Dark Eyes 4.

Audio Done. It's just over ten years since I posted a review of Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie with the Pertwee logo to Behind The Sofa (also now hosted on this blog) and now I'm finally caught up with the continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor.  Admittedly, as I said the other day, there's still a smattering of short stories, some comics and the odd audio (so I'll still be posting reviews for completists sake), but in terms of the main trunk of publications I'll now be listening at the same rate as everyone else.  Before you start talking about Night of the Doctor, I don't think it's really relevant unless Big Finish decide they're going to work towards it and that doesn't look like it's happening soon, instead favouring an approach of populating the Eighth Doctor's Time War period as a kind of separate era.  Despite the Doom Coalition, it has to be at the back of their minds to do a box at some point set in that period.  But then I still hold out hope for a resolution to the way he left it with Charley Pollard ...

A Life in the Day

One of the greatest hours Big Finish has ever recorded.  If there's something I've missed in the Dark Eyes mission approach to narrative, it is the rather more classical form stories in which the Doctor and his companion land and have to deal with whatever's thrown at them (desperate as I am for the return of Eighth to the main releases), so it's rather nice to have a version of that, albeit linked to his search for Molly O.  Writer John Dorney also intelligently writes to character, so while the Doctor's investigating, we have Liv discovering her deep past in a rather sweet romance with Kitty's brother.  She's a weary figure, still shell shocked by her run in with the Daleks and then the Master so what seems like her first genuine laugh, at a Buster Keaton film of course, is genuinely poignant, instinctively captured by Nicola Walker.  It's only later that I discovered she was married to Barnaby Kay who plays, Martin her date and the centre of the drama.

The Monster of Montmartre

Moulin Rouge! meets the Daleks is a killer premise and writer Matt Fritton makes the most of it, although I'll admit there's a moment when I was slightly disappointed when I was reminded that the story wouldn't resolve itself here and would lead into the rest of the story arc.  You could well imagine a version which is about the Doctor trying to convince the spouse that their domestic arrangement will ultimately lead to death and destruction which of course it does.  Rachel Stirling makes a welcome return to the audios after The Crimson Horror on television and arguably even more brilliant (and sonically unrecognisable) as the brilliantly named Demesne Furze in the Fourth Doctor story Trail of the White Worm which features the Geoffrey Beavers version of the Master.  Why couldn't we have had that incarnation of the Master?  Nope, still not a fan of the MacQueen version which makes ...

Master of the Daleks

... a difficult listen in places.  The Eighth Doctor has amnesia again for part of this story and doesn't do much other than blunder about only partially being able to recognise the Daleks before sleeping.  But my fiscal discussion in regards to The Death of Hope is less relevant here because John Dorney's script is so much fun with its embrace of the alternative history genre and the mighty Dan Starkey playing every Sontaran and somehow managing to make them all sound distinctive and often very funny.  Just as Nick Briggs is an expert in Dalek voices, Starkey knows his Sontarans, and I remember seeing a clip of him during the anniversary year perfectly mimicking the voices of the various television versions from across the years.  Clearly the best part of this hour's when they're called upon to battle each other, notably when Starkey allows a newly birthed Sontaran go full Strax entirely unphased by the killing machine that's about exterminate him.

Eye of Darkness

Like I said, done.  In the unusual position of having to carry not just the completion of this boxed set but the whole of Dark Eyes, there's a lot of business to attend to and on those terms I'm not sure it succeeds.  Sorry.  If the series was supposed to be about anything, it was about giving the Eighth Doctor back some of his hope after the death of Lucie and although I enjoy nihilistic storytelling as much as the next film studies graduate, to essentially end the next run of stories with a similar dilemma and in a similar way is really quite disappointing.  Whilst I appreciate the need to move on and reinvent characters, do they always have to (sorry) embrace the darkness?  Dark Eyes has had its moments, sometimes episodes in length, but I probably would have prefered it to have ended with the original box, the notion of that being its own era and then moved on, having never really enjoyed the overall story or some of the characters.  But as we saw with the Lucie run appearing out of the wreckage of the Divergent Universe, this is a franchise that keeps bouncing back.  The Doctor is nearly smiling on the cover of Doom Coalition.  So anything's possible.

Cleaning Everhard Jabach and His Family.

Dark Eyes 3.

Audio Hmm. What to make of The Eminence?  The idea that at some point in the future of this fictional universe everything will recede to be replaced by this single entity is evocative and might even explain who's knocking on the door of Orson Pink's craft in Listen.  But it's also inherently the kind of idea which would be fine in a single story, like the evil from beyond time in The Satan Pit or the mad computer inadvertently created by the Doctor in time for The Face of Evil, but loses interested when pressed into service as it is here as kind of "not Daleks" in the Mechanoid mould (somewhat due to Nick Briggs's unavailability) in what also feels like Big Finish's attempt to create their own Time War or War in Heaven to play about in, ironically just as they were on the edge of licensing the new series.  The Death of Hope even paraphrases the Doctor's own description of fighting on the fringes of that later conflict, helping where he can without getting directly involved.  It's fair to say with this as the secondary antagonist and as you'll see a primary antagonist I found unbearable, I was less than impressed with the joyless exercise that is Dark Eyes 3.

The Death of Hope

Part of the problem is that I simply don't like this incarnation of the Master as played by Alistair MacQueen.  You're not supposed to like the Master, but as with any villain you should at least be able to tolerate their presence, but between his prosaic sentence structure and MacQueen's enunciating delivery, I find him very difficult to listen to.  Which is an especial problem in this opening installment in which we essentially hear the Doctor Mystery Science Theatre 3000 an installment of a non-existent spin-off series for his foe.  On the one hand this is as bold a choice as the opening episode of Dark Eyes 2, but at a certain point in here, I began to think about the fiscal implications.  Having spent £5 on an episode of Doctor Who starring Paul McGann (one quarter of the overall cost), I'd quite like actually hear him do something.  If I'd paid current the full cd price of £40 for Dark Eyes 3, that would have been a whole £10 to listen to a Doctor-lite episode.

The Reviled

The best episode of the set, mostly due to a pretty sneaky twist at the end and some of the sound design.  Otherwise this is a heavy handed allegory about colonization, imperialism and negotiation and as anyone with long memories will remember from my initial reaction to Planet of the Ood, I generally don't like being preached to.  Neither of the groups of inhabitants of the planet Ramosa raise themselves above generic and about the only real draw are the interactions between Liv and the Doctor which really are unlike anything else we've heard in these Eighth Doctor audios, she being someone who needs saving psychologically more than anything else, to go through much the same process he does.  Some notable casting - it's Sacha Dhawan who was so brilliant as Waris Hussein in An Adventure in Space and Time.  Can I suggest once again if not Romola Garai, why not him?


