THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Seasons of Fear

Written by Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2002
Continuity After The Telemovie.

Starring Paul McGann and India Fisher
Also featuring Stephen Perring, Stephen Fewell, Robert Curbishley, Lennox Greaves, Sue Wallace, Stephen Fewell, Justine Mitchell.

Synopsis: The TARDIS finally gets Charley to Singapore in time for the festivities. However, while she enjoys her young man's company, his Grandfather, Sebastian Grayle, taunts the Doctor. Apparently, they are old and bitter enemies and Grayle has finally succeeded in killing the Doctor. With time running out, the Doctor and Charley must embark on a journey through history to discover how Grayle received the 'gift' of immortality and just how he has managed to destroy the Time Lord...


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 30/4/02

I really like the way this series of 8th Doctor Audios is connected. There is sufficient references to previous stories, and some tantalizing teasers for the next, as to make the whole experience much more worthwhile and enjoyable. It really is a Season of Stories, the like we haven't seen since the TV show finished way back in 1989.

The 3rd Story of this Season is one by Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox. It promises a traditional tale, a road story which moves location almost every episode. After the less than successful forays into such a genre in the past (Keys of Marinus, The Chase) I hoped this one would be a great deal better, and that Cornell would rise to the challenge, and give us a story we know he is capable of. The finished product falls somewhere between the disappointments of previous road stories, and the excellence of some of Cornell's previous work. It's a good story, continually fascinating, but one that doesn't quite join the "great" Big Finish Audios.

The opening episode is the best of the lot. The Doctor has promised Charley a trip to Singapore - to keep an appointment she has with Alex Grayle. There they encounter Alex's grandfather - Sebastian, and this is where the adventure begins. Sebastian Grayle torments the Doctor, saying he has met him before on numerous occasions. The major revelation the Doctor learns from Grayle is that he died at his hands in the past. This stunning premise is the basis of all that follows. The Doctor, to prevent his own death, goes back in time, and confronts Grayle at various times in British History.

This decision of the Doctor begs the question. Is he leading himself into his own death? Surely if he does not chase Grayle over the centuries he won't die at his hands? It is explained why the Doctor acts in this fashion, but the reason didn't convince me. Nonetheless the premise is a good one, and the Chase over the years makes for some great locations and characters.

Sebastian Grayle is the big supporting guest in this production. Played with quiet authority by Stephen Perring, he's an excellent villain. The script carefully builds Grayle's resentment at his immortal fate over the course of the story. His antagonism towards the Doctor is also well done, and we are left wondering throughout who his masters really are. The rest of the supporting cast fulfil the stories objectives adequately.

The leads are excellent. Paul McGann is wonderful as the Doctor and with a considerable number of stories now behind him, has become the Doctor we all wanted him to be. Romantic and mysterious, caring and vibrant. His love of life is the driving force in this story, and it makes a change that this time he is battling to prevent his own death, rather than others. India Fisher builds on her already excellent portrayal of Charley. The 8th Doctor and Charley have already become one of the more memorable TARDIS teams.

Of the various time periods that the story is set in, my favourite was London 1055. Like Paul Cornell I have an interest in English History, and this period of History before 1066 is a particularly fascinating one. British History does not start in 1066, and Edward the Confessor's time on the throne was a welcome addition to the many Historical periods the Doctor has visited. The Roman segment, Scotland 305, was probably the worst - but it still was pretty good. Scotland was an obscure backwater of Roman rule back then, and I wondered why that area was chosen ahead of other, more well known Roman locales. The Georgian segment, Bucks 1806, was very good though. Grayles life-journey through the centuries provided the story with a backbone that really works well.

When in the final episode Grayle's Masters are revealed, we go off to the Time Vortex, and the TARDIS (under used in these Audios, just like the TV) features a lot. The choice of Monsters for this tale will be the aspect most debated over the years, I expect. It was a surprise, that's for sure, and I even had to rewind the CD to make sure I heard right. These Monsters do fit in rather well though, and the great thing about Audio is that they will always be more impressive this way. Big Finish are not immune to creating their own monsters in these Audios, but a nice blast from the past, especially when it is done as a surprise like this, is good too.

