The Maltese Penguin
Big Finish Productions
The Holy Terror
|Written by||Robert Shearman|
|Running Time||130 mins|
|Continuity||Between The World Shapers
Age of Chaos
|Starring Colin Baker and Robert Jezak|
|Also featuring Dan Hogarth, Sam Kelly, Roberta Taylor, Helen Punt, Peter Guinness, Stefan Atkinson, Peter Sowerbutts and Bruce Mann.|
|Synopsis: The TARDIS lands in a forbidding castle in a time of religious upheaval. When the Doctor and Frobisher are hailed as messengers from heaven, they quickly become vital to opposing factions in their struggle for power. An evil destructive force is growing deep within the crypt. And the pair soon find out that they will be lucky to escape their new immortality with their lives.|
A Review by Finn Clark 22/11/00
A word to the wise, before I begin. This is my first Big Finish audio, so it's quite possible that I'll end up slagging it off for faults that are inherent to the entire line (or indeed possibly the very medium). In fairness I should probably have listened to a representative selection before rushing to offer judgement on any of them. I came to this completely cold.
But screw being fair. :-)
I think my overcall impression of The Holy Terror was "great story, shame about the execution". I have no problems with the script at all. Had this been a stage play with a ten-week rehearsal period, I think it would have been a knockout. The comedy would have had us rolling in the aisles. Just to give one example, I adored the early scene in which the Evil Old Bitch mother lambasts her son for not being wicked enough! Classic! Brilliant! (A little Pratchettian, but still a delightful idea.) Unfortunately it was only the script that I was admiring.
What I disliked was the acting. The opening scene should have been great, with some terrific jokes. Unfortunately the actor says his lines perfunctorily, throws away the best gags and kills 'em stone dead. It felt too flippant. Someone had decided that because this was comedy, there was no need to play the situation. (Admittedly there's a story reason why the characters might have been talking like that, but that doesn't make it any better for the poor listener at the time.) If you're going for bathos, you need a strong situation to be bathetic against.
Okay, I thought. Maybe it just started badly. But it was the same in the next scene, and in the one after that. I could see which bits were meant to be funny, but they didn't even make me smile. The tragedy was that I liked the material the actors had been given. For me this felt like the first read-through of something that would have been a nationwide smash hit by the tenth week of rehearsals. What I'd love to see is a second attempt at this. Okay, I'm dreaming. Big Finish have a budget and they probably can't afford any kind of rehearsal period. But damn it, this could have been so much better with only a little rehearsal. I don't claim to be any great shakes as an actor myself, but even I noticed this.
Things improve as the story gets under way. Halfway through episode one comes a coronation that did get laughs, I have to admit. I've got at least three laugh-out-loud moments noted down. Loved it. But even here the actors don't quite push it enough. The story went on progressing from there and I started finding it a lot of fun, even with the nitpicks.
The sinister stuff works better than the comedy, perhaps because it sounds less wrong in the mouths of bad actors. (I take that back: actors who aren't putting in much effort.) Also any Doctor Who fan is hardened to melodrama and ridiculous villains, but one thing Who has always been good at is comedy. Tom and Lalla, William Hartnell, Peter Davison... all were gifted comic actors, brilliant at finding those subtle touches that really made the show fly. Even at its worst, Doctor Who always had a lightness of touch that kept you watching despite everything. We're not used to badly acted comedy.
Mind you, I hasten to add that the serious bits in Holy Terror certainly aren't melodramatic or ridiculous. I thought they were often very well done indeed.
I'd better not overstate my case. Despite everything, The Holy Terror is indeed very funny in places. I have my reservations about the acting, but it improves as the story develops and the situations become grimmer and more developed. There are some great (if slightly Castrovalva-like) ideas. The library in which all the biographies appear to have predicted their subjects' deaths is not unlike the history books in Shardovan's library, though personally I didn't have a problem with this. The idea has been given a wonderfully morbid twist and it really gets the listener wondering about what's going on. The story gradually becomes intriguing, and then eventually horrific. I have my reservations about the twist, but it justifies its existence with an emotional climactic scene that's genuinely powerful.
But before I go on to discuss the end, I'd better mention the regulars.
For Colin Baker I take back everything. He's terrific! He's really getting the hang of these audios; perhaps he's just a better actor, or perhaps he's just done enough of these by now to get over the first read-through syndrome. I also like Eugene Tacitus the court scribe, who's a laugh. (Older actors are often better than their juniors. Note to self: if I ever write a Big Finish audio, be sure to set it in an old folks' home.)
