Tag: Big Finish

My Big Finish 20, Part One

My Big Finish Twenty

September is the 20th Anniversary of Big Finish productions turning out audio dramas and this month we’re celebrating with a series of articles looking at twenty great releases from Big Finish.

I should say that this is NOT a “Top 20 Big Finish” releases article, since I’ve not listened to every single Big Finish release. Some are only available on CD and shipping rates from the UK can be prohibitive. Some are for series that I’ve never gotten into like Blake’s 7 or Dark Shadows. Others I’d like to listen to someday but haven’t gotten around to. In addition, Big Finish has lost the license for some other properties such as Sapphire and Steel.

It’s also not my top twenty favorite releases. That would be heavily skewed towards Sci-Fi and certain Doctor Who actors. Rather this is a list of twenty great Big Finish releases. There’s still a lot of Science Fiction and Doctor Who on the list, but my aim is to cover a bit of the breadth of Big Finish’s catalog and offerings. I do have these in an order of quality. Comparing vintage mystery show revivals to madcap Science Fiction is a bit of a challenge, but we try.

20) Hound of the Baskervilles:

There have been many adaptations of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but this may be my favorite. Director/Star Nicholas Briggs and writer Richard Dinnick decided to do an absolutely faithful adaptation, which is impressive as most writers can’t seem to resist to tinkering with one of the greatest mystery novels of all time. What we get is the richness of the story, along with super but not intrusive sound effects. The cast is superb and professional, Briggs is a solid Holmes, and Richard Earl does a great job bringing Watson to life. One of the most remarkable facts about this is that the entire recording was done in a single day. It’s a must-listen-to for Holmes fans.

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19) Light at the End:

For the Fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who, on television, the Tenth and Eleventh known regenerations of the Doctor joined forces with the previously unknown War Doctor (played by John Hurt.) Yet, that left a lot of Doctors out. One of the key premises of Doctor Who is that when his life is in mortal jeopardy, the Doctor can regenerate into another human form.

Light at the End is the Anniversary special for all the other Doctors (save Christopher Eccleston, who took part in neither.) The five living Doctors from before the revived series (Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann) star along with one of their companions, with three now-deceased Doctors played by appropriate substitutes but only making brief appearances as they battle their long-time foe, The Master.

The most surprising thing about this story is that despite all these characters, the story is coherent. Writer Nicholas Briggs (who didn’t want to do a multi-Doctor story) wrote a script that managed to keep everything in balance and give each Doctor something to do, and give the script a coherent plot. Light at the End is a superb celebration of fifty years for the Doctor Who Series that still manages to hold up as a well-written, beautifully scored and directed production.

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18) Doctor Who:The Lost Stories The First Doctor Box Set

This was from Big Finish’s range of “Lost Stories,” which were adaptations of Doctor Who scripts that were written or proposed but never made for a variety of reasons. While the initial series focused on Colin Banker’s canceled second season as the Doctor, this expanded to the rest of the classic Doctors.

The First Doctor Box Set focused on two scripts written for William Hartnell’s First Doctor by Turkish writer Moris Farhi in 1964. During Hartnell’s time on Doctor Who, the series was split half between Science Fiction stories and historicals. The bulk of the box set is taken up by the story, Farewell Great Macedon, an epic script that puts the Doctor and his companions into the thick of events as they meet Alexander the Great just before his death.

Surviving cast members Carole Ann Ford and William Russell return as the companions Susan and Ian and voice the roles of their departed co-stars and provide narration in a brilliantly written story that manages to capture the feel of Early Doctor Who as well as pulling readers into the midst of this key time in history.

The second story, “The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance” is good but a bit high-concept and it’s hard to see how it ever would have worked on television. At less than an hour long, it doesn’t have time to be fully developed. Still, if the second story is largely forgettable, the first story makes this box set well worth listening to.

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17)The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3

When Americans think of the British TV series, The Avengers, they think of Emma Peel and John Steed bringing their larger-than-life adventures to America. They aired over the ABC TV network in Prime Time. Yet, before the Avengers came to America, there were three seasons of the series shot in the U.K. The first season of the series from 1961 was almost completely lost with only three episodes and part of another surviving.

Big Finish brought all 26 episodes of the first season to life in their Avengers: The Lost Episodes series which starred Julian Wadham as John Steed and Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel, a general practitioner who joined Steed on missions after his fiancee is murdered by a gangster in the first episode.

The Lost Episodes are a much more straightforward 1960s crime drama, although later episodes do get into espionage. Big Finish does a great job creating the feel of the 1960s through sound effect, music, and the type of performances given, and several of these lost episodes show the first season of Avengers was good even in its early days.

