Featuring the characters introduced in Remembrance of the Daleks (reviewed here) this set of four stories was one of many boxsets released by Big Finish in 2012. Fans were mixed ahead of release as to whether or not this would work – my view was it might be worth a listen so I subscribed. General reaction on the BF forum has been mostly positive and if you want a ten second review then ‘worth a listen, why not buy it’. If you would like more then please click on…
How to assess?
In order to sustain itself as nothing more than a curiosity (and the second set has been announced), I think the stories needs to be judged according to:
- Are they good in their own right?
- Does the series have a distinct voice (or brand if you will)?
- How does the link back to Remembrance work?
For no other reason than perversity I will take these in reverse order, then give my thoughts on each story.
The Link back to Remembrance
For me this was well done, there were occasional mentions of the ‘events in Coal Hill’ which avoided mention of the Doctor or Ace or even Daleks. There were as many elliptical references to Quatermass in mentions of ‘the Rocket Group’ so that was OK for me.
Is there a distinct voice?
This show needs to sounds 60s (or at least the 1988 view of the 60s) which it broadly does. We have older characters from a pre-pop age and the younger more into ‘modern music’. We have the whole world of no-mobile phones and a way of working that does seem of that time (leaving London without our motorway network was a big deal).
It is a bit Avengers / Prisoner / Quatermass if you listen out for that but I felt those were flavours rather than overwhelming the story.
There is also a canon problem: this space is getting crowded with UNIT, Torchwood and The Forge. Does this group separate itself well? We can ignore Torchwood as a fork in history out of scope of Big Finish; The Forge could be lurking in the background and not a problem in the 60s. UNIT is trickier, this group could be seen as part of the emergence of UNIT and needs to feel different from a third Doctor story. Here the distinction is difficult – we could map Toby to ‘The Minister’, Gilmore to the Brigadier, Rachel to the Third Doctor and Allison to Liz Shaw. Hopefully this separation improves in the second boxset.
Are they any good?
Yes I think they are: we have a few running themes, a growth to the main characters from Remembrance (Chunk Gilmore, Rachel Jensen and Allison Williams) and the new man in charge – Sir Toby Kinsella is well rendered. Apart from a confusing first track of 60s sounds the productions are to the usual standard we expect from Big Finish, acting is good and the writing is solid. The latter stories are better than the first two which may be inevitable or may be a matter of the team getting used to each other.
The Stories themselves
- Threshold by Paul Finch: this links back to transmat technology and alien threats from other realms. The main characters re-appear and the need to a dedicated group is established. A decent enough tale that maybe doesn’t hit the peaks but certainly encourages the listener to continue with the series.
- Artificial Intelligence by Matt Fitton: fundamentally a tale about computers gone wrong this is improved with some good Cold War touches (and this is a staple of 60s drama after all) that take a slightly modern slant on things as far as giving Gilmore some emotional baggage to deal with
- The Pelage Project by Ian Potter: the most Quatermass like of all the stories (Quatermass II to be specific) but instead of aliens we have human modification, mad industrialists, the saving of the human race from the pollution of Earth and a Prisoner like usage of tannoy systems. I think this is (just) the best of the boxset and really harks back to a 50s / early 60s Britain where you could still hide a whole industrial complex and supporting town just off the side of an A road!
- State of Emergency by Justin Richards: the transmat technology appears as does Prime Harold Wilson. A military coup seems to have Toby and Gilmore on-side but luckily everything ends up well and Counter Measures emerges better funded and hopefully ready to face the oncoming threats!
I hope this all gives a sense of these stories – I could have spent more time on the actual content but felt it worth painting an overall picture. What do you think?