THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Project: Lazarus
Big Finish Productions
Project: Twilight

Written by Canav Scott and Mark Wright Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2001
Continuity Between Trial of a Time Lord
and Time and the Rani

Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables
Also featuring Holly De Jong, Rob Dixon, Rosie Cavaliero, Stephen Chance and Rupert Booth

Synopsis: An inhuman killer stalks a local casino.


Reviews

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 24/10/01

Are Big Finish on to a winner with their Sixth Doctor audios? The answer is yes; at least if Project: Twilight is anything to go by. Maintaining their high standard, both Big Finish, and Cavan Scott & Mark Wright take a leaf out of the MAs & PDAs and exploits the realism often featured in them to produce a memorable tale. Featuring as it does Vampires, whose legends are expanded upon and not easily defeated either, this all adds to the atmosphere; as does the London setting with gangsters complete with clich? EastEnders accents.

Most impressive are Colin Baker and Maggie Stables, the script really helping them to play to their strengths. Well written, high quality drama, with a possible sequel on the cards, this is Doctor Who at its best...


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 6/11/01

This self-professed tale of “Gore, Gambling and Garlic Galore” is that, and a great deal more besides. Set in London, present day it features the Doctor and Evelyn (their 2nd adventure on the run, but we don’t mind because they are brilliant) caught up in the underbelly of the Great City.

The Doctor and Evelyn are becoming one of the great Doctor/Companion teams in the History of Who. They have a rapport rarely seen between the Time Lord and his helpers. They also have a genuine affection for one another, which is a real delight after the bickering of Colin Bakers’ TV portrayal. The 6th Doctor has developed far beyond his TV portrayal. He has definitely softened. There is less brashness and irascibility. There is more caring and more heroics. He is a brilliant Doctor.

Evelyn has an excellent story too. Her compassionate side is wonderfully shown in this play, especially with Cassie. The violence of it all clearly affects her – another rung up in the Companion excellence ladder.

The modern day setting works nicely. The Gambling Den that houses the villains, the Thames nearby, dark alleyways with mutilated bodies, underground tunnels under the metropolis. All are described well, and provide the imagination with a canvas on which to weave their story. Comment must also go to the new Music that this story employs. I found it complemented the action very well. Big Finish are not afraid to use new people in every aspect of their production, and that ultimately will keep the standard high.

The characters that populate South London’s underbelly are excellent. Reggie Mead, the owner of the Casino, a real-life Kray inspiration straight from the set of Eastenders. Amelia Doory, Reggies ally with a strange past. Cassie, the waitress at The Dusk, forced to scrimp for a living. Nimrod, a mysterious presence throughout. It is certainly a gritty, more world-weary collection of people than we are used to– but one that is fitting for the story around them.

The Gore and Garlic gave away months ago that this is a Vampire tale, and as such it is a kind of Angel set in London, without the scrapping. There is an interesting take on the Vampire legends though, nice to see Doctor Who using Myths and Legends and building on them. As for who are the Vampires and who are not, the authors run with the uncertainty for the bulk of the story. It was a shame actually the Vampire aspect of the story was given away, because the 1st Episode leads you in a different direction. It would have been better to keep it quiet methinks.

The tale is helped tremendously by realistic performances throughout. You really feel this could happen – which is a nice contrast to a lot of Who. It is also more horrifically real than any of the Audio Adventures thus far. It is extremely gory in places, just to warn the faint-hearted, but always in keeping with the nature of the story. Very Good. 8/10


Perfect timing! by Joe Ford 27/11/01

After the (don't shoot me!) poor Loups Garoux and the 'how much plot can you take?' Dust Breeding we needed some life shooting in the audio range and who can think of anyone better than the fabulous Colin Baker to provide it? Bloodtide was good but hampered by some poor acting (that Greta woman!) and a slow plot but neither are an issue with Project Twilight, which is as damn near to a perfect audio that I have heard!

I love the Doctor Who formula, a ship that can take you to any time, any place, it has the ability to tell a endless number of stories in countless locations. But I especially love it when the formula SURPRISES me by touching on a subject or location that the viewer/listener hasn't seen before. The gritty back-alley casino world of Project Twilight was never touched on in the series so the story has a remarkably fresh feel to it and to dump the 'I threw up on my coat' 6th Doctor and everyone's favourite cardie wearing eccentric into its nasty atmosphere was a touch of genius!

The story twists and turns superbly and although it's not a major surprise that Amelia and her troop aren't the good guys you're never quite sure wheter to trust them or not which adds a nice layer of suspense to an already moody horror tale.

The Doc/Evelyn interaction has rarely been better, if it's the hysterical handbag saving moment or rowing over the mention of Gallifrey or even the touching last scene in the TARDIS, Project Twilight proves that a healthy Doc/companion relationship can take a good story to new heights.

My one complaint would be the character of Reggie who, quite menacingly, confounds the Doctor throughout the story has a ridiculously overblown scene smashing up a room screaming out macho crap like "With a baseball bat, people pay attention!". Irritating because the other characters, especially the deliciously cruel Amelia and the smypathetic Cassie are handed superbly throughout!

Top moments of drama: The Doctor struggling to save a vamp from drowning, Cassie ruthlessley tortured at the hands of Reggie, The Doctor trapped in his cell while screams of agony ring out (thinking it's Evelyn!), Cassie's descent into a Vampire as Evelyn watches and of course the brilliant final confrontation between Amelia and The Doctor!

Great score, great performances, excellent dialogue and top notch direction, this restores my faith in Big Finish to create top quality adventure!

Final thought: I know this might seem like blasphemy (I love Evelyn too!) but with all those rumours about her death...could you think of a better story for her to go out in?

Supplement, 13/5/04:

On paper it sounds embarrassing, a clown and an old woman take on vampires at a South London casino. These elements seem to have been plucked completely at random from numerous genres and mushed it together into four episodes of Doctor Who. The fact that it also happens to be one of my favourite Big Finish audios can be credited at all of those involved in the production, the actors who surpass themselves, the director who gives it the edge it desperately needed and the musician who wraps it all up in an atmospheric score.

Evelyn is one character that just seems to get better and better with each release and this was set during her early days and reveals much of her potential as a companion. Let's face it on TV it would be difficult for her to sustain a story what with all the running and looking pretty (not that Maggie isn't a beaut mind you!) but on audio she is the perfect companion. Being of the elder generation she can contribute much to the story; intelligence (her code breaking information), sympathy (her touching relationship with Cassie), wisdom (she wants to leg it when things get deadly!) and humour ("You bring us to Saarf east London!"). Maggie Stables has an extremely rich voice and she very believably plays an older woman under a lot of stress and given the horrors she witnesses here you cannot blame Evelyn for getting a bit emotional (her weepy farewell with Cassie). "I know enough to know that you murder, cheat and exploit the world for your own ends!" she screams out, tied to a chair and threatened by a vampire, there's no doubt about it this woman gives as good as she can.

As I said in my earlier review of this story it is wonderful to see Doctor Who heading into gangster/Ultraviolet territory and who better than the re-invented sixth Doctor (one who is at peace with himself and the universe) and Evelyn to dump into this adventure. Their horrified reactions to the violence and disgusting experiments provides an important moral core that was often forgotten in the mid 80's stories and puts paid to the suggestion that this is a season 22 rip off. Indeed when the Doctor and Evelyn burst in after Reggie has beaten Cassie to a bloody pulp it is their reactions that are more disturbing than the actual act (he says "What have you done you monster? How dare you!" and she simply states "I think I'm going to be sick").

The biggest criticism that is levelled at Project: Twilight is the Doctor's slow realisation that he is dealing with vampires. This myth is just absurd. For a start it only takes two episodes for him to discover the fact (and if we're being picky I could point out it has taken the Doctor longer in the past to discover much more obvious truths, it was two episodes into Time and the Rani until he realised the Rani was impersonating Mel with a big red wig) and secondly why should he automatically think this is the work of vampires? A casino, a hospital in its basement and some talk of genetic experimentations... yeah just screams vampires, doesn't it? There is no indication of anything fang-related until the blood money is brought out and this is precisely when he figures it out.