For me, Series 3 is the best set of the series. Click here my full review of Series 3.

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16) How to Win Planets and Influence People

Not only can the Doctor regenerate, but so can his foes from his own race. Big Finish has added some new regenerations for some of the Doctor’s Time Lord enemies. Big Finish cast comedian Rufus Hound as a new version of the Meddling Monk and he’s had some great stories. However, my favorite thing Rufus Hound has done for Big Finish is the short trip, “How to Win Planets and Influence People.” This is part of the Doctor Who Short Trip range. Those usually feature a short Doctor Who story of between 25-40 minutes that’s available as a download only. However, this is a bit different.

In this story, the meddling monk is giving a speech to a corporate convention as a motivational speaker, giving attendees a crash course in supervillainy and detailing how to defeat the Doctor with his many examples of how he failed to defeat the Doctor.

The production does a great job playing off of Hound’s stand up skills, while also poking fun at Ted Talks, as well Sci-Fi genre conventions for both Doctor Who villains and supervillains in general. Yet, it becomes clear more is going on than just a speech as the story goes on. Overall, this release is just a hoot and a great showcase for Mister Hound’s talent.

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 5

The fifth volume of lost episodes of the Avengers featuring John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor Keel (Anthony Howell) offers four more adventures from that mostly lost first season of the 1960s classic.

In, “Nightmare,” a researcher who is one of Dr. Keel’s patients disappears and Keel impersonates him while a search is made to find the missing man. Keel finds himself the target of gangsters who want to make use of his patient’s research in psychological drugs. Overall, a pretty standard crime drama story that’s reproduced in a way that feels completely authentic to the era. I do wonder if the original screen version might have made the psychotropic drugs used feel more trippy which would have added to the period feel.

“The Girl on the Trapeeze” is a rare Steed-free episode as Dr. Keel appears to witness the suicide of a woman who he remembers from somewhere. A magazine picture leads him to a circus where a big secret is being hidden. It’s a nicely done mystery with some great moments between Keel and Carol.

“Crescent Moon” features Steed going to the Caribbean to investigate the kidnapping of the daughter of the late dictator of an island. It’s very well-done multi-layered story with a lot of great guest characters. At first, it appeared that, following the previous Steed-free story, we were going to have a story without Dr. Keel, but he ends up appearing in the second half of the episode and plays an interesting role in the denouement without ever leaving England. This has actually been my favorite lost episode so far.

Finally, “Diamond Cut Diamond” finds Steed going undercover as an Australian Airline steward to bust a diamond smuggling racket. It’s a solid and well-paced adventure even though it’s very similar to many earlier stories in the Avengers series. Okay, but not remarkable.

Overall, this collection is enjoyable and has a more solid sense of identity than many of the earlier sets partially because the original 1960s writers had a better sense of what they wanted the Avengers to be as well as the fact that Big Finish is very comfortable with these characters.

While there’s no “Making Of” extras on this CD, there’s a tribute to the late Patrick Macnee from the writers and cast. It adds a touch of class to an already very classy release.

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 1


Many TV producers did little to preserve their programs for posterity, leading to many TV episodes from the 1950s being lost to time, perhaps never to be seen again. In the United Kingdom, this continued into the 1960s with many programs lost to the ages due to the BBC’s “wiping policy.” It effected Doctor Who where more than 90 black and white episodes of the series are only available on audios and numerous other series that don’t exist in any form.

The case is worse for the first season of The Avengers. Only two full episodes and the fragment of another exist and no audio exists for the missing programs. The hit TV series was best known for the pairing of the Roguish spy John Steed (Patrick Macnee) with Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg.) However, Mrs. Peel only joined the series in Season Four. The first season featured Steed fighting alongside Dr. David Keel. What was that season like? Beyond the fragments we had, the entire first season of adventures was lost.

Then Big Finish came along. The company, best known for their Doctor Who dramas, agreed to produce the missing episodes of the Avengers as Audio Dramas and cast Julian Wadham as John Steed, Anthony Howell as Dr. Keel, and Lucy Briggs-Owens as nurse Carol Wilson.

The first volume collects four episodes of The Avengers: “Hot Snow,” “Brought to Book,” “Square Root of Evil,” and “One for the Mortuary.”

Throughout the set, Big Finish does an incredible job creating a sense of authenticity. The background music and soundscape succeed in making the set seem like a well-preserved recording from the 1960s rather than a modern imitation. The direction and acting are authentic to the era. When I listened to these, I found it easy to forget these were recorded in 2013.

The stories themselves are different from the type of stories told in the Steed and Peel era. Episodes from the Steed and Peel era included fantastic plots like a mad tycoon who planned to turn his department store into a nuclear bomb. The early Avengers episodes seemed to enjoy far more typical crime dramas.

