Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Early Charley Era Part 1

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts in which I will be reviewing all of the Eighth Doctor audio dramas produced by Big Finish from beginning to end. This series will serve as part-review, part-guide for those who want to get into the Eighth Doctor audios but aren’t sure where to begin. The Eighth Doctor audios started in 2001 when Paul McGann starred in his first audio for Big Finish’s Main Range, titled Storm Warning. Until then, McGann’s only performance as the Eighth Doctor was in the 1996 TV Movie, and although he has gone on to become a cult fan-favourite due to the huge number of audio stories he has since starred in, back in 2001 the Eighth Doctor audios were seen as experimental, allowing the writers free reign to write about more expansive concepts as they were not tied to writing stories for the ‘Classic Era’.

#16 – Storm Warning

The first Big Finish audio starring Paul McGann as the Doctor does a fantastic job of reintroducing us to the character of the Eighth Doctor (who listeners at the time had only seen in the 1996 TV movie up until this point) as well as introducing us to the new companion, Charley Pollard, and the series arc that continues throughout her time in the TARDIS. Charley, played by India Fisher, receives a strong introduction in this story, as her character as an Edwardian adventuress is well-established as she boards the doomed English airship R101 and subsequently encounters the Doctor. Charley is a wonderful companion original to the Big Finish audios who plays an important role in the early phase of the Eighth Doctor’s tenure, and she immediately proves her worth in her debut story.

Through Charley we are introduced to Paul McGann’s Doctor, who keeps many of the character traits present in the TV Movie but is given much more time to develop the characterisation and add many subtle nuances to his performance. The Eighth Doctor emerges in this story fully-formed, and although he goes on to experience several character shifts throughout the vast range of Big Finish Eighth Doctor stories, his character for the duration of the Charley era is firmly established in this story. This Doctor has the air of having gleaned a huge amount of knowledge and experience from their seven previous lifetimes, and yet is also very scatterbrained and is among the most human and relatable Doctors of the Classic era.

Storm Warning tells a wonderful story within its source material, as the era is brought to life in this story through a range of interesting characters who really help set the scene to flesh out the era of 1930, and there are great cliffhangers throughout that are punctuated by the new arrangement of the theme composed by none other than James Bond composer David Arnold. Although Storm Warning is not technically the Eighth Doctor’s first story, as he debuted in the TV Movie, those who have never seen that film will have lost nothing as Storm Warning does a brilliant job of establishing the new Doctor, new companion and new era for Big Finish.


#17 – Sword of Orion

The Eighth Doctor’s first outing with the Cybermen is written by none other than Nicholas Briggs, who takes inspiration from the Alien series for this audio to deliver a story that is both spooky and thrilling. Sword of Orion is essentially a space opera, with a variety of locations and characters to illustrate the diversity of the Galaxy in 2503, and also references several Classic TV Cyberman stories such as The Tomb of the Cybermen. The Cybermen themselves are depicted well in this story, which is a considerable feat as this was the first audio story to feature them. The voices are reminiscent of the more human-sounding voices of the earlier Cybermen, though there is also a hint of the 80s-era voice in some specific scenes, particularly involving rogue Cybermen. This story is suitably creepy, as its primary setting is a derelict Cyberman Star Destroyer which is excellently depicted by the fantastic sound design present in this story. Everything from ominous creaking bulkheads to distant shrieks of insane Cybermen makes this audio an unnerving one to listen to with headphones on at night.

There is a particularly creepy scene in which the Doctor finds an abandoned Cyber-conversion facility that still contains the remains of its last victims, which gives a chilling insight into the horrific nature of cyber-conversion. The supporting characters give this story a significant degree of depth, particularly as we spend a fair amount of time with the side cast before they encounter the Cybermen – we also get a fair amount of worldbuilding that explains the current situation of not only the Cybermen but also the Humans and their current conflict with a race of androids who rebelled against Human control and eventually conquered their own system – Orion. The introduction of the android race as a third party separate from the Humans and the Cybermen is an interesting dynamic that presents interesting questions about the nature of the Cybermen compared to humanity and a race of synthetics.

Overall this story is a great first outing in the TARIS for Charley, who demonstrates her impressive ability to absorb information and quickly adapts to the nature of space travel despite being from the 1930s. One of Charley’s most endearing characteristics which is prominent in this story is her investigative mind and curious personality, which combined helps her to keep up to speed with the intrigue developing between other characters in a story at the same rate as the Doctor – although she does fill the companion role of asking questions, Charley quickly establishes herself as among the most resourceful and adventurous companions.


#18 – The Stones of Venice

The first audio that Paul McGann recorded for Big Finish, The Stones of Venice is interesting because although it is set in the future of 2294, it often comes across as a historical story because of the manner in which a lot of the supporting characters behave. This story depicts a very stylised view of 23rd century Venice at the point in which the city is doomed to sink into the sea, and the population of the city has essentially resigned themselves to that fate. There is certainly a melancholy atmosphere to this story, though there are enough lighthearted moments to keep it from being too bleak. Although this audio is set in Venice it is a very different story from the more famous Doctor Who story set in the same place, the Eleventh Doctor TV story Vampires of Venice, though there are some unusual similarities.

This audio develops the relationship between the Doctor and Charley and firmly establishes the pair as a time-travelling duo – the best companions are usually established by their second or third story, and Charley Pollard is no exception. There is an amusing scene early on in which Charley criticises the interior design of the TARDIS (which retains the design from the TV Movie), arguing that the Victorian aesthetic seems very out-of-date from her perspective as a native of the 1930s – moments like these continue to reinforce Charley’s role as a companion viewing events through the lens of the past, and yet Charley’s character is as forward-thinking as any modern companion. The bleak nature of this story is counteracted by the dynamic interaction between the Doctor and Charley that keeps this one interesting, though the side characters have a tendency to hop between theatrically melancholy to dramatically over-the-top.

