The year was 1999. The world was jabbering away at the looming Y2K threat. Movie goers were treated with both Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and the highly anticipated initial entry of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy. It was, by most standards, a fabulous time for entertainment. Unless, of course, Doctor Who was your bag.
Only three years earlier, BBC and Fox faltered with their attempt to revive Doctor Who with a TV movie. As great as parts of McGann’s only full length adventure as the Doctor were, it wasn’t enough to bring in the American viewers it would have taken to bring the series to order. So save that brief feature length adventure, Whovians were thrust back into the Wilderness Years. One of the many good things to come from the time when the Doctor could not be found having new adventures on the television is that he found a new medium to explore until RTD brought the show back in 2005: audio adventures.
The summer of 1999 also saw Big Finish begin its foray into licensed Doctor Who stories. While several unlicensed audio stories from the Audio Visuals fan series were produced in the late 80s-early 90s (a little BF trivia for you: several members of the staff at BF, including the current NuWho voice of the monsters, Nicholas Briggs, got their start on the AV series), Big Finish’s range represented the first major licensed push into the format. Fifteen years later, the Doctor Who range at Big Finish is more popular than ever and is the only place to get brand new adventures with the surviving Classic era Doctors and their still-living companions (although death has a habit of being overcome in Doctor Who, as later Big Finish projects have proved). In honor of this achievement, we want to take a look and give you fifteen of the best highlights from the beginning of the series to present. Let’s start, shall we? (Writer’s Note: these are in no particular order, just a list of stories you should get to know!)
The Sirens of Time
Any list marking a Big Finish anniversary has to include this story. Why? Because it’s the first! Not only is it the first, it’s also a Multi-Doctor story! The audio play featured Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy reprising their roles as the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors. Certainly not a bad way to start off!
Destiny of the Doctor
This one is important because it’s the first time that Big Finish was able to include any reference to any characters and events that originated from the 2005 series forward, thanks to a partnership with license holder AudioGo. More in the same vein as the Companion Chronicles, a companion from the Doctor’s time narrates each story, thirteen in all across the series, beginning with Carole Ann Ford and concluding with Jenna Coleman.
Light at the End
We all laughed, cried, and celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who back in November. Primarily, that happened through the wonderful television and cinematic releases commissioned to celebrate the Doctor. Some of you may not be aware that Big Finish also got in on the act and released a special project to mark the occasion as well. The Light At The End featured Doctors 1-8 (with stand in actors for Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee) and a host of former companions, facing a threat that threatens “their very existence.”
Several versions were released, including a special limited edition on vinyl!
You may have noticed that we mentioned Paul McGann’s sole TV outing as the Doctor (until last year that is!) a bit ago. What becomes of a Doctor that only gets one shot at the role? Fortunately, for fans of the McGann Doctor, he lives on and flourishes at Big Finish! Storm Warning marks McGann’s first return to the role of the Doctor, and the beginning of a run of stories for his incarnation and new companions that continue to this day.
A revived Davros? Check. His first chronological encounter with the Sixth Doctor? Check. No Daleks in the story? Check. Davros finds Colin Baker’s Doctor tasked with finding out why the Kaled genius is helping an Earth-based company on humanitarian initiatives, including famine relief. Without giving too much away, you can be assured that Davros probably isn’t interested in the well-being of humans.
This story is by Lance Parkin, probably the best Doctor Who author never to write for the TV series.
First thing, first; we all know that Tom Baker is widely regarded as the most popular Doctor of all time. While it took about 13 years to come to fruition, Big Finish landed the “genuine article” himself and commissioned new adventures with the beloved Fourth Doctor and Leela. The first of these brand new adventures is Destination: Nerva. The story picks up just after The Talons of Weng-Chiang and features his second trip to Nerva, as it’s just been built.
While the Doctor’s most iconic foe is the Daleks, it is the Master that is his true arch nemesis. Making his Big Finish debut in Dust Breeding, this Seventh Doctor story features the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers, whom you may recall as having played the decayed Master in the Season 18 serial, The Keeper of the Traken. It’s also notable for the return of actress Caroline John to Doctor Who (Third Doctor companion, Liz Shaw).
