Before we dive into the 51st Big Finish release for Doctor Who, let’s take a look back at the first 50 releases, alone with a few bonus serials.
From The Sirens of Time all the way through Zagreus, one can see the growing pains Big Finish endured in script writing and production. Both became more polished, with a few misfires, along the way, although the final product in Zagreus was a major misstep. Fortunately, the recent releases of the Fourth Doctor Adventures and The Light at the End prove that Big Finish is still dedicated to producing quality stories for the beloved Doctor, almost 15 years after their humble beginnings…
For those looking to jump into Big Finish for the first time, I’ve listed some of the best audios to start with. With the exception of the Fourth Doctor, the stories below are $2.99 to download and a great way to get started!
Fourth Doctor – The Wrath of the Iceni, a purely historical tale set amidst one of Britain’s most romanticized periods.
Five Doctor – Spare Parts sees the unofficial origin of the Cybermen, while The Eye of the Scorpion introduces Erimem, an Egyptian Princess.
Sixth Doctor – The Marian Conspiracy introduces Evelyn Smythe, and Jubilee is one of the best Dalek stories ever written. Whispers of Terror is a good choice for Peri fans, while The One Doctor is a hysterical pantomime-style tale with Mel.
Seven Doctor – The Fires of Vulcan shows what happens when the Doctor gives up and shows what kind of companion Mel could have been with the proper writers. Coldtiz features none other than David Tennant as a Nazi officer and begins the growth of the teenager Ace into the young woman Dorothy McShane.
Eighth Doctor – Storm Warning is a great re-introduction for the Eighth Doctor and the introduction of one Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, and, hands down, without question, The Chimes of Midnight is one of the period Doctor Who stories ever.
The Fourth Doctor
Destination: Nerva is the return of Tom Baker to the role of the Doctor, but even in a familiar setting, the weak script and forgettable performances make this a lackluster season premiere. 2/5.
The Renaissance Man is the true return of Tom Baker to the role of the Doctor, with a tight, tense story and high-level performances, all why asking just how far would someone go for the sake of knowledge. 4/5.
Leela takes the spotlight in The Wrath of the Iceni, a story whose script and performances, along with some of Big Finish’s best sound work, asks the vital questions about loyalty and the opportunity to change history. 5/5.
A solid, well put together production, Energy of the Daleks sees the renewal of the rivalry between the Fourth Doctor and the Daleks in a story that treads on well-worn/well-treaded ground. 3/5.
A throwback to Robert Holmes, Trail of the White Worm suffers from alternately rushing about and taking its time before jamming everything into the final minutes. 3/5.
The Oseidon Adventure brings the first season to a solid and well done close as the Doctor and the Master square off once again, with the Kraals making a surprising but well-done return to the series. 4/5
The Fifth Doctor
Phantasmagoria is classic Who with a classic Doctor, a classic companion, and a classic plot. It serves as a good introduction or re-introduction to the Fifth Doctor, gives Turlough a chance to shine, and will appeal to fans of historical serials. 3/5.
If you can make it through the first 40 minutes, The Land of the Dead will reward you with great atmosphere, good dialogue, a unique monster, and Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton picking up right where they left off. 3/5.
The best way to describe Red Dawn is “adequate.” Five and Peri are fine, but the grand return of the Ice Warriors is marred by a poor villain and a weak script. This is an audio that can be passed over if you’re looking to save some money. 2/5
A well-written, well-produced, well-acted serial for three episodes until the writing fails during the final act, Winter for the Adept is worth listening to for the opportunity to hear what happens when a companion is fed up with the Doctor, as well as a chance see the Doctor being a dashing, adventuring researcher. 3/5.
A great script by Mark Platt and killer performances by the cast turn Loups-Garoux from Werewolf: The Apocalypse fan fiction into a memorable story. 4/5.
The Eye of the Scorpion is easily recommended. A high Egyptian adventure that gives the Doctor and Peri a chance to shine, it has drama, it has action, it has intrigue, and it has all the ingredients of a great audio – strong sound, strong performances, and strong ambience. 4/5.
The Mutant Phase reaches for the brass ring, and comes REALLY close to getting it, thanks to superb performances and an intricate, winding plot. Sadly, the climax is too convoluted, doesn’t make sense, and makes everything that’s happened seem for naught. 3/5.
Only Doctor Who could have an adventure that serves as both a sequel AND a prequel to a previous episode. Well-written and well-acted, Primeval is for not only fans of Nyssa, but fans of the old series who will appreciate the callbacks to an influential storyline. But newcomers to “Who” should definitely not overlook this audio either. 4/5.
Spare Parts is simply one of the best stories Big Finish has produced. A strong script, great performances, and several scenes that will haunt the listener long after the play is finished all add up to the unofficial origin of the Cybermen. 6/5.
