19 June 2015

Big Finish: 200 for 200

They've finally managed it! Big Finish's main range has been chugging away since 1999, and with the release of The Secret History two days ago, has clocked up 200 stories. To celebrate this milestone, ten lovely people (and me) have very kindly summed up their favourite three from the range in 200(ish) words - geddit?

And so without further ado, in alphabetical order...

Selecting just three favourites from 200 Doctor Who adventures is a tough call, one made even harder by the fact I’ve had the privilege of directing a handful of them myself, so I’m inevitably a little biased! Nevertheless…

For me, Bloodtide - featuring the return of the Silurians - was a very satisfying use of an old ‘enemy’. It touched on many of the issues raised in the TV stories but used the freedom of audio to elevate them to a grander scale.

Night Thoughts is a nicely atmospheric adventure based on a script that almost made it to the TV series. Possibly because of these origins, the script has a slightly different feel than many of the other Seventh Doctor adventures in the main range, although you do have to just accept that time travel is handled quite differently here than in most other Doctor Who stories.

My last choice is The Architects of History. Yes, this one is one that I directed and the concluding story of the original Klein trilogy. I’m particularly proud of this one as it was a case of everything coming together – script, acting, music, sound design etc – to make what I think is a near perfect Doctor Who adventure.

John's a director, producer, actor and writer who has worked on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Bernice Summerfield, Gallifrey, Jago and Litefoot, Vienna, Robin Hood, Pathfinder Legends and Judge Dredd lines.

It was an exciting time when Paul McGann signed up for Big Finish. His energetic, passionate Doctor suddenly had a new lease of life – and in Charley Pollard, the perfect companion. Seasons of Fear is my favourite of those early seasons. It’s fast and funny, a time-twisting adventure that deftly reinvents an old enemy. Story-telling with a swagger and a dashing hero – who could want more?

I often remember stories in terms of images – even radio plays – and Marc Platt’s Birth of the Cybermen tale Spare Parts is definitely burned into my mind. The decaying city on Mondas, clinging to life under the dome; the eerie prototype Cyberman and his horse; the half-converted girl, compelled to stumble home… I don’t think the Cybermen have never been more tragic or horrific. I’d say they should remake this for the telly, but it’s already perfect.

If David Tennant’s Doctor is a rowdier version of Peter Davison’s, as the mini-episode Time Crash playfully suggested, then Tegan Jovanka is definitely an earlier incarnation of Donna Noble. Paul Magrs gets the character exactly right in The Lady of Mercia, playing to Tegan’s strengths in a cracking script that’s part A Very Peculiar Practice, part courtly battles and politics.

Roy's a writer who has worked on Big Finish's The Confessions of Dorian Gray, Dark Shadows and Iris Wildthyme series. You can find details of his other work (including original novels Daemon Parallel and Werewolf Parallel) on his site here.

It may not be the most epic of stories, but what Spare Parts does have in droves is excellently written character drama as writer Marc Platt shows us Earth’s twin planet Mondas. Standout dramatic beats come when the Cybermen raid the houses of the unconverted to take them for conversion. An emotional, character-driven audio adventure, superbly acted and paced throughout, Spare Parts is one of the best.

Another of my all-time favourite Big Finish audio adventures, Bloodtide rattles along at a cracking pace with an exciting, engaging and most of all entertaining plot. There’s even a bit of intriguing mystery thrown in, thanks to a wonderful script from the brilliant Jonathan Morris. It’s tense, action-packed and characterful with a great performance by Miles Richardson as Charles Darwin. Definitely one to add to your collection.

With a superb script by writer Edward Young, mixing horror and mystery well, Night Thoughts is one of the creepiest stories to date. Sylvester McCoy injects his Doctor with cunning enigma, and the final scene is genuinely terrifying and gruesome, reminiscent of old school Hammer Horror – it’d never be broadcast in the TV series. Night Thoughts is highly recommended, but you’ll need the lights on afterwards.

Simon is a Top 100 reviewer of all things Doctor Who on Amazon, visit his profile here.

I’ll start with The Fires of Vulcan although now superseded by the TV series, this was one of the early stand-out adventures. An historical era that I personally love, a brilliant twist but most of all, Big Finish starts to better the TV series. Season 24 wasn't well received generally but here Sylv and Bonnie get to do some great work, proving that in the right hands they are a brilliant pairing.

Obviously, everyone will say Spare Parts. It’s the ultimate genesis story for my favourite monster ‘showing’ us what Mondas was like with an epic scope but ‘human’ consequences. The heartbreaking scene where the half-cybernised Yvonne returns home will always stay with me.

One of the best things about Big Finish is their experimental companions and there’s none better than Evelyn Smythe, a brilliant foil for the brash sixth Doctor, standing for none of his nonsense. You feel like they respect each other on a level like no other TARDIS team. She works well in historicals but I think my favourite is The Feast of Axos. Apart from the audio nostalgia of hearing Bernard 'Axos' Holley, I love the jeopardy and peaceful fatalism when Evelyn floats off in space.

