Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Big Finish 1-90 The Best of the Best

Given this is the handover point between Gary Russell and Nick Briggs I thought this was the perfect time to round up the best and the worst of this period of Big Finish. Gary Russell should hold his head very high for (on the whole) maintaining an extremely high level of quality through the series’ first 90 releases and here are my personal favourites…

Thanks for coming this far on this journey with me guys - it wouldn't be the same without out your feedback be it here on the site, on Gallifrey Base or the Big Finish forums. So lets celebrate the best of the best of the Gary Russell era...

The Fires of Vulcan written by Steve Lyons and directed by Gary Russell

The Real McCoy: Wow. Wow. Wow. Astonishing that this story should feature the season 24 team of the seventh Doctor and Mel and it is all the more impressive for it. With four episodes Steve Lyons has shown us a very different dynamic we could have seen between them and opened up a world of potential stories.

Generous Ginge: Whatever plaudits go out for McCoy should be quadrupled for Bonnie Langford. Kudos to her for approaching Big Finish herself to appear in their audio dramas and what a difference it made to her reputation within fandom circles. Suddenly Mel is being written and performed as an adult, maintaining her positive attitude to life but sensible enough to turn down her enthusiasm when the situation is serious enough.

Great Ideas: Capitalising on the drama of Pompeii’s destruction. So good Doctor Who did it twice.

Standout Performance: Bonnie Langford underplays every scene and sells the drama of the situation with ease. Go and listen to her quiet shock at the end of episode three where the seagulls have left the sky, it’s haunting.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You think you’ll reclaim your honour this way but your honour will be worth nothing when you’re reduced to ashes!’ ‘Then die Doctor with a coward’s plea on your lips!’

Musical Cues: The best score yet, Alistair Lock’s command of instruments gives the impression this historical adventure had an entire orchestra backing the action

Result: A Scotsman and a redhead visit Pompeii and argue over the morality of their foreknowledge of the future, sound familiar? This is something very special indeed. So many areas of this story could have been fudged (McCoy could have phoned in his performance, Bonnie Langford could have over enthused, the script could have been too maudlin, the atmosphere too grim) but every aspect of this production is spot on from the cast to the director and the musical score. I have always loved Historicals and Steve Lyons produces a powerhouse of drama here, a cast of memorable characters and a emotion drive that runs through the story and makes pressing stop to go to sleep (grrr) very hard indeed! It’s clever, involving and dramatic and it never cheats the audience of the spectacle of Pompeii whilst telling quite an intimate story within it. Possibly the best performance Sylvester McCoy has ever given as the Doctor, it is a triumph for the seventh Doctor and a real highlight amongst the fluff of season 24: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/03/fires-of-vulcan-written-by-steve-lyons.html
The Holy Terror written by Rob Shearman and directed by Nick Pegg

Softer Six: The sixth Doctor’s renaissance continues apace with another story that sees him stepping out of his terrorising personality of the past and emerging as a powerful but gentle being with a vast tapestry of experience to call on and his own unique way of approaching his adventures. The climatic moment that sees the sixth begging Eugene not to commit suicide is simply one of the most powerful scenes in Doctor Who’s canon and Colin Baker’s finest moment thus far. It brought tears to my eyes.

Great Ideas: The Holy Terror is a cornucopia of fantastically clever ideas; Rob Shearman lavishes his imagination and introduces stacks of funny, dark and powerful concepts.

Standout Performance: Roberta Taylor is astonishingly good as Berengaria who is an indulgent, cruel and bored Empress. Her gorgeous gravelly voice is perfect for audio and she plays her part to the hilt. The scene where she berates Livila’s lousy torture methods is awesome: ‘I don’t want to live!’ As the wife of a dead God she has no purpose and the story sees her trying to discover if she can have a purpose beyond that role which starts to subvert before the child kills her and her son.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your father committed the ultimate blasphemy.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘He died. Gods aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing.’
‘I thought I felt a twinge of something divine for a moment but it was just indigestion.’

Isn’t that Odd? For Big Finish to tip their hat towards the comic strip like this is marvellous and it is such a shame that so few people bought this title initially. Those proud, idiot fans who think that it is too far fetched for the Doctor to have a talking penguin for a companion.

Standout Moment: The conclusion of this story is devastating. An ashamed, tortured father begging his son for forgiveness and killing himself for the crime of murdering his own son.

