Big Finish Productions
Live 34

Written by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity After Survival

Starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier

Synopsis: "LIVE 34 - news on the hour every hour - LIVE 34 - broadcasting to Colony 34 all day every day - LIVE 34 - constantly updated every minute of every hour - LIVE 34 - sport, weather, business, local news, inter-planetary affairs - LIVE 34 - live, independent, accurate, comprehensive - LIVE 34 - all news, all day, every day - LIVE 34."


Flushed out the pipe, September '05 by Phil Ince 4/10/05

This review contains no spoilers whatsoever.

Soilers, yes. Spoilers, no.

Those of you who follow these things may be aware of a "Draw Your Own Doctor Who Monster" competition recently run by the Blue Peter programme.

Go to the BBCi website and you will see what at first sight must be taken to be a two-shot of David Tennant - the imminent 10th Doctor - and the cretin (or, at the least, idiot) responsible for the winning entry, an inept crib of Raymond Briggs' Fungus the Bogeyman.

Look more closely and you will discover that neither of the adults (each looking surprisingly pleased by the victorious exhibit) is actually the artist. Instead, a caption reveals him to be some simple-minded remedial of 8 wasted years.

I remind you of these facts because listening to Bog Flush's latest discharge, Live 34, you might easily suppose the same half-witted infant to be responsible for its script.

Alas, no. This crude, stilted, juvenile ordure was written, accepted, directed and performed by adults. In a way, it's good to know that backward kids are getting the opportunity to do 'real' work. However, it is clear that unless their labours are guided by smarter minds than those the producers are endowed with, the final product will continue to be worthless shit.

I think it a grave shame that these obviously determined but naturally talentless people remain unsupported and merely left to drift. Somebody should do something.

Perhaps the government could intervene? The Department of Education and Skills has a raft of advice on their website. I am sure that they would point the poor people at Bog Flush in the direction of a grant to which they are entitled and which could cause their fruitless labours to better reflect their barren but determined intent. I doubt very much that inability to complete any paperwork could not be worked round. Indeed, I have it mind that a specially-trained member of staff would visit Bog Flush at home to help them fill out the forms.

If Bog Flush were to become a registered charity, dedicated to the production of leaden, cartoonish adventure stories for the feeble-minded, Verity Lambert would almost certainly want to be patron.

A Great Experiment by Mekel Rogers 18/10/05

Every time Big Finish tries something new it's always a gamble. The several experimental audio dramas that have been produced have often fallen short of expectations. After the graphic and confusing Creatures of Beauty, the novel but underdeveloped Flip-Flop, and the just plain silly Doctor Who and the Pirates, the newest quirky release, Live 34, could have easily fallen flat on its face.

But it didn't.

The novelty of Live 34 is that the listener actually becomes a citizen of the Earth colony in which the story takes place, listening to the events of the story via the 24 hour radio news station. The Doctor and company nip in and out of the action as they are interviewed and manipulated by the corrupt media controlled by an oppressive government. The format is full of fantastic ideas that are unique and fresh without undermining the essence of what a Doctor Who story should be.

Sylvester McCoy, a self-confessed news fanatic, was a perfect choice for this script. His verbal sparring with the Live 34 interviewers is wonderfully good and is in keeping with McCoy's master manipulator interpretation of the character. Sophie Aldred steals episode two with her cool-as-ice portrayal of the Rebel Queen (and finally ditches that stupid McShane nonsense). Philip Oliver appears in part three as an undercover medic and turns in a great performance for the remainder of the adventure. The guest cast works quite well too, the most successful being Andrew Collins as the head newscaster for Live 34.

My only complaint with the adventure is the rather wordy climax in which the Doctor, Ace and Hex have to explain the entire backstory behind the government conspiracy on Colony 34. Given the wonderful build-up in the first three episodes, I was hoping for a more creative resolution to the plot.

All in all, a great story told in a unique way. Oh yeah, and a powerful statement about the relationship between government and media in today's society too.

Bottom Line: It's very different, but it's good.

Turn the radio off, I want to watch the telly! by Joe Ford 4/11/05

How disappointing.

After achieving the near impossible feat (these days) of releasing two subsequent releases that were excellent I really thought that Big Finish were going for a hattrick. When I read about Live 34 online it sounded like such an exciting idea, Gary Russell really plugged it in an online interview and when a director is that excited about a piece of merchandise it is definitely worth looking into. An audio that perfectly utilises the medium, framing the entire story within a live radio broadcast, it is idea so obvious and compelling I am shocked that they haven't tried it before.

I hope they don't try it again. Big Finish are back in the gutter with this release, the release that should have (and could have) been the showstopper of the year. Hell this had the potential to be the best audio ever. I don't think I have ever been so let down.

The main fault lies with the writer(s) and the director but there are some performance issues too. Lets deal with these one at a time...

There are so many tricks the writers miss out on you have to wonder about the logic of letting newbies write this script. So much of the story's content is monotonous, the setting, the characters, the situations, all total cliche with nothing fresh added. A utopia that isn't quite what it seems? A sinister government? An evil plot which is hidden from the public eyes? A media show used to spread propaganda? Sheesh, this a mixture of the worst aspects of Star Trek, The X-Files and Babylon 5. I actually loathe Babylon 5 with a passion bordering on insanity but they attempted something similar to this, a news show reporting the events occurring on the station, and it was a million times better than this. When their news channel was burst into by government forces and forced off air you were shocked that the news had become part of the news... something similar happens here but instead of attempting to dramatise it the writers have Drew (the headliner) calmly informs the audience they were going off air (and I hope to speak to you again soon!) The lack of excitement is astonishing!

A radio show is a fascinating idea to explore, especially being able to describe events to an audience without it seeming awkward for a change. The opportunities are manifold; chasing around the streets reporting live action, capturing speeches as they happen and hearing the reaction to the people, reporters going on covert missions... it's all in here and it's still boring. Why didn't they go the whole hog and present this as a realistic radio show, with musical interludes, audience polls on the action and having people phone and give their opinion on what is happening? These are just a few of the ways they could have made this more fun, instead what we get is a constant chatter of news, told with factual earnestness which is about as entertaining as being forced to transcribe Legacy of the Daleks onto a computer. It would help if something worth listening to is going on. What do we get... political speeches, interviews with boring apolitical rebel queens (guess who that is), jaunts on the road with the local paramedics... it's hardly thrill-a-minute. When Hex uncovers a mass grave of kids' bodies I was so relieved (how sick is that?), it was the first time in the story I had genuinely perked up. Even worse the areas of radio they focus on is the most tedious parts... weather reports and sponsor mentions! Get this script in the shredder and start again!

I suppose the final confrontation in front of the crowd was okay with the Doctor getting extremely angry at the atrocities that have been committed, but this brief moment of appeal is offset by a twist so stupid and forced I am astonished the writers thought they could get away with it. Just when the evil government think they have won, the Doctor appears and tells them... that their elected leader is a double! Argh, the audaciousness of this revelation, something that is never hinted at or explored... or that really matters when I come to think of it is diabolical. Worse, this twist is given more weight than the real issue of bodies being burnt for fuel (another twist which comes from nowhere). The ending is (somehow) even more frustrating because the TARDIS crew just leave once they have exposed the bad guys and leave the poor Live 34 crew in the middle of a vicious riot. I'm sure this is supposed to be brave, not giving us a conclusion or closure for the few characters we have met, but I found the lack of humanity shocking in the extreme.

Next up on the list of suspects is director Gary Russell. I suppose you are only as good as your script but for goodness sakes try and dramatise your story, man! You did a fabulous job of it with The Council of Nicaea! The first episode is easily the worst of the four; extremely wordy with very boring characters (and none worth listening to) talking politics about a setting we know sod all about. There are moments scattered about later on where the story threatens to come alive (Hex's aforementioned discovery, Ace being smoked out of her hole in the ground...) but they are few and far between. When The Bill did their live episode it was a dramatic treat of budget-bursting explosions and breathless performances. Doctor Who's attempt is a pale imitation with nothing particularly surprising or dangerous because it's all reported through a news station. People rabbiting on about explosions, assassination attempts and such is nowhere near as dramatic as experiencing them (compare this to the practically live and infinitely superior UNIT story The Wasting, where we are right in the thick of the action).

Opportunities are missed again. When the Live 34's broadcast is interrupted by armed soldiers Hex calmly says, "This is what he wanted me to discover..." instead of screaming and shouting and making us care. For a story that thinks it's experimental why didn't they just dispense with the breaks in the action altogether and let the story run on instead of that irritating crackly (that noise is horrible!) tuning "end of episode" music? Why not have the audio crews running about, rushing from scene to scene and keeping us on tender hooks? The Wasting might have been OTT in its attempts to shock you but at least it did shock you.

Not seeing any of the action from the regulars POV was brave but because of that they feel wasted. The Doctor is barely around, Ace only turns up in episode two and Hex in episode three! Philip Olivier subverts his boring material and proves what a charmer he is. This chap is being wasted in some excruciating scripts when what we need is a decent character study that puts him in the limelight. Olivier is a fantastic performer and three audios in we haven't see him stretch his wings at all. Sidelined as he is here he might as well be any old companion, it could be Adric for all the individuality and personality he is written with. McCoy gets some nice scenes but totally fudges the climax where he has to get all defiant and angry which we all know is hardly his forte. His desperate yells of "WILL YOU BE QUIET!" and "SHUT UP!" are not as effective as they would have been coming from the mouths of Colin Baker or even Peter Davison. I know this is cruel but I cannot see much merit in keeping Ace around anymore. Sophie Aldred is a groovy chick by all accounts and might have had some talent at in her TV days but she does not suit audio and her lack of experience is exposed in the vocal only environment. She doesn't convince as a young woman, an angry political opposer or a victim at the climax. Sorry to be hard but I paid £14.99 for this.

It probably looked good on paper but listening to this is audio is pretty painful overall. No, painful is the wrong description, because that implies I had a violent reaction to how awful it was. It wasn't awful, it was just really, really bland. If this was ice cream this would be no-thrills vanilla (without chocolate sauce).

Potentially classic, but underwritten and in desperate need of tighter direction, this is the biggest failure from Big Finish in some time.

A Review by Matthew Clarke 22/1/12

Big Finish has often shown a tendency to go for very traditional, old-fashioned Doctor Who stories. It is refreshing to get an audio that ditches the standard Doctor Who format. Live 34 is a story told entirely through radio broadcasts. It is a great idea that needed to be tried. I wanted to like this story a lot, so it was quite a shame to find it a little disappointing.

I think this audio could have been more imaginative in its use of different media. Radios do play more than just political interviews and documentaries. I am not sure this audio works hard to keep our interest (except for a few shocking descriptions of unseen incidents of violence). It is difficult to listen to this without feeling rather uninvolved.

My biggest complaint is that the ending falls very flat. We have a deus ex machina solution to the problem of the corrupt regime. We also get a science-fiction revelation for the reason for all the killings and disappearances that is not particularly convincing. The audio is also severely weakened by the performances of some of the main guest actors, most notably Zehra Naqvi (as Charlotte Singh) who is not taking it all terribly seriously.

Sylvester McCoy is very strong here, with his vocal sparring in the interviews and at the final confrontation. I do question the idea of the Doctor becoming a politician seeking election. It seems so different from his usual strategies. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine how else he could gain so much airtime on the radio program otherwise.

Sophie Aldred is the same as ever. Philip Oliver is good as Hex, but he is not given a lot to do. I don't warm to this TARDIS team, however, because I am such a big New Adventures fan. I rather feel that the NAs provided sufficient exploration of the development of Ace and the Seventh Doctor. It is unfortunate, but I really don't see what Big Finish can contribute to the Seven/ Ace 'arc.'

I am a bit unclear as to what period in the history of the Whoniverse is set. Most of it suggests the same era as The Happiness Patrol, but the reference to the Earth being 'abandoned' suggests that the authors intended it to be set after the solar flares, which does not seem right.

Live 34 was a brave attempt to do something different, but it falls flat, not least because of the lack of ideas.

Good Night and Good Luck by Jacob Licklider 21/12/20

Making a Doctor Who audio story with the framing device of a news broadcast is such a great idea that is done perfectly in LIVE 34, which in essence is the gimmick that makes this story stand out from the crowd. This becomes especially apparent when you notice that the plot of the story is the basic plot of The Happiness Patrol but told from the perspective of the citizens of Colony 34 as events are unfolding. As a listener, it gives a unique participation factor as if you are a citizen living through these events as they play out, which I think elevates this story to an almost classic status for just how out there the styling it is.

The main characters of the Doctor, Ace and Hex don't actually feature heavily in the story, as it is the supporting characters taking the foreground of the story and telling us what is going on in the colony's government and behind the scenes. These supporting characters take the form of three journalists working for the radio station, LIVE 34. There is the main anchor Drew Shahan, played by Andrew Collins, who is naive to what is going on in the colony, having his associates do a lot of the work for him. Charlotte Singh, played by Zehra Naqvi, is the proactive reporter wanting to actually report the news, no matter what it will reveal about the government or if it will make the station look bad. Finally there is Ryan Wareing, played by Duncan Wiseby, who is the weakest link. Wareing is just your standard reporter who reports on events, and he isn't as memorable as the other two characters. This doesn't mean that he is a bad character; he just doesn't come across as interesting as the other two characters.

The news-show format of the story allows the villain of the story to be described in the background of the story. The villain is Premier Jaeger, who is the evil totalitarian dictator who promises elections but is secretly working behind the people's back for his own greedy purposes. He's been hiding mountains of dead bodies, which only come across as the news stories develop over the course of the broadcast. When he does show up, the actor playing him, William Hoyland, gives a great performance as he feels like your standard politician who has his own interests in mind whenever he is making decisions and is motivated by greed. His downfall at the climax of the story isn't done very well, however, as it acts more like an anti-climax with a mob turning against him and the story just ending abruptly, with the Doctor and company leaving the planet with Charlotte in charge of getting elections going.

That brings us to the main characters, who are shoved into the background in their own story, but Parsons and Stirling-Brown do a great job whenever they use them. Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor just comes across as a politician whenever he is brought on to comment on events or make speeches, and there are even some moments where he is using the radio to give out messages to Ace and Hex, commenting on their actions in the story, which is a great idea. Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier in turn are great whenever they are on, but that is very little. Aldred gets a very powerful scene near the end, and Part Three is devoted solely to Hex's discovery of mass graves, which is great and morbid.

To summarize, LIVE 34 is a classic without really much to discuss, as the untraditional storytelling has a lot of the story without the main characters. This is not a bad thing for the story to have as it reflects what it is trying to do, but it is actually flawed in the ending of the story, which is very much an anti-climax that destroys a lot of the tension seen in the earlier portions of this story. 95/100