This is essentially an audio that reinforces the pre-existing characterisation of the Eighth Doctor and Charley – whilst it is by no means essential listening to understand the wider story of the series, those who skip this audio will miss out on some great scenes between Paul McGann and India Fisher that helps to firmly establish their characters as a unique Doctor-companion duo – in the unlikely event that you were unsure about the Eighth Doctor and Charley during Storm Warning and Sword of Orion, The Stones of Venice completes the set and rounds off the first three Eighth Doctor audios with a strong audio that builds a rich world and offers some great moments for the Eighth Doctor and Charley.


#19 – Minuet in Hell

This story is intensely controversial among the fanbase for a number of reasons – the two most prominent are that the story uses several tropes that would become tired staples of the Eighth Doctor era, particularly the ‘amnesiac Doctor’ trope, and that it also sexualises Charley in a way that would be wholly inappropriate on the televised version of the show. In many ways Big Finish’s ability to write stories that do not conform to the family-friendly nature of the TV series is an asset, but this audio is a perfect example of how letting that become the driving force behind a story can detract from the narrative – at times it seems as though this audio is deliberately trying to be provocative or even borderline offensive, and to make matters worse the setting is so inconceivable and bizarre that the ‘adult’ nature of this audio seems utterly unearned.

For those who want to complete the set of Eighth Doctor and Charley audios then Minuet in Hell is interesting on its own merits – but for those who want to experience the wider story arc of the Eighth Doctor and Charley, then this audio is completely skippable. It is rare to encounter a Big Finish audio that has a negative reputation among the fanbase, so Minuet in Hell presents a certain fascination based on that fact alone, but it is quickly apparent why this audio has the reputation that it does among the fanbase. Arguably the only significant aspect of this audio is that it features Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, though he meets the Doctor only briefly.

This concludes the first series of the first era of Eighth Doctor stories, and although it ended on a bit of a misstep, overall the audios are promising. Paul McGann fits into the role of the Eighth Doctor perfectly, despite it being five years since his TV appearance. India Fisher is excellent as Charley, who is brought to life as a fully-formed companion out of the gate, and is without doubt one of the most iconic and memorable companions who are original to audio.

The Best Comedy Shows Should Make Us Cry As Well As Laugh

Escapism is an important part of life, particularly in these times of uncertainty, and for the vast majority of people one of the best forms of escapism is comedy television shows. Whether they’re sketch shows, sitcoms or stand-up comedians, shows that make people laugh will always be a critical cornerstone in the televised entertainment industry. I grew up watching shows like Red Dwarf, Spaced, Mock the Week and Monty Python, so these comedy shows are as much a part of the pantheon of my favourite shows as Doctor Who, TNG and Voyager are.

Something that sets a comedy show up above all the rest is when the writers and creative minds behind the scenes understand that their audience is as much attached to the characters in the program as they are to the jokes that they tell, and often the most memorable and emotional moments in TV come from comedy shows that will briefly lift the levity that cloaks the story and deliver a scene that, although not designed to make you laugh, is every bit as integral to the program as any of its funniest jokes.

Perhaps the most famous example of what I am talking about is the final few scenes from the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, the Fourth Blackadder series that is set in the trenches during World War 1. It is understandable that some might find the setting of this series to be somewhat distasteful – after all, making light of the senseless slaughter of entire generations that took place during that conflict is difficult without coming across as callous, and the creators of the show clearly understood this.

Throughout the course of the series, Captain Blackadder desperately tries to come up with cunning plans to avoid going over the top, and his rival Captain Darling (who for the majority of the show holds a position behind the front lines in the safety of the General’s office) often attempts to outwit him. In the show’s final moments, we see that Captain Darling has been reassigned to the front line just as the order to go over the top has been given, and the four main characters of the series share a poignant scene together in which they discuss their predicament.

There are several lines here that hit hard. The usually upbeat George confesses his fear of what is about to happen, lamenting that he is the last of his schoolfriends left alive. We get a rare insight into Darling’s character, who tells us for the first time that he had a sweetheart back home. Baldrick and Blackadder share one final exchange about cunning plans before Blackadder, in a sobering moment of genuine compassion, wishes his friends luck. Then, they all go over the top and they don’t get very far. This sequence makes the entire series worthwhile – the true horror of the conflict is reflected in this episode, as these characters that we have come to know and love do their duty and die in the process, as so many brave people did during WW1. Such is the power of this scene that the episode famously once aired on Remembrance Day – and it received not one single complaint.

This is not the only example of a comedy series taking a serious approach to a topic that demands it – another great one hits us at the very of the sketch show That Mitchell and Webb look. At the last moment of this usually light-hearted and jocular series, Robert Webb and David Mitchell deliver an incredibly poignant and emotional scene in what is perhaps now their most infamous sketch, known simply as ‘Old Holmes’. The premise is simple. Sherlock Holmes is now an old man living in a care home, suffering from dementia. John Watson pays him a visit and, with the help of Chief Inspector Lestrade, they create a simple fake mystery for him to ‘solve’.

As it deals with the topic of dementia, this sketch can come across as facetious, but it is only when the other characters have gone and Holmes and Watson are alone together that this scene suddenly takes a turn. Holmes admits to Watson in a moment of lucidity that he in fact knows what Watson is trying to do for him, and that he is aware of his situation and that there is nothing he can do about it. What sells this scene is Robert Webb’s phenomenal acting, Watson’s face as he realises what is happening, you can see that he desperately wants to say something to his friend but he just cannot find the words.

Opinions on this sketch may differ. Unlike the previous example, there is not a clear-cut consensus on it, as although many agree that it delivers a heavy-hitting moment there are those who are less comfortable with the concept of making light of a serious condition like dementia. Early in the sketch the studio audience seem to take the sketch at face-value, laughing at the depiction of Holmes as a sick old man. However, the laugher soon dies as the audience realise what this scene represents. Whilst I would never condone making light of dementia, and I would seriously advise against any attempts to make a comedy sketch dealing with this topic, the sincerity of the final scene of That Mitchell and Webb Look combined with the fantastic line delivery from the actors means that, in spite of everything, it works.

The final scene we will discuss today comes from one of my favourite science fiction series of all time – Red Dwarf. A classic sitcom set on a mining ship stranded 3 million years away from Earth, Red Dwarf has always dealt with serious themes of depression, loneliness and self-worth, and nothing illustrates this better than the interactions between Lister and Rimmer. The friendship between these two characters is one of the most interesting ever put to screen, as although they loathe each other and appear to be polar opposites the underlying truth of their situation is that they both need each other and depend on each other for emotional support, even if it clothed in insults and petty banter.