Result: This is how good Big Finish are when they are on form. Much like the prison that the story is set within this audio is not quite what it seems and anyone who goes in expecting a deliriously fun and flightly adventure with the Doctor and Frobisher will be shocked. This is a shockingly bleak and yet hilariously funny take on the nature of religion with a biting commentary on the nature of religious toleration. It is populated with some gruesome and twisted characters played outrageously by a terrific cast at the height of their powers. Colin Baker and Robert Jezek make as much of an impact on us as the Doctor and Frobisher do on this society. The script constantly surprises with witty lines, thoughtful moments and stacks of unusual twists and by the time you reach the last episode you are wrapped up in this dangerous and frightening world. Every time I listen to this story I come away with something new, the issues discussed are always going to be relevant and the imagination on display here by Rob Shearman means he simply has to be used again. Astonishingly good, Big Finish has really hit their stride now: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/03/holy-terror-written-by-rob-shearman-and.html =====================================================================================
The Stones of Venice by Paul Magrs and directed by Gary Russell

Breathless Romantic: Now this is more like it! Considering this was the first story Paul McGann performed after the TV Movie he puts in a confident and assured performance where you never doubt for one second that he is the Doctor through and through. Paul Magrs’ fantastic dialogue helps but McGann plays the lines for all they are worth – if anything he is even more enthused and full of wonder than in Storm Warning and he snuggles into the romantic atmosphere beautifully.

Great Ideas: Magrs is an ideas man – that is his meat and tink so you can always expect something special when his name crops up in the schedules but imagine my delight when he decided to set a story in my absolute favourite place in the whole world – Venice! I had a truly wonderful week in Venice three years ago and have been desperate to return since. There is an atmosphere of beauty, magic and wonder, decay and disaster, curses and cults. It’s fabulous.

Standout Performance: How wonderful to see Michael Sheard in Doctor Who again. His impressive turn as Duke Orcino is one of his best performances in the show; in turns desperately romantic, lethargic, ruthless, bloodthirsty and theatrical. He is an insane selfish man but is ultimately redeemed.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Last time I watched the light spilling from palace windows onto the Grand Canal and all the stars looked as though they were trapped underwater bursting to get out.’
‘I’ll find myself some opulent ballroom and watch the chandeliers grown extravagant beards of lichen and weed and the monstrous fishes take up residence in the sepulchre boudoirs of ancient princesses.’

Audio Landscape: God bless Gary Russell for being so in tune with the script and bringing it to life with such verve and energy.

Musical Cues: More plaudits as Russell Stone gives us the party of the decade with his riotous piano score. Seriously this is the best of some outstanding scores by Stone, the glorious piano pieces in episodes three and four as the party goes on around the drama really got me in the mood for a knees up.

Isn’t the Odd: That the story is hopelessly predictable but I don’t give a toss because I was so romanced by its atmosphere and imagery? It happens…

Result: Controversially this might be my all time favourite Big Finish. It’s not the most intelligently written or the most innovative, it doesn’t have a huge mission statement and it doesn’t once threaten to become an exciting story. The script is captivating all the same, full of delicious dialogue, magic, love and wonder and perfectly taking me back to one of the best weeks of my life spent in Venice. The Doctor and Charley are perfect for this story and have their own adventures, wrapping themselves up in the seductive atmosphere of the place and enjoying some of their best ever dialogue. This is a world of secret cults, lost love and revolutionaries hiding under the surface, a story where the conclusion sees lovers sacrificing themselves so they can be together and a City reborn. I could listen to this one over and over. How on Earth did Tom Baker say no? What a nutter: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/03/stones-of-venice-by-paul-magrs-and.html =====================================================================================
The One Doctor written by Gareth Roberts & Clayton Hickman and directed by Gary Russell

Softer Six: This is where it had finally cemented in everybody’s minds that the sixth Doctor was the reigning champion of the audio adventures, that he had totally swept away his post regenerative slumber and was firing on all cylinders in a way that was totally unique to himself. Whether he was battle monsters alongside Peri, Evelyn or Mel this was the Doctor that Colin Baker wanted to play and we love him to pieces for all the right reasons. No wonder he won the best Doctor poll this year instead of lacking behind in last position as always. It was a vindication of the sixth Doctor and about bloody time!

Generous Ginge: Somehow…somehow Roberts and Clayton manage to highlight all of Mel’s overdone morality, enthusiasm and squeaky cleanliness and make her utterly wonderful at the same time!

Standout Performance: Who else but the incorrigible Christopher Biggins, one of our national treasures and an absolute hoot as the conman Banto Zame. He is hilarious throughout and has many laugh out loud confrontations with the similarly verbose sixth Doctor. Just read some of the dialogue listed below to see what a marvellous character this is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Awe inspiring in that coat? Have you taken a look in the mirror recently? Come to think of it I shouldn’t think you do much else!’ ‘I intend to rise above your barbs…but before I do I’d like to say that this coat can only be appreciated by someone with a sharpened aesthetic sense – not a dunderhead like you!’ ‘Sharpened aesthetic sense? Sharpened by what a dose of mind altering drugs?’ ‘I warn you a verbal duel with me would only lead to ignominy for you!’ ‘Igno-what? Talking with you is like arguing with a thesaurus!’
‘It’s a gigantic body composed almost entirely of super heated gas.’ ‘Rather like you then!’ ‘If I have to endure another insult…’ ‘Oh here we go another voyage around the English language!’
‘Lucky you were wearing that coat, no way of knowing someone’s just been sick over it!’

Isn’t it Odd: This is my most listened to Doctor Who audio bar none – I must have heard it over 30 times now and I still love every second of it and it still makes me laugh in all the right places. Now that’s staying power!

Result: The crowning achievement of Big Finish to date. Don’t listen to those people who say that it is Chimes of Midnight…although that story is fabulous too but it far easier to scare people than it is to make them laugh and The One Doctor makes you really laugh. There is never sense that the writers are trying to take the piss out of the show but merely affectionately poke at its extremes and for a story that sees the sixth Doctor and Mel having the piss taken out of them so much they come off with more dignity and humour than any serious story could achieve. Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford deliver peerless performances and Christopher Biggins and Clare Buckfield are an absolute delight as their cahoots and alter egos. I may have moaned at Gary Russell’s constant turns in the director’s chair but his work here is nothing short of genius and the music and sound effects really drive the story along. Full points to Clayton and Roberts for such a witty script with so many great one liners for the actors to gobble up and tons of fantastic ideas as well. This story was a total surprise when I first heard it and I cannot think of a single Doctor Who story that cheers me up more. Orgasmically good: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/05/one-doctor-written-by-gareth-roberts.html =====================================================================================
The Chimes of Midnight written by Rob Shearman and directed by Barnaby Edwards

Breathless Romantic: Wow, and I thought Invaders of Mars would be the best we would ever see of Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor. This is a superlative piece of Doctor Who in every fashion you can imagine but in its drawing of the regulars it really does transcend the usual adventuring schlock and become a piece of drama that genuinely says something about the Doctor’s relationship with his companion and how much he cares about them.

Edwardian Adventuress: Aside from her appointment at the Singapore Hilton and her general lust for travelling and adventure there is little that we know about Charley Pollard. The Chimes of Midnight takes the brave steps of dealing with the consequences of the Doctor’s actions in taking Charley away from her fate in the R-101 and shows how miserable the family and friends of Charley were at the news of her death. It gives India Fisher the first chance to really grab hold of a script and milk it for all the pathos it is worth rather than simply going ‘golly gosh’ and boggling at the surprises the Doctor’s adventures keep throwing up.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I died for you Charley because you were the only one worth dying for.’
‘It took me a long time to die but I did it eventually…’
‘How can I be dead and alive at the same time?’

Audio Landscape: The first few second convince you we are dealing with something very special; a sweet lullaby, a fiercely ticking clock, a heartbeat and something unnatural coming alive.

Standout Moment: Well two to be precise. I love the cliffhanger to episode two as time runs away and murder approaches and it is captured with dazzling performances and excellent music to trap you within that moment and make you desperate to hear the next episode. The climax of the story is unbelievably moving where the Doctor steps in and convinces Charley not to commit suicide. The pace and the performances are perfect and it remains the most touching, haunting and life affirming scene in Big Finish’s repertoire.

Result: As good as you have heard and then some, The Chimes of Midnight is one of those very rare Doctor Who stories that get everything right and even when you are told about how brilliant it is it still manages to surprise you. With peerless performances, a script that constantly plays with your mind and leaves you breathlessly emotional at the climax, direction that couldn’t be bettered and more clever concepts than both series of Sapphire and Steel I can’t think of a more accomplished piece of time twisting drama. Paul McGann is given more opportunities to prove just how right he was for the part and India Fisher finally comes out of her shell and rocks Charley up into the higher ranks of the companions. Like The One Doctor I have heard this story more times than it is probably sane to admit and I still find it as thrilling as I did on my first experience. This was a really good time to be a fan of Big Finish where they were producing some of the finest Doctor Who we had been privileged to enjoy: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/06/chimes-of-midnight-written-by-rob.html =====================================================================================
Neverland written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell

Breathless Romantic: If there was going to be a story that you pointed at to prove just how wonderful Paul McGann is as the Doctor Neverland would certainly be one of the best. It’s a story that manages to achieve a great deal but first a foremost it gives McGann’s eighth Doctor the sort of stunning season finale his predecessor have enjoyed and brings his relationship with Charley into tight focus and exposes their chemistry at its finest.

