Doctor Who – The Best of Big Finish, Part Four

I have been listening to Big Finish for just over two months now, and yet already I have made my way through swathes of episodes by listening to them daily – whilst out and about walking around the park or to the gym, whilst cooking or doing housework, and also during long car journeys. The series has been very rewarding to listen to as a Doctor Who fan and I would thoroughly recommend any who have not already to check out Big Finish on their website. Many of the earlier audios are very cheap for a digital download and the bundles of the first dozen or so stories for each Doctor periodically go on sale so it is really easy to pick them up cheap.

Following on from my Best of Big Finish, Part Three comes the next installment in my Big Finish reviews series, as I make my way through Big Finish’s main range. Unlike most Big Finish audios, most of these require previous episodes for context and understanding, so to begin:

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The Mutant Phase

The first audio on this list is the third in the ‘Dalek Empire’ series, that also includes The Genocide Machine, The Apocalypse Element and the conclusion The Time of the Daleks. Featuring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa as well as a Dalek Emperor and Thals all attempting to prevent a history-altering mutation in the Dalek genome that could destroy both the Dalek race and the universe. The scope of this episode is larger than any in the Dalek Empire arc so far, and it links quite heavily with the 12-part First Doctor story The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but don’t let that put you off.

The Mutant Phase does a great job of maintaining the high stakes due to the temporal nature of it – usually when Big Finish does a ‘the Daleks invade this planet for this reason’ can get stale over time, but having a story in which the Daleks try to change all of history to rid themselves of a plague is fairly interesting, although there are more twists that make the reasoning by this and the Doctor’s motives more convoluted.

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Invaders from Mars

The fact alone that Simon Pegg is part of the cast tells you that this is going to be a fun one, but Invaders from Mars is a contender for funniest audio I have listened to so far in the series, although I am yet to listen to The Holy Terror. The story partly revolves around the 1938 Halloween radio transmission of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds perfomred by Orson Welles, but some comical twists add to the surreal humour of this story. Likewise, as this is an episode that is perhaps meant to be taken less seriously, there appears to be a higher amount of ‘silly voices’ involved in the production of this audio, and not all of them can be Simon Pegg.

In typical Big Finish style, however, there are some dark elements, and the story is not without its fair share of death – but Invaders from Mars is definitely worth a listen for fans of the Eighth Doctor and Charley, and also for fans of historicals. Interestingly, this audio is written by Mark Gatiss, who would go on to write a lot of stories for the new series including The Unquiet Dead and Empress of Mars, so he clearly has a thing for historicals and episodes with Mars in the title.

 

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Seasons of Fear

As far as ‘returning monsters’ go, you don’t really get more obscure than the return of the Nimon to Doctor Who in Seasons of Fear. The Nimon featured in just one episode of Classic Who, and yet still managed to get a return in NuWho in The God Complex (sort of), but that wasn’t before Big Finish had already granted them their glorious return here in a surprisingly standout episode featuring an almost comical relationship that develops between the Doctor and an immortal who serves a legion of Bull-people who want to supersede the Time Lords and become Masters of the universe.

The premise of this story is notable as it uses the time-travel elements of Doctor Who a lot more than most stories might, and the early parts almost give us a new location and time period each episode. The story flows consistently throughout, however, and the development of the character of Sebastian Grayle is both humorous and fascinatingly dark. Overall this is well worth a listen as it provides crucial development for the arc of the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard.

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Embrace the Darkness

When Big Finish does creepy well, it does it really well, and and Embrace the Darkness sums up creepy – its essentially a sinister horror in audio form that also features a helping of sci-fi concepts and great characters and voice acting. The story is a basic ‘base-under-siege’ formula, but the execution makes it notable as the aliens in this are by no means as malevolent as one might expect from a sci-fi horror story.

It cannot be understated how good India Fisher is as a companion, particularly as she is able to bring her audio-only character Charley to life, and her chemistry with Paul McGann makes every audio with the pair acting together a treat.

As this is the third Eighth Doctor story on the list, it is important to note at this point that I am on an Eighth Doctor binge, and my next Big Finish Review will feature the next few Eighth Doctor audios as well as the infamous Zagreus.

So that was my list of the Best of Big Finish, Part Four. If you enjoyed then be sure to leave a like, and you can follow Sacred Icon either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Thanks for reading!

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Doctor Who – The Best of Big Finish, Part Three

Continuing from my previous articles on both my First Impressions of Big Finish, the Best of Big Finish, Part One and the Best of Big Finish, Part Two I now present the next phase in my review series of the Doctor Who audios. In a similar fashion to my review of the Two Masters Trilogy, I have decided to review some newer Big Finish releases available as both digital downloads and in CD format from the Big Finish website. So to begin:

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Last of the Cybermen

This audio is actually the second part of a loose ‘Locum Doctors Trilogy’, which consists of the previous story The Defectors which sees the Seventh Doctor meet Jo Grant, and the next story The Secret History which has the Fifth Doctor meet Steven and Vicki. Slotting in the middle is Last of the Cybermen in which the Sixth Doctor meets Jamie and Zoe and fights against the Cybermen in the final battle between the Telosian Cybermen and Humanity, and its scale is pretty epic. The characters are likeable and interesting, and Jamie and Zoe pair really well with the Sixth Doctor and it would be great if these two could appear in the monthly range more often.