Phil is an actor and writer, including several Doctor Who stories for Big Finish. You can visit his Action Figure Theatre here (or our AFT reviews here), our interview with Phil here or his main site here.

With so many Doctor Who stories being produced each year it can be hard, sometimes, for them to do something new. The Space Race manages to feel like something from Colin Baker’s Doctor Who and the New Series and, most importantly, it works as a fresh, exciting original drama of its own. Stunning performances, sound design and music all complement Jonathan Morris’s fantastic, funny and clever script. A truly inventive and original story.

The Eighth Doctor and Charley series is one of my favourites and it’s hard to choose just one story from it. There’s the classic, perfectly-produced horror of Sword of Orion and Embrace the Darkness, the gorgeous The Stones of Venice, the hysterical Invaders From Mars and there is, of course, the greatest Doctor Who story ever made – The Chimes of Midnight. But, if I have to choose one I’ll go for Storm Warning which perfectly sets up the romance and adventure and filmic feel of what genuinely feels like a new series. Big Finish at its best.

The One Doctor is the more popular of the two Gareth Roberts/Clayton Hickman comedies but I’ve a real soft spot for Bang-Bang-A-Boom. The pre-titles announcer, the accents, the brilliantly accurate spoofs of those po-faced 70s and 80s sci-fi series, the music and the performances – especially Sylvester and Bonnie – all combine to make something truly special. But it’s the script that really makes it – not only is it laugh-out-loud funny but it’s a genuinely clever and well-structured story. It’s Doctor Who.

Joe's a writer, director, script editor and currently produces Big Finish's Dark Shadows range. He's also worked on Doctor Who, Bernice Summerfield, UNIT and The Confessions of Dorian Gray. You can find him on Twitter here.

When Dave asked me to contribute something to celebrate 200 Big Finish releases, I was delighted to accept, but to pick just three audios to write about? Here goes...

By 2004, Big Finish had stranded the eighth Doctor and Charley in a Divergent universe to, it's fair to say, mixed results. A clear highlight of this stretch of plays is The Natural History of Fear by Jim Mortimore, a story that, like all the best Doctor Who, finds an entirely new angle, inspiring Paul McGann for some of his best audio work. It remains one of the experimental highlights of the main range.

At the other end of the Divergent storyline is Joseph Lidster's Terror Firma, from 2005. Like his earlier Master play, it presents a compellingly different, almost redemptive perspective on a well-worn villain – here, Davros. It also features a couple of nightmarish twists that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones.

Jonathan Morris remains one of the best writers that has ever worked on Doctor Who. The Morris magic has produced almost too many highlights to list, so I'm going to plump for 2015's fifth Doctor play The Entropy Plague. It's a masterpiece of storytelling structure with a gut-punch of emotion that would give any one of the TV finales a run for its money.

The truth is this is an impossible choice. A list that without Protect and Survive, Jubilee, or A Thousand Tiny Wings or - well, any number of plays - is woefully incomplete. Can I have another 200 words?

Matt is a blue guard, and Doctor Who Magazine's Big Finish reviewer. You can read his other reviews on this site here, or visit his own site here.

Neverland – Up to this point, Big Finish Doctor Who had been funny, it had been scary, it had been shocking – but with Neverland it was heartbreaking. This story combines epic, mind-boggling ideas with a deeply emotional, personal story, it pre-empts what Russell did with his season finales. This was also the last time that the McGann range was the official continuation of Doctor Who, it was a very exciting time.

Terror Firma – I recall that Joe was given a very mad brief for this and he not only rose to the challenge, he came up with something even more bonkers. You have no way of knowing where it’s going (I don’t think Joe knew when he wrote it). At the time we were flatmates so my favourite memory is me, my girlfriend and Joe trying to think of song for the characters to sing, and my girlfriend suggesting the Hokey-Cokey. It was all her idea!

Fanfare For The Common Men – I’m a huge Beatles fan, and I just adore this, Eddie throws in so many subtle references, the three guys playing the Common Men are (literally) fab, the songs are great, and it’s all just such an incredibly clever idea.

Jonny is one of Big Finish's most prominent writers, having contributed well over fifty stories to their Doctor Who, Dark Shadows and Judge Dredd ranges. You can visit his blog here.

In Fanfare for the Common Men, the fifth Doctor and Nyssa discover the world of British pop music has been turned upside down. Despite being inherently about the Fab Four, they don’t even feature; it’s all fictionalised with a knowing smile. Mining their history for all it's worth, with tongue-in-cheek and aliens ahoy, it’s a very worthy release for the anniversary year.

