Big Finish puts out a lot of Audio Dramas and I’m a huge fan. I listen primarily to their officially licensed Doctor Who audio dramas and multitudinous spin-off but also a few of their non-Doctor Who offerings. In this column, and the next one, I’m going to list the top ten best stories I heard from them that were released last year. Now, as usual, I don’t listen to everything they put out, so this list is not definitive, and of course, the opinions are my own:
10) “The Laughing Policeman” by Jonathan Barnes, Adapted as an Audiobook by Justin Richards, and read by Duncan Wisbey from Jago & Litefoot Series 14:
With the passing of co-star Trevor Baxter (who played Professor George Litefoot), the Doctor Who spin-off Jago & Litefoot came to an abrupt end after thirteen series. They tried to cap off the series with the release of Jago & Litefoot Forever, a Jago-heavy adventure where Christopher Benjamin carried the bulk of lines and Litefoot appeared briefly using lines pasted in from past adventures. (see: My review here.)
However, Big Finishhad scripts paid for and completed for a fourteenth series. After waiting an appropriate time, they set about adapting Series 14 into an audiobook. Each story had its own individual reader with some link to the past seasons. The series focused on a sinister new secret regime using mind control and having established itself in Victorian London. “The Laughing Policeman” is the second of four stories adapted:
This story is told in first person by a policeman trailing Jago and Litefoot, believing them to be seditionists against the new regime. But who is following who?
This is a remarkable piece and works great as an audiobook. Inspector Gilhooey provides a combination of atmosphere, humanity, and humor, as our two heroes take a slightly less prominent role in a corker of a mystery. There are some great twist and turns and so many superb surprises. I also love how his view of Jago and Litefoot evolves throughout the story and how he changes as well.
The fine story is given a great reading by Duncan Wisbey as the set continued its momentum from the opener.
9) The Gulf by Tim Foley starring Tim Treloar and Sadie Miller from The Third Doctor Adventures, Volumes 7
The Third Doctor Adventures began by recasting the role of the Third Doctor, originally played by Jon Pertwee (1919-96) so that surviving Third Doctor cast members like Katy Manning, who played the Third Doctor’s companion, could appear in full-cast Doctor Who stories. This box set brings back the daughters of the late actresses Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen to play the roles their mothers played as the other Third Doctor Companions.
“The Gulf” finds the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith landing at a mysterious disused sea-based mining rig that’s become a retreat for artists.
There’s a spooky/disturbing atmosphere about the place and the sound design. Sadie Miller fits right into the role of Sarah Jane Smith and gives a solid performance. The all-female guest cast is well-written with British Acting legend Wendy Craig (who I had no prior familiarity with) turning in an incredibly engaging performance as Marta, the leader of the group.
The story is clever and thoughtful and misses some frightening scenes with some spot-on character work.
8) The Trojan Dalek by John Dorney and starring David Tennant and Jane Slavin from the Box Set Dalek Universe 2
This story sees Mark, Anya, and the Doctor going in the front door of a base where an old friend of Mark’s is being treated for severe battlefield wounds and where they hope to find a lead on the scientist who possesses the time travel tech the Doctor needs to return to the TARDIS. When they fail to get cooperation on the latter issue, the Doctor suspects something far more sinister is going on.
The most remarkable aspect of this story may be that this wasn’t originally John Dorney’s story but he filled in for another writer. This is a superb script. It has elements that could easily be discordant. In the first half of this script, the Tenth Doctor has some of his most hilarious lines for Big Finish, but as the story goes on, we discover serious elements of body horror involving some experiments to fight the Daleks and an ending that hits like a punch to the gut.
However, rather than discordant elements, the humor at the start of the piece serves to make what happens later all the more horrible. It’s a mix of comedy and tragedy that makes for one of the strongest Big Finish stories of the year so far.
7) Unfinished Business by James Goss
6) The Sincerest Form of Flattery by James Goss
5) A Quiet Night In by Lou Morgan
All three stories comes from the War Master: Killing Time set starring Sir Derek Jacobi.
The plot of the box set features the Master (Jacobi) during the Time War trying to gain control of a system known as the Stagnant Protocol, a place whose inhabitants do not die but also are incapable of reproduction. He sees a way to exploit them for his own long plan, however finds a rival on-world in Calanthia (Alexandra Riley).
Unfinished Business and The Sincerest Form of Flattery are first and last stories of the set and heavily focused on the rivalry between the Master and Calanthia, as well as the complex relationship the two develop. To see the Master forced to deal with someone who is his equal in cunning and ruthlessness works well. Jacobi, an acting legend, is great, but so is Riley, who does rise to the occasion with an incredibly solid performance.
A Quiet Night In is the second story of the box and has the Master returning to Earth and pretending to be the Uncle of Jo Jones Manning.) She takes a trip out to the country to meet her uncle and finds herself as his mysterious house. The atmosphere of the story is heavy and brilliantly done. The story takes many unpredictable twists and turns. Both Jacobi and Manning turn in spellbinding performance in a solid bit of psychological terror.
Continued next week.
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