However I had problems with Frobisher. Admittedly this isn't the first comics revival I've been unhappy with recently; DWM brought back Junior Cyberleader Kroton, only to throw away his established personality and write a completely new one. With Frobisher, I don't think he's sassy enough. He's too nervous; too Woody Allen. The comics' Frobisher was larger than life, with a personality and ego as big as the Sixth Doctor's. Sparks flew between them. Each saw himself as the star of the show and the brains of the outfit. It was spunky, very bam-bam-bam. Their interaction was more competitive than what we get here, basically. Robert Jezek's Frobisher is self-effacing, the kind of penguin who'd apologise to everyone and try not to get in your way. He gets some good wisecracks and all the best jokes, but for me this wasn't Frobisher. Let me quote a few lines from the comics:
We didn't see even a hint of this Frobisher, though I'd aim more blame at the acting Robert than the writing one. He can be killingly funny here and I'd love to see more of the penguin, but someone sit Jezek down with a stack of comics first.
I've almost run out of things to say. The story is perhaps a little overlong. At 140 minutes, it's basically the length of an old six-parter. Twice I thought the story had run out of steam, though each time I was proved wrong. The second half contains some genuinely emotional scenes, once the jokes have given way to horror. I can't pretend I've been converted into a Big Finish completist, but I'll keep my eye on them and perhaps buy more from time to time. The Holy Terror may not be perfect, but there's a lot in there that's worth your time.
The Evolution Of A Story by Robert Thomas 1/12/00
When you get down to it a lot has been said about how Doctor Who has developed over the years. Thinking back over the stories I have viewed, heared or read I do not think a single story has evolved itself during its actual running time. It's fair to say that this story may shock people and is destined to be loved or hated by all who hear it.
Before I go into the story I want to tell the my opinions leading up to it. Recently I ordered six months worth of Big Finish stories, starting with The Shadow Of The Scourge to The Stones Of Venice. Due to the timing of my order The Holy Terror arrived a week after Scourge. After hearing the classic I didn't really think that Terror would come anywhere near it in terms of quality and ....... well, anything. In fact after hearing the story would feature a talking penguin who I had only experienced in Mission: Impractical, this looked like a comedy that would completely flop and I really considered skipping it altogether.
This tale examines every cliche about Doctor Who possible in a completely fresh way. I did not get the joke that it is a four parter the length of a six parter until I read the above review. Indeed looking at the length on the back nearly put me off listening to it. But surprisingly there was no padding whatsoever. The joke about the corridors was fantastic. The Doctor when he thinks he has met the villains is equally funny.
This story also has elements of horror in it too. In fact its attempt to delve into the motive of the typical Who villain is inspired.
The story is populated with characters, not merely bodies to say lines enhance the plot or die. Indeed the acting is at the highest level I have heard from Big Finish.
The Doctor - This could very well be Colin Baker's best ever performance. Funny and I believe this may be the first time since Troughton we see a Doctor showing such fear as when he realises what is happening. There is a scene in part four where he has an exchange with Clovis which is one of the best scenes any Doctor has featured in.
Frobisher - He is very funny. His storyline gives him a lot of development and he has grown on me a lot.
Pepin - Very good. The actor who had to play him shows a wide variation of acting skills. He has a lot to do which is so subtle you may miss most of it.
Berengaria - Being an Eastenders hater I was expecting her to be c**p. But she had some of the best scenes and lines of the story. She has gone up a lot in my estimations.
Livilla - What a b***h. Still did her job and was an excellent love to hate her character.
Tacticus - I have great memories from watching Sam Kelly in Allo Allo and On The Up and he gave me even more great memories. He showed a side to his acting skills I would never have guessed he had.
Clovis - Very good, started off as one thing and changed into another. Faded a bit as the story went on but has some great scenes.
Childeric - He didn't really grab me as a listner. But he was a very good psychopath.
In the end I like this story a lot and believe that Big Finish have released their best two stories in the form of this and Scourge. But ultimately people's opinions of this story will rest on what people think of the end. Whether it went to far, or was it not justified? I like this ending but believe it to be adult in tone.
One way to see how amazing this story is, is to play the opening and end scene, listen to how different they are and you will see how the story changed and evolved.
By the way there is another hidden track at the end of the second CD if you let it run. Take my advice, DON'T BOTHER LISTENING TO IT.
Dark, Gothic Castles and Penguins! by Richard Radcliffe 26/1/01
I was actually looking forward to this Big Finish Production. So many were dreading it. It could have been dire, very true - Mission Impractical was. I was intrigued with the “forebidding castle” and “evil in the crypt” the cover blurb predicted.
It features the 6th Doctor and Frobisher. The 6th Doctor got through 2 companions on screen, in the books and audios he has had 3 more (Grant, Frobisher and Evelyn). Frobisher is the most unusual - a talking penguin! I liked him in the comics - he was out of the ordinary, a surprisingly likeable little chap.
Here he is played just how I imagined him by Robert Jezek. That New York twang suits him.
The story is a black comedy. The torture scenes at times make you cringe, at times they make you laugh out loud. It’s dark, it’s gothic, it’s very funny at times! Robert Shearman plays with ludicrous and makes it interesting. That’s some achievment considering it is nearer the length of a 6 parter than a 4! Big Finish haven’t got to fit the episode into 22 minutes, and they constantly vary things - and rightly so!
The 6th Doctor seems very at home in these dark surroundings. Maybe the Voyager strip provided this image for me. The 6th Doctor seems to be getting the best Audio Adventures - and Colin Baker excels in them. What a great Doctor he is!
Vastly different from the rest of the Big Finish catalogue, it shows Dr Who can tell a wide and rich variety of tale. Very Good. 9/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 5/2/01
It is difficult to know where to begin with The Holy Terror. It is certainly dark, but at the same time peppered with humour. It's not traditional, but then it is labelled as a side-step. Fortunately the story and cast are strong enough to rise to the challenge, and as such it is littered with strong characters. Notably Roberta Taylor as Berengaria (light years away from Eastenders) and definitely Sam Kelly who steals the show. Colin Baker`s Doctor is stronger than ever and Robert Jezek is suitably cast as Frobisher, who sounds remarkably like Joey from Friends. The only gripe I have is that Frobisher`s shapeshifting abilities aren`t really used, and the inclusion of an old enemy. Still it is rewarding and enjoyable. More please. 9/10.
A Wholly Terrific Production by Julian Shortman 12/3/01
I've just come away from listening to The Holy Terror for the second time, and again, it's thoroughly impressed me. Where did BF find Robert Shearman? It's not a name I'd recognised at all before I came across this audio, but I'll certainly be on the look out for more work of his. I'll also keep on the look out for work involving Nicholas Pegg - both of his contributions to the audio range have turned out resounding successes in my opinion.
Those of you who've listened to the story will know that it's difficult to discuss details without dumping spoilers. So let's deal with some general excellent points:
Colin Baker's Doctor. I was so impressed with the maturity and sensitivity of his acting here - in some ways so recognisable from memories of his brief fling with Who on TV, in some ways so much improved. This is the 6th Doctor I wish I'd met on TV. Here I was with him all the way, and never once did I feel like exasperating at yet another uneccessary ego-inflating comment or bitchy remark towards his companion. BF has truly restored my faith in C. Baker's ability to play an excellent persona of the Doctor, and I'd happily lap up another three seasons worth of Colin's Doctor like I heard here.
The atmosphere - BF have got their sound effects & music honed very well here. From the dripping damp walls of the dungeons to the sudden ageing of a significant character towards the end of the story my imagination was in there 100%. The sickening death & torture sounds also genuinely caused my stomach/imagination to squirm at one or two points - can audios get a PG rating I wonder?
I'm sure I was not the only one to raise an eyebrow at hearing that Frobisher was going to appear in a Who audio - but to their credit, BF pulled him out of the hat at the right moment here. His character was so well suited to the story, and provoked a lot of excellent humour. I would continue to caution using him sparingly, but I have no criticisms of his use on this occasion.
And finally the story itself - and what a fantastic blend of styles there were here. Humour, mystery and tragedy woven together with skill. Where as at the start you could be fooled into thinking you've dived into one big send-up of a particular genre, by the third episode the questions are pounding in your mind to know what is really going on. I have to say the ending more than satisfied, and gave enough emotional punch to balance out all the flippancy contained in the earlier episodes. Although we weren't entirely on untrodden ground as far as the Who universe is concerned, I felt the context was reused for an excellent reason.
Along with the two historicals, this audio must rate as one of the best yet from BF. Perhaps the best compliment I can offer at this stage is that by the end I was wishing I could sit down and watch the TV version.
A masterpiece... by Joe Ford 24/3/03
I am a big fan of the Big Finish productions. That must much be obvious by now. I truly appreciate the efforts they have gone to change the fortunes of many underused Doctor Who characters (notably the sixth Doctor and Peri who both share much more success in this medium). At first I thought I would never be able to concentrate on Doctor Who in a purely audio medium after all a lot of the shows appeal (and reputation) comes from its imaginative design. One thing struck my after ten or so audios was the ability to surprise, to thrill and entertain with concepts, imagination and dialogue alone. With the audios it is the ideas that amaze and when they are particularly special the TV series cannot touch their magic.
The ideas in The Holy Terror are just extraordinary. Religion is a bit of a taboo in Doctor Who with the show's propensity for good and evil it is odd that the show has not touched upon such a subject. When they do it is either buried under a mass of other plots (Planet of Fire) or wrap it up in too much science fiction (Vanishing Point). The Massacre uses the subject wisely by making neither side truly good or evil. But no Doctor Who story has ever dealt with the hypocrisy of religion. This The Holy Terror throws in your face.
