In the fifteen or so years that Big Finish has been releasing stories, they've brought back just about every classic Doctor Who villain and monster imIn the fifteen or so years that Big Finish has been releasing stories, they've brought back just about every classic Doctor Who villain and monster imaginable.
There are a few exceptions which up until this release included the Doctor's old nemesis, the Rani. But I suppose if the Swarm can get a sequel, then it's about time the Rani made her debut in the Big Finish audio universe.
And like the previous installment in this trilogy, The Rani Elite is a case of a lot of potential squandered. A lot of this comes from the simple fact that the story includes the Rani's name in the title but then follows the classic series pattern of keeping the villain's identity hidden until the cliffhanger for the first episode. I can't help but feel that the story squandered not only a potentially great cliffhanger but also the entire first installment of this story in a holding pattern, waiting for the Doctor and Peri to put together what the audience already knows -- the Rani is back.
The Doctor is invited to a university to receive an honorary award. Suspicious, the Doctor sets the TARDIS to arrive a day early and begins to stick his nose into things to find out what's going on. Turns out the Rani is on hand and she's got a nefarious scheme that is, quite frankly, too much like the plots she used in her two television appearances to really be all that interesting. Once we get past the big reveal, the story feels like it's just mimicking the two classic series serials that featured the Rani and not really doing anything new or interesting with the character.
It's another case of Big Finish's desire to emulate the classic series so much that the story squanders its potential to do something interesting or new with the material and characters.
Honestly, having heard the title of this one months ago and based on a character's name in The Widow's Assassin, I thought this story might reveal that the Rani had somehow been playing games with the Doctor and Peri for this entire trilogy of stories. (Or it could be that I'm putting more thought into connecting the dots on these stories than the writing staff is. But can you blame me when a character in Assassin is named "Princess Derani"?!?)
This loosely connected trilogy started with a solid story and ends with a whimper. It's nice to hear Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant together again. But overall I can't help but come away from this story and trilogy feeling like this was a huge missed opportunity....more
One of the problems with an audio drama featuring the Daleks is they aren't exactly the most exciting aliens to listen to for any length of time. Or hOne of the problems with an audio drama featuring the Daleks is they aren't exactly the most exciting aliens to listen to for any length of time. Or heaven forbid you have two or even three Daleks carrying on a lengthy conversation that includes plot details or developments.
It's not to say that I don't like the Daleks. They're my favorite Doctor Who adversary, but I think that in order to do them right in the audio dramas, you have to be a bit more creative than you would on TV.
Give props to Masters of Earth for at least trying to do something creative with the Daleks in the realm of Big Finish audio dramas. Arriving on Earth during the Dalek occupation, the sixth Doctor is ready to jump back into the TARDIS and leave to prevent himself or Peri contaminating his own personal time line. Seems he's arrived a couple of years before his first incarnation will help overthrow the Daleks and liberate the planet.
But before you say "Exterminate," the TARDIS sinks into a bog and the Doctor and Peri are caught up with the resistance on a cross-country trip that will include encounters with RoboMen, Varga plants and the Slyther. If you're a fan of 60's Who and in particular the Dalek stories from those early days, there are a lot of nice homages to that era.
But homages to an era do not a story make and it's in the story that Masters of Earth really feels like it let me down. Because the Doctor can't affect any change, there's not a lot for he and Peri to do, besides avoid changing history and letting the Daleks know he's on the scene. There are some interesting chases involving Daleks on gliders (an homage to the 60's comics), but overall I can't help but feel the story had more potential than was realized in what we got here. ...more
If you were to poll classic Doctor Who fans on which adversaries from the original run they'd like to see back, odds are the Swarm wouldn't make the tIf you were to poll classic Doctor Who fans on which adversaries from the original run they'd like to see back, odds are the Swarm wouldn't make the top ten. Nor the top twenty or thirty.
A poorly realized (visually anyway) adversary from the 70's story, "The Invisible Enemy," the Swarm isn't the most threatening, interesting or even well regarded foe the Doctor ever faced. But maybe freed of the limitations of the television series and with the virtually unlimited special effects showcase of the imagination, maybe the Swarm could flourish in the world of audio.
Unfortunately, not so much.
Leaning heavily on the catch phrase from the original story, "Revenge of the Swarm" is a tale of two halves. The first half finds the Swam has hidden itself inside the TARDIS all these years, waiting just the right opportunity to show itself again. That opportunity comes with Hex/Hector, who has recently become (literally) a new man. (If you're a bit lost here, you're not alone. I hadn't listened to any of the stories leading up to this one and I'm sure I'm missing some of the nuances of Hex/Hector's story.)
Before you know it, the TARDIS is headed back to Titan Base and the Swarm is working to make sure that it comes into existence. Yep, there's time paradoxes in this one and the question of which came first -- the giant prawn or the egg? And that doesn't even take into account that the second half of the story takes place in a virtual reality like world that requires paying a lot more attention that I'm used to doing on these stories in order to follow things.
My hope heading into the story was that it might take a campy monster from the 70's and put some new, entertaining twist on it. That didn't happen. Add in a lot of confusing details about the Hex/Hector drama and a storyline that seems to be chasing its own tail a bit too much and you're left with a disappointing entry from the Big Finish range. ...more
Every once in a while, my wife and I like to recommend a book to each other that's outside our usual reading comfort zone. She tends to try and get meEvery once in a while, my wife and I like to recommend a book to each other that's outside our usual reading comfort zone. She tends to try and get me to read a novel from one of her favorite genres -- the world of romance.
And while this one isn't quite the supernatural romance I'm sure she was hoping I'd read, I have to admit it was fairly satisfying.
Julia Boyd is a bit jaded when it comes to love. Spurned by her college boyfriend, Julia has found a lot of frogs and no prince. But maybe her friend Alex could be that knight in shining armor who breaks down her sarcastic barriers and finally wins her heart.
Barbie Bohrman does a nice job of giving Julia and Alex a slow burn, building up the sexual tension between the two. It also helps that for the first half of the novel, Julia has a nice cast of supporting characters to give her advice and to serve as a sounding board for her frustrations at her attraction to Alex (turns out Alex was once the object of interest for her best friend, who is now happy in a different romantic relationship). The flirting eventually leads to something more between she and Alex -- and it's once the two get together that I feel the novel lost something of its edge.
I will admit I listened to this one as an audio book and that may not have helped things necessarily. Chapters of steamy romance may not not be best experienced in the audio book format. But it's kind of a trade-off since the reader gives the first-person narration of Julie such a flair up to that point.
Another part of it could be that once Julia and Alex give in to their feelings, the supporting cast virtually vanishes into the background. And maybe that's meant to mirror how new couples can disappear into each other when they first get together, but I couldn't help but hope the supporting cast might get more page time in the novel's last half than they did. ...more
My 2014 reading year was book-ended with offerings from the stars of Parks and Recreation. One of those books I loved and the other I was a bit disappMy 2014 reading year was book-ended with offerings from the stars of Parks and Recreation. One of those books I loved and the other I was a bit disappointed in.
I hate to admit it but I didn't much care for Nick Offerman's book, despite loving his character of Ron Swanson on the show. But I was pleasantly surprised at Amy Poehler's autobiography Yes Please.
Part of this could be that I chose to listen to the audio version of the book. Poehler narrates her book and has a number of guest stars stop by the audio booth to lend a hand. This helps the book take on a conversational style and made me feel more like I was sitting across from Poehler as she related each of these stories. (It also helps that the final chapter is read in front of an audience and comes across feeling less like an essay and more like a testing out of new stand-up comedy material).
Having Poehler relate her life's story helped me to understand why she bragged about some things and why she was reluctant to talk about others. But over the course of the several hours I spent listening to this, what I came away with was a feeling like Poehler and I were now old friends who might hang out and grab waffles sometime at J.J.'s Diner (wait, that's Leslie Knope...but you get the idea).
An entertaining, fun listen on audio book. And one that doesn't overstay its welcome and left me wanting just another few minutes with it. ...more
When it comes to Jim Gaffigan's Dad is Fat, I feel like my lack of love for the book isn't so much about the book itself, but more to do with me.
I'veWhen it comes to Jim Gaffigan's Dad is Fat, I feel like my lack of love for the book isn't so much about the book itself, but more to do with me.
