Doctor Who – The Best of Big Finish, Part One

The world of Doctor Who audios is vast. Following my previous article on my First Impressions of Big Finish, in which I talked about the first few Big Finish audios I listened to and discussed my initial thoughts on the stories and the format in general. To establish a starting point for newcomers, however, I have also decided to list some of the best Big Finish has to offer, by my reckoning at least. Anyone who is new to Big Finish can easily use these entries as a starting point, particularly since they are all so cheap on the Big Finish website. So, to begin:

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The Chimes of Midnight

This Eighth Doctor story is a perfect introduction to the writing style of Robert Shearman, who wrote this audio as well as the New Who story, Dalek. The two are nothing alike, however, as The Chimes of Midnight places the Doctor and Charley in a bizarre, temporally-twisted ‘haunted-house’ setting, but the explanation for the odd occurrences is both a refreshing plot twist as well as an interesting development into the character of Charley Pollard, whose backstory is still developing at this point.

What makes The Chimes of Midnight so good is its cast, who fill this story with character to create a genuine Edwardian feel as the setting and atmosphere are actualized perfectly. This is definitely one to check out if you are a fan of the elusive Eighth Doctor, as it provides an essential story in his first plot arc.

Listen to this audio here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

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Spare Parts

This Fifth Doctor audio explores a fascinating concept that, at the time, had barely even been touched upon in the main show, and that is the genesis of the Cybermen. The Daleks got their origin story told in Genesis of the Daleks in 1975, but the Cybermen received no such treatment until Spare Parts came out in 2002. It was worth the wait, however, as Spare Parts portrays a grim world on the brink of collapse that is wholly distinct from the barren landscapes of Skaro and gives the homeworld of the Cybermen, Mondas, a distinct character and a cast of unique and nuanced characters to populate it with.

Spare Parts also showcases Big Finish’s ability to tackle dark and heavy concepts head-on, and the story doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to bleak and sometimes downright cruel developments that impact the characters whilst the Doctor and Nyssa stand by, essentially helpless to prevent history from taking its course as the people of Mondas gradually make the horrific transition from human to Cyberman.

Listen to this audio here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

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Jubilee

Another installment written by Robert Shearman, Jubilee shares some similarities with Dalek, although it is distinctly wacky in its own way,  The concept of an alternate universe in which the Daleks are incorporated into Earth’s popular culture, specifically England’s national identity, despite being real in that universe is both fascinating and well-executed. The Sixth Doctor’s first audio-only companion Evelyn Smythe, played by the wonderful Maggie Stables, really shines in this story as her conventional morality clashes with the ideologies of both the Daleks and the Humans in this story and her dialogue with the Dalek is unique, and somewhat distinct from what we had in Dalek.

Jubilee is also one of those stories which involves a sort of ‘parallel universe’ or ‘splinter timeline’, and some of the ideas that are played around with regarding that concept in this story are quite chilling, and also at times hilarious, particularly the depiction of US-UK relations in a world in which the ‘English Empire’ dominates the world…

Listen to this audio here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

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Davros

It’s always fun to see the Doctor and Davros working together, even if only briefly. The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar explored this idea but Davros makes the concept the central theme for its first two parts, and the results are spectacular. A rare example of a Davros story that doesn’t feature the Daleks, Davros gives us crucial insights into the shrouded past of the maniacal creator of the Daleks, and portrays Davros as an almost pitiable character. Colin Baker shines in this story as he does in most, and this story is one of many that demonstrates just how far Big Finish have come to redeeming the Sixth Doctor in the eyes (or rather, ears) of many fans.

Terry Molloy is really on point here as Davros, and it almost makes me wish we had this actualized in TV format instead of the flimsy Revelation of the Daleks. What makes Davros unique is its use of Davros as more than just ‘the creator of the Daleks’, and more in the role of scientist as he works alongside the Doctor.

Listen to this audio here, on Big Finish’s Official Spotify.

So that’s the end of Part 1 of my Best of Big Finish, I hope you enjoyed and if you did then be sure to leave a like, and you can follow us either here or on Facebook. Thanks for reading!

