Beyond the TV Series: Part 1: To Listen or not to Listen
Guest contributors Connor Johnston and Gustaff begin their guide to the Big Finish audios.
We are in the middle of the wilderness months; those times when there is no Doctor Who on television and we are without a Time Lord to show us around the universe. Sure, we have classic stories to keep us preoccupied, but there are only so many out there and most fans have already watched a large portion of them already during their respective airings or during the eight years since the new series first began. Unfortunately, even they will eventually run out. What are you going to do then? Gustaff and Connor introduce you to Big Finish audios!
Entering into its 50th Anniversary, the enormity of Doctor Who has rarely been this hard to fathom. This ‘humble old television show’ has branched out to so many people all around the world and in so many ways and so many different media forms that it is almost impossible to keep track of all the diverse set-ups the legacy that the show has taken on. One of Doctor Who’s most undervalued formats is the audio adventures: A concept that seems a bit primitive and ‘out of date’ to many people, especially in this day and age. But the beauty of an audio story is that it strips the plot bare! There are no special effects to draw your attention away from the narrative, no attractive actor or stunning starlet for you to gawp at through domineering pages of dialog, and no sets to show you a setting. It all comes down to the acting and expression: the pure plot and your imagination are all that’s needed to dream up a world and step into an adventure…and it’s wonderful! Audio stories bring to life the adventures of the Doctor into your mind and in such an intimate way that you can’t help but feel more connected to the story than ever before.
However, there are a lot of people that only consider the television series canon and for a multitude of reasons, which sometimes prevents them from seeing this untapped resource. For example, a lot of fans have read the books and suspect that the audios will also severely clash with the television series. Others don’t bother because they expect the audios to be speaking books, not actual stories. There are many other reasons, but we’re here to tell you that it’s not like that at all!
The truth is that because of the lack of popularity and the alien concept that are audio stories, we seem to forget about them in the long run. Deep down, everyone has attempted to listen to an audio story at some point, but some sort of obstacle always stands in their way: Whether you were just too uncertain about where to begin or had doubts about continuity. Whatever the case may be, these tiny impasses keep a lot of people out of this part of the Doctor Who Universe. Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the hiccups people get!
First off, the audios aren’t audiobooks; they are full cast dramas, just like the television series, albeit without the moving pictures. Don’t get the wrong idea though, there are actual audiobooks available as well, such as the Companion Chronicles which feature one or two people reading and acting out the parts for the whole cast, but for the most part, the stories are exactly, if not better than the series you knew and loved from the 70s, 80s and the could-have-been 90s.
Secondly, the audios have a very extensive range. Usually, we are treated to twelve audios per year minimum, four from each of the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. The last three stories usually consist of a trilogy with each of the aforementioned Doctors getting one part. Together, these are called the Main Range or the Monthly Range. There is also a special division just for Fourth and Eighth Doctors’ adventures that usually runs simultaneously with the main range with six to seven one hour stories. There are also the specials that are usually released from October to December! Altogether that amounts to 20+ plus audios per year – and that’s just the full cast dramas! Like we mentioned before, there are also Companions Chronicles, which are regular audiobooks which focus on the companions’ viewpoint, the Lost Stories from the could-have-been series’ and bonus releases such as 2013’s Trial of the Valeyard. Up till now, there are more audio adventures (full cast) out there than there are television stories available. Remember that this is still the Classic Series, so most stories are set between one and a half and two hours long at least.
Another problem fans run into is their first story. It’s sort of like dipping your toe into the pool and not going swimming because the water feels too cold. Your first story is important because the key to swimming is realizing that once you’re in the water, your body will eventually acclimatize so choose a Doctor you favor and go with it.
Note that just like the television series, Big Finish isn’t perfect and, especially during their inception years, they have manufactured some stinkers like Dreamtime (the plot is around here somewhere…we think) and The Mutant Phase (why exactly are the Daleks even in this story?). A few of Sylvester McCoy’s first stories also suffer from this because, as has become tradition, his stories are somewhat more intricate than the other Doctors.
The principal concern is continuity. Fans tend to reason that the audios fall into a changed continuity entirely and you’re right…they do, but the audio continuity is extremely, if not indistinguishable from the television series. You have to really (we mean really) look hard to discover any illogicalities. The line between continuities, if advent listeners like us find it difficult to spot errors, is pretty thin, if not microscopic. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any plot holes, but let’s put it to you like this: There is a hell of a lot less plot holes than what is currently on the TV Series.
On a last note, we’ll remind readers that the audio adventures have also done huge justices to some of the most poorly treated actors who held the title of Doctor. Colin Baker and Paul McGann are the first two people that spring to mind. The audio adventures have helped redeem their eras and turn their Doctors into some of the most popular out there.
Join us tomorrow when we dive even deeper into Big Finish and give you a clear-cut and in-depth breakdown of what’s safe for first time listeners!