Beyond the TV Series: Part 2: Diving Into Audio Dramas
Guest contributors Connor Johnson and Gustaff continue their guide to the Big Finish audios.
We’re back for Part Two of this Doctor Who Tour de Audio and what can we say: If there are 300+ audios to choose from, then what’s safe for first timers? Which stories will hook us? There’s an adventure for everyone no matter what type of Doctor Who story appeals to you. First I (Gustaff) will take you through the general outliners and then I (Connor) will show you that Big Finish’s version of Doctor Who isn’t that out of phase with what’s been going on the television. Here’s a simple breakdown for first timers:
Tom Baker has his own series going into its third run. The stories here are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the 70s. I recommend you stay away from his first story Destination Nerva as it is a poor attempt to bring the Fourth Doctor back. Anything from/after Wrath of the Iceni is quite enjoyable, but if you prefer Baker alongside Mary Tamm, then The Auntie Matter is a terrific, fun romp.
True to his era, the Davison stories are basic. Nothing too complicated here. As with Tom, Davison’s voice sounds a little gruff, but if you’ve seen Time Crash and enjoyed it, then you won’t really mind the change in tone. There are plenty to choose from here. The Eye of the Scorpion was my first audio and made me fall in love with Big Finish while The Kingmaker is one of the best pseudo-historicals out there. If you’re looking for Cybermen stories, Spare Parts is quite chilling and The Gathering just freezes the blood. The Eternal Summer has also managed to impress me recently!
Baker’s stories can be split into two categories, namely: Television Six and Softie Six. Television Six is everything (chronologically in his timeline, not by release date mind you) before The Marian Conspiracy. If you want Television Six, then The Reaping is a marvelous Cybermen horror, there is Ish…, which is great…ish, Cryptobiosis, The Holy Terror is hilariously enjoyable and The Wormery, which takes place shortly after Trial of a Time Lord, is just as much fun. If you want Softie Six, then The Wrong Doctors is perfect for you, as is Catch-1782, Bloodtide, The Sandman and The One Doctor.
The only Doctor whose voice hasn’t aged a bit since the television series (apart from McGann). If you are interested in eerie, timey-wimey storylines; then McCoy is your man. His Doctor also has the most intriguing plot arcs out there. Night Thoughts will haunt you and Flip-Flop is spectacularly confusing if you don’t get time travel storylines, but is very fun to listen to. I also recommend The Fires of Vulcan, The Veiled Leopard (very Doctor-lite), The Magic Mousetrap and The Word Lord which is of course my favorite Doctor Who story of all time because it’s just…spoilers!
I’d avoid Storm Warning because it makes you wonder which Doctor you’re really listening to as apart from hearing McGann, it doesn’t sound like the Eighth Doctor we’re used to. Please note however that Storm Warning was Big Finish’s first attempt at doing the Eighth Doctor, so you shouldn’t discard Eight entirely. He gets better! A lot better! But Connor will prove that shortly. After you do that, The Chimes of Midnight, The Four Doctors and basically anything else from his Eighth Doctor Adventures qualifies as enjoyable. Special mentions also go out to Benny’s Story, The Silver Turk and The Witch from the Well (Not that witch!).
And now Connor is going to spend a little extra time with the Eighth Doctor as he is widely regarded as the shortest-lived incarnation, despite having the most expanded media surrounding his incarnation. It is also true that Big Finish has attempted to modernize this incarnation by paralleling the format of his stories with that of the new series. The Eighth Doctor’s stories are more or less the same length as an episode of the television series and also features a good set of arcs. If you’re jittering about getting into Big Finish, the Eighth Doctor Adventures is a good place to start! In turn I am going to briefly pitch each story of the first season and use examples from similar new series episodes to hopefully find the right audio adventure for you!
Blood Of The Daleks
A good fit that the Daleks kick off the first two episodes of Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith’s Eighth Doctor Adventures, both written by Steve Lyons. They feature Hayley Atwell, Nina Dobson and Nicholas Briggs as guest stars. This Dalek story manages to capture these terrifying aliens in a picture-perfect setting. One might assume that this audio would automatically be recommended for ‘Dalek Fans’, which is also true, but I find this adventure is better suited for fans that have never felt overwhelmed by the Daleks. Many of the modern Dalek stories are, according to people, losing their touch with the horror and the absolute morally disgusting presence that these classically terrifying monsters are supposed to bring to the table. If you’ve ever wanted to feel the hatred and disgust that the Doctor feels every time he hears that maliciously distorted voice, or if you’ve never understood why Rose was so fearful every time they’re name is mentioned, then this audio is for you! Set on the human planet of Red Rocket Rising, this adventure effortlessly introduces a new companion to the hectic world of the Doctor as well as themes regarding politics, corruption and poverty. It also features the Daleks as they’re meant to be: Deceiving, threatening, murdering, frightening and alien! Even Terry Nation would be proud. Listen to it if you enjoyed Dalek, The Parting of Ways or Asylum of the Daleks.
Horror Of Glam Rock
I would just like to state that Horror of Glam Rock is SEVERELY underrated! Featuring Stephen Gately, Lynsey Hardwick, as well as a familiar face in Bernard Cribbins, this story, written by Paul Magrs, has the makings of a traditional ‘base under siege’ story – with a very un-traditional setting! The story continues the escapades of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller as they try to get back to England, 2006, where the Time Lords abducted Lucie from. The closest they get is the M62 Motorway in 1974 and they soon find themselves trapped in a side road diner which is being attacked by a race of savage beast-like aliens who are drawn to the musical talents of a young boy. The chemistry between Lucie and the Doctor is sensational and the dialog between all the characters is an exciting and refreshing indulgence! I recommend this story to any fan that enjoys the talents of Bernard Cribbins or watching Love and Monsters and Cold War.