I've enjoyed Gaffigan's stand-up material and a lot of it is well-translated to the page (or in my case the audio book). But I was probably mentally not in a place to truly enjoy jokes about the daily trials and tribulations of raising five kids.
Gaffigan's stories of trying to raise five kids in a two-bedroom New York City apartment are utterly charming and amusing. Gaffigan is even self-deprecating enough to appreciate the absurdity of certain things.
And yet I just couldn't love the book. I tried.
It's not you, it's me, I kept thinking. And it probably was. ...more
Every time I delve into the extra features on an 80's era Doctor Who DVD release, I'm a bit saddened that John Nathan Turner passed away before he couEvery time I delve into the extra features on an 80's era Doctor Who DVD release, I'm a bit saddened that John Nathan Turner passed away before he could fully participate in a couple of extras from his tenure as producer. I'd be fascinated to see what his thoughts on his (at times) controversial tenure were like as well as have some insights from his role as producer for the show during the turbulent era when the ratings declined and the show was cancelled, brought back and then put on hiatus that final time, leading to the wilderness year.
It would be interesting to hear Nathan-Turner get a chance to defend himself or at least respond to various criticisms laid at his feet in various commentaries and extras from that era.
The closest we'll get is this two disc set of Nathan Turner reading his own memoirs that were originally published in Doctor Who Magazine. Listening to it, I'm struck by how much of a gentleman Nathan Turner was and his insights into certain creative decisions made during his long run as the show's producer. Also of interest are his take on certain segments of the fandom who were extremely vocal about the perceived shortcomings of 80's Who.
Nathan Turner proves to be far more a gentleman in discussing a certain script editor and his departure from the show than the script editor has been in certain interviews during that time. It's interesting to see him take the high road and relate what happened from his perspective without necessarily taking others to task or getting into a game of "He said, he said" about the whole thing. We may never fully know what went on behind the scenes, but at least we get to hear JN-T's side of things.
What comes across in the memoirs is first that JN-T loved Doctor Who and second that he grew weary of his growing niche at the BBC being the producer of the show for so long. The second disc seems to be a lot of JN-T's attempts to step aside as producer and bring in some new vision to the show, only to have it implied that without him, the show won't go on. And while there were clunkers from that era, it's hard to imagine the show stopping before getting to some of my favorites like "The Caves of Androzani" or "The Curse of Fenric." Even JN-T's thoughts on averting "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" from cancellation make like him a bit more, if only because I consider that story an underrated classic.
For good or bad, JN-T was a big influence on Doctor Who and this audio memoir is a solid one. It probably won't change the mind of those who are determined to dislike his era, but it certainly will give the rest of us an intriguing look inside the production of a tumultuous era in the show's history. ...more
When she's chosen to be one of three exchange students with the recently discovered alien race the L'eihrs, Cara Sweeney sees not only a chance to getWhen she's chosen to be one of three exchange students with the recently discovered alien race the L'eihrs, Cara Sweeney sees not only a chance to get a full ride to college but also the change to jump start her career as a journalist. But that Cara didn't expect was rampant xenophobia from her friends and planet or that her exchange student Alix might have a different agenda than promoting peace and understanding between the two cultures.
Oh, and she also didn't expect that she'd start to fall for the alien living under her roof.
Melissa Landers' Alienated starts off with a very interesting premise and story line, tackling some interesting threads and showing us the unintended price that Cara is paying for making the choice -- she loses her boyfriend and her best friend in the rampant xenophobia overtaking her community. But somewhere around the third or fourth disc of this audiobook, things began to quickly go awry and I found myself enjoying the story less and less. It's probably about the time that both Alix and Cara begin to fall for each other. It's not because Landers doesn't spend a time in the first half of the book setting these two unlikely heroes up as a couple. It's because once the Cara starts trying to making food palatable to Alix's alien palate that things the story begins to lose track of the interesting questions that drove the first half of the novel and slowly begins to center on just attracted these two are to each other.
Dropped from the story is the thread about how Cara's mother was saved by L'eihr technology and how that could impact Cara and her family's acceptance of Alix and his fellow student ambassadors.
