The Worlds of Big Finish

Posted in Audio by - June 18, 2018
The Worlds of Big Finish

Released May 2015

As part of its fifteenth anniversary of releasing Doctor Who audios, Big Finish released the monumental crossover release The Worlds of Doctor Who that incorporated four interlinked stories featuring the worlds of Jago & Litefoot, Counter-Measures, UNIT, and Gallifrey. Now, to celebrate its ranges both related to Doctor Who and not with characters not subject to copyright, Big Finish now compiles six half-hour stories spanning from the streets of Edwardian London to a near-infinite library in the distant future as one book appears to hold the key to the fate of life on Earth and beyond.

Ciara Janson and Laura Doddington open this celebratory set as twin tracers Abby and Zara introduced in the Fifth Doctor Key2Time serials and currently headlining the Graceless range return to the Archive containing all knowledge from all universes first seen in their third series in which they learned of an impending darkness in their lives when they meet Marek once again. Returning some one thousand years after the death of the Archivist they intended to consult, they learn that Archivists are seemingly being murdered and, for the first time in the interdimensional facility’s long history, knowledge is being lost as a result. With their reputations preceding them, the sisters are drawn into the web of intrigue when the Chief Archivist of Eschatology, Romulus Chang, asks for their help in discovering the truth, leading to the discovery of The History of Earth Vol 36,279 by Kronos Vad from an alternate universe that describes a brutal Gomagog invasion of Earth. With the sisters taking the book to 1843 to hopefully serve as a guide for humanity to avoid its foretold fate in this universe, ‘The Archive’ hints at the unique powers of these two beings and expertly sets up the looming threat that should continue to manifest as the series of stories progresses.

Nicholas Briggs reprises his famed role of Sherlock Holmes for the second instalment of the set, ‘The Adventure of the Bloomsbury Bomber,’ in which Sherlock’s brother Mycroft recruits him to look into a series of explosions. The Sherlock on display here is a slightly wearier and more experienced one without the persistence and insistence of youth despite his undying conviction to learn the truth, and both Briggs and David Warner do well as the Holmes brothers who are all too eager to show off their deductive prowess with no shortage of pride. It’s almost an inevitability given the brief running time of this story, but there aren’t as many opportunities to create red herrings or any true sense of the unknown as would typically be anticipated, especially since Doctor Watson is ill and the story thus unfolds from Sherlock’s perspective in retrospect. Fortunately, there is still some layering to the script that adds a needed level of complexity even if the villainous plan itself is a little abstruse. This could never be expected to be a classic, but it again gives a successful tease of what this range is capable of and features strong performances and direction with a plot that brings this Victorian setting to life wonderfully.

Switching from the more secure and intelligent realm of Sherlock Holmes to the dark and supernatural stylings of The Confessions of Dorian Gray set in the same time period, ‘The Feast of Magog’ sees Alexander Vlahos’s Dorian and George Rainsford’s Evan Morgan in the midst of unknown forces as ancient prophecies and stories threaten to come to life. While just hinting at strife in his past, Vlahos even in this short span expertly brings out the more cynical and boastful nature of his most intriguing immortal, and Michael Thomson makes an instant impact as Alexander Korvo who combines with Rebecca Night as Pamela St John-Edwards to deliver an effective séance scene with truly impactful aftereffects that are limited in their potential only by the allotted running time. Interestingly, although Kronos Vad’s book is very much integral to the plot here, the narrative surrounding what the book decrees will come to pass remains pretty much at the same point as it was following the first story. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, and there are certainly hints that the local bookkeeper knows more about the book than he suggests, but it seems as though the overarching plot is biding its time until the designated day and year arrive.

Katy Manning’s irrepressible transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme steps into the spotlight next in ‘Kronos Vad’s History of Earth (Vol. 36,379),’ bringing with her a new theme song and new audio companion Captain Edwin Turner as played by Hugh Skinner. This is the story that finally begins tying together what has come before as the day of prophesied apocalypse has come and a television show dealing with the world’s greatest mysteries prepares its piece on the book that has defied carbon dating but that the owner claims is at least hundreds of years old and yet contains an accurate history of Earth up until the modern day. As Iris and Turner make a bombastic entrance and draw the attention of Jenni and Zack as they drive away in their double-decker bus, that same bus becomes their only respite when the bookshop seemingly disappears overnight and a well-established dental office is in its place. With newspaper clippings of the area revealing a fire that demolished the book shop and adjacent hotel and took the life of one Sherlock Holmes, Iris takes her unlikely group into the past to uncover the truth and uses the advent of her bus and time travel technology as only she can to thwart the oncoming invasion in spectacular fashion, uncovering how the book came to be in this location and defusing a bomb later to be found by Holmes in the process. Though Turner doesn’t get quite as much time to focus in his audio debut, this is a great intro to Iris Wildthyme and whets the appetite for the upcoming Wildthyme Reloaded.

‘The Lady from Callisto’ takes the sprawling adventure to the world of Chase Masterson’s glamourous and no-nonsense bounty hunter Vienna Salvatori first introduced in Big Finish’s Doctor Who story ‘The Shadow Heart.’ Vienna has quickly become renowned for its hyper-stylized worlds, tones, and characters, becoming something akin to a comic book brought to life in the audio medium; although the brief time doesn’t quite allow that to fully develop here nor for Vienna to truly have to use her fierce intelligence, the pursuit of a woman who has taken a very particular book that leads to a world of casinos and the mob gives at least a hint of what the normal range provides on a regular basis. With double crosses the norm and trust anything but a given, both Masterson as Vienna and Rhys Jennings as Cage Zorn shine as truths are exposed and the Gomagog gear up for a second chance to re-establish the version of history in which they emerge victorious that was taken from their grasp. While not the deepest story, it confidently and with great pacing sets the scene for the final instalment of this crossover special and gives yet another successful sampling of the variety on display within Big Finish’s ever-expanding catalogue.

Closing out the set is the ever-reliable and long-standing Big Finish heroine Bernice Summerfield in ‘The Phantom Wreck.’ With her trademark wit, sarcasm, and intelligence all on display, Bernice and Terry Molloy’s Captain Quinn anchor a fitting conclusion that ties together so many loose ends while bringing the encompassing story full circle in a very satisfying manner. Although the denouement is a bit rushed and easy given the very personal consequences the central decision entails, the atmosphere and tension are superb throughout, and the fated book’s passages pertaining to the specific date of the Gomagog invasion of Earth are more important than ever as the ship that saw its occupants’ victory snatched away on Earth is found once again. One brief story can never delve fully into the nuances and layers of Bernice Summerfield that Big Finish has continually developed for almost two decades, but Lisa Bowerman exudes a calm confidence as her charismatic archaeologist that makes the character sparkle in even the brief time afforded her here. Bernice brings with her an undoubted sense of familiarity and comfort no matter how bizarre the situations she is surrounded by, and focusing on this Big Finish stalwart to close out this epic is truly the only logical choice that could have been made.

David Llewellyn deserves an immense amount of credit not only for managing to bring together so many distinct characters and ranges into one project but for also managing to so adeptly capture the wildly distinct tones and pacing that accompany each, especially given that he had not had experience writing for all of them beforehand. This crossover was one that could have very easily faltered under the weight of its own ambition and expectations, but it perfectly encapsulates what Big Finish has been able to achieve with non-copyright characters in a surprisingly cohesive and always entertaining fashion where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

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