I found this review I’d (nearly) completed back in 2000 of the early Big Finish audio adventures. I’d just discovered them at Forbidden Planet in London and purchased the first 10 before returning to the states.
For your amusement, and my archiving of writing projects, here’s my year 2000 take on Big Finish, in days long before anyone believed a Time Lord might be back on the BBC.
Sounds Like Doctor Who
Do you remember the sound of a Dalek control room? The mechanical resonance of the Cybermen voices? The hiss of the Ice Warriors? The scream of a companion or the 6th Doctor’s pompous, over-the-top pronunciation of the word â€œIâ€? The electronic sparkles in the classic theme music?
If you’re like me, Doctor Who was more than the sum of its parts. The story, the actors, the visuals and the sounds all came together to produce something magicalâ€¦ something that has been missing for a long time, since the end of the 7th Doctor’s last series.
There’s no doubt that, since that time, the Doctor Who New Adventures books have been quite prolific, continuing the adventures of all the Doctors. Quite frankly, they leave me flat. Sure, they use the same old Doctors we know and love, but they just don’t do them justice do they? If the book cover didn’t have the face of the Doctor on it, would you always know which Doctor it was supposed to be?
There’s more to Doctor Who than just writing. It was the actors who brought the characters to life, and the technicians who realized whole new worlds for us week after week. While it can be argued that through a book your imagination is free to develop worlds beyond the limitations of television, that just isn’t really true with Doctor Who. That universe was fully developed on TV and the imagination just tries to recreate it.
I’m happy to report that last year, the BBC licensed Big Finish Productions to produce new episodes of Doctor Who, featuring the original actors and for the last year they have produced 11 new four-part Doctor Who stories starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.
What’s the catch you say? Well, they’re not television episodes, they’re audio dramas, and I must say, it is good to hear the Doctor again!
Big Finish productions has wisely decided to stick with the original actors for their stories. There will be no first, second or third Doctor stories, nor will they substitute other actors for the companions.
So far they have lined up stories featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann as (respectively) the 5th – 8th Doctors. While no promises have been made, they are also trying to secure the services of Tom Baker for a 4th Doctor story.
Companions and other regulars that they have enlisted include Nicolas Courtney (The Brigadier) Lala Ward (Romana II), Sara Sutton (Nyssa), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Bonnie Langford (Mel) and Sophie Aldred (Ace)
New adventures are published monthly and are available individually or through a 6 or 12 month subscription service through Big Finish’s web page at http://www.doctorwho.co.uk.
Reviews. (Rated from * to *****)
Episode 01 – The Sirens of Time **
Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor
Written by Nicholas Briggs
Gallifrey is once again invaded by an overwhelming force. The Time Lords, once again rendered powerless, use their last bits of power to try to manipulate three incarnations of the Doctor to save themselves. But why are they trying to kill him?
It’s sad to say that the Doctor Who stories most eagerly anticipated — the multi-doctor stories — are usually some of the most poorly realized. The Sirens of Time is no exception and doesn’t succeed in breaking the curse. The problem with multi-Doctor stories is that it’s difficult to juggle more than one leading character, especially such strong leading characters. The Sirens of Time tries a new approach: each of the first three episodes focuses on a different Doctor, they only come together in the final episode.
While this is a novel approach to the problem, it doesn’t give enough time to the three story threads and instead of being integral to the plot, seem to be incidental to the final episode, which is, in turn, too hurried towards its conclusion.
What should have been a slam-bang opener to this new series of Doctor Who adventures is instead more of an appetizer plate for the adventures to come.
Episode 02 – Phantasmagoria ***
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Mark Strickson as Turlough
Written by Mark Gatiss
London, 1702. The Doctor and Turlough arrive amidst a rash of disappearances of young men. What is their connection to the infamous Diabola Club and is Sir Nikolas Valentine the devil himself?
This episode is very much in the spirit of the 5th Doctor’s psuedo-historical episodes with the tried-and-true formula of an alien trapped on Earth using means to escape that do not sit well with the Doctor.
Peter Davison’s and Mark Strickson’s performances are spot-on with the TV adventures, but the supporting casts’ performances are a bit too camp. One can easily imagine them all wearing wigs, false moles on their faces with frilly shirts waving silk handkerchiefs around foppishly while speaking – but then, perhaps that’s the idea.
I’ve always considered the 5th Doctor to be one of the weaker Doctors, but in audio forms he holds up surprisingly well.
Episode 03 – Whispers of Terror ***Â½
Starring Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri
Also starring Peter Miles as Curator Gantman
Written by Justin Richards
The Doctor and Peri arrive at the Museum of Aural Antiquities, a museum for storing the sounds of history, just as an intruder is mysteriously murdered. Can the Doctor and Peri find a way to stop a creature made entirely of sound from escaping and unleashing havoc on the world?
During his tenure as the Doctor, Colin Baker got some pretty awful stories. Whispers of Terror is better than most of his original stories and leads me to hope that the 6th Doctor’s character will be give a chance to shine in the audio dramas in a way only hinted at in the original series.
The most interesting feature of this story is the use of an audio-only creature and a twist ending which could only be realized in an audio play.
The voice of Peter Miles should be instantly recognizable to any Doctor Who fan as he has played many a notable character in the series over the years.
