As Big Finish celebrates its 200th main Doctor Who range release, I decided to take a look back on some of the old favorites and see if they still helAs Big Finish celebrates its 200th main Doctor Who range release, I decided to take a look back on some of the old favorites and see if they still held up.
Intended as the Cybermen version of "Genesis of the Daleks," "Spare Parts" is one of the more revered stories from Big Finish. And yet as I listened, I couldn't recall when or if I'd heard this one before. I feel like I should have heard it when it first came out, but I couldn't recall many details beyond superficial ones.
Arriving on Mondas in the last days before the population became fully Cyber-ized, the fifth Doctor and Nyssa find themselves embroiled in the politics that helped created the earliest Cybermen. Listening to "Spare Parts," I couldn't help but feel that Marc Platt has crafted a superb prelude to "The Tenth Planet" and that I should dust off that DVD and visit the classic serial again.
What could have been a simple imitation of "Genesis of the Daleks" becomes something a bit deeper and different. There's no one unifying voice for the Cybermen as there was with the Daleks. Instead we see various members of the population and how they react to the developments taking place within their society and on their world. Platt allows us a bit of time to get invested and interested in these characters before he begins changing them into what will eventually become the Cybermen. (If you've seen the new series, there are certain sequences from the story that were used in the return of the Cybermen there, though I'd argue they are more effective here).
Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are on the top of their game in this one. I'd argue that the story is a richer one for Nyssa than much of what we got in the classic series. But that's probably because the classic series was less character driven than the Big Finish stories or the new series are. Both actors rise to the occasion, though it's interesting to hear the Doctor shuffle to the sidelines for a bit of the story instead of the companion.
There are even some twists and turns along the way to really keep things interesting. I'll admit that Platt caught me by surprise with one of the cliffhangers and its implications. My reaction to the cliffhanger (which I went in unaware of it) leads me to believe I didn't listen to this one when it first came out because I can't see myself forgetting it.
The big question surrounding this one is -- can it really live up to the hype?
I'll go out and say yes, yes it can. There's a reason this one is so well regarded and it still shows through. Even with the new series delivering some stellar stories, this is one of the more engaging and memorable Doctor Who stories I've had the pleasure of experiencing.
The only negative is the realization of The Committee. The voice used sounds a bit too much like the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica and that makes some of their long bits of dialogue difficult to listen to and concentrate on. ...more
One of the things that keeps me from embracing the Big Finish range more than I do is that it seems too determined to maintain the sensibility of theOne of the things that keeps me from embracing the Big Finish range more than I do is that it seems too determined to maintain the sensibility of the classic Doctor Who serials from which it springs. No where is that more evident than in Andrew Smith's latest offering to the range, Mistfall.
A sequel to Smith's own Full Circle, the story finds the fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough heading back to Alzarius, just in time for Mistfall to happen again. This wouldn't be such a bad thing, mind you, except that Alzarius is in a separate universe and the story spends a good bit of the first episode negotiating the TARDIS and our heroes back into e-space. Once we get there, we head to Alazarius where the Marshmen are rising from the swamps and people are trapped on the planet. There's also a nefarious agenda involving the Marshmen thrown in for good measure.
Smith incorporates some aspects from his novelization of Full Circle here, but I just couldn't quite get past the feeling that we'd been here before that pervades the first two installments. Things pick up a bit in the third part when the story begins to go in different directions, leading to a hurried fourth installment that tries to wrap up things a bit too quickly and neatly for my liking. The pacing for this one is entirely off and the story as a whole suffers for it.
And, of course, this being the current state of the main range for Big Finish, this one has to be the start of a trilogy of stories. Again, we've had a trilogy of stories in e-space and they were fairly successful the first time around. I can't help but get the feeling of "here we go again" from the inevitable cliffanger to end the story, but dammit, if they don't make it just intriguing enough that I want to come back and see how it all unfolds....more
In the fifteen or so years that Big Finish has been releasing stories, they've brought back just about every classic Doctor Who villain and monster imIn the fifteen or so years that Big Finish has been releasing stories, they've brought back just about every classic Doctor Who villain and monster imaginable.
