2011 – Another Year of Big Finish

Here we are again!

Last year I documented my experiences with Big Finish audios, so here I am again! Well over 50 titles have passed under the bridge since then as covered below.

I started the year with the end of the EDA (see here), continued my main range subscription, bought six early stories (enjoyed), picked up the first Brewster trilogy with DW5 (mixed), then some random £5 offers in February (a very mixed bag). Running out of stuff to listen to I then dipped my toe into the Companion Chronicles, starting with series 1; I took out a sub to the first Tom Baker series (out in 2012 so stay tuned!) and idled along on the main series for a few months.

In May a some Fifth Doctor stories were aired on Radio 4 Extra and a sequence of one day sales announced for early June. Excitement mounted! With the announcement of 1-50 for a £5 I decided to ‘limit’ myself to 15 titles (basically most of  my gaps unless they involved penguins, Egyptian princesses or poor reviews here.) July saw a few more titles on special offer as well, followed into August by some podcast releases and a subscriber bonus. October I cracked again and bought a short run of six from the main range.

I survived the rest of the year on the Main Range and the Christmas special – next year already looks crowded with the Fourth Doctor Adventures, Sixth Doctor specials, Eighth Doctor BoxSet and Counter: Measures. See you there!

Best


Fifth Doctor:
The Haunting of Thomas Brewster – inspired by the new Sixth Doctor Brewster trilogy, I picked this up and was very impressed, which is unusual for me and the Fifth. Didn’t think Nyssa shone, but a good story with lots of twists (and a naff sound track!); Creatures of Beauty a Nick Briggs tale for Nyssa and the Doctor told in a highly non-linear (i.e. chopped up) style ending with the action that starts the whole sorry tale. Nyssa is pretty good here (generally I have not been impressed with how she is written for) and this is dark, angry, well acted and poignant; Cuddlesome – this freebie re-make of an AudioVisuals story worked well for me and carried along at a pace and had the mad singing cuddlesomes at the end with a good relationship between the Doctor and Angela; The Game – at first I thought this merely an entertaining sport-spoof with violence but then the story became richer diving into Mafia style villains / conspiracy / betrayal / mind-control (sort of) and I really liked it. Being critical the author tried to leave too many hooks for sequels which didn’t get followed up but I still rate this; finally the year ended with the subscriber bonus The Five Companions which had a lot of great reunion moments and some great scenes with Polly (plus we got Steven Taylor, Ian Chesterton, Sarah Kingdom and Nyssa along with Daleks, Sontarans and some dinosaurs!)

Sixth Doctor: The Spectre of Lanyan Moor – only the second Evelyn and what a strong story this is for her. The performance opposite James Bolam is wonderful. Add to this the Brigadier (and how we miss Courtney) and a script redolent of west country moors and small communities this is a joy. Yes the ending is over tidy but a strong tale; The One Doctor – a tale that could have been written by Douglas Adams; impostors, poking fun out of the conventions of the series, ridiculous challenges and everyone larger than life yet the tale hangs together well and also contains Easter eggs! Dr Who and the Pirates – I was put off from this by reading of singing and the telling being somewhat different but picked this up in the summer sale on the basis of its ratings. What a joy, a poignant tale of loss and despair wrapped up in a pirate romp in the style of Pirates of Penzance. Massively over the top and yet pitched just right to tell the actual story in bold contrasts of light and dark; Recorded Time and Other Stories: so Big Finish hit 150 main range titles and unlike some of the previous 4-short stories for one Doctor collections I liked every single tale even the cheesy Austen Story. The strongest and most powerful was probably Question Marks which also enjoyed a great performance by Raquel Cassidy as Captain Destiny Gray; dipping back I really enjoyed The Juggernauts which had tremendous performances for the Doctor, Mel and Davros. I probably prefer this to the eponymous Davros  episode.