There are half a dozen exceptional scenes that I will mention here – the scene in the Observation Dome after Rimmer discovers that his father died in Thanks for the Memory, the conversation between the two about their friendship in The Promised Land, and the short scene that they share talking about Kryten in The Last Day. But the moment that never fails to bring a tear to my eye is the final sequence of the last episode of Series 6, Out of Time. In this story, the Dwarfers discover a time machine, and are soon confronted by versions of themselves from the future who want to copy elements from the time machine to repair their own damaged drive. Unfortunately, the crew discover that their future selves are twisted versions of themselves who use the time machine to socialise with some of the most evil figures in history, and they are soon forced into an epic showdown with their future selves.

This scene is incredible for many reasons. For a start, the Dwarfers each individually commit to fighting a battle that they cannot win, even the cowardly Rimmer declares his intent to fight with the iconic line “Better Dead Than Smeg.” What follows is a great sequence in which the main characters are killed one by one as Starbug is ripped apart – Lister dies locking weapons onto the enemy ship, Cat dies because he takes the time to check to see if Lister is alright, and Kryten dies attempting to tell Rimmer what he needs to do to get them out of the situation. Then, in a climactic moment that represents the pinnacle of Rimmer’s subtle character development, he grabs a mining laser and rushes to the cargo hold.

The music, sound effects and set design emphasise the desperation as Rimmer charges heroically through the disintegrating ship to destroy the time machine and save the day. You can actually sense the live studio audience hold their breath as they witness this sequence, and although the episode ends with Starbug being destroyed and an infamous ‘To Be Continued…’, this episode could have been a satisfactory end to the series. This scene is less about words and more about the actions of a character, and admittedly it does perhaps lack the emotional depth of the other two scenes listed here if you haven’t seen Red Dwarf and so don’t know the characters, but at the very least it is a moving depiction of a coward facing his fear and bravely saving his friends.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about three of my favourite moving scenes from comedy shows – are there any other poignant, emotional or moving scenes from comedy shows that you like, feel free to post them down in the comments below as well as any opinions you might have about these three scenes. Thank you very much for reading my thoughts on why comedy shows should make you cry as well as laugh, follow our blog to see more content like this!

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Daleks! The Animated Series Announced as part of Time Lord Victorious

An unexpected yet exciting announcement by the BBC last week revealed that one of the upcoming releases in the Time Lord Victorious multimedia project is a 5-part animated series revolving around the Daleks that is set to be released on the Doctor Who Youtube channel in November. The trailers for this series have showcased the animation style of the series as well as some hints as to what fans can expect from this latest instalment in the Doctor Who universe.

One of the most interesting aspects of this series that can be gleaned from the trailers and promotional material that has been released so far is that the series seems to feature a diverse variety of Dalek designs, including several Classic and New Series Dalek designs and a modern take on the iconic comic series Dalek Emperor. This could imply that the series will feature several unique Dalek characters with individual personalities, which is always an interesting take on the Daleks that allows for more interesting Dalek dialogue.

This animated series also fulfils the life-long desire of the creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation, who since 1965 had intended them to helm their own spinoff series. Nation’s attempts to create a Dalek TV series failed, though he would go on to license the Daleks for the Peter Cushing movies and write several Dalek stories for Doctor Who in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, in 2020, his original vision is being realised as the Daleks get their own animated series.

Another very exciting aspect of this animated series is that it will introduce a lot more templates for Dalek customs, some of which have already been created by fans. Following on from the Asylum Project showcase of custom Daleks that has been showcased on this blog, more posts showcasing custom Daleks based on this animated series as well as the wider Time Lord Victorious story arcs will be listed at some point following the release of the series.

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Doctor Who – BBC Announces Animated Reconstruction of ‘The Evil of the Daleks’

Fans of Classic Doctor Who can rejoice knowing that two prominent Second Doctor stories starring Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling are set to receive full animated reconstructions in 2021 – fans have long awaited the reconstruction of the iconic Second Doctor story The Evil of the Daleks, and according to recent information released by the Radio Times, this well-known Dalek story is next on the list to be animated, bringing this long-lost Dalek serial back to life. This story particularly notable for being the debut story for Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield, as well as the first story to feature the Dalek Emperor.

As two of the previously released animated episodes were The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones, fans have speculated that the next story of Season 4 – The Evil of the Daleks – would be next on the list to be animated. According to the Radio Times, this would appear to be the case. Following this, the next story to be animated will be The Abominable Snowmen, meaning that the end of Season 4 and the beginning of Season 5 will be complete. Fans will now be able to watch the episodes leading up to the departure of long-running companions Ben and Polly, and finally see the debut story of new companion Victoria Waterfield thanks to these animated reconstructions.

Animated Daleks from The Power of the Daleks

The most recent animated Second Doctor story to be released was The Power of the Daleks Special Edition, a remastered version of the 2016 animated reconstruction of the Second Doctor’s debut story, and the animated reconstruction of The Fury from the Deep is set to be released in late 2020. It would seem as though the animators working on these projects are prioritising Second Doctor stories first, which makes sense as these are the ones that fans have been most eager to see. However, it will likely not be long before the missing First Doctor stories, such as The Daleks Master Plan, receive the full animation treatment. Before then, however, there are still many missing Second Doctor stories that fans can look forward to seeing animated, such as The Wheel in Space, The Underwater Menace and The Space Pirates.

As recently discussed in our post about the potential for animating Big Finish audios once the missing episodes have been reconstructed, the future seems bright for Doctor Who animation, as there are still many excellent stories yet to be animated. Who knows? Once the missing episodes have been animated, we could see a limited range of Big Finish audios receive the same animation treatment, creating a whole new way of creating new animated Doctor Who stories starring the full original cast. We Time will tell, it always does.

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Doctor Who – What is the Ideal Big Finish Listening Order?