Let's quickly run down the treatment of the primary female characters in Dark Eyes 3.  Spoilers ahead (duh..).  Molly is hypnotised and drugged for much of the duration and essentially a macguffin and no Ruth Bradley's availability isn't an excuse.  She spends all of this episode in a box.  Dr Sally Armstrong who seemed like a promising friend to the Doctor in Dark Eyes 1, is hypnotised by one madman to do his bidding and eventually dies horribly having had her brain sucked out by another. Liv Chenka who spends much of the duration thinking she's going to die from radiation poisoning, not telling the Doctor this until it becomes a useful motivational tool for him, kidnapped, forced to nursemaid Molly, also hypnotised.  Pretty much every female character is hypnotised, drugged or brainwashed at some point.  Admittedly Doctor Who's often failed to distinguish itself in this area, and a lot of male characters come of badly too, but it's especially notable in Dark Eyes 3.

Rule of the Eminence

In which everything ends with a chronological dry run for elements of three Russell T Davies season finales, all of which were of course produced years before.  The Master hypnotises the entirety of humanity to do his bidding in a similar fashion to becoming the whole of humanity in The End of Time (whilst bluffing the Doctor and I suppose us with a false version of the Saxon ruse from The Sound of Drums).  Molly's dispatched in a similar way to Donna in Journey's End (and yes, ok Jamie and Zoe in The War Games).  Perhaps, just like the Daleks who essentially repeated their planetary weapon strategy from The Daleks Invasion and Earth over and over, the Master is later simply having another go at these approaches.  One must be cautious about ticking off (literally in this case) Doctor Who stories for their familiarity, much of its fifty-odd years are variations on a theme, but...  Oh well, four episodes to go.

Dark Eyes 2.

Audio When Apple updated their Music app, they expunged audiobooks and dumped them into iBooks on phones, pods and tablets. Unfortunately the process included a lot of guess work, which for me meant that my carefully curated collection of Eighth Doctor audio turned into rather a mess and the various sections of Dark Eyes 2 became muddled with the episode titles being reduced to list of "tracks" none of which were in the right order. The knock on effect of that was that even though I worked out which was supposed to be the first episode, I went straight into the third and for various reasons didn't realise for about twenty minutes, assuming the sudden appearance of Molly to be part of the bold storytelling reflected in the first.  Luckily I realised in time so didn't end up listening to this lot in completely the wrong order.

Which is of course ironic since this bold storytelling involves the story being told in completely the wrong order.  Heading into spoiler territory for people who haven't heard this, Dark Eyes 2 employs a clever ouroboros structure in which the Doctor's story climaxes, or just about climaxes at the end of the first episode and we then have to listen to the other three in order to discover why he makes what seems like a momentously out of character decision (although in some ways for anyone remembers the thematic underpinnings of Deimos and The Resurrection of Mars isn't out of character at all).  When I do go back and relisten to this, which I plan to, Dark Eyes has that quality, it will include listening through this from two back to one again to see how that changes my attitude to the Doctor's attitude.  Such storytelling isn't unknown in Who with Flip Flop as a key example.

Quick word about covers.  On a few occasions just listening to the audios without looking at the covers has had an impact on how I listen to the episodes since some items which if you've looked at the covers are in no way revelations are just that, notably an amazing piece of casting in Eyes of the Master.  Which I'm now going to spoil here too so look away before the next sentence.  When he appeared in the actual television series and gave an interview to DWM it was pretty apparent that Frank Skinner was a fan and here he is before Mummy on the Orient Express in what must have been, as he thought, his one chance to be in Who.  Best bit, especially in relation to this project?  According to the making of, during the recording he was reading Mark Morris's The Bodysnatchers, which was only the third EDA and he was too shy to bring it to the recording to have it signed by McGann.  Bless him.

The Traitor

Tonally, The Traitor is closer to how I imagined the first Dark Eyes would be, with the Doctor slightly weary revealing something of his predecessor's malevolence.  Later episodes explain his mental state and his slightly more ambiguous attitude to the Daleks.  The introduction of Liv Chenka is well handled and even having not heard her introductory story Robotopia, Nick Briggs's script and Nicola Walker's performance present us with rounded character and a complete, as I found out later, reintroduction.  As with other recent adventures, Dark Eyes 2 is heavily networked into Big Finish's Who mythology but never to an extent that we feel like some of the narrative is missing, all the necessary exposition is here and carefully thought through.  The cliffhanger is chilling, earning the familiar sting.

The White Room

The appearance from the Viyrans almost had me wondering if we'd get a Charley cameo and a final resolution between those two, although given how packed these four episodes are already, putting such a momentous piece of drama at the fringes of this would have been a waste.  Alan Barnes's script is mainly a chance to see what a Molly story would be like without there being a wider context though and of all the episodes this is the most "stand alone" albeit with some set up for the Eye of the Master.  Perhaps the most significant moment is when the Doctor says he has "no money, no country, no family and no friends" which is either him lying or a notice that he's trying not to get attached to anything anymore because of what it can do to him psychologically, a bit like soldiers who go to war not wanting to know too much about their colleagues so that they won't grieve when they're gone.

Time's Horizon

There are always special moments in any drama, especially Doctor Who, when you're almost giddy with delight at how clever the writers have been irrespective of suspension of disbelief and the discovery of the Doctor and Liv appearing at different points in each other's lives but with the added confusion for the Doctor that they've already met but under different circumstances as a different incarnation doubly impressive.  Yes, it's a more simplistic version of his relationship with River Song and he quickly cottons on the ruse, but within the context of this story, it's fascinating.  Unlike River, Iris or Bernice for that matter, there's a reality to Liv, I hesitate to say reality, which is reflection of the experiences she's had with the Daleks and life in general.  She's not easily impressed with the Doctor's life which makes her one of his more compelling associates,

Eyes of the Master

Given that this is the first "recorded" meeting between the Doctor and the Master since the TV Movie, the tendency might have been to make more of them crossing paths but given that they've already bumped into each other in the novels and comics and also that the Master's own timeline is a tangled mess, writer Matt Fritton quite rightly decides to go with the "You again" and "I might have known" approach whilst referring to the evil genius's recent run in with Seventh in a boxed set I haven't heard.  In constructing the semi-conclusion to the story, the writers (because this is a joint effort) have decided to go small, effectively ending this series with a zombie battle albeit with big expositional ideas introduced through the Master.  It's now becoming clear that what Dark Eyes is actually a sixteen episode story arc in the manner of the novels and I can't wait to hear where it goes next. Eight episodes to go.

My Favourite Film of 1990.

Film  Of the various seminars I attended during my MA film studies course, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary French Cinema was the weekly two hours I was least comfortable with. Not because of the content, we saw many excellent films many of which aren't generally available in the UK and which I'd really love to revisit, especially Place Vendôme, Nicole Garcia's thriller about diamond merchants starring Catherine Deneuve. But because of the approach to discourse which was to apply various critical perspectives to the work, which I found extremely difficult in open discussion having been unable to absorb, much less understand whatever it was we'd been asked to read that week.

Frequently I'd simply sit listening which as anyone who's met me will know isn't my usual pose. But this was the one spot when the gap between my own education and my fellow students, most of whom were on high qualification language or literature courses really showed. Many of them were working from knowledge already gained at undergraduate level and between the commuting the college from Liverpool and all the other courses and essays I had to write, there wasn't really time to catch-up on the necessary Freud and Lacan.  This struggle really showed in my writing and some of my lowest marks were for these essays.

On the upside I did get to write about some cherished films, of which Nikita is an example.  After seeing Leon at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds one night, I went straight the university library to find more of Luc Besson's work and the only thing they had in was the VHS Artificial Eye of this which I must have watched on one of the 14" monitors in the library.  At home, my main copy was an off-air recording from Channel 4 (I think) which I revisited on and off for a while until I eventually bought the dvd when I realised I needed a decent copy to study from (probably from play.com since it's not in my order history at Amazon) (which never forgets).

In truth, I'm not sure that I've watched it since, one of the films I haven't been able to get back to after having studied them intensely for the purposes of academia.  Magnolia's another and you've seen what happened to Love Actually.  As you'll see if you bother to read the ensuing text which merited just 60% when it was submitted, I generally had to pick it apart, especially in its presentation of the central character.  Reading through now I don't know that I still agree with myself.  Does the film undermine Nikita's right to be considered a strong female figure because she appears tomboyish or is disguised as male at various junctures?

As the debacles surrounding films with female protagonists this year has demonstrated, we seem to be in the position that if a woman is presented as being "too feminine" she's not feminist enough for some people but if my essay's correct, she shouldn't be "too masculine" either.  My guess is that we have to approach this on a case by case basis and depending on the narrative requirements of the film and that we have to take those into consideration if the film makers are making an effort to tell a woman's story for a change in genres which are otherwise generally dominated by men.  Anyway, have fun with some of the punctuation....

To what extent does Nikita subvert or comply with representations of gender in the action movie genre?

Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990) is the story of a young drug addict who murders a cop at the end of a gun battle in a chemists, but instead of serving a prison term is co-opted into a state programme which trains her to become an assassin. Often considered to be a modern day Pygmalion story or even ‘a French action remake of My Fair Lady (1964)’ (Hughes & Williams, 2001:163), it is an example of the ‘cinéma du look’, a filmmaking movement prevalent in the late 1980s which was ‘preoccupied with striking stylistic effects’ with ‘improbable plots usually based on permutations of the urban thriller genre’ (Smith, 2001:39).

On release and since, the titular character has often been presented as an example of a strong female role model within a story of female empowerment, subverting the expectations of a male lead at the centre of an action film. As Susan Hayward describes, ‘much of the female audience of Nikita perceive the central character positively and read her story as a trajectory towards freedom’ (Hayward, 1998: 110). Problematically that disregards the roles played in the film by the three central male characters, Bob, Marco and Victor the Cleaner as well as the only other female character Amande. The following report will attempt to understand whether the film subverts expectations of gender roles within action films or confirms them.

Nikita appears central to the action, placing her within the pantheon of such feminist icons as Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley, and the main characters in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991). But Yvonne Tasker highlights that the latter, ‘far from being about empowering women, in this view the image of women-with-guns is considered to be one which renders the protagonists symbolically male’ (Tasker, 2002:135). In none of these films are such characters allowed to present an image of femininity. Compare Linda Hamilton’s appearance as Sarah Connor in The Terminator (1984) and then Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992) and it is clear that both the actress and the filmmakers assumed that she needed to pump up in order to present a credible action character.

The foregrounding of Nikita’s masculinity begins in the opening moments of Besson’s film. As four figures drag themselves through the darkened streets it is not entirely clear that one of them is a woman. The character has a mass of hair, jacket and Doc Martins and is not until later when approached by the cop that it is even close to certain which gender she is. Similar to Annie in Jan De Bont’s Speed (1994) she in a ‘“femme tomboy” guise, with the combination of butch/femme elements found in high street fashion’ (Tasker, 1998:78). The character is ‘coded as male, through her androgynous name and appearance and her monosyllabic, abusive and violent behaviour’ (Austin, 1996:130). The director shot the film in sequence, so that the actress who portrays Nikita, Anna Parillaud, ‘could let herself go completely as the punk’ (Hayward, 2000:298). This image continues throughout much of the first half of the film and the character almost blends in with what appears to be an almost all male environment (the only females to appear are Amande and a woman glimpsed during a lunch scene).

Nikita is unable to comprehend the idea of becoming feminine when she visits Amande for her first lesson. Casting Jeanne Moreau, a renowned French beauty, in the role as her mentor makes the contrast all the more vivid. As the character sits with her face in the mirror and her mentor places the wig on her head it is an uncomfortable image. She hardly registers her attention as Amande presents her advice: “Becoming man’s perfect complement … a woman.” When asked to smile, her face becomes crooked; the implication is that this isn’t an expression her face has had to use often during her presumably difficult life, but within the context of a beauty class it suggests that she has never tried to be a woman before. The scene would appear to represent the first in what would be a series of lessons leading up to her transformation, but it is significant the spectator is present for at a time when she is at her most androgynous.

Underlining her masculinity throughout the film, her strength is enforced through the use of technology. As Tasker explains within ‘action narratives, access to technologies such as cars and guns (traditional symbols of power) represent means of empowerment. These technologies are also intimately bound up with images of the masculine’ (Tasker, 2002:139). Nikita ‘is reborn into an all-male world of technology, electronic mass media and surveillance’ (Hayward, 2000:307). Unlike many action heroes, Nikita does not engage in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the film, whenever she is required to take a violent action a gun is required. The images are particularly ‘phallic’ – they help to enforce a masculinity she is not able to exude when presenting her femininity. Hayward points to the assassination scene in Venice when Nikita is required to murder another woman using the rifle, suggesting that ‘the probe used by Nikita (the telescopic lens on the rifle with its camera-eye properties) is a displaced male probe’ (Hayward, 1998: 117). The assassin is metaphorically given that which she does not have in order to carry out her mission. Lucy Mazdon notes that this approach is unusual in French cinema, that ‘not only is there no real depiction of ‘women with guns’ […] roles for woman in France since the 1980s have been characterised by an increasing emphasis on youthful beauty and/or an overt femininity’ (Mazdon, 2000:115).