Seventh Doctor:
Klein trilogy Architects of History – having been somewhat indifferent to the previous two stories this was a revelation – tight scripting, plotting, crisp dialogue, great sound-scape. Overall a joy and particular note to the part of Rachel Cooper; diving back to the earliest days of Big Finish I was also delighted with The Fearmonger – this is great achievement of writing / performance (even with Jacqueline Pearce essentially being Servalan) and when you consider it to be only the fifth Big Finish (and the first for the Ace) this deserves a lot of respect; Colditz – written by Steve Lyons who also wrote Architects so I should have realised it would be good. Plot is good, acting superb including David Tennant as Nazi and a phenomenal performance by Tracey Childs as Klein. I followed this well having heard the later stories but was a tiny bit disappointed to find that the plot for Klein’s Story is almost entirely laid out here. Apart from that this is tremendous as historic gets torn apart and then glued back together again. Why did they wait so long to produce the trilogy after this?!; The Harvest apart from a slightly cheesy soundtrack this was a great story with action, new companion [and excellent he was], cybermen, good supporting cast and a nod to Totters Lane.

Eighth Doctor: Prisoner of the Sun – well the quality just continues here with a great tale of three Lucies (well almost), the doctor in a prison of his own making inside an unstable star and more turncoats than you can shake two sticks at; Lucie Miller – Grim, Dark and Tremendous a tribute to Dalek Invasion of Earth on steroids and how can this one end? Well end it did in To the Death or Deaths as I like to think of it – a superb ending unafraid to face the true evil of the Daleks and no happy ending here; The Silver Turk marked the return to the main range with a pacey script, great performance from Julie Cox as Mary Shelley and a tale of wretched Cybermen, a new companion and a lively Doctor (and did I mention the evil puppets!). Well done Marc Platt.

Nearly


Companion Chronicles:
Frostfire – my first foray into the side waters of Big Finish productions gives us London, the First Doctor, Vicky and Jane Austen. Top this off with enough soundscape to lift the telling and I was pleased to have ventured out into the Companion Chronicles; The Blue Tooth so it was set in Cambridge which helps, however I also liked the flow of the story, how much was packed into the time and enjoyed listening to Liz Shaw. I may avoid the dentist for a while though! I finished off the first season with The Beautiful People which was also enjoyable – Romana convincingly proving she didn’t need the Doctor at all. Easy on the HHGTTG references next time though!

Fifth Doctor: Demons of Red Lodge – a tale of two discs for me, the first two tales poor, the second two excellent with the Porridge tribute being my favourite; Red Dawn a decent early tale with a couple of weak characters but to me works well as part of the Warrior mythos (I include Judgement of Isskar and the EDA Deimos / Resurrection of Mars); Exotron / Urban Myths the three part robot / alien / colony story was formulaic but well done, the one part Myths was a great humorous tale ideally suited to being a short story; Heroes of Sontar – took me a moment to get into the idea of rubbish Sontarans but this worked for me. Tegan was strong and we have some hints about Nyssa’s possible timeline crossing the Doctor and hints of a relationship? Tegan led me to this, and in the year that the TV will do The Doctor’s Wife, who knows?

Kiss of Death I also really enjoyed good tale of love, loss, greed and come-uppance. Tegan was great and Turlough aslo shone; nipping back a sequence thanks to Radio 4 Extra I then listened to Cobwebs (having had episode 1 for free) and enjoyed this tale that took the ‘laws of time’ head on and worked well (yes another isolated space station!). Only minus for me was the casual attitude towards the deaths of billions; next up The Whispering Forest which started ok, got a bit obvious (Sir John = Surgeon) then got really dark then had too happy an ending, Tegan emerging well though compared to Nyssa and Turlough; Rat Trap a great 80s tale, rats, scientists, traitors and good outings for all three companions with the Doctor in the background for most of it. Some good candidate companions in this one as well not that the fifth Doctor needs them; Loup-Garoux a briliantly executed tale of werewolves, love, lust, the near future and as usual full of great performances and moments. I can’t put my finger on why it wasn’t quite the business for me – I may need to listen again.

The Mutant Phase was a timey-wimey tale that near the end prompted Nyssa to complain about the Doctor being over smug and infuriating in his refusal to explain. It also touched on ‘why not go back and rescue Adric?’ something that the latter day Eleventh Doctor is happy to do for River Song (on numerous occasions); Omega could have been brilliant just tried too hard to be both funny and clever to really score top marks for me.

Sixth Doctor: Whispers of Terror – I started off enjoying this in particular the Colin Baker performance,  sadly as the plot progressed down obvious lines I felt there were too many characters though a stand out performance from Lisa Bowerman rescued this from oblivion along with a decent ending; The Marian Conspiracy – here we meet Evelyn Smythe about whom I am still uncertain. A decent story, well plotted and scripted I just found fault with how immediately Evelyn was unimpressed with the TARDIS and the whole nexus / chain of history would surely be very common so why this particular tale? The Crimes of Thomas Brewster – (read before the offer that allowed me to get the Fifth Doctor Brewster series) a great melange of DI Menzies, aliens, Thomas Brewster himself, multiple claimants for the role of Doctor and some cod East End villains.

Feast of Axos kept up the pace, some reminders of Red Dawn and some decent layering of plot, not a simple one-dimensional tale; I also enjoyed Wishing Beast / Vanity Box which I approached with some trepidation not always enjoying Paul Magrs, this paired tale I thought did work with 60s Salford setting off the wonderfully horrid performances of the first three episodes marvellously; The Apocalypse Element – the second part of the Dalek Empire sequence, too much crammed into one story for me, a lot of skirmishes with Daleks to a lot of noisy effects and overall I found this reminded me of the unpolished AudioVisuals. I felt the story was rather constrained in places though well choreographed.

Leviathan – my first foray into the Lost Stories and I was pretty impressed. The first disc had maybe too many scenes and was waiting for the ending so we could get to disc 2 and the very complex tale of clones, secret societies, androids and generation ships; Ratings War – another freeebie podcast with the character of Beep the Meep who was new to me though this didn’t stop me enjoying the story; Doomsday Quatrain  liked – a tale of Nostradamus and aliens destroying Florence I liked as it changed context just in time for me not to feel trapped in yet another historical impossibility brushed under the carpet.

Seventh Doctor: The Genocide Machine – another decent and early story showing that this Doctor at least got off to a good start. Yes this might be formulaic but it is well made and the plot proceeds at a good pace. It also has a better library book gimmick than the much later Doomwood Curse; I also liked the odd Red given as part of the February sale. This was my first exposure to Mel in Big Finish, definitely better than I remembered from the 80s; Fires of Vulcan seemed popular with many, I found the Doctor was almost a victim of historical events and near the end was feeling like I was, i.e. when is he going to get a grip. The gimmick with the TARDIS preserved in Pompeii probably acted as too much of a constraint on the rest of the plot; Robophobia –  a simple plot (being a reverse of the Fourth Doctor TV story Robots of Death this has both a brilliant McCoy as the lone, all knowing, amused and somewhat condescending Doctor plus a wonderful performance from Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka (see also here) who is screaming out to be a companion.

I so wanted to enjoy Flip-Flop as I like other Jonathan Morris tales and the set-up (two discs play in either order) seemed great. In the end I think the finesse of the script drove down the quality of some of the acting and ultimately this didn’t really work for me; the freebie Twilight’s End was a solid subscriber bonus read excellently by Beth Chalmers giving us the (possible) demise of Nimrod; Unregenerate! seemed to promise a lot then got lost somewhere in the middle. This tale of mind transfer, the CIA and a great cab driver did have the potential, I feel, to be great but seemed to rush the middle and needed a bit more polish.