Following the announcement earlier this year that Big Finish is concluding the Monthly Adventures in March 2021 with the 275th release of the long-running series, there has been much interest in the future of the Doctor Who audios, as the company is seeking to streamline its ranges of upcoming releases to encourage new listeners who feel intimidated by the large back-catalogue to begin with a new set of jumping-on points for the various Doctors.

In light of this, we are looking back at some of Big Finish’s earlier releases to determine what the ideal listening order for Big Finish could be, and show newer fans to the audios the most accessible ways to enjoy Big Finish’s previous releases. The best place to start for this would be the natural jumping-on points that Big Finish have created in the past, as these are designed to be accessible for new fans and contain their own self-contained story arcs.

The Eighth Doctor Adventures

This series is a popular suggestion for new listeners, not least because it is formatting in a very similar way to the New Series of the TV show, meaning there are 45 minute long episodes, some of which are two-parters, instead of 4 25-minute episodes that make up the majority of Big Finish releases in the Monthly Adventures.

As such, these episodes are often shorter and more fast-paced, in much the same way that the New Series is compared with the Classic era. This series of audios ran from 2007-2011, so there is a complete story arc spread across 4 seasons, and although the series takes place between the Eighth Doctor stories from the Monthly Adventures and the newer Eighth Doctor box sets, no knowledge of the prior Paul McGann audios is required to understand the Eighth Doctor Adventures.

Alongside Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, Sheridan Smith plays the companion for this series, Lucie Miller, who is a unique take on the companion role and doesn’t fit into any preexisting companion archetype, making her a great addition to the series and a driving force behind many of the stories. There is also a range of recurring supporting characters who help to define this set of audios as its own ‘era’ of Doctor Who, much like Steven Moffat’s era of the TV show did with its cast of new recurring allies and enemies of the Doctor.

The Best of the Monthly Adventures

Since the Monthly Adventures (then called the Main Range) began in 1999, Big Finish have created hundreds of stories set during the eras of the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors, all of which are full-cast adventures produced to a very high quality. Even their earliest audios are of the upmost quality, and one of the most common ways that fans get into Big Finish is by finding a story that they think is interesting and give it a listen.

These are usually Monthly Adventures stories, as many of the most commonly suggested ‘first Big Finish audios’ are Monthly Adventures stories like Spare Parts, Jubilee, The Chimes of Midnight or The Harvest as these are well-known among the community and have acquired a reputation over the years for being excellent stories. The best candidates for the ideal ‘first audio’ to listen to are ones that are either standalone stories that require no other stories for context, like Spare Parts, or ones that begin their own narrative arc, such as The Harvest.

Every Doctor Who fan loves the show for different reasons, and you can guarantee that there is something for every kind of fan in Big Finish’s backcatalogue. Whether you love pure historicals, you’re a huge fan of the Daleks or if you have a specific Doctor or companion in mind who is your favourite, for some people the best way to find a good listening order is to start with the first audio of a Doctor – companion pairing and listen to them in order. For those who want to try out the audios starring audio-exclusive companions, here is a brief guide to their opening stories:

  • The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) begins his adventures with new companion Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables) in an early Monthly Adventures story called The Marian Conspiracy, a pure historical featuring Mary I. This audio begins a series of adventures with 6 and Evelyn that includes The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, The Apocalypse Element, Jubilee and Doctor Who and the Pirates.
  • The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) begins his first official series of adventures with Storm Warning, an audio that also sees the debut of his first audio companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher). Subsequent audios featuring this pair include Sword of Orion, The Chimes of Midnight and The Time of the Daleks.
  • The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) meet new companion Hex (Philip Oliver) in The Harvest, a Cyberman story set in the future. The informally named ‘Hex arc’ then continues with audios like Live 34, Enemy of the Daleks and Protect and Survive.

Big Finish Box Sets

In recent years, Big Finish have focused more on box sets than individual releases, particularly for the Eighth Doctor. However, almost every Doctor has received a box set in some capacity. The Sixth Doctor recently received a box set simply titled ‘The Sixth Doctor and Peri: Volume One’, which could be an example of the future formatting of Big Finish box sets, releasing a series of adventures focusing on a particular Doctor-companion relationship.

There are pros and cons to buying a box set as your first release, on the one hand the sets usually contain a series of audios with their own self-contained story that spans across several stories, but on the other hand if you are new to the audio format in general or new to the specific Doctor featured in the box set then it usually seems like it isn’t worth the investment until you’re sure that you will actually enjoy the product you’re paying for.

New Series Content from Big Finish

Another attractive jumping-on point for new fans is the range of audios that Big Finish have produced relating to the New Series, an aspect of the fandom that the vast majority of Doctor Who fans can relate to. So far Big Finish have produced several series of Tenth Doctor Adventures starring David Tennant, Billie Piper, Catherine Tate and other actors from the Tenth Doctor era, and it has recently been announced that Christopher Eccleston is starring in a series of Ninth Doctor Adventures set to be released in 2021, so there is no shortage of New Series content from Big Finish for fans to enjoy.

There are also many Big Finish audios and box sets that are set during the events of the Time War, which in the absence of any televised series depicting the conflict are the closest the fanbase will get to a series set during the Time War. The two most significant Time War-related audios are the War Doctor box sets starring John Hurt and the series of Eighth Doctor box sets revolving around the Time War, these are completely self-contained story arcs that are fully accessible to those seeking to learn more about the events of the Time War and enjoy more content starring the late John Hurt.

The Best of Big Finish

If you are still unsure of where to start with Big Finish, we have a convenient list of posts discussing our favourite Big Finish audios in no particular order.

Doctor Who – Should Big Finish Audios be Animated like Missing Episodes?

The practice of animating lost episodes of early Doctor Who has evolved significantly since the DVD release of The Invasion in 2006, which had its two missing episodes fully animated with simple flash characters. Since the release of the first fully-animated reconstruction of a classic Doctor Who story, The Power of the Daleks which was released in 2016, the reconstruction of missing Second Doctor stories has intensified both in scope and popularity, with several lost classics like The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones receiving full animated reconstructions following its success.