Despite her outward appearance, Nikita does not suddenly become female. She remains someone who is ‘symbolically male’ (Tasker, 2002:135) – with a ‘womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed’ (Doane, 1991: 765). Her training has presented her with the ability to become female when required. Throughout the film, Nikita oscillates between this and her original image. The former predominantly appears when she is directly working for the state, when she becomes ‘Joséphine’. An example of this occurs during her first mission, when called to the hotel to deliver the bugged tray. Before entering the service rooms, the camera focuses on her body and she is still wearing camouflage pattern tights and a grey business jacket, symbolically male clothes. After gaining entrance to the room by giving her codename, she is given the maids outfit. Nikita is literally substituting one appearance for another in order to carry out her mission.

Under these circumstance, since Nikita is given the ability to be the subject of the male gaze, it may be that she is actually fulfilling a similar role to a 'male figure in the contemporary action picture (who) controls the action at the same time as he is offered up to the audience as a sexual spectacle' (Tasker, 2002:16). Given the iconography of the film poster, which features Nikita with a short-cropped hair, little black dress and revolver alongside the tag line ‘A New Kind of Lethal Weapon’, it is not surprising that a prospective viewer could reach this conclusion. The difficulty with that approach, however, is that far from being in control of the action, throughout the film, in almost every scene, none of her decisions are motivated by her own choice. As Hayward explains ‘if we unpack the presentation of Nikita it becomes difficult to read her trajectory positively […] there seems to be a gap between representation and perception’, including as has already been described ‘the female body as a displaced figure of masculinity’ (Hayward, 1998:110-111). Viewing the film more closely reveals that, in fact, men are still in control of the narrative, in keeping with Ginette Vincendeau’s suggestion that ‘in French cinema it is generally men who hold power’ (Vincendeau, 1993:158). A more traditional reading needs to be employed.

One of the frequently demonstrated traits of the action film is that the male lead will rebel against the system. A repeated cliché, is when a cop is advised to leave a criminal investigation by their superior but carries on regardless, usually completing the mission with a commendation or as in Jim Cameron’s True Lies (1994) when ‘Schwarzenegger’s government operative actually has to disobey orders to get the job done’ (Keller, 2001:84). Nikita is unable to transgress in this fashion, and whenever she appears to be rebelling successfully it is either treated as ineffective or a joke and is always punished. When she attempts to break out of The Centre using Bob as a hostage, there is a lateral tracking shot of their feet – Bob is striding to the destination whereas Nikita’s are being dragged along. The music is ‘a light, upbeat major theme, detracting from the seriousness and urgency of the scene, which only becomes minor and darker-sounding when it is apparent her plan will not work (MacRory, 1999:59). His face has the expression of someone who is in control and it comes as no surprise when he wrestles the gun from her and shoots her in the leg.

In these different gender roles (which still predominate within the action genre) it is the strong male figure at the centre of a narrative. Laura Mulvey (paraphrased by Yvonne Tasker) suggests this as a ‘division of labour […] in which the male figure advances the narrative whilst “woman” functions as spectacle’ (Tasker, 2002: 16). Amber Mendez, Maria Conchita Alonso’s character in The Running Man (1987) who despite a sharp wit, is by the end of the film dressed in spandex and must be rescued from certain doom by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Ben Richards. Even in films in which the female has much action potential the male protagonist will always be the one to beat the threat. Perhaps the most ludicrous of example of this would be the appearance of Michelle Yeoh, a well respected Asian action star, in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) who even after choreographing her own action sequence still plays second fiddle to the secret agent in the dénouement. ‘Bond Girls’ are as important an element as the exciting gadgets, villain and exotic locations and this proved to be the case again.

When Nikita shoots the cop it could be argued that her action moves the plot along. However the events that lead up to the moment are a result of her colleagues in crime, Zap, Rico and Coyotte. In Nikita, the majority of the different facets of the expected modes of the male action hero are present. This is the only scene marking the appearance of the male body built muscular physique so prevalent in the action film genre. Alison Smith highlights that ‘when we do at last see them closely, they are shown at a low-angle, which […] creates a sense of menace’ (Smith, 2001:29). Of the three, Rico is closest to the stereotype; during the gun battle following the botched robbery, he is presented bare-chested, guns outstretched, shouting his name and trying to fulfil a leadership role. Nikita spends her time hidden under the counter, waiting for her friends to steal her drugs. Killing the policeman is the last gasp of the battle and decreases for the first time the character’s freedom.

A number of commentators argue that Nikita is child-like and examples of this analogy tend to begin here. Hayward characterises Nikita’s demeanour underneath the counter as ‘foetus-like’ and asks for more much like a youngster would to her mother (Hayward, 2000:299). She is ‘the naughty, subversive child who out hits the karate teacher, attempts to run away, shouts abuse, but then, counter to type, performs a ballet dance’ (Hayward, 2000:300). The implication here and in other sources is that part of Nikita’s oppression stems from a search for a parental structure. Smith suggests the judge during her trial is with ‘his dark clothes, his position, his stern face and discreet stubble […] a phallic father figure and a representation of authority’ (Smith, 2001:20). The character calls out to her mother twice whilst the knock out injection is administered. The man who eventually becomes the father figure and helps Nikita develop to maturity is Bob.

Bob is the character who leads the action. It is certainly not his voice on the end of the telephone when Joséphine is activated, though it is he that she reports to at the end of each mission for good or ill. He requires others to do his bidding, although it is worth mentioning that total control does not rest with him. He too has a manager to which he must answer and Smith strikes a parallel between their dynamic and that which he has with Nikita: ‘In a sense this superior acts as Bob’s conscience in the same way that Bob gradually appears to gain status as Nikita’s ‘conscience’, reproaching him for indulging in the pleasure of a presence that he cannot discipline’ (Smith, 2001:32). The difference is that he has the facility to transgress; when Nikita has adolescently bitten the ear off her Judo instructor and dances to Mozart his look through the window is one of humour and pride.

Extrapolating Bob as the father figure is problematical since their relationship though ambiguous, certainly has a romantic dimension. After Nikita fights her way out for the restaurant and returns to her room, when she attacks him their positioning on the floor has sexual overtones. The moment is ‘highly sexualised (by the film, not by the characters) and ends in a kiss; she is the initiator both of the violence and of the sexuality but his response is decidedly positive’ (Mazdon, 2000:37). She is unable to see him in those terms – when she kisses him it is for the last time. Although Nikita says that she understands his ‘sadistic games’ it is difficult to see his role as anything other than protector; from their first meeting in which he drags the table across the room to meet her on the bed, everything he does is to keep her safe. All of the negative information she hears (for example, when he advises her that she has two weeks to improve or live) is filtered through him, making it acceptable.

Nikitas’s retraining explicitly and consistently takes the form of what the French call éducation, a word closer in meaning to the English upbringing than to its own exact cognate, since it refers to a specifically parental right; (they) clear function as educators in the French sense, that is, as substitute parents (Durham, 1998:176).

