Big Finish made headlines when they finally convinced Christopher Eccleston that returning to his role as the ninth Doctor was something that could and should happen. The result is a couple of box-sets of stories with Eccleston in the role — which is probably as close to him playing the Doctor again as we’ll ever get.
The first box-set is out now and I finally got around to listening to it. I reviewed each installment after listening. So, if you notice some kind of horrible error or oversight in my thoughts on part one or two, please know I had no idea what was coming….
1. Sphere of Freedom
Christopher Eccleston effortlessly steps back into his role as the ninth Doctor in this introduction to the series. The first installment is all about setting up things for what’s to come, including establishing a new character called Nova, who serves as a de-facto companion. Give the drama a bit of credit for having Nova call out the Doctor for issuing forth technobabble for his own sake and not because she understands a word of it. Continue reading
Chris Chibnall owes James Goss a thank-you note for giving Doctor Who fans something besides the implications of the Timeless Child to focus on during (yet another) gap year in new installments.
The second installment in the Paul McGann entry of the “Time Lord Victorious” arc features the Daleks (because, of course, we can’t not have the Daleks in there somehow) and builds on the foundation provided by “He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not.” “The Enemy of My Enemy” is a bit more successful and entertaining of a story than the previous installment, though I couldn’t help but feel there was some potential overlooked here. Some of the connections to the larger story come through here — especially the weapon held by the Wrax. There are probably Easter eggs to other installments of this series that I’m either not getting because I haven’t experienced them yet or I wasn’t taking notes as I listened to/read other parts.
McGann is up to his usual standard of excellence here, proving once again that he would have been a great on-screen Doctor if he’d been given the chance. Nicholas Briggs once again gives us an impressive array of Dalek voices and he even manages to make most of them distinctive enough that this listener could tell which Dalek was speaking. I will admit that years of watching classic Who has me expecting Davros to turn up at some point, but I am thinking that’s more and more unlikely.
The story builds to a point and then ends of a cliffhanger. As the middle installment of a trilogy, a lot of what we’re getting here is moving pieces into place for the end game to come. I’m interested enough that I will listen to part three.
Robert Holmes inherited “Return of the Cybermen” from the previous production team and hastily re-wrote it as “Revenge of the Cybermen” for Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor. If you’ve ever wondered if the original version might have been superior or inferior to “Revenge,” those questions can finally be laid to rest with the latest addition to Big Finish’s The Lost Stories line.
“Return of the Cybermen” uses most of the same building blocks as “Revenge” did — Cybermats, Cybermen, Nerva beacon used as a bomb to crash into a source of gold — but spins them in an entirely different way. Gone is the subplot involving Voga and its politics and in its place is a third-episode diversion to a lost colony of miners sitting on a stockpile of gold. “Return” eschews to the 60’s version of a Cybermen story with the metal monsters lurking around for much of the first portion of the story before finally arriving en mass to effect whatever nefarious plot they’ve cooked up this time. Each story introduces a new weakness for the Cybermen based on whatever the story decides is in abundance — in this case, it’s x-rays and gold. Continue reading
“Jubilee” is probably best known as the inspiration for the instant classic episode, “Dalek.”
And while the two stories share the same starting point and a couple of story beats, there are enough differences to make enjoying both versions of this story a worthwhile experience.
Once again, Big Finish provides evidence that the sixth Doctor’s era could have been a classic if it had better scripts. Colin Baker’s work here is nothing short of superb, especially given that he’s allowed to play two distinct versions of the Doctor over the two-plus hours the story runs.
The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn become trapped in a parallel world — one where the Doctor led a major battle against the Daleks a hundred years before. Now, England is a world superpower and celebrating the anniversary of overthrowing the Daleks. But there are dark secrets hiding not only in an addition to the Tower of London but also the upper level of the Tower itself.
Rob Shearman’s script for “Jubilee” is simply gorgeous. Well, at least it is for three episodes before going a bit sideways in the final installment. (I’m not saying anything here Shearman himself hasn’t admitted in other forums). The idea of a lone Dalek being held prisoner and tortured into talking in here. If you’ve seen “Dalek,” odds are you will suss out the first cliffhanger fairly easily (even if you haven’t and just look at the cover, you will), but that’s part of the point of the story. Shearman toys with our expectations for Dalek stories from the classic era here all the while having bit of fun by subverting those expectations time and again.
The story makes some fascinating commentary on the commercialization of the Daleks (I find it ironic that they bring up that slapping a Dalek on something makes it a best-seller given the sheer amount of Doctor Who merchandise I keep seeing today) as well as really making us look at how close the Daleks we can and sometimes to become. The sharpest barbs resonant through with the President of the British empire (superlatively played by Martin Jarvis). Indeed, you may find that some of the observations and actions of this character have become scarily more pertinent now than they were when this story was originally produced.