There are a few exceptions which up until this release included the Doctor's old nemesis, the Rani. But I suppose if the Swarm can get a sequel, then it's about time the Rani made her debut in the Big Finish audio universe.
And like the previous installment in this trilogy, The Rani Elite is a case of a lot of potential squandered. A lot of this comes from the simple fact that the story includes the Rani's name in the title but then follows the classic series pattern of keeping the villain's identity hidden until the cliffhanger for the first episode. I can't help but feel that the story squandered not only a potentially great cliffhanger but also the entire first installment of this story in a holding pattern, waiting for the Doctor and Peri to put together what the audience already knows -- the Rani is back.
The Doctor is invited to a university to receive an honorary award. Suspicious, the Doctor sets the TARDIS to arrive a day early and begins to stick his nose into things to find out what's going on. Turns out the Rani is on hand and she's got a nefarious scheme that is, quite frankly, too much like the plots she used in her two television appearances to really be all that interesting. Once we get past the big reveal, the story feels like it's just mimicking the two classic series serials that featured the Rani and not really doing anything new or interesting with the character.
It's another case of Big Finish's desire to emulate the classic series so much that the story squanders its potential to do something interesting or new with the material and characters.
Honestly, having heard the title of this one months ago and based on a character's name in The Widow's Assassin, I thought this story might reveal that the Rani had somehow been playing games with the Doctor and Peri for this entire trilogy of stories. (Or it could be that I'm putting more thought into connecting the dots on these stories than the writing staff is. But can you blame me when a character in Assassin is named "Princess Derani"?!?)
This loosely connected trilogy started with a solid story and ends with a whimper. It's nice to hear Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant together again. But overall I can't help but come away from this story and trilogy feeling like this was a huge missed opportunity....more
One of the problems with an audio drama featuring the Daleks is they aren't exactly the most exciting aliens to listen to for any length of time. Or hOne of the problems with an audio drama featuring the Daleks is they aren't exactly the most exciting aliens to listen to for any length of time. Or heaven forbid you have two or even three Daleks carrying on a lengthy conversation that includes plot details or developments.
It's not to say that I don't like the Daleks. They're my favorite Doctor Who adversary, but I think that in order to do them right in the audio dramas, you have to be a bit more creative than you would on TV.
Give props to Masters of Earth for at least trying to do something creative with the Daleks in the realm of Big Finish audio dramas. Arriving on Earth during the Dalek occupation, the sixth Doctor is ready to jump back into the TARDIS and leave to prevent himself or Peri contaminating his own personal time line. Seems he's arrived a couple of years before his first incarnation will help overthrow the Daleks and liberate the planet.
But before you say "Exterminate," the TARDIS sinks into a bog and the Doctor and Peri are caught up with the resistance on a cross-country trip that will include encounters with RoboMen, Varga plants and the Slyther. If you're a fan of 60's Who and in particular the Dalek stories from those early days, there are a lot of nice homages to that era.
But homages to an era do not a story make and it's in the story that Masters of Earth really feels like it let me down. Because the Doctor can't affect any change, there's not a lot for he and Peri to do, besides avoid changing history and letting the Daleks know he's on the scene. There are some interesting chases involving Daleks on gliders (an homage to the 60's comics), but overall I can't help but feel the story had more potential than was realized in what we got here. ...more
Of all the classic series Doctors to work with Big Finish, it's Colin Baker's sixth Doctor whose benefited the most. Given a chance to show that he coOf all the classic series Doctors to work with Big Finish, it's Colin Baker's sixth Doctor whose benefited the most. Given a chance to show that he could shine when given the right material, Baker has finally been given the type of material that many of us wish he'd seen during his (too-short) tenure as the Doctor.
