Mission to Magnus

The despised creature who owns every last woolly jumper on the planet.

Sil

Synopsis

The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There’s the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor’s life hell during his time at the Academy. There’s also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors. Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor’s. And the future is looking decidedly colder…

Preamble

It would be remiss of me, I feel, not to mention the fact that the writer of this story, Philip Martin, sadly passed away on 13 December 2020. Martin wrote two televised stories for Doctor Who, Vengeance on Varos and Parts 5 – 8 of Trial of a Time Lord, also known as Mindwarp. He also wrote The Creed of the Kromon and Antidote to Oblivion for Big Finish Productions and created the character Sil, who also had a spin-off in the Reeltime Film Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, released in 2019. Vengeance on Varos is a high point of Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor during his television run, and whilst I haven’t seen Mindwarp, I know that some hold it in high regard.

Outside of Doctor Who, Martin created the tv series Gangsters, as well as writing for Z-Cars, Tandoori Nights and Star Cops.

He sadly lost his battle with leukemia and will be much missed.

Review

Mission to Magnus is a story that has a pretty poor reputation amongst fans, which is a massive shame considering this writer’s other work, largely due to the misogyny and general sexism in this story. There are some interesting ideas at play here, but unfortunately it feels as though everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at this story which allows none of these ideas to really develop. The sound design and music feel authentically as though they could have from the 1980s, though, and there are some good performances.

There are so many ideas at play here: we have two rival planets, Magnus and Salvak, each ruled by women and men respectively, climate change, two faces from the Doctor’s past and the Ice Warriors. I feel like I say this a lot with Doctor Who, especially in the original run and I suppose it applies to these Lost Stories too, but whilst some of the central ideas are sound, it falls down when it comes to execution. The central idea of the two warring planets inhabited only by one gender is not bad, but it is characterised so poorly and generally paper thin – men are presented as war-like, whilst women are presented as rather gentler. It feels as though this is a bit of an afterthought, and ultimately the plot of this story sees one planet wanting to obtain time travel technology to prevent a rival planet penetrating their defences is a good enough driving force for a story without the added battle of the sexes element we have here. The ending also feels really awkward, with men from the planet of Salvak deciding that they will unite with the women, who have no concept of marriage.

We then have the character of Anzor, a fellow Time Lord and classmate of the Doctor’s from his days at the Prydonian Academy. Unlike some notable contemporaries of the Doctor, Anzor seems to be completely incompetent and a bit of a borish oaf, who obviously made the Doctor’s school days hell. I feel that Malcolm Rennie does a decent enough job here, and the idea of the Doctor facing off with a bully from his past feels as though it is ultimately abandoned towards the end of the first part, with a coda at the end of the story seeing him off. It is interesting to see a Time Lord like this, as whilst we have seen various different Time Lords, they tend to be knowledgeable and the Doctor’s equal, whilst Anzor is, at his heart a coward.

Then when we get to the Ice Warriors, who ultimately flip the axis of the planet to change the climate of the warm Magnus. In association with Sil, who is looking to make a killing selling warm clothing and equipment, they are looking to make it a more hospitable environment for themselves. Again, this is an interesting idea that could have profited from more time, especially as we don’t have very many stories with the Ice Warriors, and even fewer with them acting as the primary antagonist. The whole climate change subplot seems to fall by the side through the first part, so when they come back to revisit it in Part 2 and it becoming a central plot element means that it doesn’t really work as well as the story seems to think it does.

There are some good performances here, though. Nabil Shaban is superb as Sil and he feels just as slimy and unpleasant as he was in the show, thanks to some great vocal ticks and production. Sil flips between the Magnusians and the Ice Warriors with ease and has some great lines, especially when he is concerned about his survival once the Ice Warriors reveal themselves. Sil’s laugh is just as creepy on audio as it is in Vengeance on Varos. Colin Baker is good as the Sixth Doctor and it is great to see him encounter a figure from his past that brings up such feelings of fear that he has to hide behind the console and in turn, stand up to his school bully at the end of the story. Nicola Bryant doesn’t have a lot to do here as Peri, and probably suffers from being partnered with the child Vion, whose actor William Anderson gives a very one dimensional performance. His performance does not vary, which is really frustrating when he is in peril, such as when Vion and the Doctor are being chased by the Ice Warriors or Peri is being carried off – which feels all the more glaring when he’s acting opposite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Verdict: Some interesting ideas are let down by some sexist characterisation, poor acting by some actors and too many ideas. I have high hopes for the next Lost Story! 2/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Nabil Shaban (Sil), Malcolm Rennie (Anzor), Maggie Steed (Madame Rana Zandusia), Susan Franklyn (Jarmaya/Tace), Tina Jones (Ulema/Soma), William Townsend (Vion), Callum Witney Mills (Asam), Nicholas Briggs (Brorg/Vedikael/Grand Marshall/Ishka) & James George (Skaarg/Jarga/Hussa).

