Tony exceeds the limit.
There’s a general rule here at WarpedFactor: we try not to go beyond 1500 words per article, because, y’know, people have lives, and big as our egos are, we don’t want to take up too much of them at a time. Nevertheless, trying to prescribe a quick buyers guide to the best of the best on a by-Doctor basis is a tough one to do within the word-count, simply because there are so many red-hot must-buys to choose from, and so much to say about them. Bear with us on this one, and while everyone has their own ideas of what the best stories are, hopefully if you’re a newbie to Big Finish, this list won’t steer you actively wrong at any point.
The First Doctor
1. Domain of the Voord
The story with which Big Finish chose to kick off its Early Adventures range, Andrew ‘Full Circle’ Smith re-invented the Voord from The Keys of Marinus with a whole group psychology and a sense of Voord dignity and brutality that elevated them to proper scary villain status.
2. The Rocket Men
Ian Chesterton narrates a thrilling story of thugs with jetpacks in the style of the 30s and 40s adventure serials, but the story is most notable for the questions it makes him ask and his realisation that Barbara is the person he really can’t live without. John Dorney kicks off a trilogy of Rocket Men stories with a combination of derring-do and emotional warmth that never disappoints.
3. The Time Museum
A tricksy little number from James Goss that sees Ian unravelling his history in a kind of museum of time travel. Combines emotional weight with an example of why Chesterton was such a good companion, and also serves as an allegory of real-world degenerative disease. Heartbreaking but beautiful, The Time Museum will possibly make you cry, for both better and worse.
4. The Oliver Harper Trilogy
Yes, technically this is a cheat. No, realistically, we don’t care. The First Doctor and Steven get a new recruit on board the Tardis, sixties city trader Oliver Harper. In three stories from Simon Guerrier (The Perpetual Bond, The Cold Equations and The First Wave), we see three important episodes from his life on board – how he proves himself worthy, the secret he’s been hiding, and the man that Oliver becomes thanks to his time with the Tardis crew. As well as creating a somewhat unlikely shipmate for the First Doctor, the three stories foreground the brilliance of Steven as strongly, doing double-duty in terms of their emotional weight. Plus they show us what is probably the Doctor’s first encounter with an on-screen enemy, and delivers them far more effectively than the TV version did.
5. The Flames of Cadiz
Big Finish has proved itself excellent at delivering pure historicals, and the First Doctor has been particularly well served in that regard. The Flames of Cadiz though has a particular sense of that First Doctor trope of schlepping from place to place on urgent missions, being thought of as a spy by everyone and, for Ian Chesterton, the lesson that one should perhaps not always meet one’s heroes. It’s thrilling, compelling stuff despite the toing and froing, with well-written characters and complications from Marc Platt. Pick it up if you’re in the mood for a Marco Polo or an Aztecs, but want to be surprised by the new.
The Second Doctor
1. The Black Hole
A very specifically pinpointed moment in the Second Doctor and Jamie’s history – both before and after The Two Doctors – this story from Simon Guerrier drips with 21st century thinking, while having an atmosphere and a scenario that’s pure Troughton. A black hole where one shouldn’t be possible, and a bunch of people who aren’t dead when they should be leads the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria to investigate. The surprise in this story mostly revolves around Rufus Hound, who immortalises a character that’s been due a run-in with the Second Doctor since the sixties.
2. The Second Doctor Companion Chronicles Box Set, Volume 1
Very much ‘The Jamie Box Set,’ this picks four stories from different stages in the Highlander’s life with the Doctor and shows his evolution over that time. Something creepy, something solidly sci-fi and 21st century relevant, something classically Troughton and something that takes that stolid Troughton era feel and advances it, there’s something here for every kind of Jamie fan. Add in Frazer Hines’ uncanny Second doctor impersonation, and input from fellow Tardis travellers across the Troughton era and you’ve got a set that you’ll go back to time and time again.
3. Lords of the Red Planet
Genesis of the Ice Warriors. Need we say more? While sometimes feeling the limits of its toing and froing and the budget constraints that would have made it unfilmable in the sixties, Lords of the Red Planet answers questions you always wanted to know about the green-armoured reptiles from Mars. Unmissable stuff.
4. The Queen of Time
Positively shudderworthy, this Lost Story is a companion piece to The Celestial Toymaker – another bored immortal, this time with a fascination for time and timepieces, sets the companions hoops to jump through as a way of pressurising the Doctor into staying with her forever. The imagery here is disturbing and bold and surreal, making the most of the audio landscape to scare the willies out of you – but in a way you’ll never find less than interesting.
