Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Paul Magrs|
|Starring Peter Davison, Anthony Stewart Head and Katy Manning|
|Also featuring Patricia Leventon, Billy Miller, Posy Miller|
|Synopsis: The Doctor must travel the forests and swamps of this ghastly world of Ataris in Iris's double decker bus in order to tussle - to the death - with a horde of flesh-eating zombies for a mysterious and holy relic of unfathomable value and questionable pedigree.|
A Review by Alan Thomas 24/2/02
Doctor Who has always been a series that poses more questions than it answers. I think that Excelis Dawns really showed the excellent standards that Doctor Who can reach.
In short, Excelis Dawns was incredible.
There are few stories that can ask so many questions about the Doctor's past. All of the questions that are posed are posed via Iris. I'm not really very acquainted with her, but I immediately found Katy Manning's performance excellent. She was wonderfully refreshing (reminding me of Cilla Black in space).
It really shows the quality of the Big Finish audios that they are able to hire Anthony Stewart Head (a big star in America with Buffy). His performance was excellent and interesting, paving the way for subsequent appearances in the next two stories of the trilogy.
Peter Davison was also excellent in this story. The continuity confused me at first, until I realised that it was set during Frontios. Continuity references actually work in this story. There's something that needs to be revealed - how has Iris accompanied The Doctor on his travels? What is her true nature? Who is the mysterious Sister Jolene? How has Iris ended up in a nunnery? Why is The Doctor on Artaris? What will become of Grayvorn? When will we see Iris again?
Not only was Excelis Dawns an interesting 'origins' story, but it was a fantastic story in its own right. The plot was easy to follow, and there are plenty of interesting interludes with the characters. The music, likewise, is some of the best that I've heard in the BF productions. It's modern, and retro.
I would compare Excelis Dawns to Lord Of The Rings. It's a trilogy, it's fabulous, and it reminds me of a movie. It's not in 4 episodes, it's not actually in 2. It's a CD in two halves. And that, in my mind, is why it's an audio movie, and why it's so darn good.
Roll on Excelis Rising!
The ultimate impossibility! by Joe Ford 27/3/02
Yes my friends, it has finally happened, against all the odds, despite insurmountable challenges, I actually LOVED a Peter Davison story! You may have noticed that I have been less than complimentary towards this particular incarnation in the past (I think the words 'wet fish' and 'chunk of wood' were thrown around) and I feel I must explain my disdain. I feel Davison dragged down many of his stories (both audio and television) with a bland performance helped no doubt with Eric Saward (I say this only because Davison's Doctor is so compelling in the Bidmead scripted stories, Castrovalva and Frontios). He roamed around the universe simply being 'nice' to everyone even when he was faced with terrible catastrophies he still had an air of serene calm that simply undermined the drama (go watch Four to Doomsday and The Kings Demons…on second thoughts…don't put yourself through it!).
This is different. Like Caves of Androzani before it he finally gets to show his teeth and by god it's about time. His reasons for acting sombre and irritable are excellently brought out and intimately portrayed by Davison. He shows with that one speech how he learnt that the universe is not a nice place and it is more than refreshing to here this 'nice' incarnation admit it.
Of course he's helped no doubt by that wandering trouble-giving philanthropist Iris Wildthyme. Katy Manning captures the role to perfection, just like the Iris in the books she starts off really annoying and you wonder just when she is going to shut up! But after ten minutes or so you're in love…with anyone who can spout off that Zarbis are crap, have a stiff drink whilst she's travelling through the time vortex and stand up to a warlord in a dark alley. She is a total loony but god that's why we love her. She lifts the story high above it's melodramatic orgins into something far more special. Katy is just fab and let's hope she returns soon.
I love Buffy and Giles is one of my favourite character and Anthony Stewart Head doesn't disappoint. To have him take part in Doctor Who is a dream come true although I always thought he would make a wonderful Doctor himself! As Grayvorn he is quite wonderful, charging in and killing left right and centre when diplomacy is needed. As the opening chapter to his character's story this sets him up perfectly while leaving me desperate to know what happens next. We've heard narration in these audios before but this was easily Grayvorn's was easily the best helped by a really good score.
