I remember the Doctor Who hiatus in 1985-1986. I hated it, especially since we were afraid that the show might not return. This time, there’s no such worry, although I wish Peter Capaldi weren’t losing a productive year.
But it’s not as if there won’t be any new Doctor Who adventures until Christmas. In fact, there’s an embarrassment of riches for us fans right now. And I’m not talking about books, comics or video games. I’m talking about full-cast audio dramas with original Doctor Who actors reprising their roles.
But where in all of space and time do you start?
New Who fans will probably want to begin with one of the new series that started coming out at the end of last year:
- Tenth Doctor Adventures starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate (May 2016, trailer).
- Doom Coalition, a good starting point for newbies. The first series is the Eighth Doctor with a couple companions. Looks like River Song crashes the party in series two (2015-2016, trailer).
- The Diary of River Song, Alex Kingston’s own series (Dec 2015, trailer).
- The War Doctor Adventures with Jonathan Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce, aka Servalan of Blake’s 7 (Dec 2015, trailer) have been getting a lot of rave reviews on Twitter.
- Kate Stewart and Osgood now have their own UNIT series (Nov 2015, trailer). Definitely on my wish list once I’ve whittled down my pile.
- Torchwood has been coming out with new episodes every month since September 2015 (trailer).
- There’s also Strax touring with Jago & Litefoot (trailer), and Ian McNeice being his inimitable self in The Churchill Years (trailer).
But as this blog’s title suggests, I’m an older fan who grew up watching the classic era, so that’s what I’m into right now.
I can’t say enough good things about the classic Who audios— classic-style stories with better scripts and FX limited only by our imaginations— but the number of releases is overwhelming. Believe me, I understand the problem. I didn’t discover Big Finish until December 2013, by which time I had nearly fifteen years of catching-up to do. I’ve been making up for lost time, and I’m completely hooked.
So where do you begin? The key is to browse discounted, older releases so that you can figure out which classic Doctors and companions you like most. I also like to keep an eye on the front page of the Big Finish website for news of sales. (In fact, I’ve acquired most of my library that way). Once you’ve found a TARDIS team you like, try more of them! For the most part, the Main Range are stand-alone; those that don’t contain enough context to fill you in.
Here’s some starting points.
- There are some freebies on the Big Finish website and Soundcloud. I recommend Living Legend as a fun starter. These freebies are pared-down short adventures, originally inserts in Doctor Who Magazine, so don’t expect the production quality of a full-cast Big Finish drama. They tend to be playful and tongue-in-cheek. (Also, here’s Part 1 and 2 of Last of the Titans, Big Finish’s Jan 2016 broadcast).
- The first 50 of the Main Range are $3 downloads. So for the price of a coffee, you can get a full-length, full-cast drama that’s like listening to a TV serial. All the original actors (Doctors, companions) reprise their roles.
- It took Big Finish a few audios to get their legs, so you’ll probably want to skip past Sirens of Time. I recommend beginning with the following, depending on which Doctor interests you:
- Fifth Doctor: “My” Doctor. Either start with the entertaining Eye of the Scorpion, which introduces a new companion, Erimem, so you can discover the Fifth Doctor and Peri along with her, or start with one of my personal favourites, Primeval, featuring Five and Nyssa, then follow them to Spare Parts, the widely-acclaimed origin story of the Cybermen.
- Sixth Doctor: Try Marian Conspiracy and pretty much anything with Maggie Stables (companion Evelyn Smythe). The shocker is that Six is an utter delight on audio. I take back everything I ever said about him back in the 80s; he’s fantastic. Jubilee is a superlative drama, adapted for new Who as Dalek, but I think the original with Evelyn was better.
- Seventh Doctor: The Fearmonger and/or Genocide Machine (if you like Daleks) launch Ace and Seven on the right foot. The first audio featuring Mel, The Fires of Vulcan, shows that even underrated companions can shine if someone would just write them a decent script.
- Eighth Doctor: Storm Warning. Since he was the latest Doctor until 2005, his arc offered Big Finish the most scope for creativity, allowing them to move his story forward rather than fit it between gaps in existing seasons. Hold off on Neverland/Zagreus until you’ve gotten to know Eight and Charley.
- A warning: The Eighth Doctor’s Minuet in Hell is uncharacteristically dismal, so don’t be tempted by the Brigadier’s guest appearance. To get that authentic “Five rounds rapid” flavour, try the Sixth Doctor’s Spectre of Lanyon Moor instead.
- Big Finish stories are usually fairly serious, but The One Doctor is a funny parody of classic Who, Doctor Who and the Pirates lapses into Gilbert & Sullivan, and Bang-Bang-a-Boom! is a Star Trek parody a la Galaxy Quest.
- Other excellent ranges include the Fourth Doctor adventures, the Eighth Doctor Adventures (I’ve heard that Eight gets even better after he was split off from the Main Range), Gallifrey (a phenomenal political drama with President Romana and Leela), the Companion Chronicles (1-hour adventures told from the POV of companions), and Early Adventures (full-cast dramas of the first three Doctors with actors filling in for those who are gone.)
To help you pick out the best stories, check my “BF Library” link up top which can be sorted by rating, Doctor or companion. Blue titles link to reviews. I also find Goodreads reviews helpful (Google “Goodreads” and the name of a particular Big Finish audio). Or see the “Collected Doctor” pages on DocOhoReviews which include ratings and a short summary (his full, in-depth reviews contain spoilers). Occasionally, I’ll check out reviews on Timescales and Pagefillers, although these also contain spoilers.
Big Finish is fan-supported and runs on a wing and a prayer. So please buy directly from the Big Finish website, not from third party resellers (not even from the random Amazon links in my sidebar— I’m grateful for commissions if you’re buying toys or books, but I want to support Big Finish because I want them to keep making more).