Seasons of Fear boasts stand-out performance by its 3 main stars - Doctor, Charley and Grayle. The diverse nature of the settings portrayed always keep it interesting, and the story comes together very well. Much has been said of the way Caroline Symcox provided more logic and structure to the thing, and I have to compliment her on her work. It's a collaboration that is successful, and gives us another very good production all round. 8/10


Fearing the best by Julian Shortman 13/5/02

I hugely appreciate being pleasantly surprised by a DW story – and naturally, that’s more likely to happen when I haven’t had the chance to build up any pre-listening expectations. In the case of Seasons of Fear, I had very little idea before listening what this story might be about. I’d read from BF’s publicity that it concerned an immortal, and it crossed my mind that Paul Cornell might be attempting a sequel to Enlightenment, but as it turned out, he has written a sequel to a very different story…

Seasons of Fear is the strongest story so far in this year’s season of 8th Doctor audios. It has a cracking dilemma, a well-paced storyline, a good smattering of interesting history, and a storming villain to boot in Sebastian Grayle. I loved the comparisons made between the Doctor and Grayle in this story. You could really sense the Doctor’s revulsion at Grayle’s life - longer than his own, but confined to one country on one planet, alone and isolated, and lacking the maturity to come to terms with his prolonged existence. It was easy to empathise with Grayle’s growing insanity through this story, even his growing sense that all human life is petty, having seen so many born and die around him. This story really portrayed the grim and chilling aspects of being an immortal.

Sebastian Grayle is one of the strongest original villains to come out of the BF range. Stephen Perring did an excellent job at adjusting his portrayal of Grayle through the ages – this became more evident in the final episode as two Grayles from different time periods met each other. Of course, there were the greater villains, Grayle’s Masters, waiting to be unveiled in the wings, but for once I wasn’t holding on to find out who they were. I think if I had been I would have been a little disappointed. As it was, Grayle was a satisfying villain in his own right, so the revelation of his Masters was a bonus rather than a necessity.

Paul McGann continues to impress me with each audio adventure. Despite the various misgivings I still hold towards the TV Movie, one thing that impressed me back in ‘96 was the confidence with which Paul McGann threw himself into the role of the Doctor. This has continued in the BF adventures. His portrayal of the 8th Doctor shines with confidence and gives this listener full assurance that he is the Doctor, through and through. I’m impressed with the various writers too for having made this an original and fresh incarnation. I’ve never felt so comfortable with the Doctor reacting in impulsive, child-like ways, or suffering from bouts of self-doubt. It worked extremely well in this story to have McGann narrate sections of the adventure. At first I had my doubts, as on occasions (e.g. The Trial of a Time Lord) narration can flatten the impact of cliffhangers, but the narration here heightened the sense of tension and urgency at times, and the Doctor’s descriptions of the settings added an extra depth of scenery in my imagination.

The Chase style of story felt fresh and fun here, and it utilised the TARDIS well, without falling into the trap of only using it to perform the function of ‘Oh no, mortal danger again, run back inside!’ (memories of The Ultimate Adventure are gently nudged at this point). In fact Cornell & Symcox wisely included a successful invasion of that stronghold too. They also did a great job at diving us into the variety of historical settings with a minimal cast. We only heard two Roman soldiers talking, but I had no problem imagining the entire fort. Credit should go to Post-production here too for subtly placing the small cast onto a much larger sound canvas.

Ah yes, as for Caroline Symcox’s input into the script here – well, she may not have entered the world by the hard-grafting fan’s route of ten sweated and rejected storylines, but then I don’t get the impression that she’s a fan, and according to Cornell, she added a ‘seriousness of intent’ to the proceedings. I’m certain this tale would have suffered from too much lightness of humour (particularly considering the big baddies), so I for one am grateful that she had an input. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of Paul Cornell’s NA adventures (Human Nature still ranks as my favourite DW novel), but his more recent offerings (e.g. Shadows of Avalon and The Shadow of the Scourge) lacked the certain something that had me raving about his earlier writing. Well I’m glad to say that with the backing of a sensible woman, his story-writing was back on top form.

Thoroughly recommended!


