Big Finish has been producing the Doctor Who Main Range (formerly called the Monthly Range) since 1999 and is therefore fast approaching its 20th anniversary of creating Doctor Who audio dramas. In the 20 years that these audio plays have been in production, Big Finish has expanded their Doctor Who releases further than the Main Range to include many standalone series like the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the Dalek Empire series with a vast array of excellent Dalek stories to listen to. However, there are definitely some that stand out as truly spectacular stories and perhaps even some of the best examples of Doctor Who stories in any format, including the Classic and Modern TV series, and this article ranks the top ten, starting with:
#10 – We Are The Daleks
Intended as a potential jumping-on point for would-be listeners who felt intimidated by the increasing number of story arcs and continuity related to the Big Finish Main Range, We Are The Daleks aims to tell a self-contained, somewhat familiar and yet entirely new Dalek story, and it achieves all three of these goals and more. Whilst the end result is hardly groundbreaking, and is certainly not as introspective or formula-inverting as some of Big Finish’s other Dalek stories, what fans got with We Are The Daleks was a classic Dalek romp that takes advantage of being set in the 1980s but with the hindsight of knowing what advancements in technology would bring in the 21st century, and the idea of combining Dalek technology with the basic human desire for video games was an ingenious one.
#9 – The Dalek Transaction
Though it may seem an odd choice to include an audio from the UNIT: The New Series range considering the fact that it is a spinoff, The Dalek Transaction proves that great Dalek stories can be done in any form of Doctor Who media, not just the Doctor-focused ranges. Despite the wider lore surrounding UNIT: The New Series, Big Finish have made it very easy for fans to jump into the series with each box set, and although this audio can only be picked up as part of the UNIT: Encounters box set, you are almost immediately given everything that you need to know to understand the story and the characters. And as far as the story goes, although the idea of a critically damaged Dalek being held prisoner isn’t a new one, this story certainly takes a new and dynamic approach to the concept that pleased many a Dalek fan.
#8 – Blood of the Daleks
The opening two-parter to the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Sheridan Smith playing new companion Lucie Miller, Blood of the Daleks aims to both introduce the audience to Lucie and the more brooding Eighth Doctor whilst also delivering a fantastic Dalek story. Unsurprisingly this episode has plenty of references to other Doctor Who stories, particularly Dalek stories, as this audio was designed as not only an introduction to new companion Lucie but also to the Eighth Doctor and the idea of Doctor Who audios as a medium, as this was the first episode in a series that Big Finish pushed as a jumping on point for new Doctor Who fans back when the New Series had only just started. As it stands, Blood of the Daleks is a great opener to the Eighth Doctor Adventures and is one of the best audios to use as a means of getting accustomed to the format, for those who have not listened to many before. The relationship between Eight and Lucie is composed perfectly, and there is a great dynamic between them that develops as the plot unfolds.
#7 – Masters of Earth
This audio peaked the interest of many veteran Dalek fans on its announcement as it features the Sixth Doctor and Peri visiting Earth during the Dalek Occupation, as seen in the famous First Doctor episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The idea of the Doctor visiting eras in Dalek history from the Classic show is something that the New Series should definitely work on creating, as it gives some great marketing opportunities as well as setting up innumerable ideas for potential time-travel focused stories. Masters of Earth delivers on this, as whilst its twist is predictable, it does a great job of recreating the feel of Dalek-controlled Earth that fans saw in the 1960s. As this is an audio set later in Peri’s timeline, her character is much more manageable than she appeared in the show, and Peri arguably gets a proper encounter with the Daleks that Revelation of the Daleks tragically denied her.
#6 – Order of the Daleks
A recent outing for the Sixth Doctor and his new companion Constance Clarke, this audio’s eye-catching cover is fitting considering how this audio stands out among many of its peers. Make no mistake, Big Finish is still just as fantastic as it always has been, but there has been a recent trend of Big Finish Dalek stories being less experimental than perhaps they once were. Enter Order of the Daleks which manages to not only utilise the concept of a Stained Glass Dalek for a great cover design but also as a great peg for an original and wholly unique Dalek story idea, that being: what would the Daleks do if they crashed on a primitive planet, and were forced to use primitive technology to repair themselves? The result is a great story that showcases how great Colin Baker is as the Doctor but also provides new companion Constance Clarke with an opportunity to make a mark on the Doctor Who timeline – and as audio-only companions go, Constance is every bit as great as classics like Charlie and Lucie. The conversations between the Dalek Commander and the Doctor in this story are brilliant and, without spoiling too much, there is some very good development of the Daleks psychology in this story that any Dalek fan should check out.