That said, his intentions are not entirely sympathetic. Seeing Nikita in childish terms, she ‘is reborn into the family of the State, (and) it is clear that there is only one true parent, the father as embodied by Bob. And we see Nikita being shaped, tamed and reformulated by him’ (Heywood, 1998:160).

One trait of action orientated female role is a requirement to ‘explain away the actions of the heroine and to reassert her femininity’ (Tasker, 2002:20), in other words to present a reason why a woman would break free of their usual role as romantic interest in order to operate as the ‘hero’, ‘a common device has the heroine explicitly taking over her father’s role after his untimely death’ (Tasker, 2002:20). In common with many of Luc Besson’s characters, Nikita lacks a history, nothing about Nikita is real, and ‘she is the fictionalized commodity of the state’. (Hayward, 2000:301) The audience only sees and hears scraps of information -- the nostalgic moment when she sees her friend Titi on the photograph of her ‘funeral’, asking for her mother prior to her injection and that she can handle a gun. When Bob visits her and presents a story from her childhood over the dinner table, he ‘becomes, literally, her author’ (Smith, 2001:33) and he his presence reminds her that he has reshaped her into the person who embraces Marco.

This reshaping is within and without. It is Bob’s bidding that Nikita is presented with the ability to become female. As has been shown, Nikita is not comfortable with the process of learning. The turning point happens when Bob advises her over cake that she must change or face execution that she embraces the programme. Significantly, during that scene Bob removes her shoes and jacket as though he is removing her claim to her past self with him. When with the help of Amande, she is re-moulding her into a new form, it is done reluctantly – Nikita does not have a choice in the matter. Indeed her femininity is not a case of re-enforcing her natural state; Nikita actually embodies ‘the male construction of the femme fatale’ (Hayward, 1998:114). During the restaurant scene, as Bob ‘gifts’ the revolver he is completing the task of remaking her. It is worth noting that in the Hollywood remake, John Badham’s Point of No Return (1993), her counterpart Maggie’s transformation presented in far less gradual terms – in one shot she walks up a spiral staircase with one appearance and is revealed in her evening dress stepping downwards in the other. The transformation seems more complete and less ambiguous.

Hayward likens her to a cyborg – ‘a hybrid of machine (the weaponry of death) and organism (the female body), a creature of fiction and social reality’ (Hayward, 1998:115), ‘she is trained not only in computing, martial arts and target practice, but also in the construction of a new and ‘feminine’ identity (Austin, 1996: 130). Nikita even has new names selected for her and their connotations -- the virginal Marie or erotic Joséphine -- demonstrates a forced shift into femininity. In the final reveal, as Nikita sits at the practice table, the spectator views her new appearance through the eyes of Bob and the scene is problematic because although Amande aided the transformation, Nikita is his ‘creation’, the implication being that he is surveying his handy work as much as enjoying her new female identity.

In the final reel of the film, Nikita’s destiny is passed to Victor the cleaner. It is in these scenes that the standard gender roles of the action film reassert themselves: ‘Nikita is no longer the cool assassin, she is merely Victor’s sidekick’ with the cleaner being ‘a ludicrous parody of the macho hit man of convention’ (Austin, 1996:131). He is the man of action, completing a mission that Nikita is not able to. Although Bob apparently gives her control, she is still very much under the eye of the State, ‘she is unable to independently arrive at the appropriate result; the Organisation will always know more than she does’ (Smith, 2001:35).

Victor represents the person that the Organisation would require her to be in order to work within their guidelines, emotionless and charisma free. If Nikita is a cyborg, still capable of some humanity, Victor is ‘a programmed robot, unable to think independently, unable to react to what he is doing either in revolt of enjoyment […] entirely subordinate to the immediate needs of the organisation’ (Smith 2001:35). Their differences could not be starkly drawn than when they stand face to face in the final shoot out. Nikita is dressed as the ambassador and they are almost a mirror image of one another – except that she is crying and imploring for the killing to stop, as Victor looks on not able to comprehend.

An assumption could be that within gender opposite reading of the film using the traditional tropes of the action genre, Marco is in the position of romantic interest usually associated with a female. As Tasker relates such roles ‘provide little for the actress to do but confirm the hero’s heterosexuality’ (Tasker, 2002:15). Like those male action stars, Marco’s presence allows Nikita to present a more vulnerable state often in direct contrast to the person she has to be elsewhere. After the assassination scene in Venice, Nikita meets Bob in a café. She appears as the model of controlled womanhood, all dress and large white floppy hat as though she is parodying his expectation of who he wants her to be (she even says: ‘I know you and your sadistic games.’) In the ensuing conversation her face is nearly emotionless, accepting the mission whilst offering barbs. In the next scene, she sits on a couch with fizzy hair and shirted, smoking a cigarette and contemplating the next move. Marco appears carrying a large bouquet of flowers and she laughs – it is a spontaneous gesture, completely natural. The audience is once again able to see a sympathetic side to the character.

Marco’s presence also demonstrates Nikita’s inability to be both romantic and powerful concurrently. This limitation is underlined by Tasker as being a trait of many action heroines, giving the example of Julia Nickson’s character Co Bao in the film Rambo who is killed just after her relationship with the titular hero ‘shifts from that of comrades-in-arms to romance’ (Tasker, 2002:26), effectively it is made clear that ‘the two roles are incompatible’ (Tasker, 2002:26). There is a key moment during the trip to Venice. Nikita and Marco return to their hotel room after the gondola tour and they are in amorous mood, Nikita even calling room surface because she jokes she gets hungry after sex. That mood is broken when the phone rings and an operative says the code word ‘Josephine’ signalling the start of the unexpected mission. Marco is surprised by her changed emotion as she curtly disappears into the bathroom. As the scene progresses, Nikita follows the mission orders as Marco on the other side of the door talks about the future they may have together. The wall between them is a physical and metaphoric divide between Nikita’s romantic life and her work as an assassin. The two must remain separate. ‘If the film combines the macho thriller with ‘feminised’ romance, it is always the former which wins out’ (Austin, 1996:131).

The dénouement, in which Nikita is forced to disguise herself as a man in order to complete her mission, paradoxically confirms that she is not fulfilling the traditionally male role in the film. The difficulty is that because of the numerous personalities that are being impressed upon her, she is unable to maintain the pretence. Once she enters the embassy, the security guard can see the difference through the camera and the alarm is called. This is because she is attempting to repress her female identity in order to masquerade as the male, something Hayward sees as an impossibility: ‘She cannot make herself fetish, nor can she make herself phallus. She cannot possibly, therefore, cross-dress convincingly’ (Hayward, 2000: 304).