Episode 04 – Land of the Dead ****
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa
Written by Stephen Cole
Alaska, 1994. The Doctor and Nyssa arrive in the arctic wilderness. The only dwelling in the area is the residence of millionaire Shaun Brett and it’s under attack by monsters.
A few more stories like this and I could get to like the 5th Doctor. This story has the feel of a â€œclassicâ€ Pertwee/Baker era story, but has been well tailored to the 5th Doctor. The Alaskan wilderness provides a tight, claustrophobic backdrop for the attack of the Permians, a new race of monsters for the Doctor to battle.
The cast is quite good on this one, but their American accents wouldn’t fool anyone.
Episode 05 – The Fearmonger ***
Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace
Also starring Jacqueline Pearce as Sherilyn Harper
Written by Jonathan Blum
The Fearmonger is an energy creature that lives inside others and fuels fear in others and then feeds on the emotions. What is its connection to the ultra right-wing nationalist New Britannia party and their candidate for president, Sharilyn Harper?
I’m of mixed emotions on this story. It is a textbook 7th Doctor storyline with all the annoying characteristics therein: It starts with the Doctor and Ace already hunting the creature; the story implies that the Doctor has dark secrets in his past and Ace’s insecurities are once against twisted like a radio-knob. None of these are characteristics that I liked from the 7th Doctor’s final season. The attempts to re-invent the character I think helped hasten his demise on TV.
That said, I must admire the writer’s skill at recreating that atmosphere for this 7th Doctor story. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about these audio dramas is that obvious care has been given towards re-creating the correct â€œfeelâ€ for each Doctor. You couldn’t drop any other Doctor into this story, it just wouldn’t work.
Jacqueline Pearce, probably best known as Servilan from Blakes 7, guest stars in this episode as (what else?) a power-mad politician seeking the Presidency. Nearly 20 years has passed since Blakes 7 was on the air, but she doesn’t sound a day older.
Episode 05 – The Marian Conspiracy ***Â½
Starring Colin Baker as the Doctor
Introducing Maggie Stables as Dr. Evelyn Smythe
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
Tracking a distortion in the fabric of time, the Doctor meets Dr. Evelyn Smythe, a historian, whose own history is vanishing, starting with her ancestor from the Tudor times, John Whiteside-Smith.
The Doctor takes her back to the time of Queen Mary to unravel the mystery, whilst conspiracies abound to remove Mary and replace her with her half-sister Elizabeth. When the queen decrees that the Doctor (going under his pseudonym Dr. John Smith) should marry Lady Sarah Whiteside, can it be that the Doctor destined to be the father of Evelyn’s time-distorting ancestor?
This story heralds the arrival of the Doctor’s first new companion for the audio dramas, Evelyn, an elderly professor of history with a penchant for chocolate.
This is a straight historical drama, with no aliens, monsters or time-hopping villains dealing with the conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants during Tudor times and the 6th Doctor fits in quite well, although one suspects that the Doctor’s clothing would gather more comments than Evelyn’s cardigan sweater. My biggest complaint is that no satisfactory explanation is ever given as to what upset the time stream in the first place.
Episode 07 – The Genocide Machine ***Â½
Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace
Written by Mike Tucker
The library on Kar-Charrat contains all the published knowledge of the universe, but fortunately hardly anyone knows of its existence. The Doctor and Ace arrive just as the Daleks decide they need a library card.
Here’s another perfectly adequate Doctor Who story played out for the 7th Doctor marred only by the fact that Daleks are in this story.
The Daleks have always been a naff bunch of villains, with a stupid physical design and insipid lines to recite. In audio, only their grating, annoying voices remain – not an improvement, really. Nonetheless, as Dalek stories go, it’s better than most, thankfully avoiding bringing Davros into the story.
The Genocide Machine is the first in a super-series called The Dalek Empire. Future stories are planned.
Episode 08 – Red Dawn ***
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri
Written by Juston Richards
The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Mars at the same time as Earth’s first manned mission does. And then they awaken the sleeping Ice Warriors. What happens when the human and Martian races meet for the first time?
This story spent too much time beating us over the head with philosophical arguments that were resolved for the Doctor in Curse of Peladon all those many years ago. Otherwise it’s a straightforward tale of interspecies misunderstanding.
Again, the American accents are almost comical.
Episode 09 – The Spectre of Lanyon Moor ****Â½
Starring Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicolas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Maggie Stables as Dr. Evelyn Smythe
Written by Nicholas Pegg
The Doctor, the Brigadier, UNIT, a lonely moor and a malevolent alien lifeform trapped since before recorded history — can there be a more classic setting for a Doctor Who story?
This is a by-the-numbers Doctor Who story, with all the old familiar plot twists and cliffhangers. What’s so surprising is how pleasant it is; like a favorite, old shoe that’s well broken in and still fits well. Colin Baker’s Doctor is at his pompous best meeting up for the first time with the Brigadier, while Evelyn plays the part like an old-time companion — falling into dangerous situations in a way that would make Sarah Jane Smith proud.
I only give this episode 4.5 out of 5 because I want to leave some room for improvement in the future!
Episode 10 – Winter for the Adept **Â½
Starring Peter Davison as the Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa
Also starring Peter Jurasik as Lt. Peter Sandoz
Written by Andrew Cartmel
The Doctor and Nyssa arrive in a haunted chalet in the Swiss Alps, blocked off from the outside world due to a killer blizzard.
And that’s where it ends…
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