Read more in this series with the links below:

And check out more of my Doctor Who opinion pieces here:

 

Doctor Who – First Impressions of Big Finish

Since I have loved Doctor Who all my life, it seems odd that I had never listened to any of the Big Finish audios until now. I first heard of the audio dramas years ago, particularly when researching the more niche corners of Dalek lore, but a combination of the format of the stories and the price of each adventure caused me to consider the Big Finish audios inaccessible, at least if I was going to purchase physical copies. Thankfully, many of the early Big Finish stories are now very cheap, some as cheap as £3 each, and I recently decided that it was time to take the plunge. I initially thought that there was a possibility that the lack of visuals would make the experience less enjoyable, and so I only bought a handful of audios at first – I quickly realised, however, that I had been worrying over nothing, and the audio drama genre is not as hard to get with as it might seem. After listening to my first audio, The Genocide Machine, I knew I wanted to hear more, so I purchased a bundle on the Big Finish website of nearly 40 of their earlier audios, and I even got some of the newer ones in CD form.

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The Genocide Machine

Rather than taking advice online on which audios to listen to first, I decided to simply start with the first Dalek story that Big Finish produced, the seventh installment of their monthly range, The Genocide Machine. This story is a real blast, a quirky, funny and occasionally dark tale about an attempt by the Daleks to break into a library of all things, and steal the wealth of data stored inside. Starring one of my favourite Doctors, Sylvester McCoy, alongside one of my favourite companions, Sophie Aldred as Ace, this was definitely a good starting point for me and I would recommend this as a Big Finish starting point for other Dalek fans since this is not only their first appearance but also the start of a loose Dalek story arc that continues throughout their appearances in the early audios. Not only is this the Daleks’ debut in the audios, it is also the debut of Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs, who went on to voice the Daleks in the New Series.

Although it may seem a small detail, one of the most crucial aspects to Big Finish’s audios is how they set each scene. Considering the fact that the voice actors and actresses are sat in a booth in front of a microphone, creative and effective use of sound effects, echoing, and positioning make it really feel like you’re listening to the audio of an episode, akin to the surviving audio tracks of the lost episodes of the 1960s. The Genocide Machine is a great example of this, as the varied locations showcase just how resourceful the Big Finish team can be. It is immediately apparent when the characters are in the jungle, the library and the TARDIS, and listening through earphones can be highly therapeutic.

Listen to this audio here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

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Storm Warning and Sword of Orion

Another selling point for Big Finish is the inclusion of the Eighth Doctor in their pantheon, giving Paul McGann a much-deserved platform through which he could prove himself after the mixed reception that the 1996 TV Movie. Making his debut in Storm Warning alongside the fantastic India Fisher as new companion Charley Pollard, McGann’s charisma and distinctive character as the Doctor facilitate a strong debut for his Big Finish career that, according to those in the know, went on to spawn some of the best audios and storylines like Dark Eyes and the Time War series. Storm Warning is a great historical about the disaster of the R101 airship, and sets in motion a temporal story arc involving Charley that continues throughout her era.

Just as The Genocide Machine is the debut of the Daleks and Storm Warning is the debut of the Eighth Doctor, Sword of Orion is the first Big Finish audio to feature the Cybermen and references many previous Cyberman stories such as Earthshock, Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion, but also divulges vital new information about the Cybermen as a race, including a detailed look at the conversion process itself and how it works. In a particularly morbid scene, the Doctor encounters an ancient Cyber-conversion facility that had lost power while in full production, leaving many half-converted victims trapped, and over time their organic parts have rotted away, leaving only the robotic parts behind. This showcases yet another strength of the format of audio dramas, in that they can explore themes and plot elements that would never be shown on the main show – at least not without invoking the wrath of Mary Whitehouse.

Listen to Storm Warning here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

Listen to Sword of Orion here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

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Dust Breeding

Returning to the Seventh Doctor, Dust Breeding is another famous first – Geoffrey Beevers, who played the Master in The Keeper of Traken in 1981, brings the character to Big Finish twenty years after his one and only portrayal of the character. It might seem like an odd choice, considering the fact that Beevers is probably the most overlooked incarnation of the Master, but unfortunately at the time he was the only living actor who had played the Master – this was years before Jacobi, Simm and Gomez, and years since the tragic deaths of Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainley and Peter Pratt. Beevers does the role justice, however, and the powerful presence that his distinctive voice gives the character makes me wish he could play the Master on-screen again. Interestingly, the Master presented here is not at a point in his timeline before he steals his Trakenite body, but rather after – establishing the idea that the Ainley incarnation was actually Beever’s Master all along, and having discarded that body, the Master has reverted to his true form. Dust Breeding is a far more subtle presentation of conflict between the Seventh Doctor and the Master than Survival, but it is by no means dull, and an essential for fans of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis.

