Radio Who – Big Finish Audio
“I’m always telling the Doctors and companions, as they come through the show, that they’ll never be quite done with it – Big Finish is expecting them.”
Steven Moffat – Interview about Night of the Doctor
It’s always been the same. A man sits down at a typewriter and, with glee, changes the Whoniverse. Presents another problem to those who dwell on what stories about a fictional character who is the equivalent of a modern myth are real.
The Eighth Doctor, in a final toast to friends, mentions Charley, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin and Molly. These names had occupied a void between real and unreal up to this point, being the Eighth Doctors travelling entourage in a long running series of audio only adventures produced by independent producer Big Finish, under licence from the BBC.
Big Finish saw an immediate upsurge in interest in its Eighth Doctor almost overnight. The questions obviously came thick and fast – who are his companions, and who is the Eighth Doctor, the one who seemed to pick “the warrior” as his next incarnation? Does it make sense? I thought I’d give an overview of those points later, which would count as spoiler territory if you want to approach the material fresh.
I’ll also say I thought it would be good to have a general blog or thread to discuss Big Finish in general, and provide a home for any individual reviews, should you wish to make them. Please use the comments section as you see fit.
Before TV, Radio was king for home entertainment. News & documentaries, drama, comedy and light entertainment were all delivered by the medium. The emergence of Radio with Pictures saw a shift in the landscape in many worldwide territories where talk radio became the province of the opinionated oafs and endless phone-ins intermixed with popular choons.
In the UK, the original tradition continued with Radio 4, and its current sister station Radio 4 extra (links to station home). Books at bedtime (readings of novels), full cast audio drama, comedy and documentaries continued to be made. As with the TV, some in-house and some commissioned from independent sources. The benefits are many for those who want to sample. Drama, for instance is a boon to those who are partially sighted or blind. I know Radio 4 was hugely beneficial to my mother as she gradually lost her sight. The content is designed and scripted deliberately to avoid the need for visual cues, so nothing is lost.
As Radio is much cheaper to produce, it can afford to be a little more experimental, so for comedy new acts can be tried. Mark Gatiss and his League of Gentlemen chums first saw their characters delivered via Radio, long before the monstrous denizens of Royston Vasey became a TV sensation.
It’s not a medium for everyone though, and for various good reasons some people can’t follow audio drama in particular. Luckily, I grew up with it and it has long been an alternative for me, starting with the Kenny Everett radio segments when I was a kid, following the exploits of Captain Kremmen – Space Adventurer!
While BBC radio is funded from the licence fee, it’s not subject to the same access restrictions, and enjoys a widespread international audience of ex-pats and and experimental.
As an independent producer of audio content, Big Finish was born in 1998 by a number of individuals who were already involved in unofficial audio content. The name most familiar to many is Nicholas Briggs, who has a close association with the AG show, providing voices for many of the creatures. It won the right to produce official commercial content for Doctor Who in 1999, while the TV show was off air.
There are always gaps in the Doctors history for the spinoff media to develop, because the show has always had a habit of indicating that we are not seeing the full adventures of the Doctor. I mean – just who was The Terrible Zodin?
So for the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Doctor, we have untelevised adventures that can be slotted into the timeline. The Seventh and Eighth Doctors have more room to play with – the period between Survival and The Movie, and the entire Eighth Doctors life are fertile territory. Old companions can return, and new audio only companions created.
|Destination Nerva||Spare Parts||Jubilee||Genocide Machine|
My feelings about them are mixed – I enjoy some, and not others. Like a lot of spin-off material they exist to be sold, and it depends on who they are targeted at. Some stories are clearly targeted at the continuity junky. Ever wondered about the origins of Magnus Greel from Talons of Weng-Chiang? Well – his story is explored in Butcher of Brisbane. It’s OK if that’s a burning question for you, but it can come across as a little self indulgent. I tend to prefer the stories where we go into new territory, and the writer does something different. Some Big Finish can be very different, and therein lies the charm for me.
Big Finish has been a relative success, and has branched out into other properties (such as Sapphire and Steel, Stargate SG-1, Highlander, 2000 A.D., Blakes 7, The Avengers, Survivors,and The Tomorrow People) and completely new and original material.
Some material is occasionally broadcast on Radio 4 extra, and there have been many offers in the past to freely sample the occasional story. As these occur in the future, we’ll try to highlight them, because it can be worth trying them for free to see if it’s for you, rather than spend what can be a significant amount of money.
The Eighth Doctor Audio
The Eighth Doctor Audio kicked off in the traditional style that the other Doctors enjoy. 30 minute episodic stories, often in about four parts on a double CD. Those who relish and miss the cliffhanger of old are well served. Starting with Storm Warning the doctor meets a new companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher) – self styled Edwardian adventuress who’s rebelling against the constraints of her period and her upper class upbringing.
|Storm Warning||Sword of Orion||Absolution||Light at the End|
Her story is very convoluted and was impacted by what I consider a creative low point in the series, which involves the Doctors exile to an alternative universe, necessary because of his actions when he first meets Charley – he saves her from what should be her natural death. In modern money he alters a fixed point. You can read a summary here. In the alternative universe, they meet C’rizz (Conrad Westmaas), a character with a troubled history. While I think his story suffers from being in that period, his ending is natural and well played in a story called Absolution. Charley is still very popular appearing in the recent 50th anniversary audio Light at the End paired with Paul McGann, and will receive her own series of plays.
As if confirming that Paul McGann is the transitory Doctor, his next series was launched after the TV show came back, and is informed by it. Changing the format to reflect the new show, these are single 50 minute episodes, with occasional two parters. They play into the notions and scope of the new series and are highly recommended.
|Blood of the Daleks||Situation Vacant||To The Death||Dark Eyes|
Blood of the Daleks introduces us to a new companion, Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith). A human placed with the Doctor apparently for protection by the Time Lords, she’s a companion who doesn’t want to be there, and initially pretty disdainful of him. “Brash” and “Northern” are two words that readily come to mind when describing her, and her relationship with the Doctor feels very fresh. The mutual affection that develops is endearing and she feels massive betrayal when she discovers that the Doctor has lied to her, forcing a parting of the ways. For a while.
Answering a newspaper advertisement for a position as a time travelling companion brings Tamsin Drew (Niky Wardley) to the Eighth Doctor, but he didn’t place the advert. While they travel together a while, they eventually meet the Time Traveller who did, and the person he recruited. It’s Lucie. Swapping companions, Lucie is there for a Christmas reunion with family. The Doctor is reunited with Susan and her son, Alex, the Doctors great grandson in Relative Dimension. Having still not quite dealt with the issues of betrayal Lucie chooses to take a holiday with Alex travelling in the future world post the Dalek Invasion.
The events of Lucie Miller/To the Death are quite shocking, ending in a bloodbath that really does cost the Doctor dear. It leaves him wondering if he should become the man he was, who was prepared to kill that caveman in Unearthly Child. He considers what he never considers before – should he be willing to interfere with his own timeline? As a narrative it really compliments what we see in The Night of the Doctor.
After these events, a short season called Dark Eyes sees him pair up with Molly O’ Sullivan (Ruth Bradley), which I’ve not experienced yet. Mainly because the series took a pause for over a year, and I think Night of the Doctor is responsible for that, as the television show added a Doctor and defined an end point for Doctor Eight. It continues shortly with new stories in the Dark Eyes strand, and I’m fascinated to see how it plays out. The pieces are in play. The Dalek Time Controller now knows the Time Lords planned genocide in Genesis of the Daleks, and we may get to experience the events that lead to the start of the Time War.
The adventure, as ever, continues…