The mother of all cliffhangers... by Joe Ford 29/5/02

I am actually quite apathetic when it comes to the works of Paul Cornell. I will admit he tries to push the bounderies in ways the show never could and that can never be a bad thing. Human Nature and the continuity nightmare Happy Endings were two of the best NAs. However he does have a rather annoying tendency to 'soap' up his work, to take some well established characters and push them in uncomfortable directions. Personally I couldn't stand Timewyrm: Revelation for it's horrific treatment of Ace and The Shadows of Avalon had some very uncomfortable Brigadier material. Still I was genuinely impressed with Shadow of the Scourge for it's willingness to play about with BIG sci-fi ideas and for dealing with characters in a serious emotional context. It was rich stuff. So I was quite eager to listen to Seasons of Fear.

Fortunately I was not disapointed. Carolyn Symcox proves to be a fantastic co-author and together they create not only a compellingly crafted Doctor Who story but a further continuation of the season arc as a whole.

Quest stories in Doctor Who aren't ever really good. The Keys of Marinus and The Chase couldn't support the scripts with the tiny budget and as a result of the different landscapes they visited they ended up looking very cheap indeed. Well hurrah for audio! No such issues there. We are immediately thrown into the action and given a very serious goal, the life of our favourite Time Lord is at risk if they don't travel through time and do some meddling. The separate time zones are each given a particular feel albeit through the period dialogue, the atmospheric sound effects and the music so it is never difficult to differentiate them.

The Doctor is on top form here, like all of the McGann audios this year. Thanks to some highly energetic performances by the whimsical McGann I have grown increasing fond of the eigth Doctor on audio. The situation is desperate but he still lets off his casual name drops, still has time for some fabulous humour and still has a chance to learn new things about himself. One scene where Charley is threatened made me sit up more than any other this year, the Doctor's reaction is shockingly violent and I began to realise maybe his concern for her is actually getting out of control. Interesting stuff…

Speaking of Charley lets never forget her involvement (but then with the brilliant India Fisher on board how could we?). Charley gets most of the best lines, be it post modern humour ("Err…last time we tried that we ended up manacled to a wall, remember?") or just refusing to be intimidated ("I should have bashed you a lot harder!"). She's a sparky lass and I love her to pieces.

Sebastian Grayle turns out to be a fascinating villain. His descent into utter loony-town is perfectly depicted and his eventual fate is both satisfying and clever. No complaints there then.

There is a wonderful twist at the end of episode three which is both shocking and hysterical. It's worth listening just for that superlative scene.

I was greatly satisfied with the original ending, everything back to normal and back to Singapore in time for tea but the final scene impressed me no end. Lets just say, like Dalek Empire before, I am utterly hooked by this thrilling cliffhanger and eagerly await the next CD. Neverland just seems too far away!

Doctor, Charley, something very nasty is on its way...


Thank God For Down Under by Robert Thomas 4/6/02

By far my favorite of the season so far and great fun. We all know this is Paul Cornell's last Who work (again), but how did he want to go out? A comedy, a romp, action, or meaningful? As far as I'm concerned I know he's been recorded as saying its bread and butter Who but as far as I'm concerned it's the entire lot all poured into the pot to see what happens. It's one of the stories that starts off very quickly, however it has reason too because it has so much crammed into it.

There are moments of fun, tension and a good bit of drama in here. Plus it's got some of the best one liners in the season so far, anyone who's heard the last two parts of Invaders know how tough that would be. The thing I love about the story is the menagerie of moods the story conjures up. Although because of this the story is always teetering on the edge of collapsing in on itself - but doesn't for me, it may for some other people. All in all highly recommended, and it's very interesting knowing how it nearly did come out. After being told how it would have turned out without Caroline I now know of a parallel universe where fans would have had a right go at this story for the end. A little note of interest is that Caroline only agreed to do this on the grounds the honeymoon was changed to down under instead of Margate, so trust me on this - Margate is definitely a bad thing.


Just.... dull by David Barnes 14/7/02

I bought this a week ago. I havent been exactly up-to-date with the Big Finish CD's, in particular the recent Paul McGann arc. The ones I have bought are all in the wrong order (I bought Chimes of Midnight and Time of the Daleks first, then this one), but I've been buying these recent McGann ones because I want to hear Neverland before all the plot details are spoilt for me and I need to buy the others in the season.

I didn't really know what to expect from this story. It had many good reviews but it didn't really seem my cup of tea (milk and 2 sugars).

