It’s a hard time being a Whovian. As the show goes through a mini hiatus, us fanboys are forced to find other means to keep ourselves occupied. Fortunately, as a fanboy of practically everything, I’ve been occupied with classic Stan Lee Spider-Man. On the Doctor Who front, I’ve been surviving this long wait by watching Classic Who (The Mind Robber is spectacular) and New Who (The Zygon Invasion was hands down my favourite story of Series 9. More like this in Series 10 please) and, without sounding too pompous, meeting the Fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison at London Comic-Con.
That’s one down, nine to go!
Perhaps the best way I’ve found to keep myself from going through Doctor Who withdrawal however, are the Big Finish audio dramas. Yesterday I ordered the Tenth Doctor audio dramas, with Donna as his companion. My absolute favourite Tardis team are back! How could I not want this?
In short, the Big Finish Doctor Who adventures are television stories except without visuals. They were originally started during the late 90’s during the Wilderness Years (that long gap between Classic and New Who) to give the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors extra stories, with the original actors reprising their roles. This eventually extended to the Eighth Doctor to give him a proper run of stories. Tom Baker joined later, and now both John Hurt and of course David Tennant have joined in.
One of the joys of the audio dramas is that they can get away with ideas that couldn’t have been done on TV. They go dark, they go silly, they go epic, all while maintaining the Doctor Who spirit. It also made me a huge fan of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. His Doctor is a blend of Two, Five and Ten, who embodies the playful, optimistic aspects of the character with the cunning and emotional gravitas. Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor also has really really good stories, including a whole run of stories which were supposed to be made for TV but cancelled for Trial of a Time Lord. I agree that his Doctor had the worst run of stories on TV (though I love the Sil stories) but in audio his Doctor has allowed to evolve in a way similar to the Twelfth Doctor.
So now I’ll list some audio stories that I particularly enjoyed listening to. I haven’t listened to all of them (there are over 200 and cost money) so I’m sure I’ve missed some really good ones, but of the ones I’ve heard, these were the ones I liked the most-
The Mara is one of my absolute favourite Doctor Who monsters and it is one I really want to see return. I consider the two stories it features in (Kinda and Snakedance) to be two of the highpoints of the Fifth Doctor era. Kinda in particular is one of my all time favourite stories. This audio features the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough once again facing the Mara as it tries to resurrect itself in its own past by going to Manussa in the past and takes over. What’s particularly great is how the Doctor is controlled by the Mara, forcing the companions to try and save him. I just wish this fantastic monster returns in the new series in a style similar to the Zygons in Series 9.
Another Fifth Doctor one, this story involves my favourite Doctor Who monster, the Cybermen, and it is essentially Genesis of the Cybermen. The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Mondas where the population are trying to survive by upgrading and replacing their body parts, which of course leads them to turn into the Cybermen. It’s a dark story which is miles ahead of anything done to the Cybermen in the New Series (Death in Heaven got the concept right but they were still underused). As with Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor is forced to make hard choices, as he has to let history play out. This story also serves as a great sequel to Earthshock and a prequel to the Tenth Planet.
This is one of those stories which was written for TV and then scrapped. It involves the Sixth Doctor and Peri arriving on Magnus and getting caught up in a lot of trouble, which includes the Ice Warriors and Sil the Mentor, one of my favourite Classic Series villains and another one who really needs to come back. I’m also a fan of the Ice Warriors and this is a great showing for them. It’s a story that New Who really needs to do more- just a fun romp packed with great ideas. What makes Sil such a fascinating villain is that he isn’t out to destroy the universe or take over the world- all he cares about is manipulation and control. The Doctor is also great in this. The Sixth Doctor isn’t my favourite, but on audio he really shines.
There’s going to be a lot of Sixth Doctor here. In this story, the Doctor and Evelyn (his audio exclusive companion who is a history teacher and acts as a contrast to the Sixth Doctor’s boisterous attitude) arrive back on Gallifrey in the midst of a conspiracy involving the Daleks. This story also features Romana, another one of my favourite companions. The Daleks are at there best in this one. They are ruthless and relentless in their destruction. This is one of the opening sparks of the Time War, and the Doctor is once again at his best, delivering a great speech and having great scenes with Daleks. I love stories involving Gallifrey (another reason why Hell Bent failed spectacularly) so this one was for me.
Another one written for TV, this one is another really dark one. The Doctor and Peri arrive in Elizabethan England and team up with Christopher Marlowe to combat Velez, a scarred Spaniard who has sinister plans. It has a dark tone but it works really well, with the Doctor’s respect for life coming into the forefront as he tries to find a peaceful solution to the situation. The villains in this one work really well and the plot has multiple layers to it, with the Doctor being partly responsible for the whole crisis. I love historical stories and this one is just fantastic.