As for the plot. There was a plot? Well, sort of…it's Paul Margs so it's got to be imaginative, but I'm afraid that he has simply given us a rehash of The Scarlet Empress…what with mysterious quests, across wooods and deserts, monsters and angry villagers (and Iris actually says a LOAD of lines from the book)…but I'm not complaining! The Scarlet Empress was one of the best books published under Stephen Cole and it is great to see it brought to life with some great sound effects and decent actors. So even if there is a lack of plot, with such wonderful characters about we are never bored.
Was this successful as the opening chapter of the Excelis range? Yes. Simply because it introduces the principal features of the range and leaves us wanting more. It IS clearly an opening chapter however and not much of a story in its own right. Next up is Colin Baker and writer David A McIntee, two stalwarts of Who so I'm expecting something even better. But what we have is plenty fun to be going along with.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/4/02
I was pleased when Big Finish announced the Excelis series. The 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors would not be away from the marvelous audios for that long - and we would still have the 8th Doctor as the main focus. 2 part Audios also seemed like a good idea, there weren't enough of stories like this on TV, and I didn't want Big Finish to make the same mistake.
And so onto the first of these stories. Well, for a start, it's not a 2 parter. At 90 minutes (fitting perfectly onto an audio cassette for the car) this is 3-4 parts, but without the music or cliffhangers. Joining Peter Davison is Katy Manning and Anthony Stewart Head - Jo Grant and Giles respectively, but not these parts at all.
Katy Manning gives a tour de force performance as Iris Wildthyme. I was one of those a little suspicious of hearing her, rather than reading about her. How could anyone capture this larger than life character that Paul Magrs created in print. Well, Katy Manning does - and with lots of style too. Anthony Stewart Head is Graythorn, a battled weary warrior, whose character overlaps all the Excelis Series. This is another wonderful character. The voice is great, we know that from Buffy. It's slightly modified, but Graythorn leaps from the audio as wonderfully alive and vibrant.
This is a quest story, and with Lord of the Rings more popular than ever, that's great. With the authors micky take of such a genre in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, it comes as rather a surprise to see Magrs enter that territory again here, but the nature of his first novel, Scarlet Empress, should have prepared me. Paul Magrs is no Tolkien, but he writes about what he is good at - the humourous asides we have come to expect are there in force. Excelis Dawns is a not an out and out comedy or farce though - like a few other of his books. It has plenty of humour, and doesn't take the fantasy genre too seriously - but the settings and atmosphere created is pure Fantasyland. It feels and sounds like a Fantasy adventure.
Magrs' writing was outstanding in his previous audio excursion - Stones of Venice - and he has continued that to marvelous effect. That he is able to use his greatest creation without a doubt inspired him, but his handling of the 5th Doctor and Grayvorn deserve credit too. There are a few other characters in there too, Jolene - one of the Nuns Iris was staying with is perhaps the best of these. Her involvement is nicely underplayed. There's also the Mother Superior, sending others to do her dirty work. There's the main protector of the Relic too, a Gollum inspired character obsessed about his "beloved", read "precious" in LOTR. Lot's of Fantasy references then, which really does make for a fascinating canvas on which to paint the picture.
What enhances the story as well, is the music. After the lack of music in Invaders From Mars, it was most welcome to see Big Finish are still the tops in this department. It complements the individual scenes wonderfully. The audio is a character piece more than anything else. There's lots of sitting around and talking about each other's motivations - quiet, unobtrusive music provides the perfect atmosphere for these scenes.
It is to Iris, though, that this Audio belongs - I liked her a lot, and that's something I couldn't say after reading her books. She is simply wonderful, I just love the way she drives that bus/TARDIS of hers. Both herself and the bus completely dominate the show. That is not to say the 5th Doctor is sidelined, he's always there - it's just he can't get a word in edgeways. Peter Davison is actually quite excellent throughout, he provides a wonderfully calm foil for Iris' excesses.