Listen to this audio here, on Big Finish’s official Spotify.

So that concludes this initial review of my first impressions of the Big Finish audios. My next review will cover The Chimes of Midnight, Spare Parts, Jubilee and Davros, and in the meantime I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t listened to Big Finish yet to do so – its a fantastic and rewarding experience that opens up a whole new world of Doctor Who media, and whether you choose to listen in chronological order, tour the greatest hits or pick out ones with returning villains as I have, the Big Finish audios will never disappoint.

Read more in this series with the links below:

And check out more of my Doctor Who opinion pieces here:

 

 

 

Doctor Who – Summing up the Moffat Era, or ‘The Tale of Two Moffats’

What is the scariest thing ever imaginable to a Doctor Who fan? A Dalek? A Weeping Angel? The possibility of a second 15-year-long hiatus? Perhaps any or all of these could be considered, but the undoubted victor is the thought that, if one Moffat wasn’t enough, there might actually be two Moffats, and when one of the Moffat’s tenure as showrunner comes to an end, the second Moffat moves in to take his place. Those who reacted to that statement with the appropriate cold dread need not worry, however, as this process has already occurred, we just didn’t realise it at the time…

As Summer 2018 begins to show itself, it really does seem as though a new era is dawning for Doctor Who fans, who recently witnessed the departure of one of the longest running (and most controversial) showrunners in the history of the series. Steven Moffat, the man who at the time of his announcement as showrunner seemed to be the perfect choice to take on the responsibility, has now proven after 8 years at the helm of one of the most well-known and beloved franchises in history that regardless of raw talent, budget, direction or sociopolitical context, the ultimate key to maintaining a reputation is consistency. Most of the British public first heard of Steven Moffat following his string of fantastic episodes throughout the Russell T. Davies era, namely The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead, and it was because of the consistent quality, scare-factor and thought-provoking premises of his episodes that Steven Moffat earned the reputation for one of the greatest writers that the show had seen, and perhaps even of all time. But what happened during his tenure as showrunner that seems to have split a fanbase, that already had lasting divides, into the camps of ‘pro-Moffat’ and ‘anti-Moffat’?

The answer is, of course, not exactly clear. From a basic perspective, the tone of Moffat’s era differed drastically from that of Russell’s, in that whilst Russell focused on grand epic battles, emotional drama and the impact of the Time War on the Doctor, Moffat shifted the focus dramatically onto a much smaller-scale side to the Doctor’s life – the domestic life that he elects to pursue with Amy, Rory and River Song, whilst also changing the way the show itself presented the Doctor – rather than having the idea of the Doctor as a wanderer who amassed power through influence that Russel went with, Moffat instead constructed the idea of the ‘fairy-tale’ Doctor, a mad magician who saves the day in the most whimsical way possible. This encapsulates the earliest divide in the NuWho fanbase, as many fans who were used to Russell’s incarnation of the show lost interest as Matt Smith’s era reached its sixth or seventh series because the show simply wasn’t the same anymore. From a modern point of view, this split is easily spun to signify the ‘death of Doctor Who’ – naysayers at the time predicted that the show would never reach its fiftieth anniversary – but as most Doctor Who fans know by now, Russell’s era was just an era. It was a popular era, no doubts there, but as with all the best eras of Doctor Who, it had to end eventually. Unfortunately, many fans who were dissatisfied with Moffat and had only watched NuWho up until this point decided that Doctor Who would never be the same again, and so jumped ship.