This one’s a classic. It was the inspiration for the Series One story Dalek, another one of my favourite stories. In this one, the Doctor and Evelyn end up in an alternate timeline where the Daleks were defeated and have been commercialized, while a lone Dalek is kept alive. It’s very dark and the Doctor/Dalek relationship is brought to a boiling point, as in this alternate timeline the Doctor defeated the Daleks in 1903 and has been locked up in the Tower ever since. This alternate Britain has been turned into a fascist dictatorship like the Daleks themselves. On top of all this, an actual Dalek invasion from the Doctor’s universe is approaching and the Doctor is caught in the wrong universe. It’s an incredibly complex story about the evils of humans.
The Seventh Doctor and Ace is one of my favourite Tardis pairings and this story brings the dynamic to life very well. It’s a political thriller where a political party is gaining control of the UK through fear (insert satire about modern-day British politics here) and the Doctor is trying to figure out what the true treat is. It’s got a lot of great action and the Doctor is just brilliant here. In the opening he breaks into a radio broadcast and mocks the presenter. The monster in this is great too. It feasts on fear and hides in people to keep itself sustained. The story also uses the radio broadcasts as a framing device to convey further aspects of the plot. It’s really clever and something the show needs to do more.
OK, the rest of this list will be Eighth Doctor, seeing how awesome he is. In this one, the Doctor and his companion Charley arrive in New York in the 1930’s during the time of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast. Of course, this being Doctor Who, there are actual aliens involved. There’s also some gangsters, a Russian scientist and a nuclear bomb. I love stories that combine historical events with the sci-fi nonsense of Doctor Who. The aliens are really cool and the whole story is very traditional but also very enjoyable. These are the kind of stories that the TV show really needs, just a nice fun adventure with great action and a clever plot. Character pieces are fine, but the show needs to remember that sometimes, a bit of adventure is good too.
Another classic one, this one is often considered the Eighth Doctor’s best. It has many awesome Who elements, as the Doctor and Charley play detective to solve murders at a mysterious house. However, it is not that simple. The Eighth Doctor had a story arc running through his stories, as his first audio adventure, Storm Warning, had him rescue Charley from her death on the airship R101, causing ripples in time. In this story, the consequences of his action affect the story and characters, and the Eighth Doctor is pushed to the limits. It’s a really complex and creepy story with great characterisation and an engaging plot. The atmosphere is allowed to build through the four episodes and the emotions are well-earned and warranted. A must buy.
Another one that uses historical settings with the Doctor Who tropes, this one is a really fun romp. It starts in Singapore (yes!) as the Doctor and Charley try to hunt Sebastian Grayle, an immortal man who made a deal with unknown forces to live forever. The story starts as the Doctor finds out that Grayle has seemingly killed him, and he goes back in time to find out the truth and stop Grayle’s plans. Much like the Chase or Keys of Marinus, every episode has a different setting, meaning it is never boring. There’s a brilliant sword fight in this story, and the twist surrounding the true nature of the villains was unexpected. I won’t give it away, but there’s a link to my all time favourite story involved…
This is everything Hell Bent should have been. Hearing the Eighth Doctor’s story arc unfold through his stories was immensely satisfying, and the conclusion brought all the arcs full circle. through the series, the Doctor had been aware that rescuing Charley was causing time ripples, that linked with Chimes of Midnight and Seasons of Fear, as she was supposed to die on R101. This culminated with Gallifrey fighting temporal shifts and mysterious forces from another universe attacking the Time Lords. The similarities between this and Series 9 are obvious, but the reason this story works and Hell Bent didn’t was because-
A) The Doctor didn’t break character and shoot someone in cold blood
B) Charley was a great character who hadn’t died two episodes before
C) The Doctor’s actions had consequences. Which leads into…
Once again, the comparisons between this and Series 9 are obvious, in this case Heaven Sent. However, this time the television story is just as good as the audio version. This is a two-hander between the Doctor and Charley as they are trapped in a world where nothing is what it seems, as the Doctor’s actions during Neverland caused him to banish himself to an alternate dimension as punishment. Now that’s how you write compelling drama! Rather than resort to memory wipes and fan fiction like “perfect” endings for the characters, Big Finish pushed the Doctor/companion dynamic to the limits and created a story that dived into the Doctor’s psyche and why he does what he does. It’s amazing how audio dramas can have more drama and creativity than the actual show. The nature of this story means it could only work as an audio drama.
So those were my twelve favourite Big Finish audio dramas. I can’t wait for my Tenth Doctor stories and I have found these to be the best way to survive the hiatus. I highly recommend you check them out, as many of them are very cheap on their website.