The Stones of Venice
Audio / February 29, 2016

Released March 2000 ‘The Stones of Venice’ is the first Big Finish script penned by Paul Magrs, and his typical imbuement of more magical and fantastical elements into the world of Doctor Who transitions easily to the audio medium. Set in a futuristic Venice that is facing destruction by sinking, the plot takes a very genuine possibility but tinkers with the underlying reason by having it be due to a curse set upon the city and its ruler Orsino by his lost lover Estrella. This is eventually explained to be the result of alien technology, but for the purposes of the story it is treated as a magical cause, magic carrying great weight throughout the tale. So, too, however, does a sense of surrealism. The fact that the people of Venice are knowingly staying in a doomed city and meeting their end just to have one final party, that the gondoliers have somehow evolved into amphibious creatures, and that there is a strange fog that can somehow rearrange the layout of the city at random all remind of just how strange and yet still relatable the worlds of Magrs can get. Magrs is also quite adept at instilling humour into…

Sword of Orion
Audio / February 29, 2016

Released February 2001 Paul McGann’s second Big Finish outing brings his Eighth Doctor and new companion Charley face to face with the Cybermen, themselves making their audio debut. Following the successful transition of the Daleks and Ice Warriors to the audio medium, expectations were high even before release; however, whereas the Cybermen on television frequently lurked in the shadows until a surprise revelation partway through a story (in the many stories that did not have ‘Cybermen’ in the title, at least), heavy promotion of their return as well as the cover artwork make this type of reveal impossible in ‘Sword of Orion.’ Overall, ‘Sword of Orion’ borrows several storytelling ideas from previous Cybermen adventures, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The usual slow reveal is still in place and, ironically, knowing that the Cybermen are going to inevitably make an appearance without knowing exactly when adds to the tension and atmosphere rather than detracting from them or making it seem like the story is providing filler or treading water. This actually ends up being one of the story’s greatest strengths. The structure of the story is quite routine by Doctor Who standards and begins as something dangerous is out…

The War Doctor – Infernal Devices
Audio / February 29, 2016

Released February 2016 Infernal Devices, the second of Big Finish’s box sets to explore the shrouded and darker incarnation of the titular Time Lord, picks up his tale at an undetermined time following the conclusion of Only the Monstrous with the Time War at or near its height and with Time Lords and Daleks alike willing to do whatever it takes to win outright. Infernal Devices features a slightly different format and tone than the preceding release in that the stories, although connected, are much more standalone, each focusing on a unique and powerful weapon as well as the consequences- both intended and not- that such power can have. The Tenth Doctor briefly but emotionally recalled some of the travesties of the Time War in his final episode, but it is during this set of three stories that listeners are afforded a glimpse of just what types of schemes and powers are truly involved. The Time Lords have forsaken their stance on non-intervention and are actively spearheading counterattacks and pre-emptive attacks against the Daleks, seemingly unconcerned about any repercussions the universe at large may feel and in a very real sense mirroring the Daleks themselves. John Dorney’s ‘Legion of the…

Storm Warning
Audio / February 27, 2016

Released January 2001 ‘Storm Warning’ marks Paul McGann’s debut for Big Finish, reprising his role of the Eighth Doctor after his all-too-brief stint in the TV Movie. As the ‘current’ Doctor at the time of release, McGann is able to offer a sense of uncharted territory with his Doctor, and it’s apparent from the start that he relishes the opportunity to further explore his character while addressing some of the complaints of his character and sole TV outing being overly Americanized. ‘Storm Warning’ ends up being a very enjoyable adventure but, unfortunately, it gets off to a rocky start as it falls victim to extended and clunky expository scenes, a common complaint of these early Big Finish audios. McGann gives his all in these scenes, but nobody can be expected to talk to himself (and the TARDIS) as he describes everything he sees and smells for such lengthy amounts of time and not falter in delivering plausibility at least a bit. It’s quite telling that by the time he meets his new companion Charley for the first time, she tells him that he must stop talking to himself. Fortunately, as the Doctor finally starts interacting with others, the pacing and…

The Mutant Phase
Audio / February 25, 2016

Released December 2000 ‘The Mutant Phase’ is the third story to pit the Daleks against the Doctor. Whereas ‘The Genocide Machine’ had the novelty of being the first and ‘The Apocalypse Element’ had the novelty of being set on Gallifrey, ‘The Mutant Phase’ has no such device to bolster excitement and so the story has to stand solely on its own merit as the Daleks this time face the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. Unfortunately, despite many very positive attributes to the tale that make it quite enjoyable to listen to, there are quite a few noticeable flaws as well, some more debatable than others. The biggest issue with ‘The Mutant Phase’ is that it all comes down to a paradox, albeit not one necessarily consciously created. This is a common science fiction trope, and sometimes it can be effective in retrospect, but it becomes quite obvious early on that the plot is headed in this direction, giving a sense of nonchalant detachedness to the proceedings since they will ultimately be inconsequential. This is most egregious in the second episode when the Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Earth in the forty-third century and find the last stragglers of human civilization being…

