Big Finish: Doctor Who - Ranking The 2017 Monthly Range - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - Ranking The 2017 Monthly Range

Dr. Moo loves stories, some more than others.

Another year has gone by, and another run of stories from the Big Finish monthly range. For the first time ever I decided that this year I would check out every release in that run of thirteen stories, just for the sheer heck of it.

How good are they? In a word, mixed. It’s been a year where half of the stories were really good, and the rest below average with at least one masterpiece and one colossal flop.

So as the year comes to a close, join me as I put all thirteen of them in a list from least to most favourite.

Why? Because I can!

Obviously there will be spoilers, while I’ve tried to keep those to a minimum there might be some that slip through. Don’t say you weren’t warned. And as ever, this I just my opinion.

13. The Silurian Candidate

For some reason Matthew J Elliott sat down to write a Doctor Who story and decided that what the world really needed was a sequel to “Warriors of the Deep”. While that story would craft a base under siege scenario set during a future Cold War, The Silurian Candidate attempts to explore what happened next and looks at that culture in some more detail with Silurians thrown in for no particular reason (they don’t even appear until part three). The end result is a muddled mess that while it stands as not one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time it’s easily one of the most tedious and insufferable.

Rating this story: 1/10

12. The Contingency Club

This story from February is a bizarre one to pin down. While it starts out as a fun romp, The Contingency Club quickly descends into a tonally-jarring mishmash of different ideas that fail to gel together as well as they could. This story is especially noteworthy for having the most ridiculous villain motivation of any Doctor Who story in recent years. Apparently she’s doing everything she does in this because it’s for a bet. Yeah… no. Skip this one. It kinda sucks.

Rating this story: 2/10

11. Zaltys

Matthew J Elliott got to do two main range stories in 2017 and this was the better one of the two. Unfortunately that’s 100% by default. Unlike The Silurian Candidate he had some actual coherent ideas to use for this story, even if he couldn’t find anything good to do with them. A better story in concept than in practise, on paper it’s great but when you listen to Zaltys it feels like a bit of a chore. Why they keep hiring Matthew J Elliott I will never know. He’s just not a very good writer, Big Finish, stop hiring him!

Rating this story: 3/10

10. The High Price of Parking

This is easily the most frustrating release from the monthly series this year. It’s featuring the Seventh Doctor (my favourite of the three in the main range) and comes from one of the best current Big Finish writers, Mr John Dorney. The problem with The High Price of Parking is simply that it’s too long. The central concept – a traditional “save the natives” type of Doctor Who story only in a giant car park – is nothing short of genius. As one hour it would be a classic. At two hours though, it’s a real drag. This is something that could easily have been at the opposite end of this list if it could only have got the pacing right, as it is it falls short of the greatness it comes so close to. I love your writing, Dorney, I really really do. It’s such a rarity for you to miss the target like this.

Rating this story: 5/10

9. Vortex Ice / Cortex Fire

In this year’s multi-Doctor trilogy Big Finish decided to try something a little different, giving each Doctor a double-bill release with a companion team from the past. Colin Baker ‘lost’ this round with Vortex Ice / Cortex Fire. The former is a fun little timeywimey puzzle-box story that gives the leads Colin Baker’s Doctor and Lisa Greenwood’s Flip some nice material to work with, the latter is Cortex Fire which in all honesty left absolutely no impression whatsoever. There’s nothing by way of narrative or thematic link here, why are these stories both on the same release? It’s honestly a bit baffling.

Rating these stories: 7/10 and 5/10

8. The Blood Furnace

A really fun story from Eddie Robson that uses the opportunity of having Mel back in the TARDIS to flesh out her previous life a bit more. The Blood Furnace shows what happens when she reunites with an ex-lover who has fallen in with some aliens. The alien villains are downright nasty, so if that’s your thing then you’ll enjoy this one. The Blood Furnace is just really fun, like a well-written version of season 24, with some class struggle themes and video game imagery thrown in for good measure.

Rating this story: 7/10

7. The Star Men

I honestly had no idea that I’d enjoy this one as much as I did. Andrew Smith is one of those writers that can sometimes play it a bit too much on the traditional side and ends up offering nothing we haven’t seen or heard a thousand times before (the man has four, count them, FOUR Sontaran stories with his name attached for goodness sake). But with The Star Men he delivered a pleasant surprise to kick-off the year. This story is a tonne of fun, making great use of having four people in the TARDIS by giving them all something good to do. Great villains, excellent setting, and a memorable story. You can’t say fairer than that.

Rating this story: 7/10

6. Static

To end the year we got a Johnny Morris story, and if you’re well-versed in Big Finish then you know exactly what that means. Creepy horror set-pieces? Check! Surprise shift to timey-wimey storytelling? Check! A companion in inescapable mortal peril? Check! The Doctor manipulating the events in some way? Check! This isn’t a bad thing per say, Morris is reliably one of the better Big Finish writers out there, but one can’t help but feel that with Static he’s just doing the same old same old. It’s a very good execution of said formula but it’s nothing that Morris hasn’t already done a hundred times before and better. Static is good but it can’t come close to what this writer has done elsewhere, try something like Protect and Survive or The Waters of Amsterdam instead to see all the same things on display here done much better.

