The last few years, I’ve completed rankings of the top ten individual stories from the British audio drama producer, Big Finish. This year, I’m doing a top eleven list due to a special circumstance in this year’s story that we’ll talk about in this post.
As usual, I can’t claim to have listened to ALL of Big Finish’s magnificent output. My listening has been mostly to its Doctor Who and related ranges (for which Big Finish is most famous), but I’ve also listened to their Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers, Space 1999, and UFO releases. As the late great Regis Philbin once stated, “I’m only one man.” So I haven’t heard everything.
I’ll also warn that there’s some continuity notes ahead because as good as these stories are, most come from series that are not quite as straightforward as in years past.
11) I, Kamelion by Dominic Martin, read by Dan Starkey
This story is a bit of a surprise. It came as an interlude (aka an hour-plus long audiobook) for those who bought The Fifth Doctor Adventures: Forty, Volume 1, the first of two box sets to mark the fortieth anniversary of Peter Davison debuting as the Fifth Doctor. But this one is interesting and it features an unlikely hero: Kamelion.
Kamelion was a shapeshifting robot introduced in Davison’s second season. He was to be a companion for the Fifth Doctor, but the robot didn’t work. He was brought back over audio by Big Finish a few years back in a series of stories. My problem with that series was that it made Kamelion the central focus, and only served to show him as a problematic figure who constantly made life difficult for the TARDIS crew. Leave it to Dominic Martin to give us a story that gives Kamelion his due.
Kamelion finds himself having become an actual human being, not (as happened on the TV series) just disguised as one. He has to figure out what happened, and several peoples’ lives, including that of the Doctor and Turlough, are on the line.
The story is emotionally satisfying and explores Kamelion’s character in a very effective way, as well as showing how he relates to the other characters. While other stories have had robots inhabit human bodies, I thought that writer Dominic Martin added some really nice touches in exploring what that would mean to the robot.
Kamelion is a disliked or at least disregarded companion, but this story at last gives him a chance to shine and to make a difference in the best way possible. This was just a real treat to listen to.
10) The End by Rochana Patel and starring Jacob Dudman from The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles: Geronimo
This is part of The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles in which actor/impressionist Jacob Dudman portrays the Eleventh Doctor, who was portrayed on television by Matt Smith. In this story, the Doctor and his new companion Valerie Harper (Safiyya Ingar) arrive on a spaceship in peril twice simultaneously. In one timeline, the Doctor has been poisoned; in another, it’s Valerie. Together they have to solve the mystery of what’s going on.
This story has a lot going for it. The concept puts a fresh twist on the sort of time-wimey madness that happens in Doctor Who at all levels, while at the same time really exploring the characters of the Doctor and Valerie as they are pushed to the edge in multiple ways. The same is true of the guest cast, who are immaculately written in this story.
9) The Outlaws by Lizbeth Miles and Starring Steven Noonan from Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws
This story sees the debut of Stephen Noonan as Big Finish’s new First Doctor (who was played on television by William Hartnell), with Lauren Cornelius playing Dodo (originally played on television by Jackie Lane) and featuring comedian Rufus Hound playing the villain, the Meddling Monk.
The Doctor and Dodo arrive in thirteenth century Lincoln, as England is under attack by King Louie and the Sheriff is having to deal with constant attacks from outlaws.
There’s a lot to like about this. It does a great job capturing the feel of a Hartnell-era historical. The story leans more into the comic rather than the tragic style of historicals. There are some really fun, delightful moments, with a few deaths to bring things back down to Earth.
Stephen Noonan is superb. He plays the first Doctor with a twinkle in his eye that comes through the audio. He does such a great job capturing Hartnell’s Doctor, even turning Hartnell’s “mistakes” into part of the performance.
Rufus Hound once again is excellent, playing in a scheme that’s a bit more consistent with where the Monk began as a character. Hound and Noonan are particularly fun together, with superb performance chemistry.
8) The Prints of Denmark by Paul Morris and starring Wendy Padbury and Rufus Hound from Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles, The Second Doctor, Volume 3:
The Monk is on a mission and runs into Zoe Herriott (Padbury) at a museum. Finding out she’s a companion to the Doctor, he decides to bring her along for the ride. Will Zoe be able to turn the tables on the Monk, or will she inadvertently change Earth’s history forever by being led down a path one step at a time by the Monk?
There’s a lot to like about this story. Rufus Hound is given free rein in a story that really fits his characterization perfectly. As the human computer, Zoe becomes the perfect straight man in a lovely double act. Their interactions are perfect. I particularly enjoyed the irony of the Monk challenging the absurd cosmology Doctor Who portrays that makes time practically sentient while Zoe defends it.
The story is a brilliant continuity deep cut on the Monk’s original appearance on Doctor Who. There are also all sorts of interesting side features and Rufus Hounds gets to show a nice bit of flexibility, even appearing as himself.
This is the funniest Big Finish story in an age.
These stories each achieve the same thing and do it in their own way. The Time War is a huge event in modern Doctor Who, as this was between the Daleks and the Time Lords that spanned countless eons and found the entire universe as a battlefield, with other species constantly having their history rewritten or being written or out of existence, all while time-altering weapons wreak untold mischief. While Big Finish has many stories set during this period, few have really captured the horror and emotional trauma this would bring to those unfortunate enough to find themselves caught between the two sides These stories do so brilliantly.
“Death Will Not Part Us” is a short audiobook. This story follows a woman whose planet was wiped out by the Time Lords, but she finds a weapon that allows her to rewind time and start again and even strike back at her enemies. It’s powered by the days of her life. Each time she fires the gun, she loses part of her past, but it’s a sacrifice she’ll make to save her world. This is a great story of an ordinary person getting caught in a war between two sides led by mad beings who believe they should control all reality.
“Rewind” is from The War Doctor Begins series which stars Jonathan Carley as a younger version of the character played by the late John Hurt on television.
This story follows Ignis Able (Sarah Moss), a poet and minor local government official focusing on arts and self-fulfillment when the Daleks come and invade to destroy her entire planet, and they do so over and over again, with her reliving those last hours in a continual loop, until she sees a light from the tower to investigate.
This is a great concept that does a few important things for the Time War. By being narrated by Ignis, you get a feeling of how the War affects those races caught in the Time War from the inside, and the horrific nature of it. At the same time, you also get a feeling for why the Doctor feels such guilt about his actions in the Time War. The Doctor is completely in character. He’s not trying to be cruel, but nonetheless, his actions help lead to pain and suffering.
I can’t say enough good things about Sarah Moss’ performance. She does a great job bringing Ignis to life. She’s brave, but has a poet’s soul. She’s a mix of grit, sensitivity, creativity, and maybe just a little bit of impracticality. The ending is very bold and leaves the listener with a lot to think about.
To be continued next week.