Writer: Philip Martin

Director: Lisa Bowerman

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was adapted from a Target novelisation of a story intended for the original Season 23. If it had been produced, it would have been the first appearance of the Ice Warriors since The Monster of Peladon in 1974.

Cast Notes

  • Susan Franklyn also appeared in the Companion Chronicle The Library of Alexandria.
  • James George has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays, including The Condemned and The Guardians of Prophecy with Colin Baker.

Best Quote

Doctor? You have thwarted our plans before, have you not?

Once or twice. I’d rather like to do it again!

Grand Marshall and the Sixth Doctor

Previous Sixth Doctor Story: The Ultimate Evil

Hexagora

Do you know what they reminded me of? Termite mounds on Earth. On a far greater scale, of course.

The Fifth Doctor

Synopsis

When a newspaper reporter goes missing, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa uncover a case of alien abduction. The trail leads to the planet Luparis, and a city that appears to be a replica of Tudor-era London.

What are the monsters that lurk in the shadows? And what is the terrible secret at the heart of Luparis? To save a world, the Doctor must try and defeat the evil plans of Queen Zafira.

And one of her plans is to marry him…

Review

Part of the problems with Big Finish and their Lost Stories is that, in returning to the television eras of the respective Doctors, they undo the good work they have done with characterisation of Doctors and companions which did not really happen in the classic run. Here, the TARDIS crew get involved due to the disappearance of the boyfriend of Tegan, who is very much in her under-developed state.

As this story is based on a brief outline by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair, it must have been challenging to adapt into a full story for Paul Finch. There are some interesting ideas in her, like the faux-Tudor appearance of the town on Luparis and how the majority of the cast are dressed, which is an interesting idea and also gives the listener a visual reference of what the planet and people look like. However, to a certain extent, it feels as though Finch has overcomplicated this story which leads to Parts 3 and 4 feeling like they are exposition dumps and this becomes rapidly wearing, especially as a lot of these scenes are between Astorius and the Fifth Doctor. The central plot, that the Hexagorans are possessing humans in order to ensure their survival of an impeding Ice Age, is a good one, but when it is extended out to a potential invasion of Gallifrey and the involvement of the Time Lords feels like throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Having the Doctor getting engaged by accident put me in mind of The Aztecs, where William Hartnell unwittingly does the same, but it feels as though the ending is a bit of a damp squib. The cliffhangers here aren’t very good either and none of them feel suitably impactful and fall flat once united with their resolutions. By the show’s very nature, cliffhangers are always going to have a handy ‘get out of jail free’ card, but here they don’t really feel very much like cliffhangers at all.

The story feels so brimming with ideas, but it seems to abandon its best one in favour of the Tegan-centric one. Nyssa here is given a potential great side-story, which ties into her origins as a noble from the planet Traken. Her noble standing is detected almost immediately after the TARDIS lands on Luparis and she is ear-marked by Lord Jezzavar as a potential Queen to overthrow Zafira, which is something that feels very in keeping for Tudor-era England. In keeping with the original run, of course, this plot line ends with a bit of a whimper when it gets to the Doctor’s wedding to Zafira and despite this sub-plot making it all the way to the fourth part, it does feel as though it is forgotten for a long period of the runtime. Instead, the focus is on Tegan, and her relationship with journalist Mike Bretherton, which is really unremarkable. This is partially due to the fact that Tegan is very much in her unlikeable and complaining mode from the television era and perhaps to Toby Hadoke’s weird Australian accent. Ultimately, I didn’t care about their relationship, which seems to be what the whole story seems to gear me towards and I think that Nyssa’s plot warranted more attention.

