Monday, 11 February 2013

Review - Doctor Who: The Magician's Oath


Doctor Who: The Magician's Oath
The Companion Chronicles 3.10
Written by: Scott Handcock
Directed by: Nigel Fairs
Performed by: Richard Franklin & Michael Chance
Duration:
60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-379-8
Chronology Placement: Between The Dæmons and Day of the Daleks

One of Big Finish's most popular Doctor Who audio ranges is The Companion Chronicles, which focuses primarily on the adventures of the first three Doctors, as these Doctors are no longer with us. Rather than full-cast audio dramas, these adventures take the form of a two-person performance, with one of the Doctor's companions narrating an "unseen" adventure and a second supporting character taking part at times to add some variation and prevent it from becoming a monologue. They also tend to be shorter than the Big Finish's full-cast audios, typically with two half hour episodes on one CD.

This release, The Magician's Oath, is narrated by Richard Franklin, who played Captain Mike Yates, one of the companions from the Third Doctor's era. The second voice actor is Michael Chance, who plays Diamond Jack. This story takes place during the present day with Yates reflecting on past events that occurred during the Doctor’s exile on Earth when he was enlisted as UNIT’s scientific advisor. As well as voicing Mike Yates, Franklin also manages to portray the Third Doctor, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Jo Grant – each with their own vocal style. I particularly liked his Lethbridge-Stewart!

The story begins when UNIT are called in to a bizarre scene – during a July heat-wave, scores of people in Hyde Park are instantly frozen to death under the summer sun. The only lead that the Doctor and UNIT have is that of a street magician who was witnessed at the scene of the tragedy. The Doctor dismisses this as a credible theory, leaving Jo Grant and Mike Yates to disobey orders and investigate him alone, but what they discover is far more terrifying than they could have expected…

The concept of people being frozen alive during a summer’s day was very intriguing and drew me towards buying this audio. I'm currently watching the Third Doctor’s adventures on DVD, so this 'lost adventure' manages to slot neatly within the televised adventures of that time, although I suspect 1970's visual effects would struggle to match the visual effects of my imagination as I listened to this story.

The Doctor, himself, doesn't get too much 'air-time' in this story, as it focuses on Jo and Mike predominantly, but it is fun to see the B-story to an adventure. If this had been made into a televised story, the plot would have followed the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart and how their part of the investigation into the mystery unfolded, but with this approach, we get to see the behind-the-scenes element to the storyline, which gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters without the confidence and intelligence of the Doctor to back them up. It reminds me of an episode from Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "The Zeppo", which focuses on Xander for the episode, with the traditional A-story forced to the background.

The two-hander approach to the story was well done and I liked the interview-style that the narrative took. We managed to get a dual insight into the Mike Yates of the past and how he has changed and matured to the current day. They never explicitly mention who the person is that Mike is relating his story to, but I imagined it to be someone like Martha Jones, who is in the current incarnation of UNIT.

This would make a great introduction to the Big Finish range as it is a stand-alone storyline that doesn't require great knowledge of either the Doctor Who universe, or the Big-Finish chronology. Some of their storylines reference earlier releases, making it hard to follow mid-way through a long running plot. One of the benefits of the Companion Chronicles range is that the majority of them are fairly self-contained and simplified. I will certainly be picking up more from this range!

The Magician's Oath can be ordered on CD or Download from BigFinish.com or available externally from Amazon.co.uk

Score - 8.6 out of 10

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Top Ten Classic NES games

The NES holds a special place in my heart. It was the first home console that I owned and could operate with ease. I had an old Spectrum, but it was hard to actually get it to work and if I’m honest, it sucked balls in comparison to the NES, apart from Paperboy. Paperboy was awesome! Thinking back to that golden age of gaming, it's easy to get blinded by nostalgia, but there were some genuine 8-bit classics in amongst the guff.

