Trial of the Valeyard
Audio / June 8, 2017

Released December 2013 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Big Finish is certainly no stranger to occasional bouts of fan service by revisiting characters and plot points from the original run of Doctor Who, and that is perhaps no more apparent than in its subscriber-oriented Bonus Releases which has featured a multi-Doctor story, a multi-companion story, and three stories with titles beginning with the word ‘Return.’ This has understandably been more prevalent across its ranges in the fiftieth anniversary year, one that began with finally filling the plot hole regarding Mel’s introduction, and it seems perfectly fitting that the Sixth Doctor’s infamous trial would again be revisited to close out the year as Colin Baker, Lynda Bellingham, and Michael Jayston again reunite. With a limited running time, ‘Trial of the Valeyard’ takes a surprisingly long time for the Doctor to figure out what the title openly decrees by bringing to the forefront the sixth incarnation’s more bombastic and confrontational characteristics. However, once he discovers that he has been tasked with defending the mysterious Valeyard who is on trial for a crime so heinous that even the Inquisitor cannot reveal it, the three leads shine as a story that strikes at the very heart…

The Four Doctors
Audio / June 1, 2017

Released December 2010 With Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann all reprising their titular Doctor Who roles for Big Finish since 2001 or earlier, it’s surprising that there has yet to be a multi-Doctor release that encompasses these four eras of the franchise. While Big Finish may be warranted in its unwillingness to highlight multiple incarnations simultaenously, having only dabbled in bringing together various combinations of the lead actors in a select few releases and casting the the earlier three in different roles for the fortieth anniversary special, the audio universe finally gets this monumental inevitability in 2010’s subscription-only Bonus Release ‘The Four Doctors.’ Probably wisely and certainly intriguingly given the setup, writer Peter Anghelides tells four small tales that weave into a cohesive whole, beginning with the Eighth Doctor landing on a Jariden space station where his Fifth incarnation is attempting to stop a dangerous experiment with time. As the Daleks appear with one Colonel Ulrik in tow as they seek a device within a shrouded vault, the story takes an unexpected turn as David Bamber’s Ulrik is thrust into the role of flawed protagonist by becoming the narrative link for each of the four smaller…

Return of the Krotons
Audio / May 25, 2017

Released December 2009 Whether it was the original intent of the Big Finish subscriber Bonus Releases to transition down a path of familiarity while revisiting old locations and foes or not, ‘Return of the Krotons’ marks the third consecutive release to do so, following in the footsteps of the Daleks on Spirodon and of the Menoptera and Zarbi on Vortis. As the title so succinctly suggests, the immensely persuasive writer Robert Holmes’s first villainous contribution to Doctor Who, the crystalline Krotons, once more cross paths with the Doctor, this time in his sixth incarnation alongside Charlotte Pollard. Whereas ‘Return to the Web Planet’ kept continuity references to a minimum, ‘Return of the Krotons’ revels in them and will certainly reward subscribers with an intimate knowledge of both the audio range and original television serial. Thus, interwoven into a story about the last vestiges of humanity struggling to survive on the planet Onyakis amidst increasingly numerous suspicious disappearances under their dangerous leader Commander Cobden are references to the Dynatrope, Nerva Beacon, C’rizz, and the overall mystery of Charlotte from the Sixth Doctor’s perspective. The story does manage to present these facts in a way that remains at least somewhat accessible for…

Vortex Ice and Cortex Fire
Audio / May 22, 2017

Released May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Big Finish’s Monthly Range experiment of releasing two two-part stories per release continues with ‘Vortex Ice’ and ‘Cortex Fire,’ paring Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor with Lisa Greenwood’s Flip in two stories that sacrifice absolutely nothing in terms of ambition and personal drama despite their shorter running time. Jonathan Morris’s ‘Vortex Ice’ opens the double bill as the Doctor and Flip arrive in a mine far below the Mexican surface above while searching for exotic particles, quickly coming upon another expedition searching for alien life. The notion of vortex ice itself is fascinating and certainly worthy of further exploration and appearances should Big Finish ever choose to do so, and the truth behind the particles as explained is instantly intriguing and an immensely strong hook for any story. More importantly for the plot itself, though, is that together they give rise to a surprising amount of poignant- if somewhat despondent- reflection about those who travel in time and the potential consequences that can be incurred. Yet as the story becomes ever more complex and seemingly disparate threads are introduced while a mysterious menace puts lives in jeopardy, it’s Greenwood who anchors events as she proves…

Cryptobiosis
Audio / May 19, 2017

Released December 2006 Big Finish’s intermittent Bonus Releases were an incredible marketing strategy that added extra value to their already-robust subscription offerings. Naturally, the unique niche they filled allowed Big Finish to experiment with storytelling style and even authors, and newcomer Elliot Thorpe’s ‘Cryptobiosis’ is certainly anything but by-the-numbers Doctor Who. However, as the audios continued to become more readily available to the mainstream and the Bonus Releases were eventually made available to non-subscribers for purchase, these free offerings continued to take on an added importance and had to stand up by more than uniqueness alone. As a lengthy one-part story, ‘Cryptobiosis’ has little time to set up its plot, and so the Sixth Doctor and Peri are already aboard the ship Lankester amidst mysterious goings-on. Indeed, the Doctor is cast into suspicion in remarkably short order as the tales of a sick patient and murders aboard the ship come to light. Fortunately, the script takes an intriguing turn as, after Captain Callany arrests the Doctor, he drafts him into the service of the Navy and thus makes the Doctor subject to all of its rules as he becomes the ship’s medic. This misdirection is logical and refreshing, not only…

