Since I have loved Doctor Who all my life, it seems odd that I had never listened to any of the Big Finish audios until now. I first heard of the audio dramas years ago, particularly when researching the more niche corners of Dalek lore, but a combination of the format of the stories and the price of each adventure caused me to consider the Big Finish audios inaccessible, at least if I was going to purchase physical copies. Thankfully, many of the early Big Finish stories are now very cheap, some as cheap as £3 each, and I recently decided that it was time to take the plunge. I initially thought that there was a possibility that the lack of visuals would make the experience less enjoyable, and so I only bought a handful of audios at first – I quickly realised, however, that I had been worrying over nothing, and the audio drama genre is not as hard to get with as it might seem. After listening to my first audio, The Genocide Machine, I knew I wanted to hear more, so I purchased a bundle on the Big Finish website of nearly 40 of their earlier audios, and I even got some of the newer ones in CD form.
The Genocide Machine
Rather than taking advice online on which audios to listen to first, I decided to simply start with the first Dalek story that Big Finish produced, the seventh installment of their monthly range, The Genocide Machine. This story is a real blast, a quirky, funny and occasionally dark tale about an attempt by the Daleks to break into a library of all things, and steal the wealth of data stored inside. Starring one of my favourite Doctors, Sylvester McCoy, alongside one of my favourite companions, Sophie Aldred as Ace, this was definitely a good starting point for me and I would recommend this as a Big Finish starting point for other Dalek fans since this is not only their first appearance but also the start of a loose Dalek story arc that continues throughout their appearances in the early audios. Not only is this the Daleks’ debut in the audios, it is also the debut of Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs, who went on to voice the Daleks in the New Series.
Although it may seem a small detail, one of the most crucial aspects to Big Finish’s audios is how they set each scene. Considering the fact that the voice actors and actresses are sat in a booth in front of a microphone, creative and effective use of sound effects, echoing, and positioning make it really feel like you’re listening to the audio of an episode, akin to the surviving audio tracks of the lost episodes of the 1960s. The Genocide Machine is a great example of this, as the varied locations showcase just how resourceful the Big Finish team can be. It is immediately apparent when the characters are in the jungle, the library and the TARDIS, and listening through earphones can be highly therapeutic.
Storm Warning and Sword of Orion
Another selling point for Big Finish is the inclusion of the Eighth Doctor in their pantheon, giving Paul McGann a much-deserved platform through which he could prove himself after the mixed reception that the 1996 TV Movie. Making his debut in Storm Warning alongside the fantastic India Fisher as new companion Charley Pollard, McGann’s charisma and distinctive character as the Doctor facilitate a strong debut for his Big Finish career that, according to those in the know, went on to spawn some of the best audios and storylines like Dark Eyes and the Time War series. Storm Warning is a great historical about the disaster of the R101 airship, and sets in motion a temporal story arc involving Charley that continues throughout her era.
Just as The Genocide Machine is the debut of the Daleks and Storm Warning is the debut of the Eighth Doctor, Sword of Orion is the first Big Finish audio to feature the Cybermen and references many previous Cyberman stories such as Earthshock, Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion, but also divulges vital new information about the Cybermen as a race, including a detailed look at the conversion process itself and how it works. In a particularly morbid scene, the Doctor encounters an ancient Cyber-conversion facility that had lost power while in full production, leaving many half-converted victims trapped, and over time their organic parts have rotted away, leaving only the robotic parts behind. This showcases yet another strength of the format of audio dramas, in that they can explore themes and plot elements that would never be shown on the main show – at least not without invoking the wrath of Mary Whitehouse.
Returning to the Seventh Doctor, Dust Breeding is another famous first – Geoffrey Beevers, who played the Master in The Keeper of Traken in 1981, brings the character to Big Finish twenty years after his one and only portrayal of the character. It might seem like an odd choice, considering the fact that Beevers is probably the most overlooked incarnation of the Master, but unfortunately at the time he was the only living actor who had played the Master – this was years before Jacobi, Simm and Gomez, and years since the tragic deaths of Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainley and Peter Pratt. Beevers does the role justice, however, and the powerful presence that his distinctive voice gives the character makes me wish he could play the Master on-screen again. Interestingly, the Master presented here is not at a point in his timeline before he steals his Trakenite body, but rather after – establishing the idea that the Ainley incarnation was actually Beever’s Master all along, and having discarded that body, the Master has reverted to his true form. Dust Breeding is a far more subtle presentation of conflict between the Seventh Doctor and the Master than Survival, but it is by no means dull, and an essential for fans of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis.
So that concludes this initial review of my first impressions of the Big Finish audios. My next review will cover The Chimes of Midnight, Spare Parts, Jubilee and Davros, and in the meantime I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t listened to Big Finish yet to do so – its a fantastic and rewarding experience that opens up a whole new world of Doctor Who media, and whether you choose to listen in chronological order, tour the greatest hits or pick out ones with returning villains as I have, the Big Finish audios will never disappoint.