Here is the third BF Doctor Who story in a row, by a writer new to the range. At first, this story aggravated me. As a Doctor Who fan, am I really expected to believe that the titular character, against all I have been lead to believe for the past forty years, is a villainous killer?
Then I realised I was not really expected to believe that. This story is more of an examination of how his friends (or Evelyn at least) would react if the Doctor did show villainous tendencies. After all, she had not been travelling with him very long by this point, and as far as she knew, he might well have several secrets - dark secrets.
We are introduced here to the pleasing concept of the Clutch, well described in another review as a sort of 'galactic convey' that stretches for miles, drifting through space. Pleasingly, Evelyn likens it's spectacle to a shoal of fish, which creates amazing pictures in the mind. In addition, Forward's alien race The Galyari is presented here for the first time. Initially, there were comments that the Galyari voices were too heavily modulated to understand fully. I must confess to having no problems, but conversely, it does seem strange to employ well known Who actors like Anneke Wills and Ian Hogg and then disguise their voices in such a way.
That said, they do sound genuinely alien. Alongside the Silurians from 'Bloodtide' (and the Daleks of course), the Galyari might well be Big Finish's most successful sounding race. There are also details concerning their culture and beliefs, which help flesh them out further.
There is good use made of Evelyn also, although it is true that Maggie Stables' character is used more sparingly than on frequent occasions. She still has plenty of witty asides and putdowns for the Doctor, however.
The problem with the Doctor is when he is required to be villainous. Colin Baker has proven that he is an exceptional Doctor but here takes several backwards steps. When pretending to evil, or The Sandman of the title, his performance flies straight off into orbit it is impossible to take him seriously. This is a shame, because the script makes effective use of his mock anger and the Galyari come across a sympathetic because of their reaction to it. These scenes become, on subsequent listenings, more irritating than anything else; especially as if he would just tone it all down a little, the Doctor's unpleasant tendencies could be quite shocking. In fairness, of course, the Sixth Doctor has always been theatrical, and this enjoyment of 'playing a part' could all be part of this. Still, it is all a bit over-the-top for me.
His dreaded multi-colour patchwork coat plays something of a role as well in the second half of the story. Apparently it induces migraines to certain species and can be a far more effective weapon that a sonic screwdriver!
Although the story is rich with ideas and starts in a very promising fashion, it does become a bit of a jumble as things progress. Things become clearer with repeated listenings but perhaps coherence is sacrificed for effective scene setting. On that subject, both Russell Stone's evocative score and Gareth Jenkins' imaginative and organic sound design make this one of the more 'visual' of Big Finish audios.
The 6th Doctor and Evelyn return after a lengthy absence. This made for audio companionship is the best combination BF have - it had been a year since Project:Twilight - too long. I was therefore hoping for great things from The Sandman. We were promised a Space setting - the Clutch being an interstellar Convoy of Spaceships. We were promised a darker Doctor too, one that has done something nasty.
The 6th Doctor was perceived as quite nasty and Violent on TV - but I never really subscribed wholly to that notion. Apart from his initial story, when he was clearly troubled by regeneration, this Doctor was no nastier than all the others. He did get off to a bad start, with a warped character, and it affected perceptions of him for a very long time. There was also the chaos of TOTL (which saw the worst presentation of the Time Lord ever seen in Mindwarp). It is only now, many years on that we are getting the real thing. Big Finish knew the potential of Doctor 6, and we've had the best of him. And so was this to be a return to the Twin Dilemma Doctor, or something more substantial. A dark Doctor, but in such a sunny outfit could he really pull it off?
The Doctor is the Sandman for the Galyari - a figure from myth who did something incredibly nasty to their race in the past. Thus we are given a few recaps during the course of the play - which result in the story backtracking many centuries to the Doctors original contact with the Galyari. These explanations are vital to the understanding of the story, and it's a story that takes some understanding to fit all the pieces of the puzzle in the right place.
The questions that Simon Forward asks set the whole thing up nicely. Why is the Doctor hated so much? Did he really do those horrible things, taking skins as treasures and threatening the death of all Galyari? Will Evelyn stand by him? What really happened all those years ago, and how is the Doctor mixed up in all this mayhem? These questions form the basis of this audio production, and these questions dominated all the proceedings.