"The Widow's Assassin" is another sterling example of not only how good the sixth Doctor could be, but how well Peri could have worked as a companion. Driven by guilt over the fate of a previous companion, the Doctor seeks out Peri to try and figure out why she didn't wait for him to come back for her on Thoros Beta and why she didn't send him an invitation to her wedding to King Yrcanos. Queen Peri is none too happy with the Doctor and has him immediately thrown in the dungeon, figuring he'll work his way out and abscond in the TARDIS. But when Yrcanos is killed on their wedding night, the Doctor waits in the dungeon for five years for his former companion to forgive him and to ask him to look into the matter.
If you think I'm giving away a lot of the story, I can assure I'm not. "The Widow's Assassin" moves at a confident, energetic pace and all of what I related to you takes place in the first installment of the story. Nev Fountain layers in some interesting twists, turns and some actual humor into one of the more entertaining, fun and well done Big Finish installments I've listened to in a long time. The concept of having two guards named Guard One and Guard Two is mined for a lot of humor and you may even find yourself coming to like these two characters as much as the sixth Doctor does during his incarceration.
The only thing that drags the story down is an overly complicated (and long) final episode. The story explores some of the themes from the new series, but the story never wears out its welcome. In fact, it's one of the few I find myself wanting to listen to again because of how confident and well-told it is. ...more
If you were to poll classic Doctor Who fans on which adversaries from the original run they'd like to see back, odds are the Swarm wouldn't make the tIf you were to poll classic Doctor Who fans on which adversaries from the original run they'd like to see back, odds are the Swarm wouldn't make the top ten. Nor the top twenty or thirty.
A poorly realized (visually anyway) adversary from the 70's story, "The Invisible Enemy," the Swarm isn't the most threatening, interesting or even well regarded foe the Doctor ever faced. But maybe freed of the limitations of the television series and with the virtually unlimited special effects showcase of the imagination, maybe the Swarm could flourish in the world of audio.
Unfortunately, not so much.
Leaning heavily on the catch phrase from the original story, "Revenge of the Swarm" is a tale of two halves. The first half finds the Swam has hidden itself inside the TARDIS all these years, waiting just the right opportunity to show itself again. That opportunity comes with Hex/Hector, who has recently become (literally) a new man. (If you're a bit lost here, you're not alone. I hadn't listened to any of the stories leading up to this one and I'm sure I'm missing some of the nuances of Hex/Hector's story.)
Before you know it, the TARDIS is headed back to Titan Base and the Swarm is working to make sure that it comes into existence. Yep, there's time paradoxes in this one and the question of which came first -- the giant prawn or the egg? And that doesn't even take into account that the second half of the story takes place in a virtual reality like world that requires paying a lot more attention that I'm used to doing on these stories in order to follow things.
My hope heading into the story was that it might take a campy monster from the 70's and put some new, entertaining twist on it. That didn't happen. Add in a lot of confusing details about the Hex/Hector drama and a storyline that seems to be chasing its own tail a bit too much and you're left with a disappointing entry from the Big Finish range. ...more
Every time I delve into the extra features on an 80's era Doctor Who DVD release, I'm a bit saddened that John Nathan Turner passed away before he couEvery time I delve into the extra features on an 80's era Doctor Who DVD release, I'm a bit saddened that John Nathan Turner passed away before he could fully participate in a couple of extras from his tenure as producer. I'd be fascinated to see what his thoughts on his (at times) controversial tenure were like as well as have some insights from his role as producer for the show during the turbulent era when the ratings declined and the show was cancelled, brought back and then put on hiatus that final time, leading to the wilderness year.
It would be interesting to hear Nathan-Turner get a chance to defend himself or at least respond to various criticisms laid at his feet in various commentaries and extras from that era.
The closest we'll get is this two disc set of Nathan Turner reading his own memoirs that were originally published in Doctor Who Magazine. Listening to it, I'm struck by how much of a gentleman Nathan Turner was and his insights into certain creative decisions made during his long run as the show's producer. Also of interest are his take on certain segments of the fandom who were extremely vocal about the perceived shortcomings of 80's Who.