When Nikita disappears, it does not as some might argue, offer her the chance for freedom. In leaving, she acknowledges the incongruity between the identities which have been given to her by the Organisation and Marco which allow her to function within each of their societies and the person that she is, in other words be accepted without ‘losing the radical unconventionality, which is effectively her identity’ (Smith, 2001:39). For the film to be a story of female empowerment, Nikita would have had the ability to use her own nature to change the Organisation or at the very least to work within her own limits – she leaves since this is not possible. Hayward’s assertion is that because Nikita does not re-affirm the difference with the male because rather than being submissive she is transgressive she must disappear because ‘she threatens the very thing that secures masculinity’ (Hayward, 1998:114).

Nikita is a film of ambiguities both in relation to the gender roles of characters and the intentions of the filmmakers. As has been demonstrated, what would initially appear to be a feminist story of female empowerment that subverts the expected positions of the male and female within the action movie genre, actually confirms them. Nikita maybe a displaced figure of masculinity, however by highlighting her femininity, her role as the motivator of her story cannot be maintained.


Austin, Guy. 1996. Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Doane, Mary Anne. 1991. Film and the Maqueade: Theorising the Female Spectator. In. Film theory and criticism : introductory readings. 5th ed. 1999. Edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Durham, Carolyn A. 1998. Culture and Gender in French Films and the American Remakes. University Press of New England, New Hampshire.

Hayward, Susan. 1998. Luc Besson. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Hayward, Susan. 2000. Recycling Woman and the Postmodern Aesthetic: Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990). In. French Film: Texts and Contexts. Second Edition. Edited by Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau. Routledge, London.

Hughes, Alex and James S Williams. 2001. Gender and French Cinema. Berg, Oxford.

Mazdon, Lucy. 2000. Encore Hollywood: Remaking French Cinema. BFI, London.

MacRory, Pauline. 1999. Excusing the violence of Hollywood women: music in Nikita and Point of No Return. In. Screen 40:1. Spring.

Tasker, Yvonne. 2002. Spectacular bodies: gender, genre, and the action cinema. Routledge, London.

Tasker, Yvonne. 1998. Working girls : gender and sexuality in popular cinema. Routledge, London.

Vincendeau, Ginette. 1993. Fathers and daughters in French cinema:from the 20s to ‘La Belle Noiseuse’. In. Woman and Film: A Sight and Sound Reader. Edited by Pam Cook & Philip Dodd. Scarlett Press, London.


My Fair Lady. 1964. Production: Warner Bros. 170 mins. Directed by George Cukor.

Nikita. 1990. Production: Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Gaumont, Les Films du Loup. 115 mins. Directed by Luc Besson.

Speed. 1994. Production: 20th Century Fox. 116 mins. Directed by Jan De Bont.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day. 1992. Production: Carolco Pictures Inc., Le Studio Canal+, Lightstorm Entertainment, Pacific Western. 137 mins. Directed by Jim Cameron

The Running Man. 1987. Production: Braveworld Productions, Home Box Office (HBO), J&M Entertainment, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures. 101 mins. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser.

The Terminator. 1984. Production: Hemdale Film Corporation, Cinema 84, Euro Film Fund, Pacific Western. 108 mins. Directed by Jim Cameron

Thelma and Louise. 1991. Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Pathé Entertainment. 129 mins. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Tomorrow Never Dies. 1997. Production: Danjaq Productions, Eon Productions Ltd., United Artists. 119 mins. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

True Lies. 1994. Production: 20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment. 144 mins. Directed by Jim Cameron.

Dark Eyes.

Audio Here we go again. There isn't a potential gap between To The Death and The Great War, with a year or so between in production terms, we can still well imagine the Doctor's impulsive trip to the future in which he's essentially abusing the TARDIS (which is never a good sign as we heard in Zagreus) happening directly after him taking leave of Susan and hearing again Lucie's final message. This is the sort of thing which simply wouldn't work on television, partly because you couldn't kill off a companion in quite that way but also because it's all about the next adventure. Even the immensely tragic Doomsday gives way to shouty Donna in the TARDIS or "I don't want to go" shifting to "Geronimo". The conclusion of Journey's End is effective (thanks to the intervention of Ben Cook) for embracing the tragedy, but narratively The Next Doctor changes the tone again. Not so here.

It's an interesting choice and one born of the production order, I think. As we've discussed the Charley stories ended after the start of the Lucie stories, but who's to say how they might have impacted one another if the producers, notably Nicholas Briggs had been gifted a period of reflection as here. Briggs is making a conscious decision to continue the narrative in the mode of nuWho. He could have started again with a happy Doctor and japes, but he decided that the loss of Lucie was so impactful it needed to be addressed.  Not having listened much to other corners of Big Finish due to money and the like, I don't know how this is treated elsewhere but I expect after Charley wiped the Sixth Doctor's mind there wasn't really a story that followed directly on, they just went and had a look at another piece of his era, perhaps teaming him with Peri again.

Some project notes.  Romana's not Lord President of Gallifrey any more, then.  I'd forgotten she'd left having not heard any of the original Gallifrey spin-off since they were released though apparently she's returned to office after the release of Dark Eyes.  That also makes sense of the Time Lords intervention during the Lucie series when it would have been entirely ludicrous for the Doctor not to pay Romana a visit to have a discussion if she'd actually been there.  Like the novels before them, Big Finish has now been writing its version of the narrative for long enough that it's become pretty dense.  Assuming they don't simply visit the TARDIS Datacore, perhaps there's a Leland "Holocron" Chee figure at Big Finish who keeps an eye on their internal continuity because with so many product lines and writers working it has be a challenge to keep everything straight (even if Doctor Who's never a been a show which cares that much about continuity) (Atlantis).

Plus the Eighth Doctor has a new costume!  Which fine.  'Spose.  I think that part of the Eighth Doctor's appeal was that he skewed towards the classic look and there was a distinctiveness to it, whereas this feels like a pre-cursor to the Ninth Doctor, though as we'll see from Night and the Doctor he'll retreat to something closer to his original so that's all fine.  It's ironic that having had WETA create this piece so that he could essentially have a bunch of new illustrative photographs taken for future Big Finish releases, a couple of years later he'd repeat the exercise in another new costume.  For the special release in which classic Doctors meet new monsters (and the Sontarans), it's Eighth's Time War gear which appears on the artwork.  Assuming Big Finish do decide to start extensive populating that future era with stories, perhaps this will be the shorthand they'll use to delineate the three (or so) eras.

Of less interest is that I agonised a bit over how I was going to post about Dark Eyes.  Having decided to dedicate a paragraph to each single story since the comics, here we have what's essentially a four hour adventure across four cds.  But it seemed wrong somehow to do all of Dark Eyes in a single post or four separates which is why I decided to ignore the rule and write about each cd separately.  Now that I've written that explanation, I can't believe that I've not only written it but that you've read it and yet here you still are.  Since you are I'll also admit that after the first episode I listened to the other three concurrently before writing about them much as I did with the final Lucie season, while attempting to maintain the pretence of not knowing what happens next.  Having done that, I can see how challenging it was for Jac and gang in Time Team to do with overfamiliar episodes in DWM all those years.  Now I've told you anyway.  Perhaps I won't bother from now onwards.