Amelia and Reggie make an extremely sinister pair, a sadistic Holmesian double act on ecstasy. In truth Reggie does go overboard a bit, smashing up rooms and cursing and think he's the Big Man but that suits his character, the bully who likes to act like he's in control all the time, manipulating others with the power of his fist. Amelia is much more interesting, the scientific side of the pair and engages in some excellently scripted debates with the Doctor, especially when she chastises him over his prejudice about vampires. It is obvious from the beginning that they aren't telling the Doctor everything, their mental conversations reveal as much and this rare chance to be ahead of the Doctor and yet still unaware of their (despicable) plan is quite fun. It is great fun to hear the difference in Amelia once their secret is out, she goes from doting assistant to villainous schemer and gets some delicious scenery chewing dialogue ("Who shall I kill first? My creator or my saviour?").

Cassie is our hook in the story, the sympathetic character that is mistreated terribly. She works much better here than in Project: Lazarus because we get to see her at her most vulnerable, blackmailed by Nimrod into spying on Reggie and having her face smashed in when she is caught. Throughout she grows closer to Evelyn, the one person who has shown her genuine kindness (as opposed to the synthetic smiles and promises from Reggie) and it is lovely to see this affection for the young Evelyn is supposed to radiate but we never see. Once it becomes obvious that Cassie will be the first victim of the perfect Twilight virus, heartache is inevitable and interestingly the Doctor does not manage to save her. It leaves this story open for a (somewhat unsatisfying) sequel but proves that Big Finish was thinking of the future and leaving threads hanging, the arc virus catching on like a plague.

Thankfully the production of Project: Twilight is as dynamic as the script and I was astonished at how good this was the first time I heard it. Jim Mortimore, the man who puts the fucked-upiness in the Doctor Who universe provides an impressive musical score, one that highlights the gritty atmosphere and gives the heated relationships a real sense of discord. An audio story that manages to turn your stomach owes its thanks to some effective sound FX and when Reggie is staked by Cassie and melts away in a horrible gurgling, sucking, pulsating noise you will know exactly what I am talking about. The sounds of the blood farm, in-bred humans moaning in their cages as they are drained of blood is also memorably horrid.

Gary Russell makes sure that the performances never falter and gathers an impressive selection of actors. Its another example of how comfortable and natural Colin Baker sounds on audio, somehow he manages to convince that these events are actually taking place rather than a bunch of actors gathered around a microphone. He gets some sterling scenes with Maggie Stables, especially the Doctor's angered reaction to the vampires and her complacency about the whole thing. Doctor Who always seems to take the easy option when it comes to vampires. State of Decay pulled out the fangs and the blood sucking but there is no talk of conversion or siring or where the hell they came from. Project: Twilight deals with experiments during the war, these vampires were meant as super-soldiers that can keep coming, a harder, less mythical take on the creatures. Doctor Who regularly provides scientific explanations for creature myths (the Loch Ness monster for example) and this is just another example, I would enjoy it if somebody wrote a straightforward gothic vampire tale, with garlic/holy water/crosses (which is explicitly stated that none of these work on Twilight's vamps). Still it is modern day story so a modern day explanation helps to set scene.

For dealing with a dramatic idea in a truly dramatic fashion this is Doctor Who at its best. The story builds to an impressive crescendo in the last episode, all the secrets are out, Cassie is infected, Evelyn is about to bitten, the Doctor is locked up and Amelia is going to pour the Twilight virus into the Thames... the actors are breathlessly good at bringing the story to an unforgettable climax.

If nothing else the story reveals where the greatest meal in human history can be found, the Peking Crispy Duck at the Slow Boat in Bermondsey, Saarf East London. What better advice do you need for picking this up?


A project to be proud of by Julian Shortman 6/11/02

I should have written this a long time ago! As it is, I feel I owe it to this production to write something a year on, as it remains my favourite BF release of 2001. And it’s not too hard to explain why.

