Alright, it’s February and Big Finish have released their first Classic Doctor set of the new year after January’s pre-1989 Doctor Who releases were limited to the Audio Novel and the Short Trips release earlier this month.Okay so The First Doctor Adventures: The Demon Song was initially solicited for release in January, but it was pushed back to February probably due to production delays or time for editing.If you can’t help, I’m stalling.The Demon Song and The Incherton Incident make up this set are sadly stories that don’t actually have much connection, just being a two-part story and four-part story that have the same TARDIS team which is thee First Doctor and Dodo, played by Stephen Noonan and Lauren Cornelius, so as such it’s going to be a bit difficult to give the set an overall score, especially since both stories are vastly in terms of what they are attempting to do.The first feels very modern while the second is one that takes more lengths to imitate the style of a story you would have seen in the 1960s, which makes the lack of connection between the stories feel even more stark as each story serves a very different purpose.
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.
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.
Thunderbirds has been a long standing television love of mine, it was something introduced to me in my childhood and ever since and I the artistry of the show has always stuck with me. Great puppet and model work ensured that the show would stick in the mind, plus the Barry Gray music and vocal performances lend a further level of perfection. Last year Big Finish began to produce full cast adaptations of the novels by John Theydon, much in the same style as the excellent Spectrum Files which were done to bring Captain Scarlet to audio life. But Big Finish, in collaboration with Anderson Entertainment, this year started to produce full cast audio drama adaptation of the comic strips that would appear in the likes of TV Century 21. The first set, Thunderbirds vs The Hood came out earlier this year and was such a fun time for me because it took me back to watching episodes like City of Fire and Vault of Death on DVD. Now this new set, Fire and Fury, continues the quality of the previous set and makes me itch to want more stories in this style.
Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross have been interesting characters. Harry was a companion of the Fourth Doctor played by the late Ian Marter in Season 12, leaving in Terror of the Zygons with a brief reappearance in The Android Invasion and despite being a companion of one of the more popular Doctors, he only appeared as a companion in a handful of Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures partially due to Marter’s passing in 1986. Big Finish Productions has recently used Harry in stories like Return of the Cybermen and Kaleidoscope casting the wonderful Christopher Naylor in the part. Naomi Cross on the other hand is a Big Finish original companion played by Eleanor Crooks, who also travelled with the Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan at some point. I say at some point as the characters haven’t had their technical debut as companions with the Fourth Doctor yet and are not set to release until 2024. Further complicating the characters, they have had appearances in the spin-off UNIT Nemesis in both sets with Naomi to appear in the third set later this month. So, it comes as a complete surprise that the second Seventh Doctor set to be released this year is exploring the Doctor finding Harry and Naomi again in Sullivan and Cross – AWOL. This is set either during or after UNIT Nemesis, the writers aren’t exactly clear on how everything fits together in terms of continuity but this set spends much of its first episode focusing on Harry and Naomi in 21st century London.
So what happens when your production company switches to a box set structure but doesn’t necessarily have themes for every set?Well that has been something that the past ten months of Big Finish Productions’ output has been, switching away from numbering their sets as to not overboard potential new listeners with so much content they would have to catch up on.It is with this in mind that the Eighth Doctor Adventures range was changed from the four box set arc model to integrate it with the other releases which had some interesting side effects.This meant that this year Big Finish have scheduled four sets featuring the Eighth Doctor, the conclusion to Stranded, the two now standard 3-disc Eighth Doctor Adventures, and a special fourth set featuring Charley Pollard.The two standard sets were scheduled for the last two months of the year, most likely to have a gap for actual production of the sets, the first being What Lies Inside? released this month while the second, Connections, is out in December.What’s especially intriguing is that while there isn’t any sort of story arc, Rafe Wallbank crafted connected covers almost reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels covers (Interference in particular comes to mind).What Lies Inside? is the first set that falls into the category of 2022 sets where each of the stories has been completely standalone, following Silver and Ice and The Outlaws, and like those sets the structure is a two hour adventure and a one hour adventure, though here each episode is an hour long.
Big Finish’s recent collaborations with Anderson Entertainment have been simply brilliant, bringing many of Britain’s best cult action sci-fi shows back to life with audio adaptations of otherwise inaccessible novels and comic strips. This month sees two major releases; a pair of full cast Thunderbirds stories based on fan-favourite comic strips and this audio annual which collects a series of short stories written for the respective show’s annuals. Anything Can Happen brings together Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, some of these shows I am more familiar with than others; Joe 90 is the one I am least familiar with outside of the basic premise and insanely catchy opening theme. This collection makes for a good, nostalgic listen, harkening back to an era of pulpy camp story telling that certainly charms and excites and its great to have these otherwise rare tales preserved by excellent narration from Nicholas Briggs and Wayne Forester and sound design from Briggs and Benji Clifford; makes them closer to feeling like traditional episodes of the shows rather than simple short stories.
Doctor of War: Genesis was the first of a surprise two release miniseries reviving the Doctor Who: Unbound range by giving listeners a chance to explore essentially one aspect of the Time War that the normal Doctor Who ranges either couldn’t do or just haven’t done. The entire idea is that the timeline is rewritten at the “Do I have the right?” speech in Genesis of the Daleks, Sarah Jane and Harry are killed, and the Doctor regenerates into a fifth incarnation played by Colin Baker as reality fractures. Doctor of War: Destiny continues from Doctor of War: Genesis in three separate stories that on the whole does something that the idea of Doctor of War could have become if it were a bit more self-indulgent in retelling classic Doctor Who stories in this new timeline. Doctor of War: Genesis really only did that with the first few scenes to show where the timeline diverged while taking some ideas from other stories but not just remaking them, Doctor of War: Destiny opens and closes with two stories that do takes on classics with the middle story not quite being filler, but being a story to do world-building with the universe and playing around with the Time War at a conceptual level and how changing time can affect a civilisation. What’s especially interesting is this is a set that wraps up the story fairly completely, there is a post-credits sequence that implies it’s possible for this Doctor of War series to continue, but the arc itself is basically over and the threads have found their endings.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is a corner stone of the gothic horror genre. A compelling novella telling the tale of one man’s struggles to fight human nature’s violent impulses as well as being a great study on the psychology behind public and private personas. Of course there have been dozens of interpretations across all the major mediums; tv, film, stage and even a small handful of video game adaptations. I’ve always been partial to John Barrymore’s silent film adaption from 1920 and I was introduced to the story by seeing a local drama society perform a stage adaptation, but I only read the novel relatively recently. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of those stories we are just born knowing due to its wide-spread integration into cultures across the globe.
The Audio Novels have released their third installment and instead of continuing to stay in the classic series it adds to the rather low number of Twelfth Doctor novels with Emancipation of the Daleks by Jonathan Morris, a book set in the middle of Series 10. Jonathan Morris was brought on to write the novel and depart from the previous two instalment’s format of six, one-hour episodes. The length is the same with approximately six hours of an audiobook, but it is shifted to three, two-hour episodes roughly the same word count as a televised episode according to the behind the scenes interviews. I’m bringing this up so early since the format of this novel is one of the releases biggest issues, the length of the episodes make it so that a lot of it drags and doesn’t feel like a book. This has been a slight problem with the previous two releases but as Scourge of the Cybermen and Watchers have double the chapters and double the points where the narrative stops and listeners can take a break. And with Jonathan Morris treating each part of Emancipation of the Daleks as it’s own episode, it’s paced as if it is supposed to be a full-cast episode and not an audiobook which makes everything throughout drag. Morris structures the book as three distinct ideas each following a distinct version of Bill Potts, with the inciting incident of the story being Bill Potts from 20 years in the future showing up on her own doorstep in the present before a Dalek spaceship crashes into St. Luke’s University.