Nathan Turner proves to be far more a gentleman in discussing a certain script editor and his departure from the show than the script editor has been in certain interviews during that time. It's interesting to see him take the high road and relate what happened from his perspective without necessarily taking others to task or getting into a game of "He said, he said" about the whole thing. We may never fully know what went on behind the scenes, but at least we get to hear JN-T's side of things.
What comes across in the memoirs is first that JN-T loved Doctor Who and second that he grew weary of his growing niche at the BBC being the producer of the show for so long. The second disc seems to be a lot of JN-T's attempts to step aside as producer and bring in some new vision to the show, only to have it implied that without him, the show won't go on. And while there were clunkers from that era, it's hard to imagine the show stopping before getting to some of my favorites like "The Caves of Androzani" or "The Curse of Fenric." Even JN-T's thoughts on averting "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" from cancellation make like him a bit more, if only because I consider that story an underrated classic.
For good or bad, JN-T was a big influence on Doctor Who and this audio memoir is a solid one. It probably won't change the mind of those who are determined to dislike his era, but it certainly will give the rest of us an intriguing look inside the production of a tumultuous era in the show's history. ...more
There are certain monsters and villains that lend themselves well to audio and some that don't. The Zygons probably fall somewhere firmly in the middlThere are certain monsters and villains that lend themselves well to audio and some that don't. The Zygons probably fall somewhere firmly in the middle since their ability to disguise themselves as various people in the story can be more easily realized in the audio landscape. But then again, the Zygon voices also suffer from the same thing that the Dalek voices do -- they can be a bit grating to listen for an extended period of time in an audio release.
And so it is that we come to Zygon Hunt, the final release of the current fourth Doctor adventures and a story that worked far better than I initially thought it could or would. I'll say that the story suffers a bit in comparison to how superbly the Zygons were used in the fiftieth anniversary story, but overall I can't help but feel that this current run of fourth Doctor stories has gone out on a solid note, even if it never delivered on the early conflict between the Doctor and Leela that we saw in The Kings of Sontar.
The Doctor and Leela arrive on the planet Garros where they meet up with expedition that is hunting the Zygons for sport. But the question quickly becomes who is hunting who and just how does this play into the Zygons' plan to conquer the Earth? As I said before there are doppelgangers and questions of loyalty abounding in this story, but once those big reveals are stripped away, I'm afraid the overall story does quite hold together. Part of it that the supporting cast aren't really all that interesting or memorable so it's hard to really care much about who is human and who is a Zygon in disguise.
Overall, I feel like the latest fourth Doctor season started out on a high note and that it was all a downhill slide from there. Certainly Zygon Hunt isn't as disappointing as the last two entries in the range, but I still came away feeling a bit letdown overall by the season. ...more
After directing an entry in the Companion Chronicles line earlier this year, Louise Jameson tries her hand at writing with The Abandoned.
And while heAfter directing an entry in the Companion Chronicles line earlier this year, Louise Jameson tries her hand at writing with The Abandoned.
And while her directing debut was a winner, I'll have to admit that her script debut is a bit hit or miss. There are some intriguing ideas here, including an exploration of the nature of the TARDIS and some depth to the relationship of the Doctor and Leela that we couldn't necessarily see in the classic era, but I'm not sure that the story as a whole translates well into the audio arena. Jameson is quite good as Leela and gives herself a lot of stretching to do. But there are moments during The Abandoned that I felt might work better on the TV screen or printed page -- whether it be a straight text story or a comic book adaptation.
That puts the fourth Doctor adventures third season at two stories in a row that had some promise but didn't quite gel together for me. It also makes me begin to doubt very much if the range will deliver on the promise from the early installments of the season that had me eager to hear the next story. I feel like the range has dropped the ball a bit. ...more