THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Winter for the Adept

Written by Andrew Cartmel Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2000
Continuity Between Timeflight and
Arc of Infinity

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Also featuring Peter Jurasik, Sally Faulkner, Liz Sutherland, India Fisher and Hannah Dickin

Synopsis: Switzerland, 1963. A teenage girl plans to flee her finishing school amd elope with her mysterious beau. Unfortunately, those plans are interupted by the arrival of a young girl from Traken, seemingly lost in the snow, and what appears to be a very malevolent poltergeist with a penchant for pianos, ski-poles and the local chapel....


Reviews

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/7/00

This story coming from the pen of Andrew Cartmel feels strangely out of place, belonging in the McCoy era and not Peter Davison's. That said, though Winter For The Adept is a curious mixture of the good and bad. The opening episode is moody and atmospheric, for the most part featuring no Doctor, with a bitter Nyssa stranded in Switzerland thanks to one of The Doctor`s experiments. Eventually she ends up at a haunted finishing school and is attacked by a flying piano.

If this had remained a simple ghost story, it would have been excellent, but the fourth episode introduces aliens intent on invading Earth. This last episode seems tacked on and as a result spoils the story, as the need for aliens seems unnecessary.

Of the supporting cast, Peter Jurasik is as good as if not better than Londo Mollari in Babylon 5, in his role as Lt. Peter Sandoz, Peril (played by new companion to be India Fisher) and Alison are pivotal to the story, Sally Faulkner`s Miss Tremayne and her religious background isn`t fully exploited, and the use of accents by various characters work well. Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are on top form and the usage of diary extracts as a way of setting the scene in the opening episode is certainly different. One bone of contention is why the year 1963? It could be set at any time and still work. So overall Winter For The Adept is a winner, for three episodes anyway.


Winter of Mixed Content by Andrew Wixon 17/8/00

'A new Doctor Who adventure on CD, written by Andrew Cartmel and guest starring Peter Jurasik' were words I would have bet large amounts of money on never hearing together two years ago, but as a fan (albeit with some reservations) of both the McCoy era and Babylon 5, Winter for the Adept (which they describe, um, adeptly) was an audio I anticipated quite eagerly.

Those familiar with Cartmel's track record will be well aware of his willingness to tear up the DW rulebook and ride roughshod over its' (scripting) conventions, and sure enough in WFTA this tendency reappears. The Doctor doesn't actually appear until Episode One is winding up, inevitably foregrounding the companion. More significantly, the story's attitude to the supernatural is far more equivocal than any other I can think of offhand.

The story itself is another 'small group of people trapped in isolated, claustrophobic situation' tale; comparisons to The Shining are appropriate but for the fact the story is set in Europe. An austere, and in places downright chilly atmosphere is evoked skilfully throughout, helped by an excellent score and the narration which frames the story. The narration is another divergence from the norm and for a while Cartmel seems likely to follow through for the rest of the story along the same lines. For three quarters of the running time it seems entirely possible (a few hints from the Doctor notwithstanding) that this will be a simple story of psi powers out of control, in a story far removed from the TV series' usual style.

But this isn't the case, and in a strange way it's not to the story's benefit. Familiar Who themes appear aplenty in the closing half hour - aliens in human form, improbable schemes not in humanity's best interests - but so sudden is the change of style and so unlike what has gone before that it can't help but jar.

However, the latter stages of the story also feature a ghost. Not a temporal projection, or a psionic entity, or anything like that - A Ghost. True, the Doctor mumbles some jargon in an attempt to explain its' existence, but it's unconvincing and we're left with no real explanation beyond the truly supernatural, something which goes against DW's rationalist perspective and doesn't feel right. Cartmel can be excused this, but the Big Finish script team surely can't.

The cast, on the whole, are adequate rather than outstanding. Sarah Sutton does her best with the centre-stage part she is forced into in the first episode but Nyssa hasn't the depth of Ace and the results are mixed. Given Peter Jurasik's prominence in the publicity his part is relatively small, but his performance can't be faulted (except, perhaps, for the fact that his Swiss accent wanders dangerously close to Centauri as the story progresses). Soon-to-be-companion India Knight performance would be likewise unexceptional were it not for the obvious interest in her abilities that her future role opposite Paul McGann is bound to provoke.

This isn't a bad story at all; the plotting is for the most part clever and thoughtful, the production atmospheric, the performances good. But for some reason it doesn't quite sit well in the Big Finish canon. To mangle a famous quote, 'C'est magnifique - but it's not quite Doctor Who'.


