Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE END OF THE BEGINNING Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE END OF THE BEGINNING Review

It's the end, Matthew Kresal says, but the moment has been prepared for.
In 1999, when Doctor Who had been off the air for nearly a decade, Big Finish released The Sirens of Time and ushered in a new era for the series. Namely, an ongoing series of audio dramas with returning cast members of the old series in new adventures. And for 22 years of releases, it's taken the company from the Wilderness Era to Doctor Who's resurgence on-screen and around the world. Not to mention Big Finish expanding into spin-off ranges and even picking up the reigns of Modern Who in audio format. But, as Q once told Captain Picard in Star Trek, all good things must end, even for the strand that started it all. With the nice round number of 275, The End of the Beginning does so in style.

Long-time listeners to Big Finish will likely recall that first monthly range story, the aforementioned Sirens of Time. Penned by Nicholas Briggs and featuring the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors, it was essentially three standalone stories connected by a wider arc, leading to the trio coming together in the final episode. I mention that here because Robert Valentine's script for this last story in the range is a mirror reflection of its predecessor from 1999. It kicks off with the Fifth Doctor and Turlough getting an Indiana Jones-style tale set in Edwardian Syria with Death and the Desert. From there, the Sixth Doctor and Constance Clarke get a romp in the 51st-century space alongside Valentine's bounty hunter Calypso Jonze in Flight of the Black Star. Then, in a reunion all the more appropriate given he got his Big Finish start in the monthly audios, the Eighth Doctor and Charley get a gothic horror tale set in the present-day London when the range began in Night Gallery. All before coming together, with a dash of Seventh Doctor thrown in, for the finale episode, The Lost Moon, to resolve the arc connecting otherwise standalone stories. The approach proves a deeply appropriate way to do this concluding entry, yet also mirrors what Steven Moffat did with The Day of the Doctor on-screen, and showcases Doctor Who's range across stories set in past, (then) present, and future. It's something that Valentine handles with aplomb, clearly relishing the chance to play with so many toys at once and making a splendid job of it.

Mirroring Sirens of Time's format also showcases Big Finish's journey as a company across the last 22 years. It's easy to dismiss the production values of that first audio as primitive, forgetting how far things have come. That's especially true of the sound design and music of Wilfredo Acosta, who, like Valentine, clearly relishes the chance to play with the range that Doctor Who has on offer. From desert sands to a meeting of robot gangsters, London on the edge of the Millenium, to the big finale, it's as rich a soundscape as you'll hear in any Big Finish story. Not to mention a sweeping score that's equally as rich, gloriously presented both in the episodes themselves and in a delicious music suite act as an interlude between the two halves of the story. Indeed, Acosta's work serves as much as a technical finale for the monthly range as the story itself does.

It's also a chance to hear some old favorites in action once more. The various Doctors are all given plenty to work with, with their episodes playing to their strengths and in many ways showcasing their work across dozens of their respective releases (even if McCoy's inclusion feels slightly throwaway in its fashion). Indeed, as a long-time fan, I must confess I got the biggest thrill out of hearing Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor and India Fisher's Charley together once more, the first time since The Light at the End back in 2013, a chance to hear a pair and their rapport that was a highlight of those earliest years of the range. Around each Doctor and companion is a solid supporting cast for each episode. They range from Youssef Kerkour in the opening installment to the welcome return of Robyn Holdaway as Calypso in Blackstar, Tim Faulkner's Highgate in the Eighth Doctor's episode, and, finally, both Kevin McNally and David Schofield as the lynchpin characters of the story.

As the bookend of 22 years and nearly 300 adventures, The End of the Beginning is a celebration of the range that first launched Big Finish into the Doctor Who licence. It's an utter joy to listen to, mirroring that first audio while reuniting old friends and showcasing the scope of what Doctor Who is capable of in any medium.

Of course, this isn't the last Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish, but the closing of a chapter. And I can't wait to hear what's to come next. For now, however, to risk striking a sentimental cord, a personal note from this reviewer. As someone who came to these audios very early on in my time as a Doctor Who fan and for whom they became a lifeboat of sorts in the darkest period of my life, something that I looked forward to every payday, I'm glad they went out on a note as good as this proved to be.

So long, monthly range, and thanks for all the memories.

Doctor Who: The End of the Beginning is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2021, and on general sale after this date.

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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