Been around the worlds and I, I, I, says Tony Fyler.
If you’re new to Big Finish, or if you’re more of a dedicated Who-fan and have always fought shy of the wealth of other ranges the company puts out, there’s a sense in which this could be ideal for you. It’s a toe-dip into the wider waters of Big Finish audio, a tasting plate to show you perhaps which audio series have your name (and your bank balance) on them in the future, and which maybe notsomuch.
What The Worlds of Big Finish breaks down as is six half-hour instalments, amounting to whirlwind tours around each of the character-sets or worlds, through a central MacGuffin which at some point in their lives they each have something to do with. Simple, no?
And does it work, as an experience? Well, yes and no. The MacGuffin itself is a book, Kronos Vad’s History of Earth, volume 36379, and as MacGuffins go, its import is relatively undersold through the six stories. Bad things happen and nearly happen because of it, but it is, ultimately, a book, the dramatic impact of which is hard to sell in an audio play format, especially when it’s really just an excuse to showcase the world of the play in a fast half hour. That said, as a way of gauging which series I’d be interested in hearing more of, The Worlds of Big Finish works very well.
I’m almost the perfect intended listener for this release. Come to me for Who, for Blake’s 7, or for Jago & Litefoot, and I can speak with the authority of a chronic BF addiction. Come to me for anything much else...notsomuch.
The ranges of which you get samples here are: Graceless, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, Iris Wildthyme, Vienna and Bernice Summerfield. Of those, I’ve become a recent convert to Bernice Summerfield and have encountered Iris in passing through Who adventures and Companion Chronicles. Of the others, I’d heard nothing. After hearing this release, I know that Graceless is something I’ll get around to but not rush for, that Sherlock Holmes I’ll download on a rainy afternoon when I have more money than sense (though the Nick Briggs Holmes makes a far better showing in the novel adaptation of All-Consuming Fire, so perhaps it won’t have to be all that rainy), and that Dorian, Vienna, Iris and Benny need more of my time, ears and money going forward.
Having said which, this becomes a difficult review to write – I’m not about to try and persuade you of the relative merits and demerits of any of the series, that would defeat the purpose of actually listening to the release, and your matrix of likes and dislikes will be different to mine.
So what then can be said? Graceless is a series about two uniquely talented sisters who hop about time and space at will and have extraordinary powers. It’s played with a comedy vibe but here had some of the most traumatic material in, including several dead bodies. It sets up the importance of the book and gets it to its next port of call - 19th century England, ready for Sherlock Holmes to take an interest in it. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been watching a lot of Moffat-Gatiss Sherlock, but the Holmes instalment here seemed to drag for me, preposterous mysteries unravelling with absurd solutions. The Dorian Gray story seemed much fresher by comparison, perhaps because there was only the one version of Dorian Gray in history, the one tale for the character to tell, so hearing him reinvented and reinvigorated carried that freshness which Holmes lacked. Iris Wildthyme is a very take-her-or-leave-her property, who I can only imagine has significantly more love in the UK than the US, by virtue of the thick northern accent Katie Manning uses to play the Time Lady with a Tardis in the shape of a double-decker London bus.
Personally I am growing to love her as a kind of middle ground between the Doctor and villains like The Meddling Monk and the Rani. In The Armageddon Factor, the Fourth Doctor is reacquainted with Drax, an academy acquaintance who now makes a living as a kind of space-time plumber, with a thick Cockney accent, and Iris lives in this sort of territory, with a dash of Terry Pratchett’s witches thrown in for extra spice (Pratchett-fans, listen to Iris Wildthyme and tell me she’s not a perfectly voiced Nanny Ogg).
Vienna was a new prospect for me. A futuristic bounty hunter and femme at least semi-fatale, voiced by Chase Masterson (whose only other work to catch me so far has been the audio series of Survivors. The territory we’re in here is slick, red-lipsticked space noir with a sardonic half-grin, to which all I can say is a) good job, Big Finish voice casting and b) shut up and take my money.
And we end what feels like a breathless three hours in the company of Bernice Summerfield, played as ever by Lisa ‘She Who Can Do No Wrong’ Bowerman. Seriously, I defy you to find an audio she’s in (or indeed really one she’s directed) and tell me that she hasn’t added materially, positively to its quality. At which point I probably have to go and buy a glove to slap you round the face with and life becomes focused on pistols at dawn and really, who has the time? Here, Bowerman’s Benny is aided in delivering the drama by the great voice of Terry ‘Davros’ Molloy, making for what feels like the fullest story of the collection, in a very tight half hour.
If you’re looking for flaws in The Worlds of Big Finish, that would be the main one – the tones of the worlds are very well rendered and individual, meaning you know quite quickly whether each world is for you or not. If they are, some of the episodes feel rushed or squashed and breathless, and you’d like them to breathe more. And correspondingly, if you hit a world that’s not for you, you find that half an hour is rather longer than you want to spend there, but because of the linkage, you can’t really skip ahead for fear of losing the plot, such as it is, transferred from play to play. That has the potential to turn The Worlds of Big Finish from a tasting plate to a banquet, where you can’t eat dessert until you finish your Brussels Sprouts.
One thing’s for certain though – you’ll have firmer ideas about six whole series by the end of this release than you had before you listened to it. Which, with new ranges coming throughout 2016 and beyond, is an important consideration for the geek on a budget or the geek with any pretensions to ‘playing well with others,’ as opposed to being plugged into the highly temperamental, probably-based-on-the-Tardis, but gorgeously useful Big Finish app 24 hours a day.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk