Where to start with the Big Finish Classic Era?
Big Finish is a company which has been making licensed Doctor Who audio dramas since 1999. 24 years later and they have a huge catalogue of releases – and not just from the worlds of Doctor Who. There are now numerous spin-off ranges, other franchises, original productions and even the odd animation here and there.
But anyone coming to Big Finish now is often daunted by the wealth of content and, not really knowing where to start, may choose to steer clear altogether.
Hopefully, this guide may help someone to pick a place to start with Big Finish.
The Monthly Adventures
The Monthly Adventures were also once called ‘the Main Range’. In its early years, Big Finish released one audio drama each month, alternating, initially, between the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors.
These stories are a really good place for Big Finish newbies to start, not least because they are all available, on download, from www.bigfinish.com for only £2.99. (They are also free on Spotify).
Recommendations from the First Fifty:
The selection above runs the gamut of Big Finish’s output from pure historical stories such as The Fires of Vulcan and The Church and the Crown through scary science fiction such as The Spectre of Lanyon Moor and Dust Breeding, to experimental releases such as The One Doctor, Doctor Who and the Pirates and Flip-Flop. It also includes classic monsters and villains such as the Daleks, Cybermen and the Master.
The Sirens of Time, the very first audio drama, is also not a bad starting point as it features the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors each in their own mini-adventure before they unite in the final episode. It encapsulates much of what Big Finish does well which, bearing in mind it is their first release, is indicative of how good Big Finish are at doing this.
The Eighth Doctor
A little while later, Big Finish brought Paul McGann on board in their most exciting venture yet – to develop the Eighth Doctor and give him a proper season of adventures.
Fans of the Eighth Doctor should start with Storm Warning, his first adventure for Big Finish but could then, if desired skip his next three stories, although The Stones of Venice is a solid adventure.
An alternative ‘jumping on point’ for the Eighth Doctor is the season of adventures which were broadcast on BBC Radio 7 (now Radio 4Extra). These find the Eighth Doctor saddled with a reluctant new companion, Lucie Miller, played by Sheridan Smith. Modelled after the modern series’ 50 minute episodes, these are another excellent place for newbies to both Big Finish, and possibly audio drama itself, to start.
The first season of Lucie Miller features Daleks and Cybermen as well casts which include Hayley Atwell, Nigel Havers, Timothy West, Ian McNiece, Bernard Cribbins, Una Stubbs, Stephen Gately, Elspet Gray, Nerys Hughes and Roy Marsden.
The Fourth Doctor
Even though fans of Big Finish had four whole Doctors to enjoy brand new adventures with, there was, from the very first release onwards, the elephant in the room which couldn’t be avoided. Would Tom Baker work with them?
It seemed, initially, that this was not going to happen with Baker extremely reluctant to return to the role. The TV series returned and still Baker was a no show at Big Finish. Eventually, however, Baker’s resolve weakened and with continued efforts, it seems mainly from Nicholas Briggs, in 2012 the first season of full cast audios featuring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson were released.
From that first season, fans of the Fourth Doctor could do worse than listen to The Wrath of the Iceni which is a excellent historical story which involves a great performance from Louise Jameson as Leela meeting a kindred spirit in Boudicca. The Renaissance Man is a fun romp and the final two parter – Trail of the White Worm and The Oseidon Adventure sees the return of Geoffrey Beevers’ malevolent Master and, marvellously, the Kraals.
The second season of adventures is one to be treasured as it featured the return of the sadly departed Mary Tamm as Romana. Two stand out stories are The Auntie Matter, a fun PG Wodehouse pastiche, and The Justice of Jalxar which sees the Fourth Doctor reuniting with everyone’s favourite Victorian investigators, Jago and Litefoot.
Later stand outs in the range include The Crooked Man, the atmospheric The Darkness of Glass and the entire Series 8 which involves the return of some surprising characters and a thrilling set of adventures across time and space and some brilliant new characters.
If the Main Range still feels too daunting, there are a number of spin off ranges which might be a good taster of how audio drama works.
Top of the pile is I, Davros, a four CD mini series detailing Davros’s origins from a young boy to the twisted genius of Genesis of the Daleks. Structured and scripted almost like a Skarosian version of I, Claudius, it is utterly gripping throughout.
Another excellent spin off is Gallifrey, a political drama centred around President Romana and Leela of the Sevateem. The first three seasons of this form an intriguing story.
Counter-Measures is a 60s-set espionage/science fiction drama featuring the team of Rachel Jensen, Captain Gilmore and Allison Williams from Remembrance of the Daleks.
The Early Doctors
Before Tom Baker came on board, and before recasting was considered a viable or acceptable option, the early Doctors were conspicuous by their absence at Big Finish.
To address this, Big Finish created The Companion Chronicles which featured various original companion actors such as Carole Ann Ford, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Caroline John and Mary Tamm reprise their roles and recount tales of their adventures with the Doctor usually in stories featuring only one other actor leading to these being closer to audiobooks than the full cast audios of the Main Range.
However, if your preference is for the 60s or 70s eras of Doctor Who you can’t go wrong with stories such as Frostfire performed by Maureen O’Brien; The Transit of Venus performed by William Russell; Home Truths performed by Jean Marsh; The Perpetual Bond with Peter Purves; The Last Post with Caroline John or The Scorchies with Katy Manning.
Although Big Finish’s output can definitely seem daunting, it really is worth your while to pick a Doctor or a range or even a monster or companion or character from the TV series and see what they have to offer. There are plenty of budget-friendly stories which can be picked up for less than £5 and there are a constant stream of sales and discounts on a weekly basis.
See also: Highest Rated Doctor Who Audio Stories