The Power of the Daleks even received a full Special Edition release this year featuring updated animation and more special features, and the animated Fury from the Deep is scheduled to be released in September of this year. Both releases have been marketed heavily on the promise of more advanced animation for these two stories in particular that will set a new standard for Doctor Who animations to follow, and fans are eagerly anticipating the announcement that other missing classics like The Daleks Master Plan, The Wheel in Space and The Evil of the Daleks will receive the animation treatment. What was once a quirky substitute for missing content that often yielded inconsistent results is now being considered its own art form, and a potentially profitable endeavour by the BBC.

One has to speculate, therefore, whether the BBC intends to limit the practice of animating Doctor Who stories to simply missing episodes. Whilst the show does have nearly 100 missing episodes, if the rate of episode animation and reconstruction continues then it won’t be long before all of the missing episodes have received the animation treatment. This is without a doubt excellent news for fans, though it presents a potential problem for the BBC and the animation studios commissioned to animate the stories, as there are only a finite number of potential releases.

Shada received the animated treatment in 2017

One solution that many fans have suggested online is that the BBC should work with Big Finish to create animated visuals to accompany the full-cast audio dramas that the company have been producing consistently since 1999. The main reason why these audios could work just as well with the animation is that, in theory, the soundtrack of an audio drama – characters talking, incidental music and sound effects – is similar to the surviving audio tracks from the missing episodes that are used as the basis for the animated reconstructions, so the team could use the same techniques of approximating a character’s position, movement and interaction with the environment from the soundtrack.

However, this notion assumes that a Big Finish Doctor Who audio is essentially just an episode that lacks the visuals, which is rarely the case – Big Finish audios are created specifically with the audio drama format in mind, and there are some Big Finish audios that simply would not translate to a visual medium at all, such as Scherzo or The Natural History of Fear, as adding visual elements to these kinds of stories would detract from the episode.

That is not to say that there are no Big Finish audios that could not be animated, however, and there are some that have been commonly suggested by fans as prime candidates for a ‘prototype’ Big Finish animation – stories that are of a high quality, that would not be undermined by the addition of visuals and that are consistent with the tone of the show itself. These include:

  • Jubilee, which has essentially been adapted to screen already in the form of Dalek from Series 1 but is distinct from that story and lends itself to some very striking visuals. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn work so well together as a Doctor-companion pairing that an animated Jubilee could make significant progress in improving the reputation of the Sixth Doctor in the eyes of the general fanbase.
  • Blood of the Daleks, a natural jumping-on point during the Eighth Doctor’s timeline as the first story in the Lucie Miller arc, that also includes Daleks and is formatted in the same style as a New-Who two-parter. This could also lead to a series of animated versions of the Eighth Doctor Adventures series, as there are some other strong stories in that series including The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, Human Resources, Lucie Miller / To The Death, the list goes on.
  • The Innocent, the first instalment of the Time War audios set starring the late John Hurt. This would theoretically allow for a War Doctor series, though some fans have argued that a visual depiction of the Time War would diminish the sense of incomprehensible mystery surrounding the conflict.
  • Spare Parts, the Fifth Doctor audio that depicts one account of the origins of the Cybermen of Mondas, and is well-known among the community for being a popular first-time audio for new listeners of Big Finish, not least because of the thrilling tale it tells but also because of the accessibility of the story.
  • Davros, a popular candidate for fan-made animations based on Big Finish audios, this story is easily one of the best Big Finish has produced and it has a nice balance of action and character moments, making it a prime candidate.

However, there are also some other Big Finish audios which, although not as accessible to new listeners, would still make excellent candidates for the animation treatment later down the line. These include:

  • The Sixth Doctor – The Last Adventure, a box set containing several stories spanning the Sixth Doctor’s era that have a story arc running throughout, which eventually culminates in the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration story, The Brink of Death. This box set requires a fair bit of background knowledge of the Sixth Doctor’s audio adventures, but it would be nice to have visuals for every regeneration story.
  • Order of the Daleks, another Sixth Doctor story that lends itself well to a visual medium, particularly due to the striking Stained-Glass Daleks that are present in the story.
  • Hour of the Cybermen, yet another Sixth Doctor story that is among the most recent outings for the Cybermen and features the return of the classic Cyber Leader voice actor David Banks and Cyber Lieutenant voice actor Mark Hardy.

These are just some of the incredible audios from Big Finish’s back-catalogue that could make excellent animated adventures in the future, and as the company has recently prompted fans on Twitter to post suggestions for the first animated Big Finish audio it is clear that the idea isn’t completely outside the realms of possibility.

This is an exciting notion for fans that cannot be ignored. Big Finish has a reputation for creating exceptional Doctor Who content, and making that more accessible to fans who are not accustomed to audio stories who require visuals is an interesting prospect. Creating animated versions of Big Finish audios would certainly not work for all of their releases, though it is possible that adding animated visuals could enhance some audios that depict large-scale conflicts such as The Enemy of the Daleks, Patient Zero or Last of the Cybermen.

So, to answer the question posed by the title of this article, yes, Big Finish audios should definitely be considered for animation in the future, regardless of whether or not the BBC chooses to animate all of the remaining lost episodes. However, the decision as to which Big Finish audios should be animated should not be taken lightly, as many Big Finish audios intended specifically for the audio format and choosing a story that can also serve as a jumping-on point for fans will help to set up a good long-term strategy for future releases. Animating a few initial stories will also encourage fans who were on the fence about listening to the audios to give Big Finish a try, as the quality of the stories speaks for itself.

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Doctor Who – Chris Chibnall Wrote ‘The Timeless Children’ to Deliberately Provoke Fan Hate

By now every Doctor Who fan will have seen or at the very least heard about the most recent controversy in the show’s long, twisted history – Chris Chibnall has seemingly defied all pre-existing unwritten rules and has decided to explore the origins of the Doctor in his most recent series finale, and it seems the vocal majority of fans are largely unimpressed. The premise of the episode, which depicts the Doctor trapped in the Matrix and informed by the Master that everything she thought she knew about her origins is a lie, seems to have been specifically designed to invoke fan rage.

Not only does this episode reveal that the Doctor is in fact not a Time Lord at all, but is in fact an entity from another universe who was found by a Gallifreyan scientist called Tecteun and used as the template to create the entire Time Lord race, it also implies that the Doctor has had a previous set of regenerations before the First Doctor, and that after living an entire set of lives working as an agent for a Time Lord organisation called ‘The Division’, who would wipe the Doctor’s memories, revert them back to a child, and begin the chronology of the Doctor’s life that we are already familiar with.