#5 – The Dalek Contact/The Final Phase
The Fourth Doctor Adventures are a fantastic range of audios, particularly since they star one of the most popular Doctors in the history of the show, as well as fan-favourites like Leela, Romana and K-9. However, an interesting aspect of this series is that it manages to replicate one of the many odd quirks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, in that there is a disproportionally small number of Dalek stories considering the sheer number of stories that the Fourth Doctor has, both for TV and in his own audio series. The Fourth Doctor Adventures definitely benefits from this, as the few instances in which the Daleks do appear feel like special occasions and, as special occasions go, The Dalek Contact and The Final Phase are both great Dalek stories, making it especially exciting that it features the Fourth Doctor, Romana I and K-9. For fans of this era of the show, this two-parter is definitely one of the best Dalek stories.
#4 – Enemy of the Daleks
When discussing types of Dalek stories, particularly with people who are fans of the Daleks specifically, often the stories that try a different ‘take’ on the Daleks are ranked as among the best, and with good reason. As the Daleks are so prolific among the various media formats of Doctor Who, with dozens of episodes and audios, and even a significant number of books, dedicated to them, and as a result after over fifty years of the Daleks it is often those few stories that attempt to somehow redefine or reinvent the Daleks that are considered the best. However, every once in a while a Dalek story comes along that, although playing straight to almost every single Dalek story trope that the show has ever seen, actually manages to be just so good regardless that it is automatically considered a classic. Enemy of the Daleks is definitely one of these, as what is (on the surface at least) a generic Dalek action romp also manages to deliver a surprisingly good story and present some characters with great emotional depth. When describing Enemy of the Daleks, the key phrase to bear in mind is ‘never judge a book by its cover’, although that hardly seems fair as this audio has perhaps one of the coolest covers of any Doctor Who product across all its many mediums.
#3 – The Apocalypse Element
If it wasn’t good enough that the Sixth Doctor got to face the Daleks so early in his audio appearances, it just so happens that he got to star in what is undeniably the best of the early ‘Dalek Empire’ Main Range audios. For those not in the know, early in their career as Doctor Who audio play producers, Big Finish brought the Daleks to their main series with four totally separate yet also thematically linked Dalek stories – The Genocide Machine, The Apocalypse Element, The Mutant Phase and The Time of the Daleks, and this later went on to drive the plot of their standalone Dalek Empire spinoff series. Each main range story is good in their own right, particularly The Mutant Phase, but The Apocalypse Element is by far the greatest of the bunch. Not only does it feature Lalla Ward as Romana II, but it also delivers a cracking Dalek story that seems to present what has later become the ‘first act’ of the Last Great Time War.
#2 – The Juggernauts
Something that might have become apparent to Dalek fans reading this list is the fact that, until this point, no Davros stories have appeared. There are several reasons for this – arguably the most important being that there is rarely a good Dalek story that also happens to be a good Davros story, usually one is sacrificed for the other. However, there are always exceptions to this rule, and The Juggernauts is probably the best example of this. Featuring the Sixth Doctor and Mel in the best story that they share, this audio approaches the Davros/Dalek dynamic in a very different light, and presents the idea of Davros, finally deciding that the Daleks have failed him, attempting to create something to counter the Daleks on a galactic scale – the ubiquitous ‘Juggernauts’. For those who are fans of the 1980s Davros stories, this audio is essentially everything that those stories were trying to be, had they not been held back by budget constraints.
Honorable Mention – The Dalek Occupation of Winter
Although some fans will be put off by the more traditional ‘talking book’ style of the audio adventures of earlier Doctors, there are some genuine gems in amongst the catalogues of the first three Doctors. A recent example of one of these is the superb The Dalek Occupation of Winter, an audio that utilises the fact that this is one of the Doctor’s first encounters with the Daleks to great effect, and is definitely work picking up as an introduction to the different format for those who are not familiar with it.
#1 – Jubilee
An audio made famous by the distinction of being adapted into the 2005 episode ‘Dalek’, the first appearance of the Daleks in the New Series, Jubilee has a lot more going on than what is presented in the episode it was later adapted into. ‘Dalek’ is arguably just an adaptation of one plot point from Jubilee, and listeners will quickly realise that there is a lot more to Jubilee than is to be expected of a Dalek story. One of this story’s greatest assets is the fact that it features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn, a Doctor-companion pairing that has rarely been topped in any medium of the franchise. Considering Colin Baker’s rough time on the show and the generally negative reception that his Doctor gets as a result, it is fine poetry that his Doctor happens to be the one that has spearheaded the success of the Doctor Who audios through great characterisation, fantastic scripts and great new companions. However, the greatest thing about Jubilee (and the thing that makes it a great Dalek story) is the Dalek itself and the way it is presented. When listening to this audio all preconceived notions about the Daleks have to be thrown out of the window, as this story depicts a Dalek that demonstrates some definite growth as a character, and without spoiling too much, it is clear where the most emotive moments in ‘Dalek’ were derived from, as Jubilee presents an entirely different yet similarly emotive story that makes the audience feel conflicted feelings of pity for the most pitiless race in the universe.