And yet, it all goes a bit sideways once we get to episode four. Honestly, the first three episodes set such a high bar that it would be difficult for any conclusion to do it all justice.
If you didn’t know that all the performances for Shadow of the Sun were recorded at home instead of in the Big Finish studio, you’d never be able to tell. This is a credit not only the actors but also the technical crew who mixed together this delightful entry in the Fourth Doctor Adventures to help give us a break from the less than thrilling reality facing us today.
When the TARDIS materializes on-board a luxury starliner, the Doctor, Leela, and K-9 encounter a group of people under the influence of Professor Nicely. Nicely has sold his followers that the answers to all their problems lie within the sun and has chartered a ship to prove his theories correct (aka hurtling into the sun). Separated from the TARDIS, the Doctor must find a way to avert disaster and get his beloved time travel vehicle back before things get too hot to handle.
Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and John Leeson all slip back into their on-screen roles easily and the guest cast is also great. There’s even an autopilot that seems to be a distant relative of the Heart of Gold from Douglas Adams.
The great thing about the fourth Doctor range is their shorter running time and not allowing you to get bored or feeling like the story is treading water. These are compact, well-told stories, that capture their era well (even if the incidental music may seem incongruous at times).
Shadow of the Sun is another stellar entry from the range.
Spot-on impressions of the eleventh and twelfth Doctor are just one of the highlights of this entertaining entry in the Short Trips range.
Two Doctors are caught in a death trap and working together must find a way out of it. Alfie Shaw’s script is a delight, channeling the spirit of the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi Doctors. It almost makes me wish I could see these two Doctors bicker on-screen together, though odds are it wouldn’t be half as clever as it is here.
If you’re looking for a fun, short story to help you escape for a few minutes, Regneration Impossible is one to add to your must-listen-to list.
Poor Colin Baker.
For someone who had such enthusiasm for being a part of Doctor Who, he certainly got the short end of the stick when it came to the quality of scripts for his era.
And while many may agree that “Timelash” is a bit of nadir for the era, I can’t help but wonder if “Mission to Magnus” had made it onto our screens if it might have competed for that dubious honor of the worst sixth Doctor story — and possibly one of the worst stories in the show’s long history.
On paper, these elements should have added up to a stronger story – the return of the Ice Warriors, meeting the Doctor’s childhood bully. One of my big issues with Eric Saward’s script-editing during the 45-minute episode of Doctor Who era is that the scripts showed no sense of pacing. A large portion of episode one would involve some distraction to keep the Doctor and Peri from joining the main action of the story for an extended period of time. That continues here with the Doctor’s childhood bully serving as nothing more than a distraction to keep the TARDIS from arriving on the scene too early.
But there are larger flaws with this story that just the pacing. I can’t help but think that giving us a story about a female-rule society written by a man isn’t going to necessarily pay huge dividends. (See also TNG’s “Angel One” that aired about the time this was written). Instead of exploring the idea and really delving into it, it’s played off for laughs and ends up feeling like something taken from the original Star Trek‘s “The Apple.”
Then there’s the horrifically poor pseudo-science and a complete lack of dramatic tension. I listened to this one while jogging and it made my run feel longer.
And yet, there in the midst of all this is Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant giving it their all. Thanks to Big Finish, we’ve seen just how tragically underserved this Doctor/companion team was by their on-screen stories. Maybe by adapting this one for their Lost Stories range, they wanted to remind us of how good other entries from Big Finish really are.
As Big Finish celebrates its 200th main Doctor Who range release, I decided to take a look back on some of the old favorites and see if they still held up.
Intended as the Cybermen version of “Genesis of the Daleks,” “Spare Parts” is one of the more revered stories from Big Finish. And yet as I listened, I couldn’t recall when or if I’d heard this one before. I feel like I should have heard it when it first came out, but I couldn’t recall many details beyond superficial ones.
Arriving on Mondas in the last days before the population became fully Cyber-ized, the fifth Doctor and Nyssa find themselves embroiled in the politics that helped created the earliest Cybermen. Listening to “Spare Parts,” I couldn’t help but feel that Marc Platt has crafted a superb prelude to “The Tenth Planet” and that I should dust off that DVD and visit the classic serial again.
What could have been a simple imitation of “Genesis of the Daleks” becomes something a bit deeper and different. There’s no one unifying voice for the Cybermen as there was with the Daleks. Instead we see various members of the population and how they react to the developments taking place within their society and on their world. Platt allows us a bit of time to get invested and interested in these characters before he begins changing them into what will eventually become the Cybermen. (If you’ve seen the new series, there are certain sequences from the story that were used in the return of the Cybermen there, though I’d argue they are more effective here). Continue reading