The Holy Terror
Audio / February 25, 2016

Released November 2000 No discussion about ‘The Holy Terror’ can occur without first mentioning the Sixth Doctor’s companion for this tale, Frobisher. A bit ridiculous in concept and originally created for comics, Frobisher is a shape-shifting alien who prefers spending his time in the guise of a penguin and, when not with the Doctor, acts as a private detective in New York City. Saying that, though, he is the perfect companion for this tale and Robert Jezek does superb work in bringing that strange concept to life. The Doctor and Frobisher land in an ominous castle during a time of religious upheaval. The two are quickly hailed as messengers from Heaven and become unwillingly embroiled in a resulting power struggle as heretics are murdered and a growing evil lurks in the crypts. Rarely has such a tangible sense of atmosphere and danger been achieved in Big Finish’s audios, yet writer Rob Shearman also manages to weave comic undertones throughout the tale as well that somehow manage to not diminish the scope and function of the main plot. A subject often overlooked in tales with these settings, ‘The Holy Terror’ takes the time to consider what it means to be in…

The Shadow of the Scourge
Audio / February 25, 2016

Released October 2000 ‘The Shadow of the Scourge’ represents Big Finish’s first foray into the worlds of The New Adventures the range of novels that provided the only ongoing Doctor Who adventures following the programme’s cancellation in 1989. Although there were some duds in the range as could only be expected, for the most part the novels were immensely entertaining and often lived up to the promise of providing something in scope that the televised show could not. Quite notably, it is during the course of these novels that the Seventh Doctor truly comes to embrace his darker and more manipulative persona, and companions beyond Ace are introduced into the fold. The most famous of those companions is archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield, and Paul Cornell brings the trio of the Doctor, Ace, and Bernice (Benny) from that time period to life perfectly. The characterizations here could potentially be a little off-putting for listeners with no knowledge of The New Adventures. The Doctor is no stranger to playing for high stakes but Ace, in particular, is quite different to her youthful portrayal on screen, having fought in the Dalek Wars and been emotionally mishandled by the Doctor countless times. Benny is…

The Fires of Vulcan
Audio / February 24, 2016

Released September 2000 Steve Lyons of Doctor Who novels fame pens his first script for Big Finish with ‘The Fires of Vulcan,’ reuniting Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford as the Seventh Doctor and Mel, respectively. Unsurprisingly, given his previous bodies of work, Lyons focuses on characterization rather than putting all of the focus on the interesting historical setting, and Mel benefits greatly from the deeper exploration and time in the limelight, unquestionably bolstering the general opinion of her character as written for the classic series. Ingeniously, the plot of the story revolves around a group of UNIT soldiers finding the TARDIS in the millenia-old ruins of Pompeii. It turns out that the Doctor has known about this for some time and has been trying to ignore the fact that it seems as though he will either be stranded or die in Pompeii at some point in his future. As a core concept, this works very well in adding a sense of uncertainty to proceedings as Vesuvius nears eruption since, even if every supporting character ends up perishing, there is still no certainty that the Doctor and Mel will be able to escape unscathed. The Seventh Doctor on display here is…

The Apocalypse Element
Audio / February 24, 2016

Released August 2000 ‘The Apocalypse Element’ is easily Big Finish’s most massive undertaking yet, brilliant in its audacity and unrelenting in its action and continuity. Featuring the return of the Daleks and set as a sequel of sorts to ‘The Genocide Machine’ from their perspective, ‘The Apocalypse Element’ is a race against time as the Daleks seek to destroy the galaxy with their knowledge from the library and an all-powerful weapon that seemingly dwarves the Hand of Omega in scale. Most notably, Lalla Ward reprises her role as Romana after twenty years as a Dalek prisoner after returning from E-space at some point, and she joins forces with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and Maggie Stables’s Evelyn Smythe to try to bring order to the surrounding chaos as the hopeless Gallifreyan president panics and flounders. As can be expected, Romana does not have the same natural repartee with this new Doctor as did with the Fourth, but Ward absolutely captures the essence of everything that made her character so memorable and effectively conveys the turmoil of her lengthy imprisonment that has taken away much of her youthful optimism. Colin Baker is on top form here, though, returning a bit more to…

Winter for the Adept
Audio / February 23, 2016

Released July 2000 ‘Winter for the Adept’ finds Nyssa stranded in the Swiss Alps in 1963, an unintended result of the Doctor’s experiment. She is duly rescued by a local policeman Lt Peter Sandoz and taken to a ladies’ finishing school that just so happens to be the only establishment in the area. Mysterious, seemingly supernatural events are occurring in the school snowed in by a blizzard, the perfect place for the Doctor to happen upon during his search for Nyssa. One of the big draws of this story is that is written by Andrew Cartmel, ‘Masterplan’ script editor of the Seventh Doctor era and author of three fantastic New Adventures novels. It seems strange, then, that his first audio outing features the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa but, regardless, the core concept behind the script as well as the atmosphere work quite well as he puts a unique spin on the haunted house genre. While this may seem like a story suited best for the Seventh Doctor, ‘Winter for the Adept’ proves just like ‘The Spectre of Lanyon Moor’ before it that taking a Doctor out of his ‘normal’ story environment can still provide a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. The story…