A Review by Ian Cawood 28/8/00

OK, OK, so it's cheesy in places, and it's not quite your traditional DW, but I thought that Winter was a very welcome breath of air after the rather tedious, 'oh, look, a monster' stories, that proved, if nothing else, that traditional DW is a TV show, not very suited to audio.

(If you think about it, the one era best suited to radio is the Hartnell era - lots of dialogue, a focus on character - plus you don't get to see any of the awful monsters/effects/wobbly sets)

As someone who lost patience with the show when 'Mark of the Rani' was first screened (that tree, oh, the shame of it...), I am very pleased that Big Finish have tried to be a little experimental and more dialogue driven - and that was the hall mark of my favourite seasons - 12, 14, 18 and 19. OK, so it sounds a bit odd and risks a few dodgy moments, but I can bet that Winter will be one of the stories that will bear re-listening quite a few times.

I can afford to be crude about this, then:
Good points:
Undeniably evocative atmosphere - very creepy piano music
Great rapport between Sutton and Davison
Interestingly non-Who themes - the love story, religious obsession, ghosts (and what's the problem with ghosts, Daemons got away with magic, after all...)
A sharp and witty script: ('Harlot!' 'What's a harlot?' 'Not now, Nyssa!' 'Whore of Babylon!' 'I'm afraid I still don't understand the reference')
Solo companion (and my favourite one to boot - nuts to Ace...)
Light-hearted final scene - with just a little bit of the 'wonder' that Who has lacked for quite a while, now.
The two girls - I really found them quite fun characters

Bad points:
That alien fleet scene - completely ruined the atmosphere - Cartmel copped out - a dramatic sceance scene would have been much more effective (slamming doors, howling winds, the polteregeist screaming etc, etc)
Nice English ghost - ooh the dramatic tension never...starts
Silly accents - is this a Big Finish hallmark?
2 spillager agents - oh no, not the 'you thought that was the only one, but in fact there are two/a clone/a blatant bit of padding
The stunning obvious dialogue 'ooh, look at those big pointy ski-poles, they could do a lot of damage if they unexpectedly picked themselves up and flew at you, couldn't they?' D'uhhhhhhhh!
Another - 'we're all trapped here' scenario (otherwise known as the small cast=high tension cliche - hasn't worked since Fang Rock)
One too many 'I'm from Traken' lines - she can prove it, she doesn't need to say it (ref: DW drinking game). Ahh well, at least we were spared the obligatory 'my home world's been destroyed' line - actually Land of the Dead did that rather well, now I come to think about it...
Personally, I think that Nyssa could be a little more helpful in solving some of the mysteries that the Doctor encounters - instead she is starting to develop some argumentative tendancies that are welcome in the right circumstances (such as here), but could become quite wearing after a bit (see: Tegan Jovanka, the whining of).

So two cheers for Winter. When can we expect the real literate, challenging, bollox-to-continuity, experimental story? Oh, sorry, it's Gary Russell's series isn't it? Silly of me...


Believe ME This Is Worth Buying by Robert Thomas 13/9/00

So far this story has had alright and average reviews, I have heard this twice and I must be listening to something else. This story is brilliant.

I want to start at the ending first of all. As other reviewers have stated the last episode contains a few scenes that spoil the atmosphere. Well, I can say that after a second listen the ending seems less out of place and more of a twist that the story builds up to. I admit it isn't completely satisfying but I like stories that haven't had all the roughness smoothed out of them.

The setting in this story is another well accomplished feat by Big Finish. Indeed this seems to be their strong point. The school is made to feel real by the excerpts of a diary of one of the characters. Indeed this school was begging to be the setting of a haunting.

In terms of style this story can best be compared to Full Circle. In that all the scenes are to a minimal and all expand the story. Cartmel has excelled himself at writing a Fifth Doctor story, although there are some elements that may have better suited the Seventh Doctor but this makes the story more interesting.

The Fifth Doctor is at his best so far here. When around he is able to grasp complete attention in all of the scenes. Instead of the more tougher development seen in Davison's last season he is experimented on with a touch of comedy and his occasional wit is on top form.

Nyssa is given a large slice of the action and is also able to develop her character. Due to events just prior to the story she is more bitchy than usual. Her angry exchanges with the Doctor are great.

All of the other characters are all of the highest standard. Alison is nice and innocent. Peril is great and her character threatens to steal the show at some stages. There is a scene in part four where she will definitely make you laugh. Mlle Maupassant fades into the background a bit but her 'comedy' French accent will have you in hysterics. The others are not too memorable, (bar one who I won't mention as it will spoil the story) but because she had a Scottish accent I liked Miss Tremayne.

