Big Finish

Genesis of the Cybermen

Feb
24

Review of Spare Parts (#34)
Big Finish Release Date: Jul 2002
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: Neverland (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: ...Ish (Six, Peri)

Years ago when I first became aware of Big Finish and had conversations about which releases were "best," Spare Parts came up again and again. It's thus been on my "to listen" list for ages, though for one reason or another didn't make it into the rotation until now.

Having now heard it, I completely understand why Spare Parts was recommended so highly. It has its pros and cons, as any of the audio adventures do, but what makes it so appealing is the way it adds to the larger tapestry of the Whoniverse—it's the story of how the people of Mondas became the Cybermen, well before the Doctor first encountered those iconic antagonists in his First incarnation in The Tenth Planet.

Any good Cybermen story needs some body horror, and we get it here, though it's not immediate; after all, we need to get to know characters besides the Doctor and Nyssa so that we can be properly appalled when horrible things happen to them. This slow burn adds to the tension as the TARDIS crew struggles with the implications of their actions on the future they know and what they believe, hope, or wish could be changed.

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Absurdly Entertaining

Jan
27

Review of The One Doctor (#27)
Big Finish Release Date: Dec 2001
Doctor/Companion: Six and Mel
Stars: Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford
Preceding Story: Primeval (Five, Nyssa)
Succeeding Story: Invaders from Mars (Eight, Charley)

Big Finish (BF) has been really good for characters much maligned for their televised appearances. While Ol' Sixie was the last incarnation to which I warmed (even before BF), Mel is one I've never quite managed to appreciate. Until now.

Last year I got my first taste of BF Mel, and while she didn't instantaneously win me over, I found her a heck of a lot less grating than I'd ever found her on television. This time around, I actually quite liked her. Not only was she clever without being shrill, the dialogue even had her poking a bit of fun at herself: "Believe me, when I'm scared, I'll scream the paint off the walls."

Similarly, Ol' Sixie was always the cleverest person in the room without being pompous or abrasive (as he often was in his televised adventures). He, too, was the butt of a gentle joke from time to time (references to his expanding girth, exercise regimen, and consumption of carrot juice all cropped up), but none of it ever felt mean-spirited or overdone.

All of this made for enjoyable listening when the Doctor and Mel stumble across a distress call from a planet in the Generios system at the "vulgar end of time," where "been there, done that" is pretty much the order of the day. The Doctor himself is legend, as they discover when they realize someone else has been using the Doctor's M.O. to run a scam—though a few things have been lost in translation.

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Miracle in the Desert

Aug
19

Review of The Eye of the Scorpion (#24)
Big Finish Release Date: Sep 2001
Doctor/Companion: Five and Peri
Stars: Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: Project: Twilight (Six, Evelyn)
Succeeding Story: Colditz (Seven, Ace)

Big Finish has achieved something I didn't think was possible: they made an entire story in which I didn't cringe at/actively dislike Peri. In fact, I was into Part Three before I realized that's what was happening. I guess y'all can officially add me to the list of folks who (at this moment) think she was better paired with the Fifth Doctor than the Sixth.

Aside from that amazing feat, The Eye of the Scorpion is in itself an enjoyable adventure. While in flight, the TARDIS inexplicably changes course. Upon review, it appears the Doctor is responsible, but he has no idea when or how he might have done so.

Soon they land in Egypt, circa 1400 BCE. In typical Doctor form, they accidentally ingratiate themselves with the yet-to-be-crowned Pharaoh, a young woman named Erimem (Caroline Morris). But the Doctor knows the names of all the Pharaohs—especially the female ones, who were few and far between—and hers is not a one he recognizes.

As is so often the case when the Doctor appears, there's political unrest in the land. An opposing army threatens the borders of Thebes and someone tries to assassinate Erimem, claiming he follows "the true Pharaoh," thus planting the seed of doubt among her people. Throw in an alien being at work behind the scenes and you have a classic pseudo-historical.

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Thrown for a Loup

Jul
15

Review of Loups-Garoux (#20)
Big Finish Release Date: May 2001
Doctor/Companion: Five and Turlough
Stars: Peter Davison and Mark Strickson
Preceding Story: Minuet in Hell (Eight, Charley, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story: Dust Breeding (Seven, Ace)

It's not often that Doctor Who tackles widely familiar fantastical creatures (e.g., vampires), but when it does, it doesn't shy from calling out the popular mythos. That's part of why Loups-Garoux works as well as it does.

For me, it was my tabletop RPG background that clued me in, but those who know French will also have a good idea what they're in for the first time they look at the title of this adventure. In that sense, there was nothing surprising in the story. For the most part, it rolled out about as I expected: the Doctor and Turlough find themselves embroiled in a crisis among a group of werewolves in and around Rio de Janeiro in 2080.

While the Doctor identifies the werewolves' condition with a quasi-scientific name, and not everything they do matches with legend, there's no doubt that these are the traditional werewolves we expect from literature. They are pack animals whose behavior is strongly influenced by the lupine side of their nature, silver harms them, and they are long-lived. For fans of werewolf stories, then, this audio adventure is a win.

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Favorable Mutation

Jun
17

Review of The Mutant Phase (#15)
Big Finish Release Date: December 2000
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: The Holy Terror (Six, Frobisher)
Succeeding Story: Storm Warning (Eight, Charley)

You know that feeling you get when one of your friends is really excited about a story—be it a book or a show or a film—and you've got no problem with it, but it just doesn't excite you? That sense that you're either about to disappoint your friend or that an unpleasant conversation about your differing opinions is about to ensue? That's how I felt coming into The Mutant Phase.

You see, although I've always liked Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor, I've also found him slightly bland—nothing to get excited about (I know I have several friends who are about ready to dump me upon reading that...). So when I got a nudge from one such friend to try one of Five's Big Finish (BF) audios next, I agreed with a certain trepidation. My unease increased when I realized the first one on tap from the list of recommendations I have co-starred Sarah Sutton's Nyssa—another of those dichotomous "friend's favorite/just okay for me" characters.

Imagine my relief when I realized I was quite enjoying the adventure. With no need to come up with something nice to say simply to appease the Five and Nyssa fans, I could relax and take the story as it came.

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