Subtle and Epic! Two words that perfectly describes this audio blockbuster! Combined with the elegance and mystery of a most eerie episode, this exciting chartbuster action-adventure is written by Jonathan Clements and stars Ian McNiece, Elspet Gray and Anthony Spargo on an unnamed planet where evil power-stricken people have found the key to immortality and deceive the public into believing they are gods. Filled with secrets and twists and resistance to power from the most unlikely of characters, this audio has no dull moment and still manages to find the time to let its audience appreciate the genius of the plot. It is also my favorite! It is the perfect story to be transformed into an episode one day. It has Ancient Gods of Greece AND it manages to explain them in a sciencey wiencey Doctor Who way! Episodes connected to this story include The Fires of Pompeii, The Impossible Planet and Family of Blood.
Warning! You may find yourself about to claw at your ears in the first minute when a certain actress attempts a very poor Australian accent. Rest assured: We do not all sound like that. More importantly, the ‘True Blue’ character doesn’t make it to the opening credits. Written by Eddie Robson and starring Timothy West and Tom Silverstone, Phobos is set in an amusement park on one of Mars’ moons where extreme adrenaline junkies (I call them Sport Nuts) of the future indulge in their passion for gravity-boarding and wormhole-jumping. It’s not fun and games in Luna Park however. There’s something sinister lurking in the shadows, something infinitely old and interminably dangerous and it’s putting the lives of the park staff and happy tourists in danger. The story focuses on giving a physical form to the idea of a god-like entity by pushing its way through from another universe while feeding on emotions, more specifically fear. If you enjoyed Midnight, The Satan Pit or Planet of the Ood, then go and get Phobos now!
No More Lies
Wibbly Wobbly! Timey Wimey! The sixth story is written by Paul Sutton and stars Nigel Havers with Julia McKenzie. This audio poses the question: What links a disintegrating spaceship to a posh garden party where a wealthy couple is celebrating their love for each other? Gatecrashers Lucie and the Doctor think they know the answer, but they’re not the only uninvited guests! The pair soon discover that they are trapped in a time loop which is causing some disruption among alien worlds. This story flows exceptionally well with elegant dialog complementing the sinister plot. The beauty of the story truly radiates in the concluding minutes that leaves one breathless, as well as touched by a hidden love story that will melt your heart. No More Lies effortlessly nestles itself in your hearts. It is a truly poetic gem that I recommend if you enjoyed Hide, Blink or Unicorn and the Wasp.
The Grand Finale of Season One is…spoilers! Sorry, but if you want to know what’s going on, go buy the adventure.
However! It’s not just the Eighth Doctor who gets the cool arc-driven stories. No! There are also terrific plot arcs for the established listener featuring the older Doctors: The Hex-Forge arc which starts in Project Twilight and ends with Gods and Monsters, the Key 2 Time which spans three stories, the Excelis saga which includes one story from Five, Six and Seven, the Burning Prince saga, which follows the same format and Seven has many including the Klein saga which starts in Colditz and concludes in The Architects of History. Most of Paul McGann’s main range stories are also arc-based with him meeting Charley Pollard in Storm Warning and travelling together into the Divergent Universe saga.
But it doesn’t stop there folks! We’re still not done yet! There is so much more going on in the world of Big Finish Doctor Who that it’ll make your head spin. Let’s take a look at what else awaits you after you experience the Doctors.
Bernice Summerfield is an ex-companion of the Doctor and she has just taken a job as a Professor of Archeology at the respectable Braxiatel Collection. Together with her team, Bernice travels to lost worlds, fights monsters and does a really good job of looking good while doing it.
The Bernice Summerfield range is one of the longest Big Finish has and is already going into its 16th season. What’s nice about this range is that the stories don’t usually follow a specific arc, but consist of a bunch of standalone episodes. There are some very tasteful plots for the listener looking for a good mystery however. Unfortunately, Benny’s first season, more specifically her first two stories, are less than par in this author’s opinion. The first season is also a self-contained arc, but it would be better for first timers to start with her second season and come back to Season One later, although Birthright and Just War are the highlights of the first season.
Before the Fourth Doctor landed on Skaro and tried to wipe out Daleks, before the pepper pot design even crossed his mind, Davros was just an ordinary scientist with an extraordinary vision. The Daleks have put Davros on trial, but that isn’t the story here because Davros is reminded of a time before Genesis of the Daleks. I, Davros provides an in-depth backstory for the crippled creator of the Daleks. The Thals and the Kaleds are locked in an endless struggle for supremacy and only one man can save them…or doom them. In this four-part series, you’ll learn the dark truth about how Davros came to be, how he was confined to the chair, how the Daleks came to be and just what sort of a man Davros was before he met the Doctor.
Jago & Litefoot
After encountering the Fourth Doctor and Leela and vanquishing Li Chiang, the proper pathologist and the theatrical thespian have formed a warm friendship and spend their free time investigating the strange, the bizarre and the otherworldly.
Another successful series, I can honestly confirm that I have yet to come across a title which can be conceived as ‘bad’ when these two individuals are involved. Every story has the same quality as some of the best Doctor Who has to offer. If these two entertained you in The Talons of Weng Chiang, then Jago & Litefoot is a must.
There you have it people. More Doctor Who than you could’ve dreamed of. If you feel like going for a swim in this part of the Doctor Who ocean, then stop reading this article and go buy your first story now. It’s still Doctor Who as you know it; it’s just Classic Doctors, but with Brand New Adventures.