very original, storytelling beats and generally nails them pretty well. Really, above all it’s a really lovely homage to the tone of the Davies years, mostly series 1 but not only, with tons of fun little nods and fanservice. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s strong – and very, very thematically cohesive – work that definitely feels at home with Big Finish “fill the storytelling gaps” approach. It’s a lot like the Ninth Doctor Chronicles, that we tackled a couple months ago, that way – a loving and lovely little slice of Who exegesis. Although, maybe it doesn’t quite reach the same kind of heights – nothing too new under the sun. But still, it’s a really nice throwback, and, with two of BF’s best writers at the helm, it’s an ultra-competent, well-paced, really fun ride. I’d recommend it.

SCRIBBLES: I think the term for all this is “extremely competent fanservice.” Your mind will not be blown. You will not be shaken to your core. You won’t hear much that’s really too novel. But what you will hear is very well tailored to what it wants to be, channeling a series 1 tone and some political storytelling to create a pleasant love letter to the character. The format is a bit like “The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure,” really: a tribute to the phases in the life of a character, each showcasing a different aspect of what makes Jack a loveable character and each, while perhaps not saying anything new about him, showcasing the many aspects of his self. If you love Jack and the Russell T Davies era, it’ll be a bit like slipping into something comfortable and familiar from your childhood. It does what Big Finish often does well, a pleasant little nostalgia trip through new stories.

 

Spoilers follow.

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