Like all huge revelations that change fundamental aspects about Doctor Who lore, such as The Time Meddler, The War Games, Spearhead from Space, The Deadly Assassin, Genesis of the Daleks, The Five Doctors, The Trial of a Time Lord, Rose, The Big Bang, Night of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor, Time of the Doctor and Hell Bent before it, the fandom will likely require some time – anywhere between 15 to 25 years – to fully assimilate this new facet of the lore into canon and process its many implications. In the meantime, however, it is important to look above the tangled mess of fan outrage and slander to understand exactly why Chris Chibnall would commit such a heinous act of treachery against the show he claims to love.

The key aspect of Doctor Who that is critical to this debate is the power of hindsight. It is no secret that Doctor Who’s lore is a complete mess, arguably one of the messiest timelines in sci-fi history – whilst Doctor Who has never had to rely on out-of-universe reboots or alternate universes to keep its lore intact, one simply cannot rationalise each and every aspect of the vast narrative universe of the show and its various multi-media spinoffs into one cohesive narrative. It simply isn’t possible. As such, the show has often had to ‘bend’ its own rules and lore in the past in order to tell new, compelling stories.

A perfect example of this is Genesis of the Daleks, a four-part story from Tom Baker’s run that is often lauded as being one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever made, and yet, for those who were keeping up with Dalek lore in the 1960s, the episode essentially rewrites Dalek history from the ground up, and throws out many of the pre-established concepts from earlier Dalek stories. For example, the Daleks are shown to have been created by a scientist called Davros, and the Thals are depicted as being just as warlike as their enemies. The previously established proto-Dalek race that Terry Nation had previously alluded to, the Dals, were erased in favour of the Kaleds, and there isn’t a petrified jungle in sight.

The same is true of another popular Tom Baker story, The Deadly Assassin. This episode was lambasted at the time for utterly demystifying the Time Lords, reducing them from a godlike race of immortals to a society of doddering bureaucrats, a transition from which the species never truly recovered. To this day, Time Lords are still depicted as being innately corrupt and fallible, whereas the original intention was for the Time Lords to embody temporal justice. Despite the negative reception of this episode at the time, it has since been re-evaluated – particularly as newer Doctor Who episodes helped to reshape the lore to fit the new depiction of Time Lords. Over time, the fandom collectively forgot that the lore had even been changed at all, to the extent that some now see the early depiction of the Time Lords as odd by comparison.

But what does all of this have to do with The Timeless Children? Sure, introducing Davros and changing the lore of the Time Lords may have been a controversial decision, but over time the fanbase has some to accept this ‘new lore’ as simply ‘lore’. The old debates over whether or not the Daleks grew from Dals or were engineered from Kaleds by Davros have long been lost to time, and that is the critical factor: Time. The unfortunate truth is that The Timeless Children is the most recent in a long line of controversial stories, and as it is currently the most recent Doctor Who story to air, there is no ‘cushion’ to help rationalise the new revelations within the lore of the show – whilst the lore-scars of The Deadly Assassin and others like it have long since faded, The Timeless Children is a fresh cut, and the coagulation has barely begun.

The frustration that fans currently feel derives from the fact that we are being presented with a narrative that goes against the grain, and because we cannot see inside Chibnall’s head we do not know where this new road will take the show. The key to understanding where Chibnall intends to take us lies in understanding what this man knows about Doctor Who and, more importantly, what he knows the fans want and, in this case, what they do not want. When watching The Timeless Children, there are several important things to take into account that are very telling of how Chibnall plans on approaching this new plot thread in the future.

The combination of utilising the Master and the Matrix as framing devices for telling the story of the Timeless Child is very revealing in itself. From previous episodes of Doctor Who we know that both the Master and the Matrix are highly unreliable sources – and given the fact that we know that the Master can alter Matrix projections at will (as seen in the Colin Baker story The Ultimate Foe) proves that what we have been shown so far regarding the story of the Timeless Child is not the whole picture, and the fact that this is a story in-progress is very pertinent. Doctor Who fans as a whole have a tendency to take plot revelations in the show at face-value, and Chibnall has clearly exploited this to create the ultimate controversial story – but just because what we learn from that story is presented to us as the truth, it does not mean that we can take it as such. A great example of this is the Valeyard, who in The Ultimate Foe is revealed to be a dark amalgamation of the Doctor’s evil nature, a revelation that has had very little impact on the show’s narrative as a whole.

Oddly enough, there is another aspect to The Ultimate Foe that is extremely relevant to The Timeless Children. Not only does this story give a potential get-out clause as it confirms that the Master not only has access to the Matrix but can also re-write its contents at will, but there are also out-of-universe links between this story and the most recent finale. The writers of The Ultimate Foe, husband-and-wife writing duo Pip and Jane Baker, were publicly lambasted on national television at the time by none other than baby Chibnall, who back in the late 1980s was a prominent member of the Doctor Who fan club. Chibnall’s scathing review of the story proves not only his passion for the show but also his understanding of what Doctor Who fans like and dislike, and this information is critical for unpacking his thought process when writing The Timeless Children.

With Doctor Who, hindsight is everything – and without it new plot revelations can seem shocking, unnerving and ‘canon-destroying’. But when you take a step back and look at the show as a whole, Doctor Who has been built on bucking tradition and charging head-first into the unknown – something that Chibnall has definitely done with The Timeless Children. He has steered his ship into a storm with the fandom tied to the mast, and only when we emerge on the other side will we be able to judge if the path he took was the right one or not. As recent news has suggested that both Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker could be staying with Doctor Who until at least Series 15, it is possible that so far we have only seen the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chibnall’s grand plan. A lot can happen in three seasons, and if it is true that what we have seen so far of the Thirteenth Doctor is still her ‘early phase’ (think Series 8 Capaldi or Season 24 McCoy) then who knows what the future holds.

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Halo 2 Anniversary Mods – Custom Campaign Missions!