Overall a brilliant story well worth investing in. The spooky atmosphere and good characters make it a must by.

Now that the review is over a little advice on Big Finish audios. Don't read the cast list, middle page in the leaflets that come with them. It will spoil the story for yourselves. Also with this story (haven't checked the others yet) leave the CD playing when the story is over. Don't want to spoil it but you get the Doctor Who equivalent of a bonus track.


Dreadful! by Peter Niemeyer 28/9/00

I hate to be so negative of a Big Finish production. Ever since The Sirens of Time, there productions have been, at their worst, good. But Winter for the Adept was dreadful. It was The Creature from the Pit on audio.

My biggest complaint about the production is the writing. It came across like a college freshman's first assignment in a creative writing class. For example, during the first five minutes we are given dialog like: "I watched Peril, dressed like a commando, descend the icely slope of the broad, mansard roof. Her inky shadow is sharp on the frosted whiteness in the moonlight. She slides down the tiles and embraces the nearest gargoyle." Then there is the frequent use of adjectives repeated for ironic effect, as in: "The approach roads to our breath-taking remote valley became breath-takingly snowed in" or "It was the big mirror on the reflectory wall. Now it's the big mirror on the reflectory floor."

I also think it was a bad choice to have the story set in a cold environment. The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa just came from Land of the Dead's Alaska. Nyssa even comments on this. So, Winter suffers from a "haven't we just seen this before" sort of feeling.

The portryal of Nyssa started to fall out of character. She was spending a great deal of time complaining. It was as if she decided to pay remembrance to Adric and Tegan by adopting their worst persnality traits. Typically, the audio adventures expand and improve upon the companions in interesting ways, but this portrayal was dreadful. I'd rather watch Nyssa scream at the Ergon or mysteriously drop her skirt on a Lazar ship a hundred times over before listening to her whine.

There were other aspects of the story which are not unusual criticisms for Doctor Who... Miss Tremayne was too radical to be believable as a real person... the seance in Part 4 was nothing special, so the sudden cooperation of the ghost seemed totally illogical... and my wasn't it lucky how the Fifth Doctor avoided death during the climax of the story when the villain, who was essentially doing the same thing as the Doctor, was killed. If there are entertaining aspects to the story, I'll willingly overlook the nonsense parts, or at least not dwell on them. Winter for the Adept made this awful.

I can't say it was all bad. Peter Davison's portrayal was good, and the sound effects were nicely done. But it was too little too late. 4 out of 10. I will always applaud the effort to "push the envelope" in a Doctor Who story. Now please push it back.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 7/7/01

This highly unusual tale starts with a diary entry, read by one of the girls many years in the future. The atmosphere is one taken right out of a Jane Austen book – hardly usual Dr Who domain. I really thought we were in Austen’s time period as a result – but that’s not the case. It is December (3 days before Christmas) 1963 at a Girl’s Finishing school in the Swiss Alps. 2 students (Alison and Peril) are trying to escape. Enter Nyssa, teleported to the snowy mountains. She is helped by Londo Mollari, sorry Lieutenant Sandos – and taken back to the school. The school is being plagued by poltergeists. Jane Austen, Dickens, teleportation, Babylon 5, Sapphire and Steel! This is not a normal Dr Who story at all!

After the promising beginning that is the 1st episode, the rest of the story is average. Andrew Cartmel has written a ghostly script with Sci-Fi overtones. It works okay as a ghost story, when the Sci-Fi stuff arrives it starts going downhill. Nonetheless the early episodes contain much to like. My personal favourite bit was the moving piano chasing the Doctor – like to see that one on screen! The supernatural elements are well portrayed by Big Finish, but I never got the feel of this old, gothic school they were in. The music was quite haunting, particularly the piano playing by itself, but I can’t say I was ever freaked out by any of it. The “almost Christmas” setting promised more seasonal stuff too eg, Dickens, but in fact we get none at all. It’s just that date to show there are not many people are in the School!