The Galyari are an interesting new race for DW. BF does it's magic on the voices. They take a bit of getting used to at first, but by the end I have to admit that I'd like to hear them again. Ian Hogg and Anneke Wills are unrecognizable as the 2 main Galyari - it could be anyone, BF have distorted their voices that much. Nonetheless it's good to see TV DW people employed in these dramas - keeps them in the fans focus, and stretches their acting muscles. The rival race, as represented by the squeaky Nintaru, are interesting too. The building story featuring these 2 races gets more and more fascinating as the production develops.
DW thrives on great Human characters though - it has always been so. There's countless DW stories that feature spaceship captains and crew that are Human - going to different worlds, eking out a living, but maintaining a certain stereotypical image relating to their Earth Ancestry. And so we have Mr Mordecan, an Irish Gypsy Traveller. Robin Bowerman is excellent as the main supporting character of the piece. He has his own ways, and suffers from a severe lack of nosiness - but yet seems to have a piece of everything all the same! The other Human on show is, of course, Evelyn. Maggie Stables continues to present a supremely likeable companion for the 6th Doctor, and the Doctor and Evelyn continue to work together superbly well. She is not as prominent here as previous dramas though. There's lots of running around, and you can only get away a few times with Evelyns exasperating responses to all this action. Whilst Sandman is not the best use of Evelyns character, she continues to be an innovative and welcome character.
But how does Colin Bakers Doctor handle the Darker side of his nature? Very well indeed. Colin Baker shouts better than most, and you can really picture him with the Galyari skins at the top of the battlefield. This supremely dominant personality Doctor (2 nd only to the other Baker in this) works brilliantly as he puts fear into a race. A darker shade to the Doctor was always there - this incarnation more than most - and it's good to see BF accepting lots of different presentations of our favourite character. The Doctors of Big Finish have undergone something of a face-lift, whilst keeping their integral personality traits intact. This development of the main character, in each incarnation, is a key ingredient as to why Big Finish Doctor Who is the best kind of Doctor Who we have ever had - and it's represented superbly well here in The Sandman.
The story may be one of the most complex BF have produced. Simon Forwards script needs more attention on the part of the listener than most. The Clutch is a magnificent idea, and BF recreate such an environment brilliantly well. The writing and sound design produces the images that make the whole thing work - and in the Clutch, Forward has created one of those instantly memorable places that feed the imagination. In the Galyari, Forward and BF have created a splendid new foe, with a History that is more intertwined with the Doctor than virtually all other races he has encountered. It's these concepts that make The Sandman work.
The Sandman is yet another extremely good drama from Big Finish. 8/10
Ever since Big Finish first got their hands on the 6th Doctor, the rehabilitation of the character has been the aim, and with the toning down of the excesses of brash, argumentative, and just plain un-likeable character traits, and the excision of a Technicolor nightmare of a coat, Colin Baker has emerged as possibly the most successful of all the audio Doctors. The Sandman is interesting, in that it takes the most derided elements of the 6th Doctor - the loud coat and character - and uses them as the key elements to construct a story around. As such the stories main hook is that, just maybe, the 6th Doctor isn’t so cuddly after all, but has some very nasty skeletons lurking in his cupboard concerning his status as resident cultural bogeyman for the alien reptilian /avian Galyri: this time in a story jam packed with raspy voiced green skinned aliens, it’s the Doctor who is the monster. Of course, it will come as no great surprise that – just as with the 4th Doctor in The Invasion of Time – there is a very good explanation for the Doctor’s behaviour given before the play is through…
As story hooks go it’s a good one, but if The Sandman has a flaw it’s that Simon A Forward holds onto his revelations for at least an episode too long. The reason for the Doctor’s withholding of the real story behind his status as the Galyari’s ‘Sandman’ to Evelyn until the final episode is never convincingly dealt with (in fact with nothing practical to do in the entire story Evelyn is forced into one of her worst outings as a generic ‘what’s happening Doctor?’ cipher), and it leads to a rather saggy middle two episodes, with only a flashback to a sadly hammy Ian Hogg to provide any interest. In contrast the last episode feels rushed, with confusing last minute infodumps of technobabble making the Galyari’s ‘Srushkubr’ unconvincing – had it been developed throughout the story may have flowed better, but with crucial details about what the Srushkubr is and how it works being rushed out alongside the Doctor’s plans to stop it, it feels almost as though the author is just making it up as he goes along.