5. The Forsaken
Another Early Adventure, this one gives us some ‘Back To The Future’ action for Ben Jackson (as now played masterfully on audio by Eliott Chapman). There’s a clammy, creepy, Horror of Fang Rock vibe to the story though, as a troop of British Army squaddies find themselves trapped on an island off Singapore in 1942, with a band of inexplicable strangers from a blue box and something that’s picking them off. You’ll breathe out at the end of this one and realise how long you’ve been holding your breath.
The Third Doctor
1. The Last Post
James Goss gives us a story of death-prediction and mechanical machinations in true Third Doctor style. Also highly notable for being told from Liz Shaw’s point of view, and giving some very welcome detail on Liz’s family background and relationships. The Last Post will leave you thinking ‘Well, I never knew that,’ and smiling, having been served a slice of vintage Shaw with a smattering of Third Doctor at the end.
2. The Third Doctor Adventures, Volume 1
A brave release this, having recast not just a companion but the third Doctor himself. Tim Treloar never entirely impersonates Jon Pertwee, but gives an uncanny sense of his presence throughout Prisoners of the Lake (ancient evil stirs beneath an archaeological dig) and The Havoc of Empires (interplanetary diplomacy gone more than a little awry). Really speaking if you’re a Third Doctor fan, you can’t get more evocative of the period than this.
3. The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
A fascinating, disturbing story from Cavan Scott and Mark Wright that perfectly captures both the personality of Jo Grant, and the relationship between her and the Doctor. It’s an occasionally harrowing listen, but it proves its worth long before the end.
4. The Blue Tooth
For those who still bemoan the lack of an on-screen adventure with the Third Doctor and the Cybermen (no, The Five Doctors doesn’t count), this is manna from Heaven. Another story mostly told from Liz Shaw’s point of view, it adds more backstory to her character, this time her college days, and delivers possibly the oddest Cyber-strategy in history (and that of course is really saying something). Nigel Fairs delivers a story that’s both bizarre and shocking while feeling entirely right for the period. One word of warning – if you hate dentists, try The Prisoner of Peladon by Mark Wright and Cavan Scott instead.
5. The Scorchies
Earns its place on the list simply by virtue of creepy oddness. James Goss delivers homicidal puppets who have songs about world domination and killing people. Once heard, never forgotten – no matter how hard you try.
1. The Darkness Of Glass
Justin Richards delivers a story that has all the creepy Edwardian base under siege shocks of The Horror of Fang Rock, but with a very New Who shudder added to its make-up. Baker and Jameson, doing what Baker and Jameson do absolutely better than anyone else.
2. The Cloisters Of Terror
Jonathan Morris pulls a fast one, delivering a story of a haunted university college, Liz Shaw’s mum, played again by the ever-superb Rowena Cooper, three ghostly nuns and a position of faith that keeps the rational world ticking over. Not so much terrifying as richly enjoyable and deliciously funny. One to go back to time and again.
3. The Wrath Of The Iceni
A potentially peculiar one, being a Fourth Doctor pure historical, but John Dorney not only delivers a fascinating point in history and rich characterisation for those who play it out, but uses the figure of Boudicca of the Iceni as a figure to show Leela her own true nature – the call of vengeance appealing to her blood, but her time with the Doctor ultimately making her a stranger to the warrior queen’s thirst for blood.
4. Philip Hinchliffe Presents, Volume 1
Hinchliffe brought a very specific style to the Fourth Doctor’s time – a kind of joyfully gothic approach to scaring the pants off the young audience. The stories here – The Ghosts of Gralstead and The Devil’s Armada thrum with Hinchcliffe style, which, forty years after his time on Doctor Who, is an absolute thrill.
5. The Auntie Matter
In a tight race between the Two Romanas, the first incarnation wins out over Wave of Destruction. The Auntie matter by Jonathan Morris is Doctor Who does PG Wodehouse, with robot valets, deadly aunts, and the Doctor and Romana both tracking down the same villain from entirely different directions. Farcical while still maintaining its darkness, The Auntie Matter will have you laughing and shuddering by turns.
Best of the Best
If you’re getting into Big Finish on a budget, and have to choose just one from each Doctor, go:
1. Domain of the Voord
2. The Black Hole
3. The Third Doctor Adventures, Vol 1
4. Philip Hinchcliffe Presents, Vol 1
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