The very idea that every time a God dies another takes his place and the people just accept it is astonishingly brave. Or the thought of the high priest doing a magic trick is enough to convince the people of his divinity. The bibles too that chronicle the lives of each God just happen to be the exact length from the beginning of the life expectancy of each God. Or the ritual execution, shooting God to prove he is not a heretic (blanks of course because God CAN'T die so what would be the point of trying?). Such wonderful concepts, bizarre to be sure but extremely clever. These ideas are littered throughout the story and creep up at the most surprising moments and it all unfolds unpredictably.
Of course the people who live in this strange castle aren't aware of the hypocrisy of it all so we have two fresh sets of eyes to remind of its utter insanity. C'mon who had doubts about Frobisher leaping from the printed page into audio? Me too. Thanks to the talents of Rob Shearman and Robert Jezek, the transition is made easy and the character is an instant success. Frobisher is a lot of fun, I love his US accent and his witty quips are wonderful ("It's embarrassing I'm all naked here!"). But who would imagine they give him so much depth in just one story... by giving the companion a larger role and elevating him to God (okay that doesn't happen in every story) we can see how badly Frobisher really wants to make a difference. His exclamation "I am a God" is one of the best companion lines in ages.
Colin Baker never disappoints but rarely is he as subtle and skillful in portrayal as he is here. The Doctor basically stays on the sidelines watching the situation unfold, reacting with appropriate horror when people are killed. Colin plays The Holy Terror quietly and much more effectively than if he had been ranting. His quiet "Why?" when he discovers Arnulf has had his tongue removed by his brother is chilling. What makes the story an utter masterpiece (easily the best too this point) is his desperation in the final episode when the truth of the situation becomes clear. The way he literally begs Eugene not to take his life is heartbreaking and his heartfelt reaction to Frobisher's pain are some of the best (and certainly the most emotional) Doctor Who moments ever. Frobisher: "I really felt I could make a difference" The Doctor: "I know Frobisher, I know..." such a small line and yet it carries so much weight behind it.
The tone of the story shifts all the time but essentially the humour runs throughout, the first two episodes are thoughtful and charming and the last two the horror creeps in with uncomfortable effectiveness. And then, as if that wasn't enough, the last episode suddenly twists a knife in the gut as the answers spill out and it's Doctor Who drama at its finest.
But let's never forget the secondary characters written and performed to perfection. I love Berengeria... what a total cow, she is strung up in a dungeon wall awaiting execution and still manages to come across as the strongest character of the lot. She gets fab-o lines like "I remember the pleasure you got pulling the wings of flies when you were a child but where's all that evil gone Childeric?" and "By the time I had her executed there was no face left! Only her eyes so she could see the moment of her death!" And Roberta Taylor (one of my favourite actresses of contemporary TV) has such a deliciously malevolent voice, perfect for audio.
Eugene Tactitus is equally good and played with such conviction by Sam Kelly. It is marvellous how his character, in the background until then suddenly emerges as the most important person in the entire story. Another great audio voice especially during his final scenes of horror and despair. His suicide is shockingly brilliant.
The others are all well done. Peppin in particular comes across strongly especially in his later scenes with his mother, refusing to leave her side. As the characters are all wiped out you feel a sudden melancholy, this wonderful bizarre creations just discovering their potential are gone forever.
And of course it tops the Big Finish by having three equally exceptional cliff-hangers. "Who is the man who created God?" is the best Big Finish cliffhanger ever, they will never top that one. "To death or life eternal!" (episode one) and "All hail Frobisher, all hail the big talking bird!" (episode two) are both great too.
Mature, compelling, funny and tragic... as I said a masterpiece.
Within the Walls by Mike Morris 7/4/04
Now, when I put The Holy Terror into the CD player, it was under pressure from the kick off. This was last chance saloon for the audios. Not their fault, really; I just don't really get much of a kick from audio drama. Even The Stones of Venice, which I could tell was pretty damn good, never really engaged me. I'll happily accept that it was my problem. No blame. Still, I figured that if this one didn't wow me, I'd give up.
I must buy some more.
This was marvellous. A really wonderful story that changed tone throughout, and kept me intrigued from start to finish. Well put together, well conceived, beautifully paced and damn good all round. The genius of it lies in its ever-changing moods (sorry to get all Style Council on you) - it starts as a comedy, gradually changes to horror, it's a thought-provoking concept story and culminates as a beautiful tragedy. And more besides. Overall, it's a belter.
The Holy Terror employs a wordy, witty script that's entirely suited to its medium. One of the problems I've found with the audios is that they struggle to convey visuals (for obvious reasons), and the characters tend to drop out of their naturalistic dialogue to suddenly start describing things. The Holy Terror, though, avoids this trap in two ways. First, it's quite happy to leave much of the canvas blank and let the listener fill in the gaps; secondly, it steps back from television-type naturalism and adopts a more theatrical tone. What is described is described in ceremonial fashion by ceremonial people, rather than people just dropping out of character for a moment; it means that much of the necessary exposition is conveyed in a stagy but satisfying way.