There is some fun to be had along the way with the Galyari themselves, one of the more interesting alien species to crop up in Big Finish’s Who range, and their Clutch of interconnected spaceships makes for a novel setting. Anneke Wills makes a convincing turn as the heavily voice modulated Director Nrosha, and having the Galyari’s over-sensitive eyes make them in agony of the Doctor’s coat is an amusing touch.
All in all The Sandman is an enjoyable adventure, but with the lack of a role for Evelyn and the pacing issues this story promised to be much more – I can understand the author wanting to keep his cards close to his chest, but a little more build up of the Srushkubr and a little less delaying tactics may have resulted in a play that stands up better to repeated listens. The Sandman is great to listen to once, but subsequent listens only serve to highlight the plays shortcomings. Good, but flawed.
"To the inhabitants of the Clutch, to the Galyari people, I am a bad memory..."
Perception is an interesting concept as depending on the point of view possessed by persons involved in an incident, their interpretation of the events in question can vary immensely. In Doctor Who the point of view is almost always from the Doctor's side and those he fights for, but for Simon A. Forwards' first Big Finish audio play, The Sandman, he has chosen to examine the consequences of the Doctor's actions from the point of view of those that the Doctor opposes and the result is quite thought provoking. By examining both the cause and the effect of the Doctor's actions, Forward paints his tale in much greyer shades of colour than a typical story, and this effects the listener by making them question existing assumptions and expectations based on their previous knowledge about the nature of exactly what the Doctor does.
The Sandman revolves around the Doctor and Evelyn's visit to the Clutch, a rag-tag fleet of homeless ships migrating across the galaxy and is home to the Galyari, a race of lizard-like beings whom the Doctor knows of old. They know the Doctor too, for that is another name that the mythical figure the Sandman adopts, as he preys upon the Galyari, leaving death and destruction in his wake. The idea that the Doctor and the Sandman are the same is introduced very cleverly in an almost offhand manner, which is quite disconcerting given the depth of fear that the Galyari are shown to hold him in.
Making the Doctor "darker" is nothing new in itself with the television series attempting this on several occasions with Tom Baker during The Invasion Of Time and Colin Baker during the Mindwarp sections of The Trial Of A Time Lord, and the emphasis of the Doctor's darker motives being a mainstay of the original novels, especially the New Adventures. Here Forward brings the more sinister side of the Sixth Doctor out slyly with his change in attitude coming swiftly and unexpectedly, but thanks to the quality of Colin Baker's performance it's totally believable. Forward slips clues as to the reasons behind the Doctor's change of attitude into place, but he deflects attention away from them so the mystery of the Sandman can endure.
The Clutch itself is an interesting notion and an ambitious setting for the tale. While it is very difficult to convey the sight of the Clutch without the use of exposition, Forward's dialogue comes across quite naturally and acts informatively without resorting to overtly describing it, helping to create a vivid image. Once the Doctor and Evelyn are onboard, then it's down to the sound design to convey the alien qualities of the Clutch and Gareth Jenkins' work certainly contributes to giving the sense of this foreboding environment which provides a refreshing change from those stories featuring Earth or Earth like settings.
There does seem to be a dearth of new alien species in the audios at times, which is understandable given that human characters can often be more effective on the whole in the medium, so the addition of the Galyari to the pantheon of Doctor Who monsters is welcome. Their modulated voices are quite raucous and thanks to the enthusiasm of the cast putting their all into these parts, they come across as being very credibly alien.
Colin Baker's performance in this story should be sufficient to silence those who claim that Big Finish's Sixth Doctor stories have watered down his character too much, as he demonstrates the more strident and tenacious side of his character with a very convincing performance, harking back to the bravado he showed during his time on television. During the build up of the story as the Doctor starts to take a more erratic and aggressive stance against the Galyari, the change between the more mellow Sixth Doctor and the advent of the dark fires that burn within him is startling, particularly in the flashback scenes to his first meeting with the Galyari, so much so that Evelyn's concern is palpable. With plenty of loud and dramatic scenes to play, there is a temptation on Baker's part to overplay these but he restrains himself well and avoids this and keeping his performance precise.