The production notes state that the team behind Project: Twilight were aiming to deliver DW at ‘possibly, its grittiest.’ Now I confess I’ve not read any of Mick Lewis’ recent contributions to the world of DW, but this is the grittiest Who I’ve come across yet. Mary Whitehouse would turn in her grave several times over if she could hear this one! I’m not a natural lover of blood and guts in any creative medium, and yet I found myself feeling almost entirely comfortable with the level of gore presented in Project: Twilight. There were no points when I thought the authors were trying to make my stomach turn simply to get a reaction. The many buckets of blood were a necessary part of the scenery to tell a gruesome tale.

Colin Baker was at his best. True, he’s not had a dud performance in any of the audios yet, but here he really shone. As did Evelyn - she was closely involved with the characters and plot, and came much closer to being finished off with some of them than ever before. This Doctor/Companion team is one of the strongest ever created, and I particularly enjoyed the comments thrown back and forth that show how they’re gently getting to know each other.

Project: Twilight was also blessed with a very strong supporting cast. The scenes where Reggie Mead lost his cool were chilling, and although we could all see Amelia’s treachery coming, it was easy to understand how the Doctor could be suckered by her appeals for help. Nimrod was a great idea for a character – an obvious rip off from Blade of course – but who’s to say DW can’t borrow a fun concept from time to time? Nimrod’s pre-knowledge of the Doctor and subsequent disappointment at meeting him in the flesh was great fun, and the post-production team had the sounds for his cybernetic joints and harpoons down to a tee. He was a welcome anti-hero sidekick for the Doctor, and I’m already looking forward to his return next year.

This story was also an excellent example of continuity done right – the writers chose to include plenty of it, but it never dominated or demanded that the listener should be able to understand the links to follow the plot. It simply gave a few extra smiles and chuckles for those able/sad enough to spot the references. Nimrod’s bonded polycarbide armour was one such gem, and there was even a passing reference to Neverland snuck into the first episode!

If there is one complaint which I could aim against this production, then it’s a minor and easily avoided one. The knowledge that the residents of the Dusk were vampires wasn’t revealed to the Doctor until the end of part two. I’d have liked to have shared this shock, if it wasn’t for the fact that the authors had already proclaimed that the villains were vampires in their notes on the CD! Of course, it could be argued that I shouldn’t have read the authors notes until I’d finished listening to the story, but it was more than a little difficult to miss the phrase ‘the challenge with taking on vampires…’ as I opened the CD case for the first time! Still, 'tis but a petty complaint in what was otherwise a near faultless piece of horror Who.


Does what it says on the tin by Robert Thomas 20/6/03

After relistening to this lately I was surprised at how pretty effing great it was. By no means anything near the best BF have produced but if it's an average story it shows how high the standard is. The best thing about it has to be the atmosphere which ranges from scary (the situation) to seedy (the setting). I distinctly remember feeling that it dragged a bit on first listen but this time it was jam packed with plot and a very good one.

The two major guest characters help lift this story Amelia is wonderfully played by Holly De Jong and despite the fact he rarely appears the character of Nimrod and the fear of him are perhaps the best parts of this story. However I must say Reggie was a complete clich?and could have done with appearing less often.

Very good indeed and all involved deserve praise, all be it bar the fool who stuck a major spoiler on the inner cover of the CD. By all means buy it, enjoy it, but don't read the spoilers after all some of us tend to avoid them.


A Review by John Seavey 22/3/04

Call me crazy, but I liked this one. The flaw everyone talks about (the Doctor seeming stupid for not recognizing them to be vampires) is really only a flaw because there's a big statement in the liner notes, saying, "This is a story about vampires!" The actual story itself relies on one of those first-time author tricks that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't -- taking every single idea they think is cool and cramming it into a space as small as possible. So we get vampire casino owners (deliberately imitating the Krays) being menaced by cyborg-vampire hybrids who created them in the first place while all the while, they're experimenting with a serum designed to convert humanity into vampires -- oh, and breeding tame humans for their blood, too. It's big, it's goofy, it's silly, but it's got a certain panache that carried it past its own silliness for me.


A Review by Ron Mallett 26/10/05

Cavan Scott and Mark Wright's Project Twilight is a sophisticated example of audio Doctor Who. A gothic atmosphere has been proven to be an ideal background for a good who tale. Directed by Gary Russell, this continues the good run of 6th Doctor and Evelyn stories that have been the highlight of the Big Finish line.