Edwardian Adventuress: How far has Charley come in these six incredible stories?

Aristocratic Adventurer: Romana is disappointed that in all of the billions of people in universe that could have been responsible for the breach in space/time, the Doctor is responsible.

Great Ideas: Where do you start with a story as complex and involved as this one? I have to say there are a number of Doctor Who stories which I whilst I enjoy on an emotional level, I enjoy even more on an intellectual level simply because of the wealth of clever and brain bursting ideas they feature. Christmas on a Rational Planet and The Last Resort are two very good examples and Neverland joins their ranks. What I find especially clever about this story is that it manages to squeeze in all manner of clever ideas without ever become incomprehensible or losing its entertainment value. Instead it drives these bold concepts to a dazzling climax and closes the story on the best idea of all!

Great Lines: ‘Happy birthday Charley! Only it isn’t my birthday, is it? It isn’t my birthday because I’m not supposed to have any more birthdays. No more cake, no more candles, no more presents, not now, not ever, no more birthdays since I died! That’s right, isn’t it Doctor? No more birthdays because I’m supposed to be dead. Dead and burned in the wreck of an airship. Born on the day the Titanic sank, died in the R-101. Poor tragic little Charlotte Pollard, her life snuffed out before it had even begun.’
‘I am not the Doctor! I have become he who sits inside your head, he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping. I am become…Zagreus!’

Musical Cues: Nicholas Briggs’ finest score to date. It is hard to categorise his music but I was aware of it throughout without it ever being intrusive and moments such as Charley’s Peter Pan speech were beautifully underscored.

Isn’t it Odd: That all the fantastic work done in Neverland would be blown on the next 8th Doctor story? But that’s for another time…

Result: What else can I say that hasn’t been said above? This is superb climax to McGann’s second season, brilliantly dovetailing all of the hints that have been whispered throughout the year and bringing the paradox of Charley’s survival to a dramatic climax. I can’t remember a companion ever being given this much focus and India Fisher holds the story together beautifully, both as Charley and Sentris. Gary Russell has assembled a fantastic cast and each them bring something special to the story and his direction is nothing short of masterful throughout. Neverland is a story with a wealth of mind-expanding ideas at its disposal but whilst it is thrilling you with its possibility it never forgets to have a heart and the touching scenes between the Doctor and Charley as they realise their partnership may be coming to an end provide the icing on the cake. Alan Barnes has written a thrilling script and it is joyously brought to life by all concerned. Triumphant: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/07/neverland-written-by-alan-barnes-and.html =====================================================================================
Jubilee written by Robert Shearman and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Softer Six: Oh this is just gold. Like holding up a plump and gorgeous jewel you get to see every facet of this fascinating incarnation from his genocidal hatred of the Daleks, his love for Evelyn and willingness to protect her at the cost of his own life and his outright horror at the torture the humans have been subjecting the Daleks too.

Learned Lecturer: Maggie Stables’ Evelyn Smythe is no ordinary companion. I think we all know that by now. Stables, one time French teacher turned actress injects Evelyn with real heart and intelligence that ranks her amongst the very best of the Doctor’s travelling companions. However it is stories like Jubilee where she steps from that role (and definitely in her next three appearances too) and becomes a fully-fledged protagonist driving the drama of the story.

Great Ideas: There are very few Doctor Who stories with the sort of content Jubilee enjoys and what’s more it takes the Daleks and examines them in every way you can imagine. The script is transcendental, bigger on the inside than the out and it is injected with so much diabolical invention it leaves a lot of the other audio writers in the shadows.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If it was a scream! It might just have been laughing at me!’
‘When we swallow our Dalek juice, we swallow a bit of them. It is the drink of victors!’ ‘And who would have thought that victory could be so tasteless?’
‘You humans are so fragile, your lives so brief, tiny splash of brilliant colour against the time stream and then gone forever.’
‘You’re still my dearest friend. Still the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The places you’ve taken me, the wonders you’ve shared. I know that whatever happened to me along the way, even death, it was worth it.’