About the only thing that kept me going for the final half of the novel was the mystery of what Alix and his exchange program counterparts are devising to inflict upon humanity in order to destroy both sides willingness to form an alliance. Unfortunately by the time we get around to any answers, I'd long since lost interesting and found myself doubling the audio rate on my iPod simply to get through the book. The answers aren't anything I hadn't already sussed out from the novel's early stages and by the time I got to the final disc, I was ready for the whole thing to be over and done.
Which is a shame because, as I said before, the story starts off well with some interesting questions. The novel ends of a cliffhanger of sorts but I can't say that I'm curious enough to want to pick up the story when the next installment hits shelves....more
There are certain monsters and villains that lend themselves well to audio and some that don't. The Zygons probably fall somewhere firmly in the middlThere are certain monsters and villains that lend themselves well to audio and some that don't. The Zygons probably fall somewhere firmly in the middle since their ability to disguise themselves as various people in the story can be more easily realized in the audio landscape. But then again, the Zygon voices also suffer from the same thing that the Dalek voices do -- they can be a bit grating to listen for an extended period of time in an audio release.
And so it is that we come to Zygon Hunt, the final release of the current fourth Doctor adventures and a story that worked far better than I initially thought it could or would. I'll say that the story suffers a bit in comparison to how superbly the Zygons were used in the fiftieth anniversary story, but overall I can't help but feel that this current run of fourth Doctor stories has gone out on a solid note, even if it never delivered on the early conflict between the Doctor and Leela that we saw in The Kings of Sontar.
The Doctor and Leela arrive on the planet Garros where they meet up with expedition that is hunting the Zygons for sport. But the question quickly becomes who is hunting who and just how does this play into the Zygons' plan to conquer the Earth? As I said before there are doppelgangers and questions of loyalty abounding in this story, but once those big reveals are stripped away, I'm afraid the overall story does quite hold together. Part of it that the supporting cast aren't really all that interesting or memorable so it's hard to really care much about who is human and who is a Zygon in disguise.
Overall, I feel like the latest fourth Doctor season started out on a high note and that it was all a downhill slide from there. Certainly Zygon Hunt isn't as disappointing as the last two entries in the range, but I still came away feeling a bit letdown overall by the season. ...more
After directing an entry in the Companion Chronicles line earlier this year, Louise Jameson tries her hand at writing with The Abandoned.
And while heAfter directing an entry in the Companion Chronicles line earlier this year, Louise Jameson tries her hand at writing with The Abandoned.
And while her directing debut was a winner, I'll have to admit that her script debut is a bit hit or miss. There are some intriguing ideas here, including an exploration of the nature of the TARDIS and some depth to the relationship of the Doctor and Leela that we couldn't necessarily see in the classic era, but I'm not sure that the story as a whole translates well into the audio arena. Jameson is quite good as Leela and gives herself a lot of stretching to do. But there are moments during The Abandoned that I felt might work better on the TV screen or printed page -- whether it be a straight text story or a comic book adaptation.
That puts the fourth Doctor adventures third season at two stories in a row that had some promise but didn't quite gel together for me. It also makes me begin to doubt very much if the range will deliver on the promise from the early installments of the season that had me eager to hear the next story. I feel like the range has dropped the ball a bit. ...more
Perusing reviews of Lies My Girlfriends Told Me, it appears the books is a bit polarizing among readers. There are some who call is "ground breaking"Perusing reviews of Lies My Girlfriends Told Me, it appears the books is a bit polarizing among readers. There are some who call is "ground breaking" while others are quick to dismiss it as your standard teen angst novel.
My thoughts on the subject are that yes, the novel is full of teen relationship angst and that it's not necessarily as ground breaking as some reviewers would have you believe.
When Alix's girlfriend Swanee passes away of cardiac arrest during a run, Alix's entire world is shattered. But not nearly as much as when Alix sneaks into her girlfriend's room and discovers her cell phone full of voice-mails and text messages from LM. Seems that Swanee had more than her fair share of secrets, including the fact that she was in a relationship with not only Alix, but also this mysterious LM.
Driven by a need to find answers, Alix quizzes Swanee's younger sister, Joss for clues and eventually begins to answer back the mysterious LM's texts. Alix eventually founds out that LM is Liana, a cheerleader at another school who Swanee assured Alix she'd broken up with when they got together. Confused, Alix seeks out Liana, wanting to find answers and possibly get some closure. But things get complicated when Alix and Liana share a connection, becoming friends and possibly more.