Despite this, there are highlights, namely the performances of both Peter Davison and Jacqueline Pearce. Davison manages to recapture the same energy in his voice from his original run, which makes it believable that this is happening in between televised adventures. Davison is a really good actor, but even he cannot save scenes of exposition that we see in the latter two parts, but he and Jacqueline Pearce really sparkle together. Pearce is probably the saving grace of this story, as she makes Queen Zafira feel both menacing and kindly. When the story relies on characters such as Jezzavar and Zellinger as the villains, who feel rather one-dimensional, Pearce takes that central role and plays it to perfection.

Verdict: I feel I say this a lot, but this story has an interesting central premise, but feels like it tries to do too much more. Peter Davison and Jacqueline Pearce do put in good performances. 3/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Jacqueline Pearce (Queen Zafira/Bev), Toby Hadoke (Mike Bretherton), Richard Mark (Lord Jezzavar), Dan Starkey (Lord Zellinger/Bill) & Sean Brosnan (Astorius).

Writer: Peter Ling & Hazel Adair, adapted by Paul Finch

Director: Ken Bentley

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story would have originally been intended to appear in Season 21, with the Fifth Doctor and Peri.
  • The story was originally to have been entitled Hex, however, this was changed due to the Big Finish companion, Hex.
  • After The Foe From The Future and The Valley of Death, this is the third story in the Lost Stories range to partially take place in 1977.

Cast Notes

  • Jacqueline Pearce appeared as Chessene in The Two Doctors. She also appeared opposite the War Doctor and the Eighth Doctor as Cardinal Ollistra.
  • Toby Hadoke is possibly best known amongst Doctor Who fans as the moderator on a number of Classic Series commentaries. He has also appeared in An Adventure in Space and Time, as well as numerous appearances in Big Finish audios.
  • Dan Starkey has played Sontarans in the revived series, most notably Strax. He has also appeared in a number of Big Finish audio plays and has also co-written Terror of the Sontarans with John Dorney and written Interlude.
  • Sean Brosnan marks his second appearance – he previously appeared in The Angel of Scutari and would go on to appear in Masquerade.

Best Quote

I’m surprised, Doctor. For a man of wisdom, I’d thought you’d recognise the benefits of being married to a queen.”

For a man of wisdom, I’d have thought you’d recognise the drawbacks.

Astorius and the Fifth Doctor

Previous Story: The Elite

Brightly Shone The Moon that Night

If this is heaven, then someone’s made a real screw-up with the paperwork.

Shreela

Synopsis

The TARDIS crew encounters a shameful secret of the Time Lords. History has been rewritten, and this time, it’s all the Doctor’s fault.

Review

After some plot threads were pulled together in the previous story, we are finally at the culmination of this anthology. With the Doctor unwittingly releasing the Were Lords, we finally get answers to the mystery behind why the TARDIS has been landing in the 59th Century in these adventures, as well as filling in some of the backstory surrounding Peri’s partner, Joe, including how they met, and brings back characters from the first two parts of the story.

I wrote about the consequences of the Doctor’s actions in the previous review and here it is revealed how his actions in the previous stories have led to this point. His interference on Naxios led to weapons not being produced using the planet’s living silver to fight the Were Lords, and the destruction of the Ishtar Institute meant that the rejected embryos, who were sold to the military, were not developed into soldiers designed to fight them. Combined with the events onboard the Tate Galactic in the previous story, the Doctor is manipulated into the role, but I think it makes the character of the Doctor stronger. It is important that the Doctor does not become an infallible hero, always making the right decisions for the greater good, as it makes him (or her) more relatable. It is particularly effective when the incarnation in question is Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, who is at times more confident and arrogant that some of the other incarnations that came both before and after him and this story and anthology in general does seem to take some wind out of his sails.

I quite like the concept of the Were Lords and the fact that they are the origins of the myths and legends of werewolves on Earth. They are Gallifreyan soldiers used to fight in the Vampire Wars and who fled. With the ability to regenerate, they certainly feel like a worthy foe and as in this last story, Steven Elder does a great job with Lycaon. The Were Lords plan to use the belief system to ensure that they subjugate the Earth by creating a climate of fear, which is a clever call back to the belief system in the first part, and I quite liked the way that the Doctor eventually defeats the Were Lords, using the ability to regenerate between forms against them.