However, this only explains how the ‘anti-Moffat’ camp first came to be, and there is certainly a lot more to the school of Moffat criticism than just preferring Russell’s era. It must also be pointed out that, amongst a sea of Moffat critics in the early 2010s, there were a vocal minority who believed that the show was better off without Russell and that although Moffat hadn’t exactly delivered a batch of 13 episodes that could all rival something like The Girl in the Fireplace in quality, Series 5 was still a very strong series. Even today, Series 5 is highly regarded as one of the best outings of NuWho, which is made all the more interesting when one factors in the idea that Series 5 is one of the few NuWho series that does not rely on any pre-existing marketable material – aside from one episode with the Daleks and a cameo of some old monsters in the finale, Series 5’s series arc revolved around something entirely original, something that Russell had never even attempted. In a similar manner to the change in focus, Moffat also seemed to change how the show treated its recurring elements – rather than relying on the Daleks for finale-filler like Russell did, Moffat instead put faith in his own ideas. Things like River Song and The Silence became much more prominent in the early years of Moffat’s era whereas races like the Daleks and the Cybermen barely got a look in. This would seemingly mark the next step in evolution for ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Moffat factions – the idea that the show needs to rely on the Daleks and Cybermen is ultimately self destructive, and yet fanboys like myself simply cannot bear to see a series of Doctor Who without them, and thanks to a series of lacklustre cameos and the abysmal Asylum of the Daleks many Dalek fans opinion of Moffat turned sour.

Of course, there are many more reasons why the fanbase split on Moffat, and even more explanations as to why his writing quality appeared to decline between Series 6 and 7 – blame is often put on the attention dedicated to Sherlock, the poor characterisation of new companion Clara Oswald as well as a general lack of direction in the Silence/River Song story arc. But following the success of the 50th Anniversary Special and the regeneration of Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi in 2013, hindsight tells us that the old Moffat must have given up and walked out, with the fresh second Moffat ready and waiting to take over the show and make it his own, because when Doctor Who came back in 2014 it was totally different from anything NuWho had seen before, and the changes wouldn’t stop there. Capaldi’s first series was still very much a Moffat creation – it contains his narrative mannerisms, his method of misdirection when it comes to revealing crucial plot points, and his… ‘unique’ way of writing dialogue between men and women. But the focus of the show shifted again, and for many it seemed to be shifting back to the same things that Russell had focused on. Whilst Matt Smith’s era practically ignored the Daleks, Capaldi faced them in his second episode that drew heavy inspiration from the first Dalek episode of Russell’s era. Cybermen appeared in the finale of Series 8, this time as a worldwide and present threat rather than as a babysitter to James Corden’s baby or as a fairground attraction as they had been in Matt Smith’s era. And not only that, but Capaldi’s era saw the return of two essential classic series villains who had featured in Russell’s era – the Master, this time in the form of Missy, and Davros. Capaldi’s era still had lingering elements of the ‘fairytale’ interpretation of the Doctor from Matt Smith’s era, but the universe it presented dropped any pretence of the whimsical feel of Moffat’s tenure that we had seen so far and instead seemed to ‘reboot’ the modern Doctor Who universe, bringing it more in line with what Russell constructed throughout his tenure and allowing fans who disliked Matt Smith or his era to make a ‘clean break’ and pick the show back up.

Ultimately, this is where the notion of the ‘two Moffats’ comes from – on the one hand you have Matt Smith Moffat, whose era is seemingly self-contained, has little impact from either the classic series or Russell’s NuWho, aside from a handful of obvious examples, such as the cameo appearance of an Ood and the Russell era control room in The Doctor’s Wife, a mention of the battle to save reality from Journey’s End in Victory of the Daleks and the appearance of an Ice Warrior in Cold War, to name a few. Generally, however, Matt Smith’s era relied on its own internal logic, its own original villains and its own original characters to get by, almost like a show within a show. On the other hand, Peter Capaldi Moffat came along after Smith’s era was done and decided that Doctor Who needed to wake up and resume many of the ongoing plot threads that had been on hold during the Smith era – namely, the Doctor’s relationship with the Daleks and Davros, the Doctor/Master friendship/rivalry, the impact of the return of Rassilon and the fate of Gallifrey. Capaldi’s era also sees many reappearances from races or characters in the show’s history that serve as more than just cameos – the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm’s Master in the Series 10 finale being the most significant. But what can be gleaned from all of this? It is hard to compare the two Moffats, since both have caused their fair share of controversy within the show’s fanbase, and ultimately the decision comes down to personal preference between Matt Smith’s era and Peter Capaldi’s. But next time the inevitable debate over ‘who is better: Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat’ pops up, remember that the actual debate should be ‘who is better: Steven Moffat (2010-2013) or Steven Moffat (2014-2017)’

And that concludes the terrifying tale of the Two Moffats. I hope you enjoyed, if you did be sure to leave a like and you can follow us either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Be sure to check out the ‘Read More’ section below, and thanks for reading!