Her Final Flight
Audio / May 18, 2017

Released December 2004 Normally, science fiction stories involving virtual or alternate realities amount to little more than an interesting diversion with little true impact for any of the main characters. However, despite its own set of shortcomings, the free Big Finish release ‘Her Final Flight’ uses its purposeful inclusion of clichés to its advantage to craft a surprisingly poignant and resonant tale that forces the Sixth Doctor to confront his past while facing imminent danger in the present. Once the story is able to get beyond it rather awkward exposition in which the Doctor lands and talks to himself following a scene in which a stereotypical zealot declares that her bioelectrical implant is ready for the Doctor, events move at a brisk pace and easily fill the seventy-five minute running time without any lag or lull. In fact, even though the world itself is known to the audience to be fictional due to the prologue, the entire story itself wonderfully takes on the form of a tragedy since Rashaa clearly states that everyone within the story is hopelessly doomed. Jonathan Owen’s Hamiyun and Conrad Westmaas’s Damus are incredibly passionate figures and lend a needed counterbalance of determinism and fact to…

Real Time
Audio / May 15, 2017

Original Webcast 2 August – 6 September 2002 Audio CD Released December 2002 Before the BBC relaunch of Doctor Who in 2005, it was primarily on the shoulders of Big Finish to keep up any sort of official adventures while the BBC tried to figure out just what exactly it wanted to do with the franchise following the failed backdoor pilot featuring Paul McGann. Following the first official BBCi webcast ‘Death Comes to Time’ featuring Sylvester McCoy, the BBC teamed with Big Finish to offer the much-maligned Sixth Doctor a more official chance at redemption by bringing Colin Baker back into the public consciousness. Fortunately, ‘Real Time’ succeeds admirably in that regard, removing Colin Baker from the behind-the-scenes turmoil that plagued his tenure on television and portraying the arrogance and sense of grandeur that so defined his character in an overall softer and more amenable light. The script wisely does not eliminate the more contentious aspects of this Doctor here, but it admirably explains why such divisive mannerisms and actions that would seem out of place for any other incarnation are perfectly logical and perhaps for the greater good in their own right. This is perhaps best explored when the…

Revelation of the Daleks
Episode / April 18, 2017

Aired 23 – 30 March 1985 Doctor Who, like any long-lasting programme, changes along with the times to better resonate with the audience and drive home its message. With that mindset, it’s unsurprising that the show in the 1980s would start to go down a darker and bleaker path, one that threw aside the rather black and white lines of good and evil that had defined the show for so long. Unfortunately, the writing often let down the realization of some very clever ideas and instead focused on unwarranted violence and brutality, an aspect brought to the forefront with the characterization of the Sixth Doctor. With the show coming under increasing pressure from the BBC, the return of the Daleks provides a momentary reprieve that ends Colin Baker’s first full season on a relatively high note. It’s telling that the Doctor is something of an observer throughout ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and that events likely would have occurred in the same fashion if he had never shown up. Perhaps this was a purposeful attempt at shaking up the storytelling dynamic, but it is intriguing that a story in which the Sixth Doctor less prominently focuses seems to flow much more…

Timelash
Episode / April 17, 2017

Aired 9 – 16 March 1985 It’s fair to say that Colin Baker’s first full year in the titular role is a decidedly mixed one. While ‘Vengeance on Varos’ is undoubtedly a classic and ‘The Mark of the Rani’ and ‘The Two Doctors’ can certainly be enjoyed within a certain context, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ is a tale that lacks in almost every respect other than shamelessly delving into past continuity. Unfortunately, the biggest issue throughout this run is that the relationship filled with such seeming animosity between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is only intermittently improved as any particular moment in any particular story warrants, creating an underlying sense of unease around the two leads that the writers and production staff simply don’t meaningfully address. As a result, when a story such as ‘Timelash’ comes along with its decent ideas amid a flurry of nonsense and overacting, the continuing maelstrom between the heroic leads only serves to further weaken the overall result, and ‘Timelash’ has the dubious honour of consistently ranking near the bottom of fan polls. Nonetheless, it is intriguing to see a programme built upon the foundation of time and space utilizing those components as a weapon,…

The Two Doctors
Episode / April 12, 2017

Aired 16 February – 2 March 1985 ‘The Two Doctors’ has a mixed reputation and is unabashedly a far departure from the somewhat lighter and more celebratory nature of the previous multi-Doctor tales ‘The Three Doctors’ and ‘The Five Doctors.’ Indeed, writer Robert Holmes’s trademark cynicism fits in perfectly with the more sinister trajectory Doctor Who began taking under producer John Nathan-Turner, though he also manages to impart a more likable edge to the gruff Sixth Doctor as the character’s insults are tempered by a genuine sense of wit and intelligence, firmly establishing him as the genuine Doctor by the end of events while paired with his second incarnation. Anyone with knowledge of the Second Doctor would be forgiven for thinking that ‘The Two Doctors’ would emphasize the character’s more comedic and impish nature that has only become more fondly remembered in the years since his regeneration. And although Patrick Troughton does prove adept at stealing the scene whenever he can instill a bit of comedy into proceedings, the serial as a whole is incredibly dark. Unfortunately, while the Sixth Doctor is purposefully a bit rough around the edges, even if the more violent means by which the writers chose…