I’ve spoken about how Peri is at the fore of these stories and, with this story focusing in on the Doctor making mistakes, it is important to note that Peri has also made an error by allowing Joe onto the TARDIS. Here, we find out that he is also a Were Lord, who has posed as Peri’s partner in order to allow his race to break free of their captivity. This reveal helps to answer some unsolved questions, such as why Joe wasn’t more involved in these stories. I must admit I felt a bit slow when it was revealed that he was a Were Lord, having missed the fact that he was unable to go down into the caves on Naxios due to the silver, although my suspicions were aroused when he was unable to go through a mistletoe-garlanded arch in the previous part. There are some particularly powerful scenes between Peri and Joe here and both Nicola Bryant and Luke Allen-Gale do a good job here. Allen-Gale shifts his performance slightly following the reveal and is less fawning and more unpleasant, which worked really well, and the scene between the two in the airlock is particularly memorable, and Bryant is also superb when she meets the incubator robots representing her children, aged to 25 years old, which is a lovely way of rounding off the unanswered question of what her children would be like as grown-ups left dangling in The Baby Awakes.

Verdict: Brightly Shone The Moon That Night provides a satisfying conclusion to this collection of stories. Nicola Bryant particularly shines here. 8/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Steven Elder (Lord Lycaon), Louise Kempton (Selene), Dawn Murphy (Ratty/Cordeline), Becky Wright (Mole/Shreela/Janey), Roger Parrott (Toad) & Cliff Chapman (Robot Attendant/Paul).

Writer: Nev Fountain

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • All four stories in Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories were written by Nev Fountain. The pseudonyms were employed to throw people off the scent of an audio anthology.

Best Quote

Doctor, are you okay?

Of course I’m not okay! Arent’ you paying attention? If what they say is true, this is too horrible to contemplate.

It’s not your fault. They manipulated you.

Well, they didn’t need to. They just wound me up like a clockwork solider and marched me into battle!

Peri Brown and the Sixth Doctor

Other Stories in this anthology:

Blood on Santa’s Claw

The Baby Awakes

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

What would be the point in going to a party on a space station when there’s a whole universe to explore?

The Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

A Christmas party that has been going on for three years. Strange silver robots who guard the Christmas decorations with lethal force. What is the secret behind the festivities on Tate Galactic?

Review

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day has a difficult job in this release, which I guess I can reveal now is an anthology rather than four separate stories. This serves the role of the first part of the two-part finales that we have become familiar with in the course of the new series, and starts to tie together some of the threads we have encountered in the previous two stories here. This story has to toe the line carefully to not reveal too much at once, instead dropping hints and it largely does this well, but it probably helps that the story isn’t trying to handle as weighty issues as the previous two.

Listening to this story in the midst of a global pandemic and various lockdowns, the premise of the story, a Christmas party that seems to have been going on for three years, has some added poignancy. Although I am writing this in December, days like this have felt a lot like Groundhog Day, spent with the same group of people. When you throw Christmas into the mix, it almost feels worse – as someone who loves Christmas, a part of what makes it enjoyable is that it is only a short period of time. To spend every day in the midst of a Christmas party would be pretty horrific, so it is fitting that the concept is ultimately revealed to be a prison for the Were Lords devised by the Earth government. Ultimately, the party was only supposed to be an initial ruse for them, but something has gone wrong with the mainframe.

This is a story in which the Doctor proves to be his own worst enemy and manipulated by his enemies into doing the wrong thing, despite having the purest of intentions. Especially in the original show’s run, the Doctor doesn’t really ever stick around to see the consequences of his actions and interference, and here he believes that those imprisoned on the Tate Galactic are political prisoners. Nine times out of ten in a Doctor Who story, the Doctor would be doing the right thing in helping Lord Lycaon and the other prisoners out of this psychological prison. Here, it is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and it’s interesting to see the Doctor put into this position. It is only when the Earth President confronts him about his actions that the Doctor even begins to question his actions and how badly he has misread the situation. There are clues as to the villains’ true identities through the deterrents used in the base, including mistletoe and the silver robots, but Lycaon comes across as a genuinely wronged party for a lot of this story’s run time, and Stephen Elder is a worthy adversary to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor here.

This is also an important moment for Peri and Joe. The Doctor’s doubts about Joe’s suitability as a companion have been clear from the first story in this release, but here Joe expresses doubts about whether Peri is happy travelling with the Doctor. Joe has discovered that he has followers in the 59th Century, like a lot of pop culture icons do under the new belief system, and believes that he could have a lot of fun exploring the universe on his own terms. The emotional scars have not entirely healed for Peri from The Baby Awakes, and it feels as though this is heading for a collision course in the concluding part. Luke Allen-Gale and Nicola Bryant are good in the scenes that they share together and do come across as a real couple throughout these stories.