Of the official Doctor Who ‘parodies', The One Doctor performs particularly well. Starring Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford, you might think this shiny, overblown era of the show is an easy target for pastiche. And you’d be right. Big-name casting comes with Christopher Biggins’ shiny, overblown character. His and companion Sally Anne’s chemistry with Baker makes the comedy feels effortless. It’s handled cleverly and warmly - and it’s still a proper adventure, just one where the budget has really run out... With a generous helping of in-jokes, this is a real treat.

If there’s a list for show-stopping, show-influencing Big Finish audios, Spare Parts would top it. It’s a memorable, well-paced story drawn from the best bits of '60s, '80s and '00s Doctor Who. I love the grey, '50s-inspired world it inhabits, the creepiness of the Earth-like Mondas that we could one day become them. The writer weaves in the original continuity, played for dramatic effect; this is the Cybermen taken absolutely seriously. For much of the tale it’s them that’re most interesting, turning backstory into moral dilemma.

By night, Tom is a writer, artist and reviewer (see his other pieces for the site here). Visit his blog here.

The Holy Terror is amazing. I remember reading the script and actually genuinely laughing out loud dozens of times. It was quite obvious Big Finish had a genius on their hands with Rob Shearman, and the thing is that his plays aren’t just hilarious, they’re saying something as well. And this one has Frobisher. Oh, and Sam Kelly’s performance is incredible.

And while we’re on the subject of hilarity, I adore The One Doctor. Just hearing Claire Buckfield saying ‘jelly’ is worth the price of admission on its own, but Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman generously made every other bit of the play funny too. And what a cast! Almost everyone in it is a household name, and those who aren’t deserve to be.

It’s so hard to pick just three Big Finishes, but I have to mention Bloodtide. It’s the epitome of the ‘historical figure with monsters’ genre that is found almost nowhere but Doctor Who, and it’s stylish and clever. Great cast (recording it was a blast) and great script from Jonny Morris. Lovely stuff.

I’ve just noticed all my choices are Sixth Doctor plays. To be honest, that’s probably not a coincidence; he’s such a strong audio Doctor. Love him!

Jac has written for and script edited Big Finish's Doctor Who, Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme, Blake's 7 ranges and is a columnist for Doctor Who Magazine. You can see her Big Finish portfolio here, or visit her own blog here.

Picking three stories from a selection of 200 stories is very hard to do - so many gems!

My first choice is Alan Barnes' Storm Warning. When it was first revealed Paul McGann was returning to do Doctor Who on audio, I was stupidly excited. Silly, really - I hardly slept that night. I've grown up since then. I just love the action of the script - the action's relentless over those first two episodes; McGann and India Fisher hit the ground running. A pause in part three sees the action ramped up by the finale - a fantastic start for the Eighth Doctor.

Next is The Holy Terror. I've never understood why people haven't fully embraced this one - Rob Shearman's first Doctor Who story is full of wit and invention. As it progresses, the tone turns from light into dark. The final revelation is horrible - and it's done so well. Colin Baker is so damned good. Unmissable.

My final selection is Mistfall, by Andrew Smith. It's a clever sequel to Full Circle - it takes his original story and really develops Alzarius, giving depth to the Marshmen (no pun intended!), as well as introducing interesting new characters and concepts. Love it.

Blimey, that was tough.

Kenny is a journalist and the editor of Big Finish's Vortex magazine. Check out back issues here.

My first choice is Protect and Survive by Jonathan Morris. This is a masterclass in economic storytelling, and arguably Ken Bentley's finest direction. Finding Ace and Hex trapped in a version of 1989 that never happened, this is a very strong contender for my favourite Doctor Who story of all time.

In hotly-contested second place is Eddie Robson's Fanfare for the Common Men. This, like Protect and Survive, is impressively imaginative, as the Doctor and Nyssa investigate why the Beatles seem to have been taken out of time. There's some excellent songs from Barnaby Edwards and Howard Carter too.

Rounding out my top three is another seventh Doctor story - Hex's introduction, The Harvest, by Dan Abnett. Everything just seems to work brilliantly here, making it one of my favourites. Philip Olivier’s character was one of the things that first attracted me to Big Finish, so this story will probably always be one of my favourites. Bias aside though, it has a solid plot, some great villains and is thoroughly enjoyable.

There are of course many more stories worthy of mention - An Eye for Murder, The Curse of Davros, The Assassination Games and The Secret History are just a few.

Dave runs this 'ere site and writes the majority of the reviews. He's also quite proud that he's the Head of Original Content at his university's television station, but that's a bit off-topic.

Thank you very much to all those who took the time to contribute (many more were contacted) and thank you for taking the time to read. 

But the biggest thank you is to Big Finish. Over the last sixteen years, us lucky fans have been delivered some of the best Doctor Who - and therefore best drama - we've ever had. The main range is the backbone of the company's copious output and is showing no signs of letting up. Long may it continue.

Here's to the next 200!

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