Nyssa has lots of things to do, and has her best story of the audios. The Doctor is on top form too, more inquisitive here than ever. Davison is a great Doctor in any form of Doctor Who. The rest of the cast are as diverse as they are interesting. The 2 girls, Alison and Peril, are the best. India Fisher, due to become the 8th Doctor’s companion – Charley, shows her skills in the audio medium. Peter Jurasik, him of Londo Mollari fame, uses that peculiar accent of his to good effect. As the only male presence, (apart from the Doctor) the potentially disturbing notion of him involved with one of the girls, is handled with care. The school mistresses are weird. The religious fanaticism of Miss Tremayne is so over the top, its too extreme. By contrast Miss Maupassant, the French mistress is timid in the extreme. Neither is ideal teacher material. Maybe I have missed the point, I don’t know!

Overall quite an oddball this one. It is entertaining in its own way. It just didn’t fully utilize the isolated setting, and the talents of the outstanding cast as well as I would have liked. 6/10


A Review by John Seavey 4/11/03

Flawed, but entertaining. Peril and Allison are both fun characters (although their voices are wayyy too alike), Nyssa gets to show a little emotion by being ticked off at the Doctor, there's some great dialogue, Tremayne is fun... but Peter Jurasik is flat, the Spillagers just come into the picture way too late, Cartmel is a little clumsy in writing for audio (a little too many "visual exposition" scenes, especially at the beginning), and I don't understand why Peril can't use her telekinesis to keep from being shot, and why Nyssa, a passive telepath, can replace Peril, an active telekinetic, in the gestalt. That seemed easily correctible in the draft stage to me -- make Allison the one who's in love with Sandoz, and hence the one who goes out after him. Then Nyssa replaces Peril, and it all works better. Oh well. It's still got some good stuff, and also is another "gappable" spot -- you could do an adventure with the Doctor, Nyssa, Peril, Allison, and Harding the ghost traveling in the TARDIS, and I think I'd enjoy it. (That, and it's got a great hidden track. "And the baby Jesus, don't forget about the baby Jesus...")


A Review by Brian May 12/1/07

Winter for the Adept suffers from the same condition that Robert Smith? identified in his review of Arc of Infinity. It's not a bad story - but it's boring, a far worse crime. Descriptions such as "flat", "bland" and "lifeless" don't do it the justice it deserves. It's slow and completely non-riveting.

There is a pervading lack of atmosphere which, for a story that wants to be in equal parts Suspiria, The Shining and Poltergeist, does not bode well. What good is a tale of bumps in the night in an isolated location if the audience isn't spooked? There's one exception: the piano playing itself, especially the freakish discordant tune that suddenly stops when the Doctor and co enter. This is a creepy moment, in a cliched but effective way - but one such incident in four episodes isn't exactly a cause for celebration.

It's also four episodes of crawling, repetition and just plain tedium, along with some awful expository dialogue. It's obvious the cause of the manifestations will be an alien race, given every other take on this genre. But to be fair, the Spillagers are one of the more interesting species we've encountered, especially their inter-dimensional abilities, so it's all the more disappointing to have them finally realised as having an Empress, a Commodore and a fleet of ships, with engines and instruments - effectively turning them from an intriguing race into a bog-standard bunch of aliens. Making the ghost of Harding Wellman a sweet, very English duffer (Big Finish obviously couldn't afford Hugh Grant) might have been a good idea on paper, but in realisation just adds to the story's overall failure: we've been hoping to be scared by something; why couldn't it have been him?

Further to this, the episode endings are awful; part one especially. I don't know if it's a tribute to the dire cliffhangers of the Davison era, but it's still not a very good move. In a typical example of plot convenience, the Doctor uses the living poultice to save Peril's life, but why couldn't he have done the same for Miss Tremayne an episode earlier? Granted she's a daft, unpleasant religious nut, but the fifth Doctor - of all Doctors - would have helped. Oh, how silly of me - she's no longer expedient to the story, that's why not!

It's boring, it fails to achieve its potential, but as I said initially, it's not bad. Like most of the Big Finish range, the production is of a very high standard. There are a few masterstrokes: the use of the framed narrative as recounted by Alison is very good, the acoustics in the chapel are great, and the slurping noises we hear as the Spillagers morph into their true form are nicely disgusting. Peter Davison, India Fisher and Liz Sutherland are excellent, The Invasion's Sally Faulkner does a wonderfully over-the-top zealot without ever getting hammy, and Sarah Sutton has improved vastly as since The Land of the Dead. On the negative side, the attempt by Peter Jurasik at some sort of French/Swiss accent is pretty woeful, as is the case with Hannah Dickinson's French (and no - because these characters are in fact the aliens in disguise is not a good enough excuse!) But overall Winter for the Adept commits the worst entertainment sin of all: it's incredibly dull, and therefore ultimately forgettable. 3/10