Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE COMIC STRIP ADAPTATIONS Vol 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE COMIC STRIP ADAPTATIONS Vol 1 Review

Matthew Kresal says Meep!


2019 saw not just the twentieth anniversary of Doctor Who at Big Finish but also the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who Magazine. So it made a certain amount of sense that Big Finish would mark both occasions in one box-set, adapting the first two stories from the DWM Comic and with Tom Baker once more returning to the role of the Fourth Doctor. But would these very visual stories stand up to be transferred to the audio medium?

Facing that test first is The Iron Legion. What starts out as a quiet morning in an English village soon turns into an invasion from a parallel universe where the Roman Empire not only never fell but has conquered their Earth and galaxies to boot. Into which, of course, the Doctor joins the fray which sees him taking on the titular robotic Romans, their bird-headed leader General Ironicus (played with gusto by Brian Prothero), and the dark secret at the heart of this parallel Rome. If ever there was a candidate for a Doctor Who feature film, The Iron Legion would be among the top picks with this Big Finish version going a long way to display why that's the case with this tale full of airships, robots, and gladiator games realized in the aural equivalent of the widescreen.


The second story in the set is an adaptation, appropriately enough, of DWM's second comic, The Star Beast. Told on less grand of a scale than The Iron Legion, Star Beast has a UFO crashing to Earth in the town of Blackcastle where teenagers Sharon and Fudge offer its cute and fuzzy pilot refuge. The Doctor, meanwhile, stumbles upon a group of warriors in Earth orbit, also seeking the same alien creature, and forcing him to seek it out as well. As adapter Alan Barnes (himself a writer on the DWM strip in the past) points out on the extras disc, Star Beast is almost an alternative Season 18 opener, a cross between the tone of Season 17 with the down to Earth setting of Series 11's The Woman Who Fell To Earth. It's something that works to the story's advantage, especially with the inclusion of the delightful Rhianne Starbuck as Sharon and perhaps the DWM comic's most iconic villain in the process.


As all that might attest, this set is not one of Big Finish's more serious works. What it is, in apparent keeping with the original comics (where this reviewer must admit something of a gap in their Who knowledge), is an absolute delight to take in. That isn't to call them frivolous or unengaging, far from it. As much as both Barnes and director Nicholas Briggs talk about how much different the stories are from TV Doctor Who of the time, both of these tales feel very much at home alongside the better serials from Season 17.

That's in part due to Tom Baker himself. While the quality of his performances has been variable, ranging from 'Tom Baker playing Tom Baker playing the Doctor' to uncannily capturing himself four-plus decades in the past, here he finds a sweet spot. Prepare to be treated to the Fourth Doctor of stories like City of Death and the recorded bits of Shada: flippant at times to be sure but ready to be utterly serious a moment later. For someone who once turned down Big Finish time and again, Baker is clearly having the time of his life, and that's something which lights up not only his own performance but also those around him and, just as important, the production as a whole.

As a celebration of both 20 years of Big Finish and 40 years of DWM, there's plenty to love about the Comic Strip Adaptations set. From two captivating, if quite different, stories to a leading man in his element, it neatly brings together the longest-serving Doctor with two of the longest-running aspects of its spin-off media. It's also four glorious hours of pure Doctor Who fun from yesteryear brought to life for your 21st-century enjoyment, the very best kind of time travel (of a sort anyway).

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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