What’s always fascinating for a range is what happens when a cast member cannot return for a range.Time War: Cassis one such release, continuing the Eighth Doctor releases from Time War: Volume Four but without the character of Bliss due to scheduling conflicts with Rakhee Thakrar.Luckily, unlike the issues that arose with Dark Eyes and the scheduling conflicts Ruth Bradley faced, the setting of Time War: Cass is one where due to the universe being in a constant state of flux due to the Time War.This is something that the writers of this box set are keenly aware of with each of the three stories featured doing something with the ‘time’ element of the Time War which is already a recipe for success when dealing with this era.There is a clear reason (or at least an appearance of a reason) for why Bliss isn’t there, though the details of this are not given to the listener partially for intrigue and partially because there is not a guarantee that she will be available to record with Big Finish anytime soon.Instead this set picks up some time after the cliffhanger ending of Time War: Volume Four with the Doctor traveling with Alex Campbell, once again played by Sonny McGann, with an unspecified amount of time having past and this is an interesting premise since when we last saw Alex he was dead.Continue reading →
Big Finish did the impossible; they made Class one of my favourite Doctor Who spin-offs. Prior to hearing Secret Diary I was well accustomed to the first two volumes of the audio stories set within Coal Hill Academy, and I absolutely adored them and hold them up as a pair of Big Finish’s best New Series era boxsets. They have stories which explore new ideas, really interesting small scale sci-fi threats, and have outstanding character development and characterisation. As of time of writing I am yet to hear the later two series of stories, I have been put off due to the recasts, but the finale of Volume 4 was penned by one Blair Mowat; composer extraordinaire who has done Big Finish’s best musical suites as well as composing the excellent score for Class’ TV series. In recent years he has stepped into the world of writing, first with Queen of Rhodia and now with Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince. Which, with no word of exaggeration, is the best Class story and an easy early contender for favourite release of 2023.
The Audio Novels range after three releases has taken a very important step. Big Finish Productions has deemed it profitable to publish an audio novel without a returning villain such as the Cybermen or the Daleks. The Dead Star doesn’t have a returning villain and that alone would be enough to get me excited, but then Big Finish made my New Adventures loving heart sing with the triumphant return of Kate Orman to Doctor Who. Orman is perhaps my favorite writer of Doctor Who and for a whole new generation of fans (and several old generations of fans) this will be their introduction to just what she does oh so well, and what an introduction. The Dead Star is going right into new territory for Orman, her first story to feature the Second Doctor and only written because Orman and her husband and frequent collaborator Jonathan Blum were watching the recent animations. While Orman in the behind the scenes doesn’t mention which animation in particular inspired this story, there is a great sense of a direct continuation from The Power of the Daleks as well as The Macra Terror specifically for its aesthetics.
Of all the Blake’s 7 characters destined to grab centre stage in their own spin-off, I’m not sure I had ever anticipated Arlen (Sasha Mitchell). However, in retrospect, she’s one who was begging for a backstory; the insidious Federation security officer was responsible for bringing down the errant Blake, and all of Avon’s crew, during the show’s shocking finale.
Following Arlen’s story, this boxset has a wide timeframe. In the first adventure she encounters Cally prior to the telepath’s time with Blake, the second sits somewhere in Series B, and the third brings us Jenna Stannis, after her Liberator days.
The final Big Finish release of 2022 is upon us; the latest entry in the Paul Spragg memorial competition. This yearly event has gifted us with some genuinely fantastic talent, each and every story does feel genuinely fresh and new so it’s great to see that tradition is being upheld by The World Tree from Nick Slawicz. This story has a lot of DNA in common with stories like Landbound or The Last Day at Work where the primary story is all about how a single person has their life shifted by a meeting with the Doctor. The Doctor in question is Eleven, who I think Big Finish have done excellent work with this year as Geronimo was a real highlight. The World Tree further shows how Big Finish really want to push the limits of the stories you can tell with this Doctor, and Slawicz story is successful at demonstrating the depths of Eleven’s character.
The War Master range has easily become one of Big Finish’s finest spin-offs, certainly one the most popular at any rate. But it may shock you to hear that prior to this boxset I had never heard any of Jacobi’s audio boxsets. I had listened to the War Master’s adventure in River Song’s audio series, and really loved it and the characterisation of this particular incarnation of the character but I never went on to get any of his solo outings. But that all changed with Escape From Reality, which I absolutely had to hear due to it being a spiritual successor to The Mind Robber from Troughton’s era of the TV show which happens to be my favourite all time Doctor Who television story. Getting to see the Land of Fiction become corrupted by an evil presence was always going to be interesting, the fact that it got to be Jacobi’s Master is an added bonus.
Perhaps the saddest thing about UNIT: Brave New World is that it is only two box sets long and is currently the only thing announced to use this particular UNIT team.Seabird Onewas already an excellent set and start to the miniseries bringing back Angela Bruce’s Winifred Bambera, but it’s up to Visitants, the second set, to take all the open threads and tie them up.The miniseries is one that genuinely feels different from the other Big Finish ranges, taking what Battlefield started bringing in a new cast of characters that through the great script editing from Robert Valentine and brilliant direction from Scott Handcock.Producer Emily Cook has also really gotten to come into her own in her role as this is a range that is essentially all her own.
If Chimes of Midnight has taught us anything it’s that Big Finish fans love a good ghost story over the Christmas period. Nothing quite gets you in the festive spirit that a good fright, and Torchwood audios over the past couple of years have treated us to sci-fi scare for tide us over until the next holiday season. This year’s entry into that collection is from veteran of the Sherlock Holmes audio stories Jonathan Barnes, slipping into his comfort zone of the Victorian period to give us a series of short horror vignettes with Queen Victoria. But this story ultimately ended up leaving me more frustrated than frightened.
The War Doctor, and this was very much unexpected I would like to add, has very quickly become a personal favourite audio-centric incarnation. This Time War era Doctor had fascinated me for a long time and I have only recently bought into the John Hurt fronted boxsets, of which I have heard and loves volumes 2 and 3. But He Who Fights With Monsters, bit of a mouthful, is the first time I have delved into this new prequel era where Jonathon Carley takes on the role. I think this is a great place for me to have started with The War Doctor Begins as this set forms one long story which lasts roughly 3 hours, telling a grand space opera tale which I think does some of the strongest emotional work and character development for this particular regeneration. In terms of the non spin-off material released this year, He Who Fights With Monsters is my favourite Doctor Who release of this year hands down. So expect a 10/10 at the end of this.
Connections is the final classic Doctor Who release this year, bringing the Eighth Doctor’s many box sets of the year to a close with three one hour stories and interestingly a focus on companion Helen Sinclair after the ending of Stranded 4 heavily implied her exit (as well as establishing the exit of Liv Chenka). Despite having a cover that connects directly to What Lies Inside?, Connections is a set that doesn’t actually connect in terms of developing a story arc for the Eighth Doctor, continuing the move away from multi-box set story arcs specifically for this Doctor as well as diminishing them in terms of Big Finish’s story arcs output. This does not mean that there isn’t a focus, like What Lies Inside? there is a general overarching theme to each of the episodes, but not as explicit as other sets. The three episodes all have a fairly tight focus on exploring the characters in various ways but each straddles very different tones from a farcical heist, to romantic drama, ending with an intense piece of character drama that manages to take a place amongst the best of Big Finish’s audio output, not just of 2022, but of all time.