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.
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.
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 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.
Perhaps one aspect of The War Doctor Begins I have found myself undervaluing is the format. While the first set is a three episode miniseries about the immediate aftermath of the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor, the second established itself as its own self-contained miniseries, though early in the War Doctor’s life. Battlegrounds, the third set in the series, follows this pattern as well cementing the fact that this range isn’t going to be an actual miniseries, but four sets exploring early parts of the character’s life. This third set has the linking theme of exploring war and the various battlegrounds war is waged upon: physical, mental, and spiritual. Three scripts from three stylistically different writers each tacking a different type of battleground makes The War Doctor Begins: Battlegrounds three episodes with very different tones and a focus on character pieces above everything else which keeps the link strong, but each of the stories can find themselves separate. The other link throughout the stories is the directing from Louise Jameson, who should be singled out for being responsible for how The War Doctor Begins sounds. Her directorial style is distinct and steeps the sets in this almost ethereal atmosphere where things feel ever so slightly out of phase to give the Time War this mythical quality.
The Companion Chronicles have the distinction of being the second longest and consistently running Doctor Who range at Big Finish Productions. They began in 2007 and released several single releases to 2014 before switching to yearly boxsets between 2015 and 2019. A box set was announced for release in June 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Second Doctor: Volume Three was plagued with production delays, finally having production finish in late 2021 for release in 2022. Among this rumours spread that the Companion Chronicles would be ending with this volume which have not yet been confirmed, though there is some contradictory evidence of actors mentioning recording a release which hasn’t been announced while higher ups mentioning that this would be the final installment in the range.If this truly is to be the final release of the range (and I truly hope it isn’t) it is a stellar release for the range to go out on, finding creative ways to explore the entirety of the Second Doctor’s era and not limit itself to the Companion Chronicles’ two-hander format as it’s rumoured Big Finish will be taking the range towards a more full cast approach if it is to continue.
With each installment in Dalek Universe, the scope and tension has been building to unravel the mystery of just what’s happening with the universe that the Tenth Doctor is now before the Time War and with Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven. The initial promotion as a full fourth series for the Tenth Doctor was perhaps the most accurate description of the three box sets as a whole, all taking place right after The Waters of Mars; and Dalek Universe 3 sets up The Day of the Doctor, and actually helps transition the Tenth Doctor towards the end of his life. Like the first set, Dalek Universe 3 is only two stories, a single episode and two parts, essentially echoing the structure of one of his televised series (without the third two-parter to fill in the usual thirteen episodes as this is only nine episodes). And with any finale, this set is built around wrapping everything up from the heartbreaking installments at the end of Dalek Universe 2. This review will contain spoilers for Dalek Universe 2, so it is highly recommended to at least be caught up with the stories to this point before continuing. This is also a set which cannot be listened to in isolation, despite its high quality.
It is always a special day when Big Finish Productions revives a range previously thought ended. The Lost Stories easily come to mind over the past few years having two series of previously unseen stories released over the last three years, and after another near two year break The Early Adventures returns for a seventh series of two releases celebrating the William Hartnell era of the show. This year also perhaps went in a different direction in connecting both stories as a sequel and a prequel to 1960s stories, the first giving the audience an idea of what happened to Susan immediately after The Dalek Invasion of Earth while the other shows just how the Doctor acquired the Holy Ghanta seen in The Abominable Snowmen. Like Series 6 of The Early Adventures each story is told at different ends of the First Doctor’s life, the first being right near the beginning of his travels while the second being right near the end with his last regular TARDIS team, both focusing deeply on the companions and their time with the Doctor and just what it means to be a companion in these early days of Doctor Who and how that role has changed over the years.
The first release is After the Daleksby Roland Moore and is odd for a release in that it doesn’t feature the Doctor. Set in the immediate aftermath of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, just as the TARDIS has dematerialised and Susan has dropped her key to the TARDIS. As the title implies it’s all about how humanity can pick up the pieces after the Dalek forces have all been defeated, and despite having a Dalek emblazoned on the cover, they don’t actually play an active role in the plot. The entire story is focused directly on humanity and what the Daleks have left behind: Susan is finding her equilibrium in the decision that her grandfather made for her, Jenny Chaplin has found her robotised brother and is attempting to save his life, and David is trying to get some sort of government. The Daleks are a threat which could always be coming back and there is a single Dalek left alive, immobilised, planning and scheming to find a way to retake the Earth.