Audio Landscape: By far the best story Nick Briggs has directed (and paired with Rob Shearman) to this point, he brings this chilling tale to life and never holds back the horror making it a truly stomach twisting experience.

Standout Moment: Are you joking? For me it is probably the scene where Evelyn discovers Farrow’s body and confronts the Dalek, it is so murderously played I had goose bumps but the whole story is loaded with standout moments from torture to merchandising to invasion.

Result: Alarmingly inventive and brooding, I adore this story. Doctor Who rarely has the capacity to make me feel genuinely uncomfortable but Jubilee had me in a cold sweat throughout, compiling one horror and dramatic set piece after another. The humour is jet black and quite inspired making the terror all the twitchier. It is full of strong emotional beats, highly atmospheric and leaves you with lots to think about when it is over. Evelyn gets a really meaty role and Maggie Stables excels in a powerful, angry performance topped only by Colin Baker’s agonising take on the Doctor tortured for 100 years. This story is a (not so) subtle commentary on the horror of mankind and it drives its point home like a knife in the gut. Rob Shearman’s greatest gift to Doctor Who is his ability to make you think in brand new ways about staples of the series we thought have become mere clich├ęs. This is beyond doubt the most interesting exploration of the Daleks we have seen. And the wittiest. And the scariest. John Scott Martin will never complain about getting into a Dalek casing again: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/jubilee-written-by-robert-shearman-and.html =====================================================================================
Doctor Who and the Pirates written with great imagination by Jacqueline Rayner and superbly directed by Barnaby Edwards, esq.

Softer Six: These reviews are becoming a little predictable but seriously…how good is Colin Baker in this story? There was a moment in the all singing, rope swinging, cutlass dodging third episode where the sixth Doctor goes from being a great Doctor to being the best Doctor (it was around the hilarious ‘Please! Please! Give me one more chance before you cut me down like a dog!’).

Learned Lecturer: Another superb showcase for Maggie Stables who really tears out your heart at the end of this story. One of my absolute favourite companions ever. It is a pleasure to listen to Baker and Stables together, they are an addictive combination.

All of the songs are full of memorable lines and delights but by far the most accomplished (and stuffed full of more continuity than a book co written by Craig Hinton, Gary Russell and David A. McIntee) is Colin Baker’s hilarious ‘I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer…

Audio Landscape: As accomplished as his work on the similarly excellent Chimes of Midnight and then some, Barnaby Edwards is proving himself to be the very best Big Finish director. Can he do more please? What? He wants to climb inside and play Daleks?

Musical Cues: Timothy Sutton is not a name I have heard before which is crying shame because this is story that is controlled by music, especially in the third episode, and Sutton pulls out all the stops to make this as memorable experience as possible.

Result: Strikingly experimental and yet still an absolute pleasure to listen to, Doctor Who and the Pirates has taken all the style and effort that has been missing from recent stories and injects them all into four episodes of bliss. Jac Rayner has written a superb script, easily her best for Big Finish, which manages to be a beautiful character study, a rip roaring adventure, a hilarious comedy, a blinding musical and a striking piece of drama whilst offering a treatise on narrative techniques at the same time. It should be utterly schizophrenic but the story shifts mood effortlessly from humour to horror. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables continue to shine in what has become one of the great Doctor/companion pairings and the guest cast instil the story with some priceless performances. The jokes are funny, the songs are wonderful and the direction is faultless. Why can’t every story be as good as this? Remarkable: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/doctor-who-and-pirates-written-with.html =====================================================================================
Creatures of Beauty written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

An English Gentleman: One of the cleverest things about this story is how it sets up its consequences before revealing its dilemmas. In doing so and having the audacity to have the Doctor not even realise his role in this story’s affairs it ironically says more about his character than if her had found out and we had explored his reaction. Creatures of Beauty holds the Doctor’s choice to leave Gallifrey and explore the universe up to the spotlight and dares to make the suggestion that it might not have been the best idea. I love that.

Alien Orphan: Briggs has hit upon a formula that really makes Nyssa work here, put her in the worst situation imaginable! Seriously, by having sweet, gentle Nyssa exposed to such vicious interrogation, violence and horrific images we get to see her stand up to authority, ask the right questions and become a truly sympathetic character.

Great Ideas: Two dying races combined to make a new one. What a fascinating idea.

Audio Landscape: What has happened to Nick Briggs? Since he took a break from the main range to write and direct Dalek Empire his handling of Jubilee and Creatures of Beauty have been nothing short of masterful.

