Just over one year ago, in March 2021, the Main Range ended from Big Finish Productions as the box set format took root before being firmly established for 2022. Now, one other long running institution from Big Finish Productions is at an end, the 16 part, four disc set, Eighth Doctor miniseries which has been the format of Eighth Doctor releases for nearly a decade. Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition, Ravenous, and Stranded have all been released to acclaim and here we are with Stranded 4, the final set in this style.
My first Big Finish Audio Drama was Storm Warning, it was 2014, and Big Finish had at some point previously put the first fifty main range on sale for $2.99. Charlotte Pollard was my first companion and now, twenty years later, Big Finish are releasing Charlotte Pollard: The Further Adventuressto commemorate India Fisher’s Charley Pollard and taking the Eighth Doctor back to his early days. Paul McGann is clearly having a blast in all four stories, giving life to an Eighth Doctor unblemished by the loss of friends or the Time War, something which we haven’t seen since Big Finish revisited the Lucie Miller era in 2019. Whenever they decide to revisit this version of the Eighth Doctor, McGann breathes a new life into the character and reuniting him with India Fisher helps the nostalgia of that era bleed into the tone of each of the stories. None of the stories are particularly dark or disturbing, they all at least reference the arc of the time that Charley Pollard should have been killed on the R-101, but most importantly they allow two friends a chance to perform together for the first time in nearly a decade since the 50th Anniversary in The Light at the End.
The original UNIT mini-series from Big Finish Productions brought back Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, but only for its opening and closing instalments and is generally regarded as a weak miniseries.It would be shelved and not picked up again bar UNIT: Dominion in 2012, but 2015 saw a long running revival bringing for the first time New Series elements were allowed to be used.The series ran for eight box sets from 2015-2019, ending, but being revived this month just a week before Kate Stewart returned to televised Doctor Who, Big Finish released the first of a four set miniseries subtitled Nemesis, beginning with Between Two Worlds, where the UNIT has to contend with the Eleven, trapped on an alien planet and scheming to gain power on Earth.He is the through line for these four stories and Mark Bonnar plays the role brilliantly throughout, the set using the time to flesh out the different personalities of the Eleven with many of them getting to shine throughout.Bonnar is a constant undercurrent providing a clear and present alien danger for UNIT to face, moving away from an older perception of UNIT as only fit to deal with threats like the Bandrils.Continue reading →
October was already set to be a celebration of the Third Doctor era, bringing out the second Third Doctor Adventures set this year, but July saw the announcement of The Diary of River Song: New Recruit, sending River back to Season 7 with the Doctor travelling Europe and Liz and the Brigadier left back at UNIT. Of course, Tim Treloar reprises his role of the Third Doctor for the final story, but this is a celebration of the early years of the Pertwee era with a twist, putting River in the role of the Doctor and Liz as a companion making for a very different dynamic. Each of the four stories pastiches a Pertwee style story with the final one in particular providing one last twist for a Pertwee story which Big Finish have been unable to do until very recently which ends the set with one very pleasant twist. This twist is one which listeners would not want to have spoiled, and the TARDIS Wiki articles for these stories do provide spoilers so I implore potential listeners to avoid looking anything up about these stories. This review will only include light spoilers for plot details, but none of the big twists will be spoiled.
“The big drawback here is that there is a lot more they could do as playing it safe on a release which was sure to sell left the listeners wanting more. Still, go and give this a listen just to hear a Doctor we haven’t heard from in over 15 years as there’s still the standard Big Finish charm.”
This is how I closed my review for Ravagers, the first volume of Ninth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish productions which was enjoyable, but had the problem of playing it far too safe, a trend Big Finish continued when David Tennant began recording audio dramas. This second volume, Respond to All Calls, is immediately in stark contrast as it does anything else but be safe, telling three tales unconnected by plot, but deeply connected by the theme. The title of the set is important here: ‘Respond to All Calls’. The Ninth Doctor is fresh from the Time War and in each of the three stories the TARDIS essentially drags the Doctor into the situation, further expanded upon by the video trailer showing the TARDIS broken, but coming back to life. This does not occur literally in the set and is used as a metaphor for the Doctor becoming the Doctor again, which was the essential drive of Eccleston’s series on television. The set is three episodes from three vastly different writers all doing something to bring the Doctor back to being the Doctor before he meets Rose and can actually begin the full process of healing from the Time War.
Stranding the Eighth Doctor on Earth was by no means a new idea, it had been done in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, but making him a landlord with Liv and Helen made for an interesting change. Stranded 1 was released way back in June 2020 when we were all in lockdown and the future releases were sadly delayed, with Stranded 2 moving from its original November release date to March 2021. Stranded 1 was one of those releases while where I enjoyed it quite a bit, I felt slightly underwhelmed by the premise as it was very much Doctor Who does a soap opera, but sitting down to listen to Stranded 2 made me acutely aware of how I have missed this ensemble cast and their interactions. Like Jon Pertwee’s second season bringing some time travel back, Stranded 2 still contains four earthbound stories, it is the first to actually bring these new companions and residents of Baker Street into the TARDIS and exploring their history and interpersonal relationships. This premise allows it to stand out from the first set and the Pertwee era in a number of ways which makes it incredibly fun. As Stranded 2 is still kind of like Doctor Who does a soap opera, this review may contain minor spoilers for certain plot developments in the characters. This review was also written with each section right after listening, so each section may not reflect how any story arcs happen.
Romana is lost to the Time War though Leela and Narvin still fight to survive. A resistance, caught between Rassilon’s fury and the Dalek Emperor’s mania, have a desperate plan to stop the conflict. Everything ends. And for some on Gallifrey, the Time War will soon be over.
The War Master since its inception in 2017, has become one of Big Finish Productions’ most consistent ranges, with three of the four previous sets being released to critical acclaim with only one falling short. The range has been characterised by an exploration of darker themes throughout the Time War, giving Derek Jacobi one of the darkest incarnations of the Master to portray and explore. War is the prominent theme and how war changes people and planets, the hopelessness associated with a war to end all wars such as the Time War, and the atrocities which arise from two societies being pushed to their limit. The audio format is perfect for this type of story as it allows the cast and crew to go as dark as possible, using the power of suggestion to depict such atrocities and the listener’s mind is responsible for the gruesome images, all the while never having to restrict themselves to an adult only audience. These types of stories were best explored by the first, third, and fourth sets, while the fifth sets, Hearts of Darkness, instead decides to focus in on how the war is most effecting the two Time Lords set to survive the Time War, the Doctor, here played by Paul McGann, and, of course, the Master. Keeping the established format of four stories written by two authors, in this case David Llewellyn and Lisa McMullin, telling a linked tale over the four-hour period. Unlike previous sets, Hearts of Darkness employs several plot twists which recontextualises what has come before in the set, making it near impossible to separate each episode from one another. Things change, and like any good story, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.Continue reading →
The Eighth Doctor: Time War was announced by Big Finish Productions as a four box set prequel series to Big Finish’s War Doctor range in 2017 after the passing of John Hurt. It is now 2020 and the miniseries is coming to an end with Time War: Volume Four which is incredibly fitting as the world has gone into lockdown, much like Gallifrey has become at this point in this set where the Time War is over after the events of Time War: Volume Three.Continue reading →