Unfortunately Maggie Stables' Evelyn doesn't come off very well here. Her performance is as good as ever, it just seems that she becomes rather redundant to the plot for much of the time, relegated to making reflective comments on the proceedings rather than actively playing an important part. While this means she is there to ask the questions that the listener is thinking, her lack of purpose cannot help but disappoint given how good both the character and the actress are.
The two main guest stars for The Sandman are Anneke Wills and Ian Hogg, both of whom previously appeared in Doctor Who on television. Wills, of course, played Polly, companion to both the First and Second Doctors during the sixties and her return to Doctor Who here is very strong. As Director Nrosha of the Galyari, her performance is light years away from Polly. She is hard, embittered by her experience and motivated by hate for the Sandman who took her children from her and she is utterly persuasive as Nrosha. Ian Hogg featured as the villainous Josiah Samuel Smith in the final story to be recorded for the original television series, Ghost Light, and here he is employed as General Voshkar. While his performance is as good as an you would expect from such an accomplished actor as him, it's a little disappointing that his involvement within the story is as limited as it is.
Of the remaining cast, Mark Donovan stands out as Orchestrator Shol who is entrusted with the safe running of the Clutch, and the quiet dignity he injects into his performance contrast nicely with the hardness of Wills' Nrosha. Robin Bowerman applies an unusual accent in his performance as Mordecan, a Star Gypsy, which takes a little while to get used to, but he makes the character sufficiently ambiguous to conceal suspicions about his role in the events of the story until later. Mark Wharton and Stephanie Colburn both put in good performances, although the latter is hindered by the voice effects used to create Nintaru, which while they succeed at making the character seem mild-mannered and timid, are more than a little irritating and grate quickly.
Russell Stone's score is suitably dark and ominous which matches the mood of the play perfectly; effectively building up the drama without overwhelming it, and this is most noticeable during the flashback sequence in the second episode where it adds real colour to the scene. Gareth Jenkins' sound design also succeeds well here with it adding a rich vein of texture to the drama by creating an ambience fitting for the type of setting The Sandman features and ensuring that the story's monsters are sufficiently alien in the manner they sound to make them credible.
The Sandman is an odd, but satisfying story. Featuring a fascinating central concept, Forward's script builds around this well to create intrigue and mystery that in the end is tied up neatly as the threads of the story are concluded and the full perspective is revealed. With yet another superb performance by Colin Baker and good performances from the supporting cast, The Sandman provides solid entertainment value.
Simon Catlow's website is located at www.tertiary.consoleroom.btinternet.co.uk.
It's been a period of wild experimentation for the folks at Big Finish in the last three months. Never ones to rest on past success, Big Finish has pulled and stretched the famously flexable DOCTOR WHO format in new and interesting ways over the last three stories.
THE SANDMAN, however, is the first experiment I've really enjoyed. In ...ISH, Big Finish played with the manner in which an adversary can be presented. The problem for me was that the playfullness of the language got in the way of the pace of the story (ie, it was dry and kinda dull). In THE RAPTURE, Big Finish played with the formatting of the audio adventure itself, in much the way a DJ mixes musical tracks. The problem for me this time was that the style of the production smothered the more meger substance (ie, the story didn't really cover three episodes, let alone four.)
Now we come to the latest audio, THE SANDMAN. The twist in format this time is The Doctor's role in the story (ie, for at least some time in the story, The Doctor is more of a villian). In the story, The Doctor and Evelyn ( the wonderful team of Colin Baker and Maggie Stables) come to The Clutch, a sort of intergalactic convoy filled with a lizard-like species who fear The Doctor (or The Sandman,as he's come to be known). Evelyn thinks the very idea of a species fearing The Doctor is a laughable idea. That is, until The Doctor begins to play the part...
There's a lot of fun to be had here. Colin Baker really runs with the ideas presented in the story. His angry outbursts take on a chilling timber in the opening episodes and I enjoyed the story's attempts to create explanations for all of the ingrained fears the Galari have for The Doctor.
One of the basic tennents of DOCTOR WHO is on display here. All of the evil monsters and baddies of WHO have their plans fall to pieces due to overplanning and complex schemes. It tends to all fall apart once that famous improvisationalist, Doctor Who shows up and wrecks everything. In this story, The Doctor's plans for the Galyari are over complicated and needlessly over planned. And they all fall apart.
Remember, Big Finish, experiments are fine and good but just like The Doctor, try to keep it simple.
From time to time....