The opening scene in the castle is a good example. It's witty, and conveys a great deal of information by having it revealed in a put-on ritualised manner... and then cheerfully acknowledges this by having Eugene Tacitus respond in a "here we go again" way, mirroring the viewer's own reactions. It works because it's surprising, and very funny, and clever, and doesn't come across as smart-arsed. It works because there's a sense of joy at both sides of the coin - Shearman seems genuinely delighted with the joke he's conceived, but at the same time takes pleasure in inhabiting the stereotypes he's sending up. The atmospheric scenes in Eugene Tacitus' quarters, for example, and the gleeful horror of Arnulf's tongueless henchman, are examples of the script delighting in the conventions that it mocks elsewhere. Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that, although the clich? of pseudo-religious sci-fi are sent up mercilessly here, they aren't applied sloppily or lazily, which is the temptation for this type of story... and because of this The Holy Terror never feels tacky or mean.
There's a clever humour in the way that the archetypical characters are undercut, also. Berengaria is a gem, weary at her allocated role in life and fulfilling it with cynical ennui, and the way that she openly mocks Livilla is both funny and disturbing. Livilla's attempts to intimidate Berengaria are oddly pathetic, showing a woman still being bullied when in a position of power, and another who is invulnerable, her soul having already been destroyed by her own actions... there's a real truth in there, somewhere, and although these scenes are just for fun they have a certain weight.
It's that little bitch-fight which steals the show early on, really, as the rest of the characters are a bit too stereotypical for comfort. Pepin is drippy, and Clovis doesn't really do anything much. Childeric is better (that's the bad guy, isn't it? I kept getting Clovis and Childeric's names mixed up), as he's well-voiced and gets some good dialogue, but even he's very hammy. It works most of the time, but towards the end of Part Two I was thinking that this joke was getting very stretched, and wondering where it could all go for the last two episodes. The "we do it because it's tradition" joke can only get so many laughs, after all.
The story answered my doubts by diving full-length into the realms of horror. It shows a real awareness, the way the script changes tack just as it's getting tiresome... in much the same way, just when all the characters are becoming irritatingly stereotypical, we find out why. Smart. And the child is just terrifying, with his voice being shinily distorted and a creepy musical score accompanying him. There's another clever plot twist which provides a cracking cliffhanger to Part Three, and the all-out bloodbath that follows is genuinely horrifying, even in audio format. Berengaria's death is marvellous.
Oh, and then there's our regulars.
Frobisher's okay, but he didn't overly please me. His voice is appalling, and as Finn Clark mentions, the delightful arrogance that I remember from the comic strips isn't in evidence. He comes across as irreverent and very much in over his head, and although this isn't offensive, it wasn't the most amazing use of our favourite shape-shifting penguin and his chocolate pilchards. That said, it was nice that his shape-shifting abilities weren't overused, but those brownie-points are counterbalanced by that dreadful Noo Yoik accent. Ugh. Essentially, I didn't think this cracking character was used as well as he could have been; that said, he's still a damn sight more interesting than a whole bunch of Doctor Who companions, and the mere sentence "All hail the big talking bird" is sufficient justification for his inclusion. Best comic moment goes to Berengaria, though, for her deadpan delivery of a similar line. Had me in stitches!
(Cool hidden track too!)
And now for the Doctor. Now excuse me a moment, because this requires preparation and deep breathing on my part. I'm going to have to say some nice things about Colin Baker.
Okay, that's an exaggeration. I'm not actualy a Sixth Doctor antifan and never was, I actually love the concept of the apparently shallow character and believe that Colin could have been a great TV Doctor under different circumstances. I just think that Colin as-seen-on-TV is patchy at best - and in some stories he's just downright bad - although, given the state of the programme at the time, it would have been miraculous if he'd done much better. Bluntly, however, I don't think any of his TV performances are particularly good. That said, you could always see that there was a great Doctor in Colin Baker, somewhere.
And here is that Doctor, and what a joy he is.
The script nails him, for a start. He is used as a straight-man observer figure for much of the story, which I think suits him very well; this is the most loudly opinionated of Doctors, so to have him providing a bemused and witty commentary is a good use of his character. Colin's playing it straight much of the time, trying in a frantic yet businesslike way to get to the bottom of what he's found himself in the middle of. The result is a brilliant performance, bristling with energy. His initial meeting with Childeric is a hoot, the Doctor joyfully on the verge of humouring this rather silly villain. As Colin Baker was always a rather, ahem, vocal performer on television anyway, it's no surprise that he revels in the audio format and wrings every last drop of expression out of his voice. He makes the story come alive in a way that neither Peter Davison or Paul McGann have come close to managing in the stories I've listened to.