It isn’t just painting Daleks that has kept me occupied during lockdown – I have also been working on a huge range of campaign mods for the PC version of Halo 2 Anniversary, available on Steam. Since the start of June I have been regularly uploading these mods to the Halo: The Master Chief Collection Mod Nexus, and between then and the time of writing this post the mods have had over 4,800 combined downloads.

But what do these mods actually do? The answer varies from mission to mission. Initially the project began as a simple idea to implement one tiny change to Halo 2: I wanted more allied Grunts on Uprising. After downloading Assembly and fiddling around with several failed attempts, I finally figured out how to ensure that the 2 hapless Grunts that spawn to help the player at the start of the mission are now 4 hapless Grunts. Or 6 hapless Grunts. Or 8 hapless Grunts. Or 20 combat-ready Elite Majors dual-wielding Brute Plasma Rifles.

Since childhood I have been playing the same campaign missions over and over again – whether that is a testament to the game’s enduring replayability or my zealous obsession is up to you, but either way over time I have come to know the Halo 2 campaign missions very well, and this knowledge came in very handy when creating modded versions of each mission. Because the program breaks down the entities in the game into lists and assigns each entry on the list a number, all that is required is to figure out which number correlates to each entity from there the rest falls into place after 100 or so botched experiments.

I eventually had a stable build, which I dubbed ‘Uprising Evolved’ – simply because ‘Evolved’ was the first Halo-sounding word that popped into my head as I was naming the file. I have since realised that this is somewhat ironic, as the inclusion of the tagline ‘Combat Evolved’ on the original Halo was a decision made entirely due to marketing purposes. Nonetheless, this began a naming convention for my mods of the Arbiter missions in Halo 2.

The mission ‘Sacred Icon’, modded to include Brute allies and more Grunts and Jackals

Over the month of June I created mods for every campaign mission in Halo 2, and I created a mod page for each campaign mission on the Nexus so I could upload several versions of each level. The regular versions of the mods added more allies to the mission and expanded the range of weapons and ranks that pre-existing allies have. Another feature of the mods was that each one had several variations – for example, The Arbiter included a Heretic Edition which allowed the player to play through the level as Heretic forces fighting the Covenant, and the modded Chief missions had variants that added Elite allies.

However, when Halo 3 was released on PC, disaster struck. 343 industries made changes to the Halo 2 level files, correcting bugs with the port that had existed since the first release of MCC on Xbox, including the infamous disappearance of dual-wielding in Halo 2 Anniversary. This update, whilst absolutely necessary for the long-term health of the MCC, also had the unfortunate side effect of breaking all the mods I had created up until that point, which included all of Halo 2’s campaign and the various sub-mods.

The mission ‘Regret’, modded to include ODSTs and more allied Marines

Since then, I have been rebuilding my mod portfolio from scratch, and although the current mods do not have as many variations as the original range, they are arguably more polished as I was able to learn from the mistakes that I had made when creating my first set of Halo 2 mods to ensure that the second wave are more stable. Although a future MCC update might render them all unusable, for now these Halo 2 mods are fully-functional and they can be found here. If you want to play through Halo 2’s campaign in a whole new way, all you have to do is download the file, make a backup of your Halo 2 mission files and copy the new ones over. All the instructions are included on the mod page, the installation process is quick and simple.

Since the release of Halo 3, I have also released modded versions of Sierra 117, The Storm and The Covenant, with more on the way. These mods add more allied Elites, who were tragically overlooked in the vanilla game, to make combat encounters more exciting. Across all of the mods currently released so far it is possible to play through Halo 2 with allied Elites on almost every mission, so for those who love to fight alongside the greatest warriors of the Covenant, these mods are for you.

Custom New Series Dalek Figures – Part 6

Welcome to the latest post in a series of showcases of my Custom Dalek collection! During lockdown making Custom Daleks was one of the few things keeping me sane, and I am proud to present the latest in a series of posts showcasing the newest additions to my ever-growing collection. These Daleks are based on several ideas I had for potential Dalek ranks existing during the Time War and post-Time War era of Dalek history, combined with several experiments with alternate Dalek colour palettes using the updated Time War Dalek figure sculpt. Although the TV Series itself has been reluctant to include colourful variations of the New Series Dalek design, Big Finish have been including some interesting designs on the cover art of their Time War audios and some of these have inspired the basic colour layouts on these Daleks, to see more Custom Daleks that are directly inspired by Big Finish cover art, check out the previous instalment of my Custom Dalek Collection Showcase.

Time War Dalek Strategist

During the Time War, hundreds of Daleks were enhanced with temporal genetic engineering that allowed them to better understand the intricate subtleties of the Time Vortex and its infinite potential, and many as a result developed severe God Complexes. Uniquely for individual Daleks, Time War Strategists were known to make extensive modifications to their casings for purely aesthetic reasons – in some cases violating the most ancient of Dalek ranking convention to adorn themselves in elaborate casings. Human researchers who study Dalek ‘culture’ admit that these are perhaps the closest thing the Daleks have to ‘artists’.

This custom was created using one of the Dalek Interrogator Prime figures from the B&M Doctor and Dalek 2-packs sets, painted with bronze paint on the midsection slats, middle band and a selective number of hemispheres, and white paint on the dome with the detailing highlighted with thin black permanent marker.

Dalek Davros Guard

The Time War saw Davros propelled to a unique position of power among the Dalek hierarchy. Whilst they had previously shunned his attempts to modify or ‘improve’ the Dalek genome, dire straits during the darkest days of the war led to the Daleks taking extensive measures to ensure their own survival and they eventually turned to their ancient, long-estranged creator for help. As a result, Davros not only allowed to continue his experiments, he was even given his own Command Ship complete with devoted guards who altered their casings to emulate their creator. Unfortunately for Davros, this arrangement was short-lived, as his ship would be devoured by the Nightmare Child in the first year of the War, though unlike his guards he would be saved at the last moment by an insane Dalek Caan, leaving his devotees to meet their fiery end.

This custom was painted using black and silver Citadel paint applied using a regular sized brush, though a smaller brush was used for touching up the details. The dome was painted black initially and then covered with many coats of silver dry-brushing, giving it the look of scuffed metal.