The Great War

Every now and then Doctor Who makes a conscious decision not to look or as the case here sound like Doctor Who. Even with some of the fantasy elements, parts of The Great War are indistinguishable from a Radio 4, probably Home Front.  But writer/director Nick Briggs also makes some deliberate choices in how he kisses the past, with Molly's voice over diary paralleling Charley's introduction and the notion of her being a figure to be saved by the Doctor at the bidding of the Time Lords, similar to Lucie.  From what I'd read and heard and indeed seen from his new look, I'd thought it would be a transitioned Eighth Doctor similar to Twelfth in how he approaches humanity, ruder, more reckless in his approach, angrier, but he's not that much different, less jokier perhaps, yet still fundamentally the same character.  The cliffhanger ending still came as a complete surprise.  Even with the boxed set sitting on my shelf, I haven't bothered to look at the cover.


There's a purposeful structural oddness to Dark Eyes in that it's a single story collecting together a series of incidents working towards a whole. You could envisage in a much longer season, the content of Fugitives opening out and spanning a few episodes with characters like computer expert Sally Armstrong figuring much larger in her own installment. I quite like these "caravan" stories, like The Chase or Seasons of Fear with a string of locales; in a way they seem to illustrate the thrill of the TARDIS and time travel than those episode which are specifically about paradoxes and loops.  Briggs is especially good here at tempting the audience with just enough information about the larger story, enough that they might be able to guess at who Kotris is, what Straxus is up to and what exactly is up with Molly.  The interaction between McGann and Bradley is delightful.  Although you don't want them to be shouty, shouty mouths on legs, the show always benefits when there's a certain screwball comedy like tension between the lead characters.

Tangled Web

Here's a honking great spoiler so look away from this discussion now.  The Doctor's dream sequence is an odd construction because it tallies almost exactly with a story set in his reality.  Published six months after Dark Eyes, Malorie Blackman's Puffin eShort from the anniversary year, The Ripple Effect, is about the Seventh Doctor landing on Skaro and finding that the Daleks have evolved into a peace loving civilisation which covers most of the same story beats.  It's one of those occasions when a "later" story featuring an earlier incarnation means a later incarnation looks forgetful.  Luckily, Eighth's had enough moments of amnesia, including the big one post The Ancestor Cell, that he's simply forgotten the earlier adventure.  On the upside it does provide a hilariously bathetic moment when Eighth dismisses the idea of the Time War out of hand.  Ho ho ho,

X and the Daleks

Narratively Dark Eyes also similar to the Clara chunk of the Eleventh Doctor's final season in that Eighth is the viewpoint character through all of this and Molly is a question that needs to be answered.  In both cases, the Doctor is rather dragged along by events, choosing certain paths in the hopes of revealing an important pieces of information (the visit to Molly's past analogous to Hide), but there's an inevitability to both of their stories and it's more acute in Dark Eyes, especially in this final episode because the story isn't resolved through something he does, it's because of the failure of others.  If the Doctor hadn't been here, providing a sort of interspatial red herring, would the story have resolved itself much differently?  As established in earlier episodes the Doctor is something of a mark anyway and only really turns the tables by underscoring the importance of Molly's continued existence.  Next...

Soup Safari #51: Boston Chicken Chowder at A2Z Cafe.

Lunch. £3.50. A2Z Cafe, 39 Strand St, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 8LT. Phone: 0151 227 4925. Website.

With Lucie, Tamsin, Susan & Alex: Season Four.

Audio  A masterpiece.  There's no other words for it.  As I've discovered time and again, one of the benefits of Doctor Who as a multi-platform franchise spread across fifty-odd years, for all the disappointments, there are often pockets of adventures, a run of books or comics or television or in this case audio which can stand TARDIS and lampstand above the best other fictions have to offer.  Whilst, as you've read, I've had reservations about some of its constituent episodes, as a run of four seasons, these Eighth Doctor stories represent the best Doctor Who has to offer with experimental storytelling and characterisation and innovations not just in how Big Finish tell his stories but which must surely have still influenced the television series.  In this final run (including The Earthly Child) we find Briggs, Barnes, Edwards, Robson, Platt and Morris at the height of their powers transitioning between comedy and tragedy perfectly.

There's an odd passage during the Russell T Davies book The Writer's Tale (which admittedly has a lot of odd passages) where he tells Ben about being interested in a particular actress for a companion role (I'm sorry I can't be more specific because I don't have my copy to hand for the moment) and the way he says it, I've always assumed he meant Sheridan Smith (I think he talked about annoying a few people which I always took to mean Big Finish who had only recently written her into their version of the series).  She's a national treasure now thanks to some key television roles, and her Doctor Who recordings happened during the period when she turned from being Janet in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps to the queen of ITV Drama but in the final interview on To The Death it's clear that she loved the character and loved the process of recording and her final moments, indeed her final two episodes, demonstrate the subtleties of her performance as she remains the same character but has matured, the war with the Daleks having taken its toll.

Quick project note: The Four Doctors is not available to Big Finish's non-subscribers and massively expensive in the secondary market, so I'll wait.  It's worth mentioning here that even after I've caught up with the Big Finish release schedule, there's a whole array of short stories and bits of audio which I'll still need to fetch and I do intend to write about for completion sake.  But a lot of those are in the massively rare Big Finish short trips books or old DWMs and the like so it'll be an interesting process to track them down.  Fortunately the TARDIS Datacore has a comprehensive list of appearances including sources to work from.  Turns out the recently published The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who has a Justin Richards short within (as well as a host of stories by authors most of whom wrote for the EDAs and audios) and this Paul Magrs Companion Chronicle The Elixir of Doom, even though it has Pertwee in the cover.

Death in Blackpool

Bye then Lucie.  Possibly although an episode title further down the list suggests it isn't forever and the actual end of this series has been well spoilt already for me by the internets and the party newsletter.  Alan Barnes successfully channels the audio Paul Magrs to complete the trilogy of Auntie Pat stories in an emotionally satisfying way.  Granted it's unfortunate that we have another example of the (almost) possessed Lucie trope which has turned into the dead Rory meme of these audio adventures but at least on this occasion it fits into the overall theme of identity, who the real Pat is, the man who has a logical underpinning to his delusion of being Father Christmas.  Plus the Doctor, always the Doctor.  There's also an interesting discrepancy in the dating.  The play is supposed to be set in 2008 but a Lucie from before she met the Doctor is at her house even though the current version was supposed to come from 2006.  A continuity error or something else?