And then there's that final scene, which is intensely beautiful. "He didn't have to do that," says the Doctor simply, and it's heartwrenching. All those affectations of his stripped away, his bald, naked sadness shining through and hitting the listener like a kick to the gut. The raw feelings of the Sixth Doctor are something we see so rarely, so when they crop up it's really effective. The aftermath in the TARDIS is quiet and thoughtful, but really marvellous. And after listening to it, I thought back and - belatedly - realised that this fun little story's true agenda is a damn sight deeper than I'd thought.
It's a story about people and what they feel. What comes through is that the characters we see are smaller than the power of their emotions, that those primal feelings are the most important thing in existence and define the truth of who we really are; it's a scenario where the pain of one man is more important than an entire world of social settings.
The basic setup, played for laughs early on, is perfect for this as it creates a bunch of characters who are defined by petty, unimportant concerns for power and position. It worked for me because, in spite of its wackiness, it's not so far from the truth. We live in a world where meaningless etiquette rules in all social situations, where sickening programmes like Sex and the City portrays the quest for love as an endlessly hollow exercise in shopping for men instead of shoes, where we are obsessed with the conduct of celebrities and their social status, where standing and perception are more important than beliefs and ideas. Because of this, The Holy Terror works as an abstracted but angry and sad piece of social satire; which is why it packs such an emotional punch, and why there's such a dramatic rightness to the conclusion, when this plastic tyranny of social manners is swept away by a tsunami of self-hatred, repentance, and loss.
(That tidal metaphor isn't mine, by the way, it's the story's; the image of flooding is subtly reinforced in the dialogue and the sound effects - blood "running down" the castle walls and all that - in what is a very clever piece of scripting.)
And so, there's a disgust at this society - our society - but also a real passion for the people within it. The power of untempered emotion comes bubbling to the fore in the story's climax, of course, but also in Berengaria's gorgeous death-scene. This character is, in a very real sense, fictitious because of the limited scope of her conception... but she realises the truth about love, freedom and choice, and so comes alive as she dies. It's subtly countered by Clovis' death scene, in which he fails to attain what Berengaria achieves. As the Doctor says at the end, the people might not be real, but it doesn't stop them from feeling pain. In other words, it's the emotion that matters; it's our emotion that defines the colour of our soul, and sod the accepted social patterns. It's a beautiful conclusion because somewhere, there's a real and important truth.
And all this in a story that never has ostensible pretensions to be anything other than a fun little audio adventure. Can't be bad can it?
There are a few problems. I didn't buy the angle with the TARDIS (the explanation for which is badly fumbled at the end), the comedy is sometimes laboured, and - as with every single audio I've listened to so far - the episodes could do with some tightening up. Do any audio episodes manage to come in at twenty-five minutes? The Holy Terror has very long episodes, which is fair enough, but several of the sequences are repetitive. More ruthless editing would be a benefit; sometimes, good jokes and decent lines have to be sacrificed for the sake of the story's pacing. Here it's as though the editor kept deciding that ah, it's quite a good scene, let's keep it; which leads to the whole thing feeling a little undisciplined and ragged at times.
Still, that didn't limit my enjoyment too much. Finally, those little CD's have won me over, and it's a good feeling. This is a wonderful Doctor Who story.
A Review by Brian May 18/4/07
The Holy Terror is a real treat, with Rob Shearman giving us a first-rate script full of rich and humorous dialogue. First, it's a pastiche of all the conventions and cliches of Shakespearean and Jacobean revenge tragedies, with particular nods to King Lear, Richard III and Macbeth. There are some laugh-out-loud moments as the genre's norms are lampooned: the standard assassination attempts, the High Priest who always sides with the King's deformed bastard brother, the expected hatred between fathers and sons. All of this is made out to be so commonplace, so humdrum. Berengaria's resignation to humiliation, torture and death has all the ordinariness of anticipating a dentist's appointment or queuing to pay a bill. Another priceless moment occurs at the opening, when Tacitus is threatened with every terrible fate under the sun if he doesn't recant. Of course, he does recant and then it's every kind of apology from his captor (liked the receipts bit, too!) Chronicling the King taking a bath as an important historical moment is also worth a few chuckles.
Amid all the fun there's a serious note: the anti-religion message is strong and forthright. And the jokes are put aside in the final episode-and-a-bit as the story takes a turn for the surreal and disturbing, savagely undermining the levity of the early stages. The killer baby is very freaky, although from the beginning its voice is obviously that of Tacitus; however, this doesn't mean part three's climax is not effective. There's a climactic massacre at the end, which emphasises the tragedy of lives lost. But of course, as the listener knows by this point, nobody in this world except for Tacitus was ever real in the first place. It's very reminiscent of Castrovalva of course, but there are also strong echoes of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in which the two eponymous characters, minor cast members of Hamlet, question their existence beyond the confines of the play. Similarly Pepin and Berengaria realise they have free will - they break their programming, so to speak - and become real people the instant before they are killed. And if that's not tragic, then I don't know what is. So whether it's a literal or virtual/metaphysical bloodbath, the ending is very gutting.