Musical Cues: Understandably Briggs opts to make the music as scarce as possible to really drive home the drama of this story. The silences can be very uncomfortable. Ironically the lack of music in some places really emphasises his superb sound effects.

Result: A forgotten masterpiece and a stunning experiment in fractured narration that results in grit your teeth suspense. It’s a piece which opens up some disturbing questions about the Doctor’s effect on the places he visits that wisely leaves you to come to your own conclusions. I love how the story’s climax is the end of part three and its beginning is at the start of part four, Briggs has clearly put a lot of thought into making this experiment work and manages to save a whoop-ass twist until the final few seconds which demands you give the story a second listen. David Daker gives the performance of a lifetime as Gilbrook; he is sinister, sadistic and yet rather wonderfully departs the story on a moment of pure poetry. Creatures of Beauty is not afraid to make its audience feel uncomfortable and in doing so it manages to be one of the most thought provoking stories yet. I cannot fault this story: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/creatures-of-beauty-written-and.html =====================================================================================
Davros written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell

Softer Six: If you look at the televised era of the sixth Doctor he actually had quite a few really good villains to butt heads with. From the morally ambiguous Lytton, greedy and excitable Sil, the gorgeous Rani, ravenous and homicidal Shockeye and of course the Valeyard, the darker side of the Doctor’s nature. And yet of all of these it was Davros who sparked of him the best…

Scarred Scientist: However good the work with Baker’s Doctor is that is nothing compared with the superlative character examination of Davros. Whilst I, Davros and Terror Firma would go on to provide fascinating glimpses at Davros this is the story with just his name as the title and it fills in a lot of gaps in our knowledge of our favourite genocidal maniac.

Audio Landscape: God bless Jim Mortimore, not only a fantastic writer and musician but he also brings audio adventures to life with some fantastic sound effects. The difference between this story and Omega is that remembers to be quiet in the right places and really drives home the drama…

Musical Cues: Jane Elphinstone provides the creepiest Big Finish score yet. The trick is to keep it as minimalist as possible and only rise to drama when the story needs it.

Standout Moment: There a so many great moments in this story but the one that always gets my heart going is Davros’ first ‘DOCTOR!’ as he wakes from his sleep of the dead. Even when I know it’s coming its still frightening!

Result: A story that redefines Davros beautifully and drips with malevolence. When I first heard this story I thought it was far too long (150 minutes!) and was quite blandly directed but I was so wrong on both counts. I wouldn’t want to cut a single scene from this story and I found that the two and half hours of material flew by this time. As a character tale there is none finer as it uses its extended time to flesh everybody out with real clarity before leaving them gasping to get out of Davros’ homicidal grip. The dialogue is crisp and thoughtful and the music ramps up the tension to unbearable levels. Colin Baker gets another chance to shine and unencumbered with an assistant he is as naughty and rebellious as we will ever see him. But this story belongs to Terry Molloy who gets to explore a whole range of emotions as Davros and manages to tug at the heartstrings and terrify you, sometimes at the same time! Its one of the best portrayals of a villain we have ever seen on the show and elevates Davros to some nightmarish pedestal when he can glare down malevolently at the other bad guys we have encountered and laugh at their ineptitude. He’s really scary and that just feels right: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/09/davros-written-by-lance-parkin-and.html =====================================================================================
The Wormery written by Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell

Softer Six: Definitely in this one. Why is it that the sixth Doctor gets all the best characterisation in these audios? When you go back and look at Jubilee, Pirates, Twilight and the like there has been some serious development of his character not afforded to the others? The Wormery features my favourite development and characterisation of the sixth Doctor yet because it reveals how the events of the Trial would have hit home and caused the Doctor to lose some of that adventurous spirit.

Transtemporial Adventuress: Absolutely Iris’ best audio adventure and the one that exposes her true potential. Anybody who thinks Iris is just a one-dimensional continuity shattering hysterical old drunk could be in for a few surprises…

Sparkling Dialogue: I could just quote all of Iris’ dialogue…
‘How tawdry! A pistol stuck in your garter!’
‘’Ere, you can rest your head on my bosom…’
‘Who ever heard of a diabolical denouement taking place in a patisserie!’

Standout Performance: Its one of those casts that Big Finish assembles every now and again that just gels. Colin Baker emotes beautifully; Katy Manning makes me scream with laughter, James Campbell camps it up wonderfully, Maria McErlane is the ultimate Diva and Paul Clayton menaces in the shadows.

