A review of the Big Finish audio drama, “Cyberman: Fear.”

Part 2 develops the conspiracy and starts to flesh out some of the android characters, if you’ll pardon the contradiction.  These androids are not to be confused with the Cybermen, they are the android race humans created and who have rebelled against their masters in horribly costly war in the Orion belt.  However, human and android alike are now united against a common foe, the titular silver giants themselves.

Sarah Mowatt’s President takes a back seat in the action and we mainly follow her second in command Liam Barnaby (Mark McDonnell) as he struggles to get to the heart of what has happened to his boss and friend (now in a brain washed state I presume by Cyber technology) and as to who or what Paul Hunt really represents.

An android agent joins the chase and events propel Liam to a “refugee processing centre” in a chilling scene where the scale of the Cyberman threat begins to be understood.

In my previous review I erroneously ascribed this depiction of the Cybermen to the 80’s model.  I was wrong, they are based on the early Troughton incarnation, with the electronic, flat monotone voice, possibly the most chilling version.  I remember in the 80’s they were all hands on hips and booming voices over fond of the word “Excellent!”  They are used sparingly in this drama but Big Finish are very good and conveying a massive threat with very little, due to the quality of the production, sound effects and writing.

A bargain as well at the current price of £5.  You can order cd or download.  I recommend cd at present, you benefit from the art-work, and you can also import onto your pc / portable device when you receive.  Playback from downloads direct from their website can be problematic at the time of writing unless you pay for an additional app such as “Good Reader.”

But back to the audio drama.  An atmospheric, nostalgic, entertaining blast, Big Finish really do deliver with this story.

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A review of the Big Finish audio-drama, ‘Cyberman: Project Scorpius.’

Project Scorpius is a military project gone dark, off the books.  Paul Hunt is engaged in a conspiracy to supplant the President with a popular and efficient military commander whose strings he is confident can be pulled by the horribly familiar silver hands at the core of Project Scorpius…

This is an energetic, wonderfully entertaining listen from 2005 that puts you back in the Whoniverse that contained the ‘1980’s model’ Cybermen, with the synth effects, voices, and some sample music themes familiar from that era.  The leads, Sarah Mowat and Mark McDonnell, are great.  Ms Mowat gives a riveting performance as military leader propelled into the President’s seat by the hand of Project Scorpius, a tough yet very human woman bearing the unbearable of leading an unwinnable war against a massive android threat.  Will she be led by Hunt to acknowledge his mysterious (to her) silver clad soldiers as allies?

The Cybermen are used sparingly and are all the more effective for that.  There’s a fantastic scene where they teleport into the Whitehouse.  The android threat, a familiar sci-fi staple of humanity’s creation turning against it, is a compelling backdrop.

An atmospheric blast of a listen, and a good value download at £5 from the Big Finish range currently.

A big shout out to Big Finish

The Fireside Table will now be reviewing the excellent audio stories on offer from Big Finish.  If you love genre stories that riff on your favourite sci-fi, fantasy, and horror shows (as well as in some cases comic book, they have a 2000 AD range, and adaptations of novels, as with the recent “Night of the Triffids,” ) look no further.

Their main range is Doctor Who.  All the Doctors, including Paul McGann, and the unfairly (in my view) maligned Colin Baker, have extensive ranges.  Colin Baker has enjoyed a renaissance with these dramas.  They have also recently rejoiced to include Tom Baker in their dramas, who held out for some time.  There are  series of  dramas based on the various companions, series based on tangential characters as with The Talon of Weng Chian’s “Jango and Litefoot,”  and loads more.

They cover a wide range of other genre stuff as mentioned, stuff you wouldn’t see coming (or necessarily want!) like “Terrahawks” most recently.  Looking forward to catching up with their drama’s based on the classic “The Prisoner” series though.  They have their own entertaining pod-casts that often contain generous clips from the shows and trailers, and their own magazine Vortex.  The website containing all the above is well organised, fun to use and accessible, see the above link.  You can shop for their extremely collectable cd’s and benefit from some stunning artwork, or download.  You can download MP3’s or audiobooks.  Recently they released a “Big Finish player” for mobile devices as a beta download, and it now runs smooth and well.  So you can listen on your phone, i-pod etc.

The dramas use music, synth and sound effects, where possible original cast, from the original shows. These in part accounts for their addicting qualities, it’s a huge nostalgia fix.  But what really makes them of course is the quality of the writing, performances and production, which are usually commendable considering they are not operating with the resources of a big production stable.

So to follow, a review of a 2005 production, Cyberman:  Scorpius.

The kids are not alright. A review of Sarah Lotz’s “The Three.”

The Three is a massively frustrating read.  Frustrating because the writer clearly knows about creating well fleshed out and interesting characters, knows how to turn in a gripping scene and play with intriguing concepts and world-building.  But what happens here is that “World War Z” style multi-point narrative (different characters tell different angles of the story through as diverse a range of short pieces as interviews with journalists and writers; police, medical and other official reports; Amazon reviews; tweets and internet threads, and so on.  This kaleidoscope story-telling fatally slows and confuses an already slow burn tale.  It’s not helped by some strong and disturbing final scenes that are followed by long expository scenes and conversations that dwindle to an unsatisfactory, vague and I’ll use that word again, frustrating resolution and pay off for the considerable investment the reader will have had to make to keep up with this tale.

On a day that comes to be known as “Black Thursday” 4 airliner planes crash almost simultaneously in Japan, the US, Africa and Canada. There are three verified human child survivors (and a rumoured fourth) of whom it can be said that there is “something not quite right” other than the fact that their survival is miraculous.  There is a recorded phone message from a survivor Pam that appears to be a warning that sets of a terrible catalyst of events that could eventually lead to global conflict and catastrophe.  Because the warning is interpreted by the End-time Christian movement to mean a harbinger of Armageddon, and the children are interpreted as the Four Horsemen of Revelations.  Said End-timers set about doing everything they can to make their Armageddon a self fulfilling prophecy.  In the meantime the children are placed with family.  The main meat of the book is the family members’ relation of events to interviewers etc. after the events have played out, as they puzzle over the changed nature of the children and strange and seeming miraculous events.  Sometimes the children seem benign and healing, other times sinister and detached.  This after the fact narration allow for teasing and ominous glimpses of how things will play out.  We know disaster is on its way.

So what works?  Vivid and interesting characters and set pieces, including the opening chapter detailing Pam’s experience of a plane crash, the descent of a Bible belt preacher into Waco style paranoia and madness, and recovering alcoholic and actor Paul Craddock being tormented to insanity by his sinister changeling of a niece Jess.  But the there is a lot of teeth grindingly tedious padding and exposition.  A recurring internet thread between Japanese internet geeks is interminable.  A lot of the final exposition reminds me of the final segments of various mini -series franchises that don’t quite know how to resolve story arcs because of too many writers being involved, and so leave things stupidly open and unresolved leading to a poor return on the viewers investment, of babbly exposition that mixes science and the supernatural and just doesn’t make sense.

There is no real closure or resolution to the novel,   Are the children possessed by aliens?  Demons?  Ghosts of the dead?  Just as we feel we are getting to a resolution someone will pop up with another “Ah but are they” kind of curve-ball.  One of the characters screams at another in a final scene to stop talking in riddles and give a straight answer.  We know how they feel.

The narration of the audio-book by Andrew WIncott and Melanie McHugh is stand-out, though.  They do a superb job of acting out a wide range of roles in this fractured narrative.