All the acting is excellent, every character being perfectly cast. I confess to never being a dedicated reader of the DWM comics, but it's not a prerequisite for appreciating Frobisher. Robert Jezek's Woody-Allen-inspired interpretation of the shapeshifter is greatl I especially liked his reaction to becoming a god at the end of part two (and isn't this a fantastic cliffhanger!) The sixth Doctor and the talking penguin make a great team, and here's hoping for some more audio adventures for Jezek and Colin Baker.
The only complaint I have is the usual one for Big Finish adventures: the episodes are too long. But otherwise there's little to find fault with The Holy Terror. It's a captivating, intelligent story with a finely honed balance of wry comedy and existentialist tragedy. 9/10
A Review by Craig Lambert 6/3/08
I was a little disappointed when I finished The Holy Terror. I had read reviews on this site and amazon.co.uk and it had been so highly praised. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I was struck by a number of things about this audio play.
The Holy Terror has a major similarity to The Chimes of Midnight, by the same writer, Robert Shearman. I loved The Chimes of Midnight, but to hear an earlier story with a very similar plot twist was disheartening and disappointing. Why did Shearman repeat himself like that? It is a low point of the play.
I am not a fan of Colin Baker, but this was the second audio play I have heard with him and I really like what I have heard in both. I have believed for a long time that Colin Baker's televised episodes were so bad, not so much because of him, but because of bad writing, bad companions (sorry Peri), bad music and bad special effects. I am seeing now that Colin Baker could be a satisfactory Doctor when given decent scripts like Bloodtide and this one.
This was my first exposure to Frobisher and I must say, after much initial doubt, I really liked this penguin companion. He was funny, thoughtful, and intelligent. The actor who plays Frobisher, Robert Jezek, is quite good at portraying this unusual companion. I was pleased there was a logical reason that he is a penguin: he's a shape-shifter. Although, why he would want to be a penguin is still a question I would like answered.
The supporting cast is very good at providing the necessary tension, atmosphere and moodiness to the story. The world is very imaginable. However, the plot left me disappointed. I don't want to give any spoilers, even though this story is more than a year old, but the plot seemed to go on too long to fill the time requirements, and the ending left several questions unanswered. For example, how did the "creator" of this "situation" bring it about? The Doctor gives a vague explanation to Frobisher, but there are no technical details revealed as to how the "creator" did it all. Does he have some great powers? Does he have some amazing device? Does he come from a very advanced race? It just wasn't clear enough, and that was annoying and unfulfilling.
I'm not sure why this story gets such high praise. I thought it was just okay. I suppose, after listening to The Chimes of Midnight, I expect more from Robert Shearman than this. Of course, this came first, so perhaps that explains why it isn't more impressive. At times, the story became annoying and the repetitive elements were irritating.
A Review by Jameson Lee 17/7/11
Humor in Doctor Who is a tricky thing. When it is over-played, it can come off as pantomime or garishly vulgar or it may be written by someone with a bad sense of comedy. In the case of The Holy Terror, we are given a treat by Rob Shearman (of the 2005 script Dalek), a man who appreciates the double bit of comedy. Throughout Shearman's story, moments are played for laughs, but always at the expense of another. It's all beautifully written and crafted with brilliance that in the hands of another writer may have come off as strained or improper in some way.
In the opening sequence, Frobisher is in the bath hunting a holographic fish made by the TARDIS's computers. The TARDIS revolts at being used in such a way and shuts down all of its systems. The Doctor attempts to explain to Frobisher the deeper threat of violence even when no one is harmed. Allowing the TARDIS to take them where it will, the travelers arrive in a strange world ruled by tradition without reason, ritual without understanding and belief on pain of death.
The TARDIS materializes during the inauguration ceremony of the new God-King, Pepin the Great. But Pepin isn't feeling especially God-like after his father performed the cardinal blasphemy by dying. Flanked by a bitchy wife with dreams of opulence on one side and a scribe recording his embarrassingly unimpressive thoughts on the other, he scarcely notices his warped step-brother who plots to overthrow the kingdom. In the darkness of the secret catacombs, a secret evil has been crafted that promises to change everything. While the Doctor attempts to unravel the mystery of the strange world, Pepin comes up with the clever idea of naming Frobisher as God. Then things get... complicated.
As I have said in other reviews, the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor got short-changed on screen. His combination of theatrical bravado and heartfelt sincerity made him the most alien of personas, especially after the down-played gentlemanly Fifth incarnation played by Peter Davison. Dressed in outlandish, colorful garb, the Doctor was a brash genius with a strict moral code that often jarred with that of his companions. Actor Colin Baker has stated that he was overjoyed to play the part and planned to break the 7-year record set by Tom Baker before him. Rather unfairly, he was sacked after 2 years but has found a new following thanks to these Big Finish audio adventures.