Musical Cues: The Wormery features my favourite musical score with only Russell Stone’s music for The Stones of Venice coming close. It really enhances the cabaret atmosphere of the piece but also provides some genuinely foot-tapping music as well.

Standout Moment: Tough, very tough. The second cliffhanger is wonderful (‘Iris! Stop singing! Or you’ll destroy us all!’) but for making me fall about on the floor in hysterics the Iris/Bianca bitch fight over the Doctor tops everything else..

Result: A story of the future haunting the past (3 times over), the Wormery holds a mirror elegantly up to Trial of a Time Lord. With Paul Magrs’ gift for English and poetic language and Steve Cole’s command of plotting and dialogue this is a classy marriage of minds and a peerless script. There are more sparkling one-liners than you can shake a stick at, wonderfully fulsome and theatrical performances, a tone which walks a tightrope between hilariously funny and achingly poignant and it all ends on one great universe threatening song. Colin Baker and Katy Manning are perfect together and my campaign to get them their own series starts here. The story creates a fantastic atmosphere and is plotted with some real care and offers twists and turns that genuinely thrill and surprise. Oh and the last line is perfect. The Wormery is shamelessly camp, glorious, fabulous: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/09/wormery-written-by-paul-magrs-and.html =====================================================================================
>[Review of The Natural History of Fear has been excised for public safety. Enjoy your day in Light City.]

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ - quick I only have a few seconds to get this transimission out – I hope these don’t spot it…this is where my interrogation is listed by the authorities – get the word out there! http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/09/they-sit-in-silence.html

LIVE 34 written by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown and directed by Gary Russell

The Real McCoy: I’m happy to report that the real Sylvester McCoy is back with us, the one who gave us dark, compelling performances in Ghost Light and Master as opposed to the gibbering idiot who phoned in an embarrassing performance in Unregenerate(!).

Oh Wicked: It feels like ages since I last heard Ace and even longer since I enjoyed her this much.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Beneath the surface this is a sad and dangerous place where people disappear, rumour has replaced fact and the government can pretty much do whatever it likes in the name of security.’
‘If they are genuine then 34 is home to the worst corruption, fraud, oppression and murder imaginable.’
‘It may disturb you, it will certainly shock you but it is what happened…’ People were used as fuel. Burnt. Every single one of them so you could have toast for breakfast!’

Audio Landscape: I refuse to believe it is a co-incidence but with Gary Russell taking a break for a couple of stories sees him returning to the main range with probably his best ever direction of a Doctor Who audio…

Standout Scene: The Doctor revealing what has happened to the ‘disappeared’ colonists is revolting.

Result: Phenomenally good, the boldest departure from the norm since The Natural History of Fear and just as gripping. There is a real urgency to the live broadcasts with on the spot terrorist attacks, disturbing discoveries and political depositions and as someone who rarely listens to the news this really captured my imagination. Censorship, propaganda, terrorism and politics all come under the microscope in an intelligent, hard-hitting way. The regulars all get the chance to shine and the guests cast is the best assembled for quite some time. You wouldn’t want every story to be like this but it makes for a chilling, inspired one off: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/live-34-written-by-james-parsons-andrew.html =====================================================================================
The Kingmaker written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell

American Attitude: A wonderful, wonderful story for Peri who gets so many priceless moments I lost count by the end of the story! Nicola Bryant gives this witty material such exuberance, I have always adored her in the role but this is one of her best ever performances. Every time Peri opens her mouth I couldn’t decide whether to laugh my head off or cringe – most of the time I just said ‘Oh Peri…’

Standout Performance: A great cast for a great script. Jon Culshaw does a wonderfully funny Tom Baker impersonation, including overdramaticising the end of sentences (‘He decided to act!’) and giggles madly.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look! Richard the III has got the hump!’
‘Have you ever tried to get a writer to keep a deadline? I would say that laser canons are a minimum requirement.’
‘Erimem, I’m not sure but I think Shakespeare put a hand on your royal behind!’
‘No one killed the Princes in the Tower and Shakespeare died at the Battle of Bosworth, there’s no way I can put that in my Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries book!’

Standout Scene: I love all the temporal scribblings between the Doctor and Peri – she writes him a letter in 1484 which he reads in 1485 and then the ninth Doctor (‘Northern chap with big ears’) travels back to before Peri and Erimem arrive a leaves a note with Clarrie for them! ‘I’ve just remembered! They left you another letter with strict instructions that it should be opened after that one!’ ‘Do you know my dears I clean forgot that that bloke left another letter…’ – what a fantastically naughty break-the-rules through time scene!

