I have to say, I don’t review Big Finish‘s Doctor Who range as often as I should. I have long been a fan of them, and now that you can purchase them digitally from their website, for half the cost it would to buy CD’s direct, you should be checking them out if you are fan of classic Doctor Who. Classic Doctors – Brand New Adventures, as they say at Big Finish.
If you’re only familiar with the 21st century version of the program, then you might be surprised to know just long and rich the shows history is. There were 7 actors to play the Doctor during its classic series 26 year run (1963-1989) and the an 8th who played him in a 1996 telefilm co produced by BBC, Fox and Universal.
Beginning in 1999, Big Finish obtained the license to produce new Doctor Who stories, starring the 5th through 8th Doctors, along side many of their companions, and featuring all of the monsters and villains you remember alongside some brand new ones.
There are several ranges available, but right now I am going to focus on the April releases in the core Doctor Who monthly range, and the Fourth Doctor Adventures range. All of these plays feature the original casts of the show,
First up is the latest Fourth Doctor Adventure, Energy of the Daleks.
The Fourth Doctor series has been a long time coming for classic Doctor Who fans. Tom Baker, who portrayed the Doctor for an unprecedented seven years on TV (1974-81) had until recently resisted reprising the role. But now he’s back in this special range of 6 stories to feature him and Louise Jameson as Leela, the savage warrior of the “Sevateem”.
Big Rinish has gone to great lengths to make these stories feel like a continuation of the show’s 14th season. Nicholas Briggs, Big Finish’s executive producer writes and directs this story that obviously features the Doctor’s oldest. most dangerous enemies, the Daleks. (which Briggs voices, as he does for all their appearances on television since 2005)
The story is strong, while there is a 1970’s vibe, the script has a 21st century sensibility. I guess that makes sense since the story takes place about 12 years in our future. Sharp and tight, it moves briskly, clocking in just under one hour ( The CD runs 1h 16m with all the extra features). The performances turned in by this experienced cast are strong, as they usually are for Big Finish.
I have to be honest, while the Daleks are great monsters, their audio appearances can be a little grating (especially if you are listening on headphones), that modulated sound can make your ears hurt. (Maybe that is the Daleks plan)/. If there was one performance I had any real issue with, and that’s Tom Baker’s. Sometimes I am very aware that it’s Baker, playing the Doctor, and not the just the Doctor. Of course he played the part for so long there may be very little difference between them any more. It is fantastic having him back in the role though. Louise Jameson, who has been reprising the role of Leela for few years now, first alongside Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in 2003’s Zagreus, before continuing in the Gallifrey spin off series with fellow 4th Doctor Companions Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (John Leeson)
The guest cast, featuring Mark Benton (who played Clive in the premeire episode in 2005, Rose), Alex Lowe and TV Sontaran Dan Starkey are all fantastic, I especially liked Benton’s Jack Coulson. Never sure what to make of the Doctor, but smart enough to realize that the Doctor is his, and the rest of the world’s best hope against the Daleks.
Oddly enough The Fourth Doctor only had 2 encounters with his most reviled enemies during his tenure on TV, and neither happened during Leela’s time with the Doctor, which makes this story all the cooler.
The April release in the Monthly range is The Emerald Tiger. Set sometime after 1983’s Enlightenment, It features the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), traveling with Turlough (Mark Strickson) and Tegan (Janet Fielding), and recently been re-joined by a much older Nyssa(Sarah Sutton), some time after she left them at the end of the TV story Terminus. (This allows them to have all three companions together again, but without all that messy Black Guardian/Turlough trying to kill the Doctor business, for you continuity hawks out there)
Barnaby Edwards‘ story (which he also directed) is a fun mash up of everything from Kipling’s Jungle Book, Burroughs’ Tarzan, Classic Indian folklore, Allan Quartermain, Indiana Jones and the Saturday Morning serials that inspired him all successfully blended and set in the world of Doctor Who. Edwards’ job wasn’t made easy either, by having this story set in the late Davison era, with three companions. With the large TARDIS crew, finding ways to give everyone something to do, that is interesting and advances the plot is not easy. But no one is sitting around, waiting to be rescued by the Doctor, they all have their own stories going on, connected to the main plot, on the hunt for the Emerald Tiger.
29 years has done little to slow down this TARDIS team. They’ve picked up right where they left off. On audio, Peter Davison has grown into the leader and patriarch that he never quite a handle on when he was on TV. I felt it has less to do with his youthful looks than his cricketeer’s costume, and it can be very easy to reduce Tegan to a mouth on legs, or Nyssa into a introverted techinican and scientist. Turlough was always a breath of fresh air for me, because you didn’t know what to expect from him. While all of the characters are easily recognizable, they are not just rehashes of their TV persona, and I was very impressed by the guest cast. Cherie Lunghi (Excalibur, Secret Diary of a Call Girl) who plays Lady Adela Forster gives fine performance. She has such an expressive, strong voice. It is hard to believe that she hasn’t done any sort of Who (TV of audio) at all over her career. But the whole guest cast, was great.
In all this is great addition to the Who cannon, a fun story, well acted, and produced.
Rating : A-
The audio format has served Classic Who well Sure, it allows actors to play the same characters some 30 or 35 years after the last time they played them on TV. They allow stories to be told that would strain even the biggest movie budgets, spanning galaxies and all of history, but can also be very personal small stories that move you.
So if you are fan of Classic Doctor Who, or Radio Drama, you should check these titles out, Each of the other Doctors (McGann, Sylvester McCoy, and Colin Baker) all have at least 50 different plays you can check out, along side all your favorite companions from their eras, and more.
Both Energy of the Daleks and The Emerald Tiger are available as CDs or can be downloaded directly from BigFinish.com
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