Lies My Girlfriend Told Me has teenage angst that comes off the page (or in my case through your earbuds) in waves. Alix's conflict about the Swanee she thought she knew and the real Swanee helps drive the novel and helped keep me interested during the first half of the book. The story shows us just how manipulative Swanee really was (she gets Alix to drop all of her friends, see her parents as terrible people for wanting her to help out around the house and not buying her a car, etc.) and it's a nice character arc for Alix to slowly realize that while she loved Swanee, that Swanee wasn't necessarily the great girlfriend in the world. We also see Alix come to realize that Swanee's family has some fundamental problems that she wasn't aware of when Swanee was alive (Swanee's mom reveals that she encouraged her daughter to date as much as possible while she was young. It feels almost as if Mom gave her approval of how manipulative Swanee and her sister Joss are of other's feelings).
A little teen angst can be a good thing, but there are times when it feels like Lies My Girlfriend Told Me seems to be pouring it on. Early on, I realized that Swanee was being emotionally manipulative of both Alix and Liana (she convinces Liana to buy an expensive engagement ring, promising that she'll buy one as well while she has no intention of doing so. She also promises both parties they will go to college together and have their own apartment). Seeing both girls come to terms with this is the novel's most interesting character arc and one that is well earned by the Julie Anne Peters.
Where the novel stumbles is in its portrayal of Alix (at times). There were moments I wanted to reach through the ear buds and tell her to wake up and realize that she was being a perfect little snot to her friends, family and those who care about her. I get that Peters is trying to help us understand just how much Swanee manipulated Alix, but there are times when Alix's feeling of entitlement became a bit cloying and annoying.
There's also the elephant in the room of that fact that Lies My Girlfriend Told Me is a main-stream young adult novel that centers on romantic relationships between people of the same sex. There were times as I listened to the story that the story worked and there were time I felt like this book was being as manipulative to readers (or potential readers) as Swanee was to Alix and Liana. Part of it comes from a lack of really significant or interesting character development. I kept finding myself hoping for a bit more development or understanding of what made Swanee the way she was or why these girls found her so irresistible. Unfortunately, we don't get any answers to this.
And while Alix does go on a bit of a journey, it doesn't necessarily seem like an earned one. Nor does her change feel natural enough or reasonable enough to support some of her parents' decisions (allowing her to take care of her little brother for the weekend, buying her a car) in the novel's closing pages. It felt like this was a bit of wish fulfillment on the part of Alix and Peters with a sudden turnaround in Alix's life that isn't earned. And don't get me started on how easily forgiven Alix is once Liana learns the truth about how they met.
All in all, what started out as a novel with an interesting hook turns out to be little more than a standard YA angst and wish fulfillment novels. It's not as ground-breaking as some would want you to believe, but it's not entirely worth dismissing. Go into it with lowered expectations and you'll probably enjoy most of what Peters is trying to do here. ...more
Listening to the audio version of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, I couldn't help but recall Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
SkiListening to the audio version of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, I couldn't help but recall Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Skimming a couple of other reviews on Goodreads, I see that I'm not the only one.
This isn't a bad thing, mind you. As an homage to Chocolate Factory, Mr. Lemoncello's Library works fairly well. But it also stands on its own as an enjoyable, entertaining book.
It certainly had me entertained as I listened.
Kyle Keeley is one of several students selected to spend the night in the brand new Lemoncello Library. Mr. Lemoncello creates the greatest games -- video and otherwise -- in the world and he wants to give back to his home town, which has been without a library for several years now. He builds a state-of-the-art facility that he hopes will appeal to old school and new school users. And to generate some excitement he makes his new library the showcase for his new game.
The goal is to find a way out of the library by using the resources contained within. There's no overriding threat of danger or death to the game, just the desire to get out first and win the fame and fortune that comes with it.
Reading this book, I found myself wanting to find a way to play some of the games invented by Mr. Lemoncello. And while the characters and plot aren't necessarily ground-breaking, it's still a fun, diverting book that I could see myself sharing with younger members of my family or my kids (someday). ...more