Verdict: A story that feels as though it is getting its ducks in a line ready for the concluding part, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day is functional, but probably the weakest of the four stories in this release. 7/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Steven Elder (Lord Lycaon), Louise Kempton (Selene), Cliff Chapman (Robot Attendant) & Heather Bleasdale (President).

Writer: Andrew Lias

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • The writer’s name is a play on words on “alias”, for reasons which will become clear!

Best Quote

Act natural, drink, smile, pretend I’m saying something fascinating – which should be easy.

The Sixth Doctor

Previous Story: The Baby Awakes

The Baby Awakes

Why worry about arguing with your offspring in future years when you can choose a more agreeable child?

Cordeline

Synopsis

The Doctor, Peri and Joe visit the Ishtar Institute, where the term ‘designer babies’ takes on a new and sinister meaning. Will our heroes survive Christmas day?

Review

After dealing with religious persecution and slavery in Blood on Santa’s Claw, the next story deals with another heavy topic: eugenics. This is a very Peri-centric story and she provides the emotional heart here and it is difficult not to be moved by her performance. The story takes a rather traditional approach, with the first part focussing on the weird circumstances the characters find themselves in and the second revealing the circumstances behind it.

The story centres around the TARDIS trio investigating the mysterious Ishtar Institute, which allows prospective parents to simulate their children through the usage of incubator robots. In the opening scene of the story, we see one of the simulations of Christmas day derailed by unruly teenager, discounting him from adoption. Joe and Peri pose as potential parents, with the Sixth Doctor as the amiable Uncle, but Peri becomes emotionally attached to her simulated children, insisting on having more simulations as Cordeline, one of the Institute’s staff, tries to get them to discard one of the children. As a concept, designer babies are nothing new, as Joe points out that the idea is hardly novel on 1980s Earth, but it is given a sci-fi tilt here. The idea of trying out children being something as normal as a streaming subscription service is a bit creepy and feels like something that would be at home in an episode of Black Mirror. When it is revealed that Balan, the head of the facility is in fact one of these robots and has been callously giving rejected embryos to the military for them to develop into soldiers, the gut punch is much worse when it is revealed that Shreela is one of those embryos, rejected purely for a poor performance in a school play.

As stated above, this story does really focus in on Peri, and like a lot of stories in the Sixth Doctor’s era, she does really get put through the emotional wringer here. Scenes like the beach one perfectly demonstrate why she is having such a difficult time choosing between her children, regardless of whether or not they are only simulations. When she and Joe decide to simulate their children to their teenage years, they mutate and attack the facility, something which Joe later states is due to Peri’s travels with the Doctor, further making her feel guilty for the destruction they have caused. To make matters worse, the Doctor and Joe seem rather blasé about these simulated children’s eventual fate at the end of the story, leading to a great emotional outburst from her at the story’s end.

The story’s focus is away from the Doctor, and he is doing traditionally Doctor-y investigations. He, like Joe, is rather taken aback by Peri’s outburst towards the end of the story, which feels very much in keeping with the character of the Doctor, especially during the original run, where characters were expected to shake off tragic events easily from one adventure to the next. We still don’t have much of a feel for Joe, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be as attached to the children as Peri and this story has certainly put their relatively young relationship under some strain.

Verdict: Another story with some dark undertones, The Baby Awakes is an excellent example of Nicola Bryant’s strengths as Peri and certainly packs a fair share of emotional moments. 9/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Roger Parrott (Balan), Dawn Murphy (Cordeline/Dorrit), Becky Wright (Shreela/Jana/Pip/Janey) & Cliff Chapman (Kren/Paul).

Writer: Susan Dennom

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • The name ‘Susan Dennom’ is a play on the word pseudonym. The reasoning behind this will become clear!
  • The name of Peri and Joe’s children, Michael, Paul and Janey, are the ones given by future Peri in Peri and the Piscon Paradox – before she is revealed to be lying about having children.

Best Quote

TARDIS. That’s your safe word, isn’t it Doctor? Say the word ‘TARDIS’ and everything goes away. Well sometimes, it’s not ‘all’s well that ends well. And sometimes Br’er Rabbit doesn’t crawl out of the briar patch and laugh at Br’er Wolf.

Peri Brown

Previous Story: Blood on Santa’s Claw