Swords, schemes, plots, damsels in distress, and the Doctor buckling his swash add up to The Church and the Crown being a rousing historical serial that’s just plain fun. 4/5.
Nekromanteia’s attempt to be a dark, brooding, and edgy serial goes much too far and, much like the sector of space it’s named after, should be avoided at all costs. 1/5.
A true experiment in storytelling, Creatures of Beauty is a work of art that asks tough questions and refuses to give easy answers. 5/5.
3/4th’s of a good story about one of the Doctor’s lesser known but important villains makes a 90 degree turn, and Omega loses its way and a chance to place its stamp upon the title character. 3/5
The Sixth Doctor
Close your eyes to eliminate distractions, focus on the play itself, and enjoy Whispers of Terror not only a great introduction to the Sixth Doctor, but a good sign during Big Finish’s early days that the audio portion of the franchise is in good hands. 4/5.
The Marian Conspiracy is the first great-and-classic Big Audio production for the Doctor Who line. A throwback to the old historical serials of the First Doctor, the Doctor and his new companion immediately start a journey that will put them, at least in terms of the audios, in the same company as Two/Jamie, Three/Jo, and Ten/Donna. 5/5.
The second Six/Evelyn serial, with a strong assist from the Brigadier, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor will impress new listeners, bring back memories of classic serials to old listeners, and bring forth both a chill and a smile. 5/5.
The Holy Terror is funny, it’s scary, it makes you think, and it has a talking penguin. Three out of four of those are classic Doctor Who. 5/5.
Redeeming the Silurians, Bloodtide is an enjoyable historical serial with famous figures, along the lines of The Shakespeare Code and Vincent and the Doctor, if one can avoid the crashing of anvils in the process. 3/5.
Baker and Stables and Company bowl Project: Twilight right through the wicket. By the time this grim, fast-paced serial is over, good has won (barely), but the story is far from over. 5/5.
A script too far, The Apocalypse Element needs a bit of trimming and a rewrite for Evelyn Smythe. The day is saved, however, as Colin Baker, the returning Lalla Ward, and the Daleks do their parts in this action-packed story. 3/5.
…ish, an audio about language and words, containing great dialogue and grand performances, ends hindered by a script that can’t convey its ideas, leaving us with a story that’s good…ish. 3/5
A perfectly average serial, The Sandman could easily have been worse and turned the Doctor into a pure monster, but also could easily have been better and turned the concept of hero worship on its ear. 2/5
Much like the TV episode it inspired, Jubilee is an inventive, brooding, and engaging story with strong performances from Colin Baker and Maggie Stables that serves to redefine what it means to be a Dalek. 6/5.
‘Awe inspiring in that coat? Have you taken a look in the mirror recently? Come to think of it I shouldn’t think you do much else!’ ‘I intend to rise above your barbs…but before I do I’d like to say that this coat can only be appreciated by someone with a sharpened aesthetic sense – not a dunderhead like you!’ ‘Sharpened aesthetic sense? Sharpened by what a dose of mind altering drugs?’ ‘I warn you a verbal duel with me would only lead to ignominy for you!’ ‘Igno-what? Talking with you is like arguing with a thesaurus!’ ‘Anyway, this planet…it’s a gigantic body composed almost entirely of super heated gas.’ ‘Rather like you then!’ ‘If I have to endure another insult…’ ‘Oh here we go, another voyage around the English language!’ Which one IS The One Doctor? 4/5.
A sweeping experiment with several grand moments, Doctor Who and the Pirates suffers from a severe case of mood swings, but it doesn’t overshadow the spotlight-stealing performances of its two leads. 3/5.
The best of the “Villains” trilogy, Davros has a top notch script and caliber performances, topped off by Terry Molloy showing just what it is that makes the creator of the Daleks tick. 5/5.
The Seventh Doctor
Politics and Doctor Who rarely mix. When they do, you get The Fearmonger, a cracking piece of audio drama, as relevant today as it ever was, with surprises aplenty, fantastic characters, and the Doctor showing everyone, including Ace, just why he’s respected and feared across time and space. 5/5.
One of the best Big Finish audios, The Fires of Vulcan shows what happens when a Doctor can’t outrun time. A great script, amazing audio, and a performance by Bonnie Langford that just knocks it out of the park. 5/5.
Better known for a cliffhanger than as an actual story, Dust Breeding suffers from a script too complex for its own good and ideas that might have better been fleshed out in a novel than an audio play. Still, it’s worth a listen if just for how the moment plays out. 3/5.