This initial box set entry into the Dark Eyes line is important for several reasons, and here are a couple of them. The first, it’s amazing. Really, it’s fantastic. So fantastic that it won the 2014 BBC Drama Award for Best Online Drama. Secondly, this release gave us an official BBC approved new look for the Paul McGann Doctor. A fresh haircut and a similar look to Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor (leather jacket, etc.), and a commissioned photo shoot giving Big Finish artists something new to work with, as McGann’s described appearance hadn’t shifted much from the 1996 TV Movie.
(Also, it was that good, Kasterborous editor Christian Cawley wrote the review!)
The Companion Chronicles began in 2007 as a “spoken novel” story form, where a Doctor’s companion narrates the story and is typically only accompanied by one other cast member. The very first in the line is Frostfire, a Hartnell Doctor story featuring Maureen O’Brien reprising her role as Vicki and meeting up with famous author Jane Austen.
Sword of Orion
I may very well be criticized for appearing to favor Paul McGann stories, but this entry is notable all the same as the very first time the Cybermen feature in a Big Finish story. It’s also notable as it is Paul McGann’s first encounter with the Silver Nemesis. I’m willing to take my lumps, though, as Sword of Orion is great and was adapted from an Audio Visuals drama of the same name. And a certain Mark Gatiss is part of the cast. Wonder where I’ve heard that name before?
Dalek Empire I
This initial entry in the Doctor Who line of Big Finish is interesting. Imagine a tale of a war against the Daleks with no Doctor to be found in its plot. The only heroes are those who are brave enough to stand against the Daleks. If you can picture that in your mind, you’ll understand where Dalek Empire excels. It’s a similar tactic to that which Disney and Lucasfilm are taking with the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels; a new story, with new characters, set in the universe you already know and love. What’s not to like about that?
Big Finish fans might be surprised to see this title here. This is a recent Companion Chronicles story, set in the Hartnell Doctor era, just after The Romans. It features Maureen O’Brien as Vicki and weaves an absolutely beautiful story. Starborn is, perhaps, my favorite of all the audio dramas (indeed, my favorite amongst the Companion Chronicles). Look out for our review of the story soon.
Trial of the Valeyard
It may not be completely fair to include this in the list, as there is really only a couple of ways to listen to this one before December, as it was released as a subscriber bonus for 2013, but it warrants a mention nevertheless. The Valeyard, famous for his appearance in the 1986 serial, Trial of a Time Lord, and his mysterious origin is the mystery that the Colin Baker seeks to figure out as the Time Lords have put the Valeyard on trial this time around. It’s a brilliant return to form for Baker, Michael Jayston (the Valeyard), and Lynda Bellingham (Inquisitor Darkel).
Trial of the Valeyard is a must-listen when it becomes officially available in December.
This 2002 Fifth Doctor story sought to do for the Cybermen what Genesis of the Daleks did for the Daleks, by showing us the origin of the Doctor’s deadly foe. Arguably, the story is more engaging and fulfilling than the Tom Baker Dalek origin story. Spare Parts was also partly adopted for NuWho two parter Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.
The Boy That Time Forgot
Recently we told you that Matthew Waterhouse would be making his Big Finish debut this month in the Fifth Doctor Box Set. What you may not know, is that it won’t be the first time that Adric has appeared in Big Finish story telling. Played by Andrew Sachs, this Adric survived the events of Earthshock and evolved into something more; the Scorpion King! Depending upon your opinion of Adric as a companion, this fate is either better or worse. Either way, The Boy That Time Forgot does make for a great story and one you should check out!
There we have it, dear reader! Fifteen great stories from fifteen great years of Big Finish Doctor Who releases! If you are still uninitiated, you may want to check out the site now. Big Finish is offering some sweet discounts to celebrate the occasion. What say you? Agree with the list? Is there an audio adventure you like more than the ones above? Let us know!
And join us in congratulating Nicholas Briggs and company on a happy 15th! May they have many, many more!