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.
The Master, Daleks and Cybermen plus two classic companions are set to return to Doctor Who.
A first look at Doctor Who’s feature-length BBC Centenary special, and Jodie Whittaker’s final episode, has revealed the return of the Doctor’s biggest adversary – The Master (Sacha Dhawan), who last appeared in series 12’s final episode The Timeless Children.
And for the first time since the show returned to BBC One in 2005, The Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen will all feature in one single story.
The Unbound range essentially started as a way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who by introducing six alternate universe takes on the Doctor and Doctor Who based around questions like “What if the Doctor never left Gallifrey?” or “What if the Doctor was exiled to Earth in the 1990s?”. This allowed different actors and actresses to take on the role of the Doctor, but after the initial six release run there weren’t any new Unbound Doctors introduced, two more releases in 2005 and 2008 before the David Warner Doctor was paired with Bernice Summerfield. So, imagine the surprise when it was announced that the range would be revived for two box sets using a new Unbound Doctor, the Doctor of War, played by Colin Baker, in a timeline that diverges during Genesis of the Daleks for two box sets, Genesis and Destiny (named after the Tom Baker Dalek serials).
It’s most definitely a coincidence that Big Finish Productions would have two releases within a week of each other that tells its story in a non-linear fashion, but it is interesting that it’s happened so soon after Stranded 3’s What Just Happened? inspired my review to be told backwards. The War Doctor Begins: Warbringer is presented as non-linear in the way each of its episodes are presented, beginning in media res, going to a conclusion, and then flashing back to the beginning to deal with a character’s amnesia. This decision assists in making the themes of Warbringer come front and centre with each of the three episodes having single word titles: Timothy X. Atack’s Consequences, Andrew Smith’sDestroyer, and Jonathan Morris’sSaviour. These titles make the set feel much like three episodes of a complete story. While Forged in Fire also acted as a miniseries, Warbringer is a three-part story. It feels like Atack, Smith, and Morris all had the time to communicate with each other in telling the same story.
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.
The 2020 Monthly Range releases from July to October were initially announced as the yearly anthology release Time Apart, followed by a trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories: Thin Time/Madquake, The Lost Resort, and Perils and Nightmares. These releases were recorded, edited, and ready for release until the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down and Big Finish Productions decided that one of these releases would not be suitable as it came too close to real world issues, so The Lost Resort and its follow up Perils and Nightmares were pulled from the release schedule, the other prepared main range releases The Flying Dutchman/Displaced was pulled ahead and plans were changed. So here we are, a year later and the pandemic while still ravaging the world, has an endpoint in sight with the development of the vaccines, Big Finish have released these three stories as a box set, capitalising on the idea of it as a continuation of the early 1980s era of Doctor Who in the wonderful video trailer as The Lost Resort and Other Stories.Continue reading →
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.
The War Doctor range was one of the Big Finish ranges sadly cut off due to the passing of Sir John Hurt.A fifth box set was actually planned and some of those scripts have been used in other ranges such as The War Master, at least in similar premises.Now that time has passed, the character has been recast with Jonathon Carley, most well known for several fan Doctor Who productions, and instead of continuing John Hurt’s legacy as the character which may have been insensitive if done incorrectly, goes back to the beginning of the character to explore what the War Doctor actually kind of means.The War Doctor Begins was announced as four box sets, starting release in June 2021 all looking to lead to essentially where their War Doctor releases began.Forged in Fire sports a beautifully painted cover by Claudia Gironi featuring Daleks and Thals and a younger John Hurt.It also is a set which sets up something interesting for the character, taking a step away from what Steven Moffat implied with the character, that he was the version of the Doctor who went against everything that the Doctor stood for, that his purpose was to be a warrior.There is something to be said to the recast; Carley joins Jon Culshaw’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Sadie Miller’s Sarah Jane, and Elliot Chapman’s Ben Jackson (among others) in Big Finish’s roster of perfect recasts.Carley worked closely with director Louise Jameson to ensure that his impression was more than just an impression, but really embodying the younger version of the character.He makes it his own and Jameson’s direction is also a welcome change as her touch makes the entire set have a different atmosphere to Big Finish’s usual output.Continue reading →