Rating this story: 7/10

5. Shadow Planet / World Apart

Sylvester McCoy’s entry in the double-bill trilogy was also the best story he got all year, which is a tremendous shame actually. Truth is he hasn’t been given much decent material since the conclusion to the decade-long epic Hex arc, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that these stories marks that character’s return to the monthly range. Shadow Planet isn’t the greatest story you’ll ever hear but it does some interesting things and manages to take a good look at the darker sides of Ace & Hex, before World Apart gives them a bottle episode without the Doctor that serves as a great little character piece for them. Both of these stories make great use of the one hour format, allowing for a fast pacing and neither outstay their welcome. Well worth taking a look.

Rating these stories: 6/10 and 9/10

4. Alien Heart / Dalek Soul

One of the problems with Peter Davison’s Doctor is that he would often be written as a bit bland or indecisive. Davison was never bad but he didn’t get decent material often enough to show us who the Fifth Doctor is and what makes this incarnation stand out. Step forward Dalek Soul by Guy Adams! This story is an incredible mind-melter that forces you to question everything you thought you knew about the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, and Davison and Sarah Sutton are never better. I wish I could say more, but spoilers dictate that I can’t. The first story in this release isn’t nearly so good, Alien Heart amounts to little more than a been-there-done-that runaround with a classic monster (I wonder which one…?) but the superior second story in this release needs the first's groundwork for it to hit the necessary beats. A really pleasant surprise and one of the best Dalek stories that Big Finish have ever done.

Rating these stories: 4/10 and 10/10

3. Time in Office

The only release from the monthly range that’s not attached to a trilogy of some kind, Time in Office is free to experiment with the format and give the Doctor some new territory to explore. With several stories from the 1970s and 80s giving the Doctor the Presidency Of Gallifrey and him always turning it down or running off, Eddie Robson asks what would happen if the Fifth Doctor actually took office. The end result is a delight to listen to. Each episode puts the Doctor, Tegan, and Leela (in the monthly range for the first time since Zagreus way back in 2003) into a different political crisis to resolve. One episode sees Tegan kidnapped by a wannabe Doctor. Leela goes hunting for Raston Warrior Robots in the Death Zone and tries to ride a lawnmower into battle. It’s hard to listen to this release without being filled with joy from start to end!

Rating this story: 8/10

2. The Behemoth

The Behemoth is a fantastic pure historical story that hits on the slave trade head-on and brutally attacks the role that the people of England played in it. As well as this we see the story attack male privilege and nationalism. At the end Constance Clarke, one of the companions, considers leaving to become a slave trade abolitionist. It's wonderful to get a story which tackles these complex themes, and even moreso one that it does it well. With its attacks on sexism and racism and nationalism it feels very relevant for 2017. If there is anything bad to say about The Behemoth it’s that the slave characters themselves do feel a little bit stereotypical at times and are rarely the focus of the story, with the whole thing feeling like a very white view of history, but when you consider who it is that needs to hear the messages of this release then you’re able to forgive that. Is this really written by the same man as the racist abomination that was Paper Cuts?

Rating this story: 9/10

1. The Middle

Big Finish have some excellent recurring writers at their disposal. The modern ones that come to mind as their very best are James Goss, John Dorney, Matt Fitton, Eddie Robson, Johnny Morris, Guy Adams, and Nicholas Briggs. We can now add another name to this list: Chris Chapman. His full length debut The Middle is a really promising start, showing an excellent understanding of what makes a good Doctor Who story, how to write for two companions without sidelining either, and what makes the Sixth Doctor so good. He effectively drops the three of them into a society where age matters, and makes good use of having all three be at different ends of the spectrum – the ancient Doctor, the young Flip, and the 30-something Constance – in order to explore how society views people differently at different stages of life. From there the story spirals off into a criticism of war and a fascinating exploration of how high-ups who don’t know the ordinary people try to control them anyway. I’m gonna come right out and say it: The Middle is my favourite Sixth Doctor story and for me it’s by far the best Big Finish story, and second-best Doctor Who story, of the year.

Rating this story: 10/10

So there we go, that’s my ranking of the 2017 monthly series.

It’s been an uneven year for sure, but the good seems to outweigh the bad with more that I recommend than I advise avoiding.

Looking ahead to 2018 it looks like a good year for the monthly series. A promising set of Davison stories to kick us off, some Sixth Doctor stories that look interesting, some great writers getting hold of the Seventh Doctor, some stories that appear to have these Doctors travelling alone, and a surprise return for Klein which I can’t say I was expecting. Lots to look forward to next year. I can’t wait to hear what Big Finish have lined up for us.

When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.

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