Well, this story had a plot a bit like The Chase, The Keys of Marinus and The Daleks Masterplan (Doctor and companion/s visit lots of different locations for some reason or other), and I really enjoyed those three adventures. But unfortunatly this story had no milk and a scant amount of sugar.

It starts off quite well with that nasty Grayle chap taunting Paul McGann, saying that in his past but in the Doctor's future, he killed the Doctor. Now, Stephan Perring (Grayle) is very good in this story but dosn't reach superb villian status (The Master, Ice Lord Azaxyer etc). But none the less, he's pretty good.

Then the Doctor and Charley go to the Roman era to find out exactly when Grayle killed the Doctor. This is where the story starts to go downhill a bit. The main problem with this story is a lack of momentum. Lots of things happen but none feel as important as they should be. Plus theres the ludicrous notion of a Dalek being destroyed by a few Roman soldiers...

The plot moves from place to place without really getting exciting. The fight between the Doctor and Grayle at the end of part 2 should be exciting... but isn't.

Part 3 picks the story up though. Its quite good, and all that stuff with the Doctor having the duel is quite good and fun.

The story is being told to some bloke by the Doctor (which explains some of his narration through the story). I'm pretty sure he was speaking to a Time Lord, because I could hear the Matrix noise from The Arc of Infinity but I disgress. There was also a rather spooky bit with a phantom Charley (the high point of the whole play). And for some reason there is no end theme. Oh well.

In short, this story just seemed quite dull. I never felt enthralled and am not really looking forward to Neverland much. I know that many people like this story and I apoligize to Paul and Caroline. 5/10

But Shadow of the Scourge is quite good so far....


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 23/3/04

Seasons Of Fear is something of a comedown after the excellent Chimes Of Midnight, however it is still largely entertaining and pacy enough to be both memorable and enjoyable. The Doctor has finally brought Charley to Singapore, but he encounters a foe who claims to have already killed him. This sets up the initial premise of the story, as the Doctor investigates what could potentially threaten the web of time and the universe itself.

Seasons Of Fear hits the mark, thanks largely to excellent characterisation; which is perhaps surprising given the location hopping that occurs within the story. The two regulars are once more excellently portrayed although through no fault of Paul McGann, the Doctor does get the odd bad line of dialogue here and there. Of the supporting cast Lennox Greaves and Sue Wallace make the biggest impression as Edward and Edith, although mention should be made of Stephen Fewell and Robert Curbishley`s (especially his "other") performances. The central villain in Sebastian Grayle is also particularly enjoyable, thanks to Stephen Perring who imbues him with bitterness and sheer venom towards the Doctor.

No review of Seasons Of Fear would be complete without mentioning the returning Nimon too, who are perfect for audio thanks to their voices wonderfully recreated by Robert Curbishly; indeed they are far more menacing than they ever were on television. Add to this a tantalising cliffhanger which suggests greater things are to come in the whole "arc" and you have a first rate play; although not quite as great as its predecessor it comes close.


A Review by John Seavey 12/5/04

Paul Cornell [1] does it again [2]!

[1] Actually Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox, but as this is her first audio, she really can't have "done it again", since that would imply that she did it before. So, without any desire to take any credit away from her, it's got to be "Paul Cornell" in this instance.

[2] By "does it again", I don't mean it in the usually accepted sense of "writes a great story", or "has another success". I mean it in the sense I apply to Paul Cornell, that of "writes a story that isn't a great plot, essentially just being a run-around through time that gets solved with an enormously huge cheat at the end, but that has such wonderfully sparkling dialogue that you don't really pay much attention to the precise details of what's happening because you're too busy enjoying yourself." He's aided in this greatly by Paul McGann and India Fisher, who probably have their best chemistry to date in this story, and by loads of fun little set-pieces that stick in the mind long after you've stopped wondering how Grayle could be knocked unconscious by the TARDIS hatstand if he's supposed to be invulnerable enough to juggle plutonium [3]. The season "arc-plot" has developed enough so that it's starting to become obtrusive at times, like the now-you-see-him, now-you-don't Dalek, and the mystery man the Doctor's having a conversation with at the end, but it's still a fun listen.

[3] Except that very clearly I haven't stopped at all. Fall off the castle roof? No problem! Plutonium? With my bare hands! TARDIS hatstand? Oh, I've got to have a bit of a lie-down.