Above all Excelis Dawns is a brilliant start to this 4-Story sideline for Big Finish. I enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed any Big Finish play since Loups Garoux. Excellent 9/10
A Review by Rob Matthews 1/5/02
Not being big on keeping up with future Doctor Who releases - in any media, - I was pleasantly surprised when this materialised in HMV. An audio adventure written by Paul Magrs and starring Iris Wildthyme? Played by former sweet-but-dopey companion Katy Manning? I snatched the thing off the shelf, little realising that it was the first part of a trilogy and that in so doing I was committing myself to another two purchases over the coming months. Those BF rascals...
Well, I bought it for the novelty of hearing Iris performed, and in that it didn't disappoint. I'd never have dreamed from watching those Pertwee episode that Manning had it in her. She brings the batty, boozing adventuress to life wonderfully.
Which, it has to be said, is more than Magrs does. Much of his script recycles familiar lines and scenarios from The Scarlet Empress and Verdigris - yes, including that old chestnut about Morbius and the Death Zone, which has already cropped up in more of his Who work than its comedy value merits. And while it's amusing to picture Grayvorn standing in her bus clutching onto that golden handbag, one might have hoped that a writer as inventive as Magrs could have came up with some equally funny new situations rather than be content to commit old ones to audio. It feels a bit self-satisfied of him. I mean, it's not that clever to point out the Zarbi looked rubbish, and we know he can do much better. He wouldn't bring a book out that so blatantly recycles earlier work, so why only put in half the effort for an audio script?
A bit like The One Doctor, this is a loose quest narrative. The One Doctor felt more current and spiky than this does, though. Here we're in Tolkien territory, without enough new material for it to really be called a spoof. There's a line by that creepy creature who 'resembles' that scrawny thing that covets the Ring in those caves (oh shut up, I'm only going by the film and I was dragged to that under protest), "You defy, and you are deified": does that mean anything at all or is Magrs trying to impress us by shoving similarly-spelled words together? It's like when he put a dictionary definition of 'impeach' in The Blue Angel, seemingly just to fill up space.
That bloke from the coffee adverts (oh, and apparently some US teen fantasy series) joins Manning in giving a faultless performance. Peter Davison is... well, he's Peter Davison doing the Fifth Doctor. Meek, mild, heroic and jolly nice though he may have been on TV, he was nevertheless uninteresting. Not wholly so, but I tend to think of him as a weak Doctor who had some good bits rather than - like C Baker and McCoy - a good Doctor who had weak bits. It seems to me that Baker and McCoy are far better suited to the audios because they have those distinctive voices, and gave great vocal performances on TV anyway. By contrast, McGann and Davison were more about looks. Not in the sense of being pin-ups or something, but a lot of Davison's best acting was visual, it was about facial expressions and body language.
So he's pretty much as you'd expect. A conversation about Adric is thrown in, but we've had a full dissection of the Doctor's numerous regrets in the NAs - not to mention Adric's telling appearance in the regeneration scene in Caves -, so the exchange feels strangely redundant.
The post-production stuff's great, really evocative. The music's nice too. But - even despite the involvement of a couple of my favourite Doctors - I'm not expecting much from the Excelis series. Excelis Dawns is well worth a listen because of Manning's Iris, but my appetite isn't really whetted for any future instalments. If you're on the edge of your seat waiting for The Twin Towers it might briefly fill the gap.
It is the Dawning of the age of Excelis by Jamas Enright 31/5/02
"Excelis Dawns is the story of I, Lord Grayvorn, a warlord of the first rank. The search for the Relic is one that consumes me, and I would go to any lengths to posses it, even ally myself with an old hag who-"
"Hey, buster, you just watch yourself when you're talking about me!"
"Enough, woman! Do you never cease your infernal prattling?"