The Daleks make their grand return in The Genocide Machine, but weak dialogue, a spotty script, and lackluster performances lend this story less towards “EL-E-VATE” and more towards “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!” 2/5.
f you were a fan of the Virgin New Adventures, then The Shadow of the Scourge will be like old home week for you, with the Doctor, Ace, and Benny in top form. But for those newcomers, the dark, violent story and the casual way it ends might be a turn-off. 4/5 for VNA fans, 2/5 for everyone else.
No Daleks, no Hitler, and no aliens other than the Doctor, Colditz is a top-notch audio, with McCoy, Aldred, and David Tennant in fine form as they scheme, threaten, and try to one-up each other in the heart of Nazi Germany. 5/5.
Imagine Mary Whitehouse penning the three episodes as a “just say no to drugs” manifesto while playing teenage depression for pure melodrama and then Matthew Graham taking those same drugs and scribbling the final episode, and you’ll have a rough idea of what makes up The Rapture, an absolute mess of a story. 1/5.
Bang-Bang-A-Boom! starts with an explosion, but gently saunters downward in an overly long muddled mess that takes great delight in making (admittedly humorous) fun of its fellow science-fiction franchises. 3/5
The last trip to the Virgin New Adventures continuity, The Dark Flame has several solid elements, but fails to come together in a worthwhile manner, resulting in a serial that’s passable at best. 2/5.
A twice-told tale told twice, Flip-Flop is worth a listen for the novelty of its presentation and strong performances from Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford, but once the story is spun, a repeat listen is highly unlikely. 3/5.
Master is small, intimate tale that looks into the heart of the Doctor’s archenemy, but attempts to change the very nature of the relationship between the Doctor and the Master with a big reveal that gets everything about their relationship wrong. 3/5.
The Eighth Doctor
Storm Warning serves as a wonderful point for a newcomer to either the audio plays or to Doctor Who itself, as it re-introduces the Doctor for the first time, adds a sparkling new companion, mixes together Earth history and science fiction, and the final segment of Episode 4 sets the stage for the upcoming story arc concerning Charley. 4/5.
Sword of Orion is your typical Who story, and that’s not a bad thing. There are some low points in terms of dialogue, and the Cybermen had much more potential as the main villains. But the story moves quickly, the chemistry between the Doctor and Charley continues to solidify, and really, you can’t go wrong with a half-way decent Cyberman story. 3/5.
Although the story falters at the end, The Stones of Venice sees a return to the historical settings that the Doctor finds himself in all too often. The chemistry between the Doctor and Charley is solid for their first recorded serial, the story and dialogue move right along, and Big Finish does a great job bringing a dying Venice to life for one more day. 3/5.
Written and rewritten in haste, with characters played WAY too over the top and too many plotlines and the padding that goes along with it, Minuet in Hell is the low point in McGann’s run as the Doctor. It’s much too dark and can’t decide on a light mood or a somber one. Only completists and fans of the Brigadier should pick this one up. 1/5.
An attempt to emulate a radio drama, Invaders from Mars sounds good, especially Paul McGann’s performance, but there’s too much going on at times. This is truly a “sit back and enjoy the show” type of serial. A solid season premiere that could have benefited from a pass with the editor’s scalpel. 3/5.
Scary, tense, shocking, and simply fantastic, The Chimes of Midnight is a Christmas ghost story for the Doctor and Charley that will make the listener’s hair stand on end thanks to great performances and a top-notch script. 6/5.
A romp through time, Seasons of Fear is a fun, entertaining chase that adds to the myth arc of Eight’s “second season,” with witty dialogue, a solid story, and one heck of a post-climax ending. 5/5
Starting off tense, Embrace the Darkness moves too quickly, leaving behind suspense for loud actions, spotty characterization from the supporting cast, and an ending that makes very little sense. 3/5
The Time of the Daleks drops its interesting premise by the second episode, leaving us with a rehash of previous Dalek stories performed by a troupe of disinterested players. 2/5.
A season finale well-plotted, well-done, and well-intense, Neverland is a dark fairy tale that closes a long-running arc with strong performances by all involved, especially India Fisher and Paul McGann. 5/5.
Too long, too dense, too fanwanky, and filled with too much mythology and major mischaracterizations, Zagreus is a poor ending to the first volume of Eight and Charley’s time together. 2/5.
The Two/Four/Eight Doctors
Big Finish gets its feet wet with The Sirens of Time, but it would take a few serials for them to find their footing, sacrificing what could have been an interesting multi-Doctor story for a bland paint-by-numbers story. 2/5.
A decent follow-up to a previous story, Project: Lazarus falls short of its predecessor thanks to a complete re-wiring of the villain’s personality. 3/5
The Light at the End is the perfect story for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, as eight classic Doctors team up to fight the Master and celebrate the franchise. 5/5.