An Earthly Child

Various chronologies place this special release in this gap and it fits pretty well, the Doctor finally deciding to catch up with his grand daughter almost after all these years (she oddly remembers the events of The Five Doctors even though Sarah Jane wouldn't later - perhaps it's because she's a Time Lord).  Within my version of the Eighth Doctor's timeline, he already met Susan in John Peel's novel Legacy of the Daleks which this does of course contradict, notably in relation to David Campbell's fate and their children.  Oh and the resolution of that novel.  But you know, Faction Paradox, the cracks, the Time War.  The story itself is fine, even if it relies on Susan being incredibly naive, but Carole Ann Ford's astonishingly performance (as good, if not better than she's ever been) just about manages to justify things, especially her chemistry with McGann.  You can hear the history, though he's apparently never seen An Unearthly Child (if the post story interview on the cd is anything to go by ...)

Situation Vacant

An utter joy.  According to the interviews at the end of the cd, the original idea was to have a release featuring four companions, then a public vote, which despite being a logistical and narrative nightmare (did the Doctor not otherwise travel with the losers?) wouldn't have worked because Big Finish tends to be so good at creating these +1s.  Taking that idea then turning it into a viable play that riffs on The Apprentice, writer Eddie Robson manages to include some proper surprises of the kind that even seasoned listeners won't catch up on (unless I'm just being kind to myself).  Having been to a fair few of these kinds of group exercises, I can also well recognise the forced politeness in a hotel setting.  Another top draw cast too: Joe Thomas from The Inbetweeners, James Bachman from Bleak Expectations and Shelley Conn, who was Ashika in Party Animals.  During those interviews, she's asked about her co-star Matt Smith becoming Doctor Who when filming had only just begun which reminds me once again just how long I've waited to listen to these.


Hello Tamsin!  Properly!  It's quite refreshing to have a companion who doesn't seem to be directly connected to the overall story arc of the season other than as a reject of whoever it is the Doctor is chasing (and yes, I know full well who that is and would probably have guessed anyway since the clues given aren't that deceptive).  She's in the Donna mould, slightly older, slightly wearier of the world, less easily impressed by the Doctor's heroism.  She's also notably less prone to acts of heroism.  When I read Poe a couple of years ago, I found his treatment of women tiresome but some of his stories enthralling.  In Nevermore, Alan Barnes appropriates some of the structural narrative techniques from the author and creates a kind of enmeshing of the celebrity historical within a futuristic setting, where it's about the influence of the author on setting.  There are flashbacks, of memory to Mary's Story and it seems to the Earth arc from the books, if this Poe encounter is supposed to correlate with the one mentioned in The Dreamstone Memorial.  The Doctor's mode of speech certainly sounds archaic enough to correlate.

The Book of Kells

Hello again Lucie.  Despite the cover and voice treatment,  was the big reveal of the episode truly a surprise when this was released?  Unlike the television series, there's a fair amount of pre-release and lead in marketing for Big Finish productions and in his script Barnaby Edwards seems to be aware of this, only thinly veiling her character.  The big question is what she's doing with the Monk (oh yes he's back too) and whether she's on board with his morally ambiguous adventures.  Graham Garden makes for a worthy successor to Peter Butterworth as the Monk, though like the Masters up until Jacobi, he's very much of a type, his speech pattern and manner not that much changed after regeneration.  Perhaps at some point we have story which explains why some Time Lords remain roughly the same between regenerations while others go wildly off in genetic tangents.  I'm not so sure about Tamsin though.  She's feels a bit blank, like a placeholder, like a companion of the week rather than someone who feels right for the TARDIS.  It's odd.

Deimos / The Resurrection of Mars

Well that explains my reservations about Tamsin then.  Imagine the television series introducing a companion, going through the business of publicity (as Big Finish did) then having her bug out with the villain having successfully been propagandised against the Doctor.  In a series where everyone's bringing their A-game, here's Jonathan Morris underscoring and emphasising what makes the Eighth Doctor different, cleverly referencing the machinations of his preceding incarnation, the shift from "time's champion" to "life's champion" which was also crucial in the novels.  The notion of people assuming the Doctor has the right to choose who lives and dies, and his own distress over the matter was also the the central theme of Tenth's regeneration which would have been around the time these were recorded (though this was released a year later).  All of this amid an Ice Warriors story which features David Warner as an expert pre-figuring Cold-War...

Relative Dimensions

Happy Christmas!  In a series full of surprises, there's Big Finish doing another full on Christmas episode which thanks to a slight change in the release schedule they made sure would be posted out in December.  Marc Platt's best script for the Eighth Doctor, I think, it nevertheless must have been an odd listen in the year when the tv version also featured fish that swam through the air in a timey-wimey storyline.  In some ways the tour through the TARDIS we might have expected Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS to be, there's the news that until at least this incarnation, the Doctor kept all of his previous companion's room in a kind of digital jukebox, able to call them up if necessary, which makes you wonder why Turlough moved into Adric's room in Terminus.  Perhaps he only keeps the rooms if he thinks they might be needed again or Fifth was simply testing Turlough's moral fibre.  In my mind, when he decides to delete all but one at the end, the TARDIS doesn't actually delete them, just hides them, knowing that like the control rooms the Doctor might want them back in the future.

Prisoner of the Sun

A sort of spiritual successor to The Cannibalists and referencing Silent Running to a degree, this has the Doctor adding another six years of solitude to his age, albeit with some machine company.  His choice of Lucie as the voiceprint for the robots must be him making sure that he'll remember her this time, acknowledging his memory lapse in Orbis though it's pretty jarring in listening terms after only finishing the Charley stories at the end of June to hear him prioritising someone new.  But such is the intensity of interest the Doctor has in the people who join him in the TARDIS and how, like a Tamsin or C'rizz, it's entirely possible to see the ones he's essentially recruiting to fill a space or really nothing more than an acquaintance and those he genuinely cares about.  That's presumably why some of them react so badly on discovering that they're not the first and that's it's often those who shake it off or treat it with good humour that last.  As I said at the time, one of the problems with the Capaldi season is that his relationship with Clara isn't properly defined in this sense.

Lucie Miller / To the Death

The big one.  Even after been comprehensively spoiled in some respects since the release of this story, it's so powerfully written and directed by Nick Briggs and acted, I hung on ever moment and word.  Designing the first half to be structured roughly like a Companion Chronicle just underscores the absence of the Doctor making his late arrival all the more tragic.  Perhaps the strongest element is how it manages to draw together continuity, not just from the past four of these series but also from elsewhere including Briggs's own Patient Zero which in a way means that Charley's obliquely present even if he doesn't presumably remember that adventure as the Sixth Doctor in that way, all without once making the listener feel as though they missed something.  But it's noticeable through all that how Briggs also skillfully manages to keep some of the franchise furniture intact without it feeling like a cheat.  Since Moffat is such a supporter of Big Finish, if he does bring Susan back, will it be in such a way as to not contradict what happens here?