Here is my list of the Top Ten games for the NES:

 
10) Battle of Olympus

This game was really tough, but I loved the ancient Greek setting and the Zelda-esque roleplaying elements. It was impossibly hard in places, but it just made me play through it more and more. I still vaguely remember the theme tune, and if my memory serves me correctly, I ended up 'obtaining' my copy from a rental shop that we joined up and promptly moved away from.



9) Duck Hunt

Okay, it wasn't the most involved of games and consisted of either shooting ducks with a limited number of bullets or shooting the less exciting clay pigeons, but Duck Hunt managed to swallow up a reasonable chunk of my NES playing days. Besides, we all wanted to shoot that damn dog!



 
8) Mega Man 2

Megaman was one of the more unforgiving of platformers with a high difficulty rating, but the fact you could choose any level from the start (although there was some that were made easier if you'd obtained suits from other levels) and the multitude of powers you could obtain from your enemies made this an instant classic in my household. I still remember the sound as Megaman exploded and scattered into pieces across the screen.



 
7) Legend of Zelda

The original Legend of Zelda was a game like no other at the time. It spawned the franchise that evolved into masterpieces like The Ocarina of Time, but while the stories have become more advanced, the basic formula remains the same. Exploring dungeons and gaining new abilities to unlock new areas until you fight Ganondorf. Oh, and Zelda isn't the main character - she's the Princess. It took me years to realise that!




Box art of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
6) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

There were several Turtles games available for the NES, but the best was the first one which combined top-down exploration with side-scrolling fighting. It allowed you to play as all four turtles, each with their unique weaponry adding a new dimension to the gameplay. The only problem was the tough swimming level where you had to dodge electric currents and navigate through a maze to defuse bombs. Fun, but again tough to advance through, let alone complete!




Punch-Out!! 
5) Punch Out

Punch Out was a boxing game where players had to work out the weak spot of their enemy and build up enough power to punch them out. This was a fun game and some of the crazy enemies made it fun to advance to see the next bad guy. Memorable villains include the Glass Jaw, King Hippo and the Raj with the glowing jewel in his turban. Oh, and Mario guest-starred as the Ref!



 

4) McDonaldland

Using a similar game format to Super Mario 3 with each game world depicted as a map where you can navigate your way to each stage, McDonaldland, was part of the fad of the late 80s/early 90s where big companies sponsored computer games. I vaguely remember a Quavers related computer game for Commodore. Despite the product-tie in, this was a fairly solid game featuring all of the McDonald characters, who have long since been discontinued!




 
3) Kickle Cubicle

Kickle Cubicle was unlike any game I've ever played before, or since. Best described as an action-puzzle game, you played as Kickle, who had the ability to freeze enemies and use them as blocks to build pathways to collect three magic bags, which would complete the stage. Each world had a boss, who had to be defeated by pushing the blocks into them. As I mentioned, there was a nice mix of puzzles and action in this game with some levels becoming much easier once you figured out the puzzle to finishing them.




An image of a jumping man with red overalls and a red hat, a blue shirt, and a vegetable in his right hand 
2) Super Mario Bros 2

Originally a completely different game called Doki Doki Panic, Nintendo redeveloped this to create Super Mario Bros 2, after complaints that the original sequel to Super Mario Bros was too difficult (this was later included in Super Mario All Stars as The Lost Levels). I loved this game for the departure in style (due to it being a different game), the fact you could play as the Princess or Toad and the inclusion of vegetable weaponry & different enemies. Shyguys, for the win!




Super Mario Bros. 3 coverart.png
1) Super Mario Bros 3

It couldn't be anything else, really. Super Mario Bros 3 was the pinnacle of NES graphics and the sheer size of the game for that generation was huge! It combined the best elements of Super Mario Bros 1 & 2 and added new flourishes like the Raccoon tail and map-worlds. This game would eventually be overshadowed by later versions (Super Mario World / Super Mario 64) but it is an important part of Mario history and probably led to the franchise moving past the NES and becoming Nintendo's flagship character.




What about you? Do you have fond memories of the NES console? Are there any hidden gems that I've looked over? Feel free to add your comments to the bottom of this article, or tweet me @PCB_Blog or visit my Facebook page.
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