Eighth Doctor: Embrace the Darkness – this started off over clichéd for me and then moved up several gears from Part 2 through many twists and turns, an irritating android and a tremendous performance I thought from India Fisher who for me really came across as young and confident with a surety that the Doctor can do no wrong. I got annoyed by the solar sails going faster towards a source a light (think about it) but really a better adventure than many once it got its hooks into me; given away as a podcast Living Legends was a delightfully silly tale of World Cup Fever and alien invasion.

Rest

Companion Chronicles: Fear of the Daleks – it seems wrong but this didn’t work for me. Nice though it was to hear Zoe again, I wasn’t convinced that the character carried the whole story on her own, and the plot was also somewhat stretched in places.

Having now heard some more stories, I can tell you that things do improve for young Zoe but it is still a bit uneven.

Fifth Doctor: The Land of the Dead – I was continually reminded of Lurkers at Sunlight’s Edge and found the performances in this so varied that I lost interest despite the rich plot and a decent performance from Davison; The Boy that Time Forgot – now I mostly don’t like Paul Magrs but after the first part I thought ‘wow that’s a surprise’ sadly though the big idea of Adric returning was a failure for me, despite great acting. I also never seem to like an insect based story!; the despondency continued with Time Reef the end of this Brewster trilogy which had the makings of a decent story buried under over the top characters and an entirely trite ‘oh no the TARDIS is destroyed’ plot device. Luckily this was only three parts but sadly the otherwise excellent Perfect World was ruined by the bizarre ‘plumber’ incident; I have now also endured Council of Nicaea which is too proselytising, lecturing and almost entirely dire and has convinced me to shun the Erimem tales for now.

The Cradle of the Snake was another sorry tale that didn’t work for me. While understanding the appeal of all the characters acting out of character for contrast the story as a whole didn’t interest me. I suspect part of is that my original moving away from Dr Who when I went to college in the early 80s giving me no real context on the Mara; having said above that I would ignore Erimem I had to suffer her inconsistent accent in Three’s a Crowd a story I picked up as part of a run of six. Very generic and ended with the chance to dump Erimem on a distant colony world which the writers shied away from; inevitably I also didn’t like No Place Like Home though Erimem was maybe not as bad in this one.

Sixth Doctor: Industrial Evolution should have been a solid story but in my view there was too much crammed into the plot, the geography of the town got very confused, too many sets of aliens and all in a single story that did end up screaming for a Brewster spin-off; back in the archives Catch-1782 would have made  decent three-part tale of Mel stranded in the past but sadly this was dragged out over four rather gentle episodes that took too long to get up to speed for me.

Seventh Doctor: Valhalla a sorry tale of a lonely, bitter Doctor, some termites (another failed insect tale IMHO) and the slow search for a plot which I certainly didn’t find when I listened. This despite a great cast!; another story that didn’t work for me was Bang-Bang-a-Boom which seemed to be trying too hard to be funny in amidst a sort of Star Trek Parody mixed with the European Song Contest and some under-used characters; The Dreamtime was another let down despite being Hex’s first trip in the TARDIS and how well that was enacted. The rest of the story failed to grab me at all and oddly enough the Uluru element kept me in mind of Torchwood: Miracle Day and not in a good way; House of Blue Fire which a lot of people prefer to the previous Doomsday Quatrain. For me a great first part a strong second part then a very poor third and fourth part with a desperately non-threatening alien time lord myth from a crack in reality. This did (possibly) end with a new companion though.

Eighth Doctor: Time of the Daleks a chaotic tale of Daleks, Shakespeare and mirrors that just didn’t work even though it could have done. This ended the Dalek Empire series that I talk about here; bang up to date with The Witch from the Well which I felt tried to hard to be clever and had rather more gaping holes in than I normally like; worst of all sadly was Army of Death which ruined some great performances and witty dialogue with awful pseudo-science and some off edits. I still rate the Mary Shelley/ Eighth Doctor  pairing but it needs to be better served.

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