"Not on your nelly! I'm just as much in this story as you. Me, Iris Wildthyme, temporal adventuress and fun-loving person to boot! Don't worry, dears, there's not just Lord Loud-Mouth here, but me, Sister Jolene and the Doctor, the old luvvie. Him and me go way back. There was this time on Peladon where the Doctor and I went up against some Ice Warriors trying to stop King Peladon from joining the Galactic Federation, and we-"
"Quiet harridan! All throughout our journey together you did nothing but talk. It is a wonder the rest of us managed to get as much as five words in. As I said, the story-"
"Story? What story? Some people travel around in a bus. That's not a story. Listen, chuck, it's not the story that's important anyway. This is only one part of the true story, a taste if you will. Oh, I admit it's a cracking good yarn, but it doesn't half get you worked up and wanting to hear the rest of it. But you can't go wrong with nuns, a quest and lurching dead things. It's a pity that so much was made of the sacrifices the people of the town of Excelis supposedly made and nothing came of it, but that's only a small thing, love. No, what counts here is character development."
"Character development? What need have the people of Artaris for character development? It is a gravelly voice that counts, provided so wonderfully by Anthony Stewart Head of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame. Through him, I, Lord Grayvorn, truly make my presence felt. No less also, Peter Davison, the Doctor who holds his own in this adventure in one of his finest efforts to date."
"Oh, I know all about his efforts, chuck. But it's Katy Manning you should be looking out for. I know a few people have problems with me, but Katy Manning, already known in Doctor Who as companion Jo Grant, plays me so well you couldn't imagine me any other way. And if you do have any problems with me, you can contact a man by the name of Paul Magrs and take it up with him, I'm far too busy."
"Again you only talk about yourself, old hag. You forget Posy Miller as Sister Jolene, a wonderful, if somewhat devilish woman, and sterling performances by Patricia Leventon and Billy Miller. They may be over-shadowed by us from time to time, but a Warlord always remembers those he lords over."
"You just keep telling yourself that, pet. Say what you like, Excelis Dawns has great performances in it, even if it is light on plot. Take a tip from Iris Wildthyme, dears, pick this up and listen to it over a good drink in your favourite time-travelling bus."
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 21/3/04
Excelis Dawns is a bit of a mixed bag. With a companionless Doctor and a story only intended to be one CD long (which ends up at two), we get a tale that is high on entertainment if nothing else. The basic plot follows the Doctor`s involvement with the warlord Grayvorn and his search for the relic and that's about it really. The double CD length also gives the feel that this is something of an epic quest; despite the fact that there are scenes which describe rather than define the action. What the story doesn`t do is leave you with any sense of "what happens next?" at its conclusion (despite it being a 4 part trilogy).
As for the cast well Peter Davison gives a performance which allows him to show the more commanding side of his Doctor, unhindered by his companions. As for Grayvorn, Anthony Head is a bit hammy in parts (particularly towards the beginning of the play -- his accent not helping matters), however he does settle into the part, adding a touch of medievalism without being evil. The show stealer however is Katy Manning`s Iris Wildthyme. She doesn`t go over the top despite the accent, but instead brings the right amount of eccentricity to the part, coupled with comic style, and it isn`t hard to visualise her as Iris. Mention should also go to Patricia Leventon and Posy Miller for their roles of Sister Jolene and the Mother Superior both played with the right amount of conviction.
In short then Excelis Dawns entertains but remains inconsequential on the whole.
A Review by John Seavey 16/5/04
The first story of a trilogy, and as such really just a bunch of foreshadowing stuck onto a very loose plot. Still, it's got its charms. I was very surprised to find myself utterly charmed by Katy Manning's portrayal of Iris Wildthyme, and this is speaking as someone who utterly hates Iris Wildthyme and is fairly indifferent to Katy Manning. She does a wonderful job of putting just the right loopy spin on all her dialogue to give it that perfect "crazy but charming old lady" touch, and she has wonderful anti-chemistry with Peter Davison and Tony Head.
Unfortunately, Tony Head is stuck with a very schizophrenic character in Grayvorn, whose writer can't seem to decide whether he's a Watcher in armor or the reincarnation of King Ycarnos. "It was on the planet Artaris where I first discovered my destiny -- nay, my veritable raison d'etre -- in the form of the exceedingly eccentric Iris Wildthyme. Er... that is to say, KILL! KILL! MY MIGHTY SWORD SHALL DRINK DEEP THIS DAY!"
It's a fun enough way to pass two hours, but little more... but then again, it is a fun way to pass two hours.