The story draws heavily upon vampire lore but despite this is very original. Who has always worked best when being derivative, but at the same time bringing something new to the story in order to justify that. Featuring a group of modern vampires, there is a fair dosage of gore, quite achievable in the highly suggestive but not graphic audio medium. If being adapted for the screen, the story would need to be toned down for a family audience. The sounds accompanying brutal attacks and bodies exploding are enough to make one feel quite faint as it is.

The atmosphere is helped enormously by the sound work. Both the music by Jane Elphinstone and Jim Mortimore and the sound design/post-production work by Gareth Jenkins is superb. As with all Big Finish adventures, the sound has a truly cinematic quality that harks back to the early JNT era on TV.

As to the performances, Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have clearly settled into a routine and the chemistry is strong. Of the cast, Rosie Cavalierio who portrays the down-trodden Cassie is the one that truly shines. Rob Dixon (as vampire Reggie Mead) and Stephen Chance (Nimrod) both put in strong performances. I think it is the script that is the true star here. This is another Doctor/Evelyn adventure that comes strongly recommended.


A Review by Brian May 13/7/13

Project: Twilight is one of those stories that neatly juxtaposes two disparate elements, this time vampires and the seedy London underworld. Relocating the action here from the originally planned Las Vegas works better, by far. Vegas has been done to death, from being glamorised by Elvis Presley and James Bond films in the 1960s and 1970s, to more recently (and rightly) de-romanticised by the likes of Mike Figgis and Martin Scorsese. Thanks to the freedoms of audio, Big Finish has so far taken the various TARDIS crews to places such as Switzerland, Venice, Rio de Janeiro and the Galapagos Islands. So we could well have gone to Vegas and most probably heard some comments on its tackiness and superficiality, but staying in the good old "sarf-east" of Doctor Who's most frequented city is more beneficial, as the characters and scenario here don't require even the illusion of glamour.

The setting means the story is effective. But is it enjoyable? That's difficult to answer. Yes, it's good, but it is also a rough and often very brutal outing. As a vampire tale, you'd expect a generosity of gore, and it certainly delivers. The sound effects of exploding bodies are appropriately disgusting, but they have an almost comical air to them. Add to the mix dismembered animal carcasses, bags full of blood and the breaking of fingers. While these aren't played for laughs, they're quite meek in light of a particularly shocking moment: that of Reggie beating Cassie in part three. In true less-is-more fashion, we don't hear the blows. We cut to another scene while it occurs, but there's enough in the build-up and the aftermath to make obvious what's happened. In equal measure it's repellent and compelling.

All of this makes it an ideal story for the sixth Doctor. The overarching amorality reflects Eric Saward's vision, although the passing of time and attitudes between the mid-1980s and 2001 has simultaneously hardened the violence and softened the Doctor's character. He's no longer the cynical protagonist of season 22. Nimrod describes him as a "moral crusader"; an apt term for sure, but one I wouldn't have applied to Colin Baker's Time Lord back in the television day.

The episodes are all of a short length, so the story remains tightly paced. The cast are all good, although Rob Dixon plays it a bit broad as Reggie at times. But given his character is a vampire who idolises his Kray brother namesake, this is more forgivable. There are a few weak points in the plotting; a moment in part three makes Evelyn out to be gullible to the point of stupidity. It ensures Reggie can attack Cassie, but it's very grating and more than a little contrived. The real identity of Dr Abberton is also pretty obvious and indeed is mentioned by one of the characters earlier; however, it's rather obscure, so may not be picked up on the first listen. Nevertheless, Project: Twilight is an intelligent affair. The subject matter of government experiments is a very disturbing one. Like Goth Opera and Vampire Science before it, the Time Lord/vampire conflict is painted in shades greyer than the absolutism of State of Decay. It remains open-ended on three fronts: Amelia (if you can't see the body...), Nimrod (reporting to an unknown superior) and Cassie (now a vampire, in hiding and trying to get by), inviting a sequel I for one would anticipate.

So, with all the bleak harshness listed above, it's hard to describe the story as enjoyable without feeling somewhat sadistic. But it's certainly engaging, well realised and worth our attention. 7.5/10