Dalek Justiciar

Despite extensive propaganda suggesting otherwise, internal dissent within the Dalek Empire is a semi-regular problem for the Daleks, particularly on their production-plant worlds. In some facilities tens of millions of Daleks are grown and fused with their casings in a single day, and every once in a while Daleks are born with a tiny seed of conspiratory dissent that, if left unchecked, eventually germinates into fully-fledged treachery. As such, each Dalek planet has at least one active Justiciar, who is given full authority to exterminate any Daleks that show any signs of dangerous thinking before they reach maturity. Sporting striking red livery and capable of accessing any level of a Dalek production facility with unlimited access, Justiciars are ruthless and are known to exterminate other Daleks on a whim for the most minor of transgressions. As a result they are shunned by their own kind, and often isolate themselves leading many to develop unusual personality traits that ironically resemble the very quirks that they were assigned to root out.

This custom was created using an Axis Strike Squad Dalek with the black dome and hemispheres repainted with red Citadel paint, and then touched over with flecks of black and silver to give the impression that this Dalek is ancient. The custom was also given a grey wash to enhance this effect by adding a weathered effect.

Dalek Platoon Leader

Moving away from the more unorthodox Dalek ranks that have been showcased in this post thus far, the Dalek Platoon Leader is a somewhat more common rank of Dalek, as usually hundreds are involved in the process of a planetary invasion, though they are often spread out to co-ordinate Dalek attacks on important military targets. Distinguished by the black highlights to an otherwise standard Dalek casing with a silver dome, Platoon Leaders have advanced command processing units and can receive tactical information from and relay orders to several Dalek Assault Squads at once in real-time, all while personally participating in ground assaults as a front-line unit. A Platoon Leader would have been responsible for each of the Dalek attacks on important Human military installations during the Medusa Cascade incident, and thousands of these Daleks were said to have been destroyed leading their brethren into battle against the Doctor at the Siege of Trenzalore.

This custom was created using another Axis Strike Squad Dalek, this time with more black detailing added covering the midsection slats and middle band. The dome was dry-brushed with silver paint to add a metallic effect, and the entire custom was given a wash with grey paint to add a grime effect to the casing.

Custom Big Finish Daleks – Part 5

Welcome to the next instalment of our Custom Big Finish Dalek figures showcase here at Sacred Icon, this list details the first wave of Big Finish Dalek figures that were created in lockdown. The amount of time available to listen to Big Finish audios has increased dramatically during lockdown, and as a result there has been a lot of inspiration for new and unique Dalek designs based on Big Finish audios!

As Big Finish recently announced a huge shakeup to their schedule that will result in the end of the Monthly Adventures, it seems fitting to showcase these Daleks in celebration of Big Finish’s past as well as its future, as some of these Daleks are from the Monthly Adventures and some are from the Eighth Doctor box sets, the model which will soon be replacing the Monthly Adventures for all the Classic Doctors.

Dalek Virologist

Big Finish audio – Dalek Soul

During the events of the uniquely formatted Fifth Doctor story Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, which has two two-part episodes instead of one long four-part story, Nyssa is captured by the Daleks and forced to aid in the creation of new bioweapons, particularly viruses. This fascinating idea for a story also comes with a great cover design featuring an Emperor’s Guard from The Evil of the Daleks, though my custom takes the design a step further, retaining the black dome but recolouring much of the lower sections in deep purple paint. The spheres have also been repainted a dull grey to emphasise the purple colouration on the skirt, and to draw attention to the shiny midsection.

Dalek Commander

Big Finish audio – Dark Eyes

This custom is another slight alteration of a Big Finish cover Dalek, in this case the Gold Dalek seen on the cover of Dark Eyes 4. This custom captures the essence of the design but with some minor tweaks, mostly inspired by the yellow Dalek from the Peter Cushing movies. Whilst the exact role of this Dalek is unclear in Dark Eyes 4, as there are several Daleks that hold leadership roles during the events of the four stories in Dark Eyes 4, yellow or gold as the base colour for a Dalek is particularly striking, and it is no wonder that the producers of the New Series chose light bronze as the primary colour for standard Daleks. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see Gold Daleks return in some capacity.

Good Dalek

Big Finish audio – Tangled Web

During the strange events of the Eighth Doctor story Tangled Web, the Doctor and Molly meet several Daleks who appear to have turned ‘good’, having abandoned their evil ways and embraced a love of nature, particularly flowers. They are even described as using their casings for daytime naps instead of the slaughter of the innocent, in a very bizarre turn that is clearly masking something more going on behind the scenes. This custom was created using a Gold Supreme Dalek from Day of the Daleks, painted light purple with darker purple detailing to emulate the colour scheme that a pacifist sub-species of gardener Daleks might adopt.

Dalek Interrogator Prime

Big Finish audio – In the Garden of Death

Although the Dalek Interrogator Prime was already depicted (twice) in the Character Options Box Sets released by B&M, fans have pointed out that, as great as those figures are, the colour scheme itself is simply a recreation of a pre-existing Dalek colour scheme, that of the Daleks in the Eternity Circle in the War Doctor novel Engines of War. This custom is an alternate take on the colour scheme that has many similar elements but also deviates slightly, including a brighter blue dome, orange head lamps, black slats and a mismatched dome colour scheme inspired by the Peter Cushing Movie Dalek Supreme.

Dalek Invasion Leader

Big Finish audio – Masters of Earth

During the events of the exceptional Big Finish audio story Masters of Earth, the Sixth Doctor and Peri travel to Earth in the future, to a point in time during the Dalek invasion of Earth that the First Doctor eventually stops in the Classic Who episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth. This is an interesting idea for a story and allows for more exploration of the state of the planet during the decades-long occupation and a look into what was going on behind the scenes for the Daleks during that time. This custom depicts a potential Dalek Invasion Commander who is one position below a Supreme Dalek but still above the standard Dalek drones. This figure was originally a Saucer Pilot Dalek, with the hemispheres painted black and silver and black detailing added the the midsection and the eyestalk. The most prominent feature, the gold dome, is a homage to the sickly-gold lighting on the cover of Big Finish’s Masters of Earth.