The companion Frobisher is an odd one, even by Doctor Who standards. Introduced in the Doctor Who comic strip, he is a shapeshifting private eye who is disguised as a penguin (simply because the editor and artist were both partial to penguins). Voiced by Robert Jezek, Frobisher is a charismatic companion with a frenetic energy, impish innocence and awkward New York accent. The voice threw me at first, but in time I got used to it and look forward to hearing him again.
One of the aspects that I have enjoyed of the Big Finish audios has been the inventive intelligence with which they are written. The Sixth Doctor in particular is depicted as a genius with keen insight, a deep understanding of technology and unflinching bravery in the face of danger. He often solves the problems that he encounters using inspired actions, but these acts usually place him directly in the path of some deadly threat. Another of the Sixth Doctor's personality traits that I find unique and enjoyable is his deep emotional sympathy, often expressed in passionate ways. This story gives him many opportunities to express his feelings and it produces a many-faceted face of the character.
The Holy Terror is a wonderfully layered story that has several light and humorous moments that come off as vaudevillian. This comedic angle threw many fans upon first listening, but when the dark and sinister truth beneath the comedy are shown, it becomes clear why so much humor was injected into this one. Without giving away its secrets, Holy Terror is one of the most heartbreaking and terrifying Doctor Who stories I have ever listened to and, while I was a bit shaken by this at first, it appeals to me that Shearman wrote such an ambitious story for the Sixth Doctor.
All Hail the Big Talking Bird by Jacob Licklider 3/3/17
Doctor Who and religion never really have mixed with very successful results. The Aztecs touched on how religions can become flawed and end poorly, and Meglos did the whole science versus religion storyline and wasn't very good. The Holy Terror sets itself apart from the rest, with its writer being Robert Shearman. Shearman is first and foremost a cynic. He likes The Space Museum and knows exactly how to tug at your heartstrings with bleak storytelling and some gutting moments. His first Doctor Who script is mainly a comedy with a lot of biting satire on how religions and even normal people treat tradition as law even when they are quite silly. The plot involves the Doctor and space-detective Frobisher landing in this castle where the emperor is the people's eternal god and if the god dies, anybody still worshipping the previous god has the choice to recant or be executed. This allows Shearman to point out just how crazy people can be going forward to religion by using parodies and caricatures of people to keep us interested. I mean, the people eventually worship Frobisher because he's a big talking bird who appeared with a big blue box. The commentary on human nature is extremely fascinating, as everyone falls into these traps and before you know it the laugh-out-loud comedy changes into a piece of heart-wrenching drama about sins of the past. I'd go further into the plot except for the fact that Shearman is famous for his story twists changing the direction of the story.
Where Shearman succeeds the most is with the characters, and the best place to start is with Frobisher. Frobisher is a companion from the Doctor Who Magazine comics and just so happens to be a big talking penguin who can also shapeshift. So yeah, why hasn't this been done before? It would happen partially again with C'rizz, but here it is so good because Frobisher is played up as a cliched detective, which really works within the context of the story. He is played by Robert Jezek, who is having a ball with the part; as someone who hasn't had any exposure to the character, this is a great introduction. I honestly wish Big Finish would have featured the penguin more than they did.
Next up is the Doctor, who is extremely softened here, and Colin Baker is loving every minute of the script. He gets himself embroiled in the mystery of the castle and society as things don't quite add up. Yes, he gets away from Frobisher for most of the play, but the bookends are some of the most entertaining pieces of Doctor Who and should be heard immediately. The supporting characters consist of a bunch of cliches with the power-hungry Queen Livilla who is just awful but delightfully so. There's the emperor Pepin, who is a complete wimp throughout the story, as he gives his power to Frobisher. There is the backstabbing high priest and the evil hunchbacked younger brother. The most interesting character has to be the scribe Eugene Tacitus, played masterfully by Sam Kelly, who has the entire story revolve around him and his past. The main villain of the piece is credited as The Boy and is one of the scariest villains to ever grace Doctor Who. I can't give too much away as to the fate of the story, but know how good the reveals actually are.
The direction was done by Nicholas Pegg, who shows just how different he is compared to Nicholas Briggs and Gary Russell. I can't quite put my finger on it but, after Briggs and Russell, this story just feels like a refreshing change of pace. Also, the music is beautifully medieval as the setting is a castle and you can really get yourself lost in the setting.
To summarize, The Holy Terror is absolutely brilliant and sets the standard for all the Robert Shearman stories. The acting and characters are on point, with Colin Baker and Robert Jezek hitting it off so well it becomes a shame that Frobisher didn't really have his own series of Big Finish adventures. Again, seek this out to figure out why I've been so vague and this review is quite a bit shorter than it should be. You will not be disappointed, and I can definitely give this one 100/100.