Result: The last time I had this much fun with history and time travelling antics was City of Death and I don’t exaggerate when I hold this ingenious story in exactly the same league. Nev Fountain has written a fantastic script, which juggles passionate ideas, belly laughs, moments of genius and great character drama. No aliens in sight and yet this is still Doctor Who through and through, the guest cast are phenomenal and the direction keeps the story skipping along energetically. Fountain’s handling of the regulars is perfect, giving the usually colourless fifth Doctor some witty and wonderful moments, touching on Erimem’s ancestry and best of all pushing Peri into the limelight and have her go off like an emotional rocket. Two of the best Big Finish moments come with the revelation of who the Master really is and the identity of the real Princes – this story is beautifully thought through and has some delicious answers. Even the title is on the subterfuge. After an inconsistent run of stories that verged from ball squeezingly awful to tickle my fancies sublime, The Kingmaker is the first out and out classic in an age: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/kingmaker-written-by-nev-fountain-and.html =====================================================================================
The Reaping written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Gary Russell

Busty Babe: Probably my favourite scene in this entire story is a very heated exchange between Peri and her mother, which works beautifully because you can see precisely how Peri came to be how she is. It’s a long overdue and extremely revealing homecoming, giving this latest Cyberman story an equally strong character thread to fall back on if the story doesn’t work out. Our first chance to see Peri’s life in Baltimore, her relationship with her mother and what happened exactly before she met the Doctor in Lanzarote…

Standout Performance: Colin Baker excels as ever but this is Nicola Bryant’s chance to shine and I think (despite some real competition with The Kingmaker and Point of Entry) this may well be her most accomplished performance as Peri.

Musical Cues: David Darlington’s score is mournful and beautiful, playing up the tragic events that unfold. I really love the guitar theme that plays over the funeral scenes; we haven’t heard such great use of the instrument since Loups-Garoux.

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger is exceptional because Joe Lidster has spent enough time building up the threat of the Cybermen and dealing with Anthony’s death in a very emotional fashion and as those two threads collide you know the shit is going to hit the fan!

Result: A revelatory story for Peri, Joe Lidster writes a script that explores her character like never before and really give her substance. Nicola Bryant grabs hold of this opportunity and gives her most assured performance as Peri, ably backed up as ever by Colin Baker and they once again prove what fantastic chemistry they have. It’s an innovative Cyberman story too which I find something of a novelty, often the metal meanies are dumped into a story for no rhyme or reason but to boost ratings or increase sales. Lidster takes the Cybermen and gives their story a definitive ending and a new beginning and their brilliantly over complicated plan could only come from a mechanical mind. Some tasty moments of body horror, a genuinely emotional exploration of losing somebody to the Cybermen and subtle blanket of control over America – somebody is finally exploiting the potential of these creatures. Its Peri’s homecoming that makes the most impact, Joe Lidster takes all the domestic elements that made The Rapture such a disaster and skilfully provides some emotionally choking moments in this outstanding tale: 10/10

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/reaping-written-by-joseph-lidster-and_27.html

Coming tomorrow night - The Worst of the Worst - eek!


Kate said...

I agree with a lot of these! Though I also found Colditz (Steve Lyons), and The Harvest (Dan Abnett) were very well done as well. I strongly agree with these reviews! In particular LIVE 34 (Strongly recommend!!) and The Kingmaker!

liminalD said...

I've only just discovered the Big Finish audios, and have listened to Jubilee, Davros, Dark Eyes and Spare Parts. I will give your suggestions a go - Live 34 looks very interesting, as does The Kingmaker :)

Joe Ford said...

I hope you enjoy these stories man, they are some of my absolute favourites of any medium in the Doctor Who canon. You'll have to head back to the blog and let me know how you get on with them. Have fun :-)

Dave said...

I've sought out a few lists like this, looking for guidance into the Big Finish juggernaut, and this was the most insightful. Thanks!

It's really Paul McGann I'm interested in - I listened to most of the Lucie Miller stories a couple of years ago - but you've also tempted me to give Colin Baker the second chance I know he deserves.

Joe Ford said...

You are very welcome, and if I have given anybody the desire to give Sixie another chance...well I'm delighted!

Samson said...

Colin Baker has always been my favourite Doctor and these audio dramas prove he could have been SO much better on T.V had it not been for the "Trial" season