The first episode, “Hot Snow,” focuses on drug dealers who  start Keel’s career as a crimefighter by murdering his bride to be.”Brought to Book” has Steed and Keel working to bring down an extortion ring with ties to the hitman that murdered Keel’s fiancee. “The Square Root of Evil” features Steed infiltrating a counterfeiting ring, In “One for the Mortuary,” Keel agrees to carry a life-saving formula to the World Health Organization in Geneva but finds himself in the crosshairs of international ne’er-do-wells who want to steal it for their own ends.

“One for the Mortuary” is the most exciting story in the collection, and it  gives the biggest hint of what was to come for the series with an exciting and dangerous spy game with assassins and international intrigue. The first three were well-produced and well-acted but quite ordinary crime dramas. It’s odd to think the show went from basic undercover work to trying to stop a department store from being used as a doomsday weapon.

The one story that had a significant problem was “The Square Root of Evil.” The reason Steed goes undercover is so he can find out who the Mr. Big is behind the counterfeiting operation. However, the episode ends before Mr. Big is caught or Steed learns who he was. Also, modern listeners may take issue with Keel’s reaction understated reaction to his fiancee’s murder. However, this is true to the era.

Each episode features a short extras segment which provides insight into the production of the set. I found the interview with John Dorney interesting as he adapted the original scripts and he explained the unique challenges in this task.

Overall, the stories are enjoyable and the finale is particularly good. The entire collection manages to recreate four classic TV episodes that we haven’t experienced for over five decades and does so with a great sense of respect and authenticity.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Judgment of Sherlock Holmes


The box set begins with Holmes visiting Watson in the early 1920s on urgent business that involves setting down a key adventure that occurred after the events of the Final Problem when Dr. Watson believed his old friend was dead. However, the Society believes Holmes is alive and wants to find him. To do it, they’ll threaten everything Watson holds dear. Watson faces this threat in London while, unbeknownst to him, Holmes is on their trail in Tibet.

This is a rich story spread out over more than four hours. The music and sound design by Jamie Robertson is some of the finest work Big Finish has done, and it makes the story come to life.

The script is meaty. The production successfully mixes mystery, political intrigue, and great character moments in a constantly entertaining story. Watson is pressed to his limit, into taking actions he would not normally countenance. Holmes ends up facing choices that haunt him (and perhaps the world) decades later. We’re also given insight into Holmes’ family and background.

I appreciated the way the villains were drawn. We’re inundated with fictional villainous organizations bent on world conquest that introducing such a group is not in itself remarkable. Barnes does a great job of casting the Society as a fanatical, apocalyptic cult without going over the top. There’s a certain realism to them that makes their fanaticism frightening.

Nicholas Briggs makes a superb Holmes, and nicely manages to distinguish his Holmes from 1892 from that thirty years later. Richard Earl gives one of the best interpretations of Watson I’ve heard and really does well in a story that requires him to carry far more action than is typical for Watson. They’re supported by an absolutely superb supporting cast who don’t miss a beat.

My only criticism is, after the Society’s Plan is dealt with, we’re treated to more than twenty minutes of decompression and clean up and much of that is still in the 1890s. In addition, the fate of Mary Watson was so central to this story but is dealt with in a bit of an anti-climatic way.

Despite these minor issues, the Judgement of Sherlock Holmes is a thoroughly entertaining and well-produced audio drama that shines some light on Holmes’ lost years with a cracking adventure as well as, perhaps, setting the stage for adventures to come.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner

The Sherlock Holmes Audio Drama The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner was originally released by Big Finish to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster. It’s set during Holmes’ retirement to Suffolk to raise bees. The story finds Holmes estranged from Watson, who is grief-stricken after his second wife died aboard the Titanic. Watson’s visit to Holmes is disrupted by Bruce Ismay, an executive of the line which owned the Titantic. He escaped from the ship alive while many women and children sank into the sea and he was viewed as a cowardly villain. Ismay asks for Holmes’ help because he believes he’s being haunted by a specter–a specter that’s leaving people dead in its wake.

Overall, this production is an emotionally meaty story. Unlike many actors who have played Holmes in the past, Nicholas Briggs makes changes to his characterization to reflect the aging of the character. There are slight changes to his voice, but more to his mannerisms. In one scene, Holmes has deduced Watson’s entire reason for coming. Watson says he doesn’t care how Holmes knew he’d come. Holmes tells him anyway as if on auto pilot. Watson has some great scenes with Ismay. The mystery itself is engaging, but not the main attraction of this story. What makes this tale work so well are the great character interactions and the thorough historical research.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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