The story plays on elements from various classic Cyberman stories as well as borrowing a few NuWho ideas to round the whole thing off, whilst also managing to define itself as a brand new story. Previous Big Finish Cyberman stories like Spare Parts and Sword of Orion describe the Cyber-conversion process in detail but Last of the Cybermen depicts Cyber-production on a huge scale, as the Cybermen churn out hundreds of soldiers an hour to battle the human onslaught, and it’s gripping.

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We Are The Daleks

What is the only race in existence that is more evil than the Daleks? Easy, economically liberal Conservatives. And this audio demonstrates what could happen if the Tories and the Daleks had ever decided to team up in the late 1980s, although some may say that events would have just played out as normal. Regardless, We Are The Daleks is a great romp that is intended as a ‘jumping-on point’ for newer listeners to the main range, and thus consists of a well-rounded self-contained story with few outside references or requirements, and this definitely helps it as a standalone story.

What also benefits We Are The Daleks, like the earlier audio The Juggernauts, is the redeemed companion Mel who in this audio appears alongside the Seventh Doctor. Even for those who have seen very few televised Mel stories her reputation as a fairly shallow and ‘screamy’ companion is pervasive, yet the Big Finish audios do wonders for redeeming her character, making her a stronger character and giving her a more direct role in the story. Like The Juggernauts, We Are The Daleks shows Mel going undercover and expertly blending into a top-of-the-range work environment using her exceptional skill at coding, and with these two audios alone she is quickly becoming one of my favourite audio companions which shows just how effective the audios are at redeeming missed potential from the show…

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Order of the Daleks

The cover of this audio alone is eye-catching enough, and although the concept of a ‘stained glass Dalek’ may seem odd at first, the context of the story justifies their presence – having crashed on a primitive planet with limited technology, the Daleks have infiltrated an order of Monks known as the ‘Brotherhood of the Black Petal’, teaching them how to construct rudimentary casings for them out of stained glass and lead. The Sixth Doctor and a Galactic Census team arrive to investigate signs of alien interference in a medieval society, and chaos ensues. On the surface, Order of the Daleks is a fairly standard Dalek story, but the concepts it utilises in the narrative context make it stand out, as Daleks that are both unarmed and vulnerable make an interesting twist on the standard formula for Dalek stories.

Another interesting aspect to this story is the relatively new audio-only Sixth Doctor companion Constance Clarke, who appeared initially in The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure, an audio anthology that depicts the lead-up to the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration. Constance originates from the Second World War, originally working as a leading WREN before encountering the Doctor, and in this story she faces the Daleks for the first time and proves her mettle against the Doctor’s ultimate foe. The supporting cast also brings this story to life, as there are a fair few memorable characters with distinctive voice acting and some great moments between the Monks and the Daleks as well as some intrigue within the Brotherhood, as all is not as it seems on the seemingly idyllic world of Strellin…

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Energy of the Daleks

Last on the list is the fourth installment of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, a six-part series that saw the return of Tom Baker to the role of the Fourth Doctor for the first time in decades. Energy of the Daleks features the Fourth Doctor and companion Leela facing off against – you guessed it – the Daleks, and for the most part Energy of the Daleks follows the ‘standard’ Dalek story formula. The real draw for this story is Tom Baker, as hearing him face off against the Daleks again after so many years is a real treat. What makes this all the better is that, despite having one of the longest tenures of all the Doctors, the Fourth Doctor only fought the Daleks twice – once in Genesis of the Daleks, which was a definite classic but was mostly focused around the Kaled/Thal conflict and the introduction of Davros rather than being a true Dalek story, and Destiny of the Daleks, which is a universally poor story. Energy of the Daleks therefore gives the Fourth Doctor a chance to really shine in a battle against the Daleks in a way that his TV tenure (for whatever reason) denied him.

Another peculiar thing about Energy of the Daleks is its length – unlike all of the other Big Finish audios I have previously reviewed, this and all other Fourth Doctor Adventures stories use a single-disc format of around one hour, as opposed to the two-disc 4×25 minute format of the Main Range. This makes Energy of the Daleks more similar in length and feel to a NuWho story, meaning that the pacing is much faster and thus this audio is probably more accessible to those NuWho fans who aren’t sure of how to get into Big Finish.

So that’s the end of Part 3 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 for more content like this. Also, check out the read more tab below for articles related to this one. Thanks for reading!

Read more in this series with the links below:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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: