Continued from Part One.
We continue the countdown with my top five Big Finish stories of 2022:
5) Wulf by Aaron Lamont, starring Lisa Bowerman, from Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Blood and Steel
In the previous story, Professor Bernice “Bennie” Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) nearly escapes a mass conversion of 1930s German civilians into Cybermen. All the poor unfortunates who were kidnapped into the metal monsters have perished. However, one survives partially converted, and makes it back to his small country village to try to re-integrate into the community.
This is a solid, emotional piece of story-telling that manages to set out a scenario than really explores the consequences of it. This is smartly written and keeps the Doctor mostly out of the story; even Bennie only comes in relatively late. This gives the supporting guest cast a chance to shine, as well allowing the soundscape to enhance the story. Wulf challenges some of the Doctor and Bennie’s beliefs about the Cybermen in a way that’s more intelligent than many modern series’ attempts to do the same. The time period really enhances both the sense of peril and the reactions of the characters. Wulf is a moving, gut-wrenching piece that uses both the characters and the setting to tell a touching and tragic tale.
4) Earthbound by Nicholas Briggs, starring Mark Bonnar, from the box set Space 1999: Earthbound
Commander Koenig (Bonnar) has enough to worry about just trying to keep Moonbase Alpha functioning. But Commissioner Simmons (Timothy Bentick) is frustrated by the lack of effort toward finding a way back to Earth, even though returning to Earth would be so impractical that there’s no point in anyone on Alpha dedicating their efforts to it. Simmons organizes a small mutiny that forces Koenig to call a referendum on whether to begin Project Earthbound to return to Earth.
This and the plot of the next story were covered in a single episode, but as he did in writing the pilot episode, “Breakaway,” script editor Nicholas Briggs makes a smart call to expand the story into two episodes. While many stories in the era could be padded, some definitely needed room to breathe, and the referenda storyline definitely fell into the latter category. In particular, whenever a vote is called for on a ship or military base, in a sci-fi series, it seems out of place, as that’s not how those organizations function and the vote is run in a way that’s hard to take seriously.
Here, everything is given proper weight. Moonbase Alpha’s very unique situation, where they’re no longer within their mission perimeters (having been blasted into deep space), and they have a civil political figure on board, makes this far more plausible. The debate is handled well, and we get to see the aftermath and effect of the vote. The way the vote happens has social commentary elements without feeling hackneyed or ham-handed.
This is a solid piece of drama that just happens to be set in space.
This script focuses on the modern series monsters, the Dream Crabs, but still manages to recapture that early 2000s feel of the Eighth Doctor and Charley and what made that pairing work. There are also touches of other classic Charlotte Pollard stories. In many ways, this feels like a sequel to Solitaire, one of John Dorney’s earliest Big Finish scripts.
At the same time, India Fisher is on top of her game. I don’t think she’s ever been better. Overall, this has a great puzzle, a superb script, two great performances from the leads, solid direction, and a really great dreamscape sound design.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) arrives at a small seaside village where strange disappearances are happening at the local power station, which has a very hush-hush attitude about its source of energy. The village is haunted increasingly by a menacing visitor known as the Ravencliff Witch.
The atmosphere is superb, with both the sound design and Jamie Robertson’s music doing a great job to set the tone for the piece. The story has some good turns, although it’s by no means groundbreaking. This is a story that does take its time and builds up tension nicely. It also features well-thought-out and well-developed supporting characters who are all played by excellent actors. Tom Baker also is solid in a performance that’s one of his more serious takes on the Doctor. His last few minutes in the story are really well-done and beautifully subtle.
This is a superb story: spooky, engaging, and with some wonderful character moments throughout.
The Auton Infinity is an example of a classic, massive Doctor Who Anniversary special, a six-part story celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Peter Davison premiering as the 5th Doctor. It includes the Brigadier, the Autons, and a host of surprise companions and guest characters. Several of these stories have crashed under the weight of their own bloated plots, while others make for a delightful romp almost of themselves.
The Infinity of the Autons is one that really nails it. It’s well-paced, and rather than padding out the running time as many stories in the classic era do, it’s full of great surprises and surprising reveals. Each of the five cliffhangers is superb, with the second being a particular standout. The acting is very good, with Peter Davison turning in a multi-faceted performance. Jon Culshaw does yeoman’s work in portraying multiple characters. Howard Carter’s music is glorious. It’s pitch-perfect to the 1980s and true to the era.
While this is a love letter to the entirety of Davison’s TV run, it doesn’t have that sort of condescending approach that can turn off listeners. It’s the type of play that’s fan-pleasing without coming off as fan service. The Autons Infinity never stops being a good story. This is a well-made and thrilling production that really makes every minute of the three hour runtime worth it.