*** UPDATED OCTOBER 27, 2012 ***
I had more than a couple requests at the recent Phoenix Comicon from people who wanted to experience the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure range, but weren’t sure where to start, or what to focus on. And so, in the spirit of my essential Doctor Who guide, I figured I’d do another essential guide; this time for the audios.
Now I haven’t listened to all of the audios; not even close. I’ve listened to, oh, I don’t know, say, 30 of the monthly range, which currently has around 160 titles. I’ve listened to about 12 of the companion chronicles, which is the length of one of the six seasons they’ve done so far. So though I do plan to continue my policy of only recommending titles I’ve actually heard, do bear in mind they’re a fraction of what’s out there, and I do plan, at least in theory, to update this guide a bit more often than I have the other.
I’ve also decided not to limit this to just Doctor Who, so there’s going to be other stuff on here, too. Enjoy!
The First Doctor
Of course William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor all those many years ago, is long dead. This means that he’s not available for appearances in…well, really much of anything, honestly. So in order for Big Finish to do stories featuring him, as well as the Second and Third Doctors, they created the Companion Chronicles line. This line enables them to tell stories of these Doctors without having the actors who played them. So while you might see Companion Chronicle titles turn up for Doctors 4 – 8, with 1 -3, they’re going to be most of what you get.
The Companion Chronicles
“Quinnis” – This story features Susan and the First Doctor and takes place before the start of the TV series! It features the TARDIS landing on an alien planet and actually disguising itself! It also winds up tying into the fourth season of the Eighth Doctor stories, and therefore is very essential listening!
5.08 – “The Perpetual Bond” – This story, narrated primarily by Peter “Steven Taylor” Purves, who does an excellent job recreating the First Doctor, takes place in London in 1966. It’s a fascinating tale about aliens, slavery and secrets. It also introduces a new companion for the First Doctor in the form of Oliver (Tom Allen), an accountant who is on the run from the law. This was the first Companion Chronicle story I listened to, and it remains one of the best.
5.12 – “The Cold Equations” – Part two of Oliver’s journey with the Doctor finds him and Steven facing life or death in an odd bit of corridor floating in the cold vacuum of space. It’s a weird situation, but it’s a great story, and features not only the reason Oliver was on the run from the law, but also gives Steven a chance to be a space pilot, something which he never really got to do on the show, despite being…well, a space pilot.
6.05 – “The First Wave” – The conclusion to the unofficial “Oliver trilogy” finds our heroes stuck on a planetoid named Grace Alone, where they face alien invasion and death. This is something of a downbeat story in some ways, but very much essential listening for anyone who likes good drama.
The Lost Stories
These are stories that were at various stages of production, but never quite made it to the TV screen. With Big Finish you can now get a taste of what those would have been like! For the First and Second Doctor, these Lost Stories are in a form not unlike the Companion Chronicles line.
2.01 – The First Doctor Box Set – “The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance” is a decent enough story, but the real gem here is “Farewell, Great Macedon,” which has the TARDIS crew arriving in Babylon just in time for a visit by Alexander the Great. But is this the first time he’s there, while on the way to India, or is this the second time, where his next stop was the afterlife? While Carol Anne Ford’s performance isn’t perhaps all we might ask for, the story itself is really excellent and William Russell’s take on the First Doctor is every bit as good as that of Purves.
The Second Doctor
Now honestly, I’ve not heard many of the Second Doctor stories, so don’t expect this to be a long list. At least unlike with the TV show, my ignorance is because of my not having had the chance to hear them, and not because they’re missing!
The Companion Chronicles
6.08 – “The Selachian Gambit” – So this one features the Doctor being short on money he needs to have the TARDIS released from an impound scenario. Indeed. It’s an odd premise, but it works very well as a starting point for a good adventure with him, Jamie, Polly and Ben (with narration by Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills). It’s basically a bank robbery/hostage story, and it’s tremendous fun! Plus Hines’ skill with impersonating the Second Doctor is something that must be heard to be believed.
The Lost Stories
2.02 – The Second Doctor Boxed Set – Specifically “The Prison in Space,” which is a very…well, it’s a strange story, honestly. It starts with the TARDIS team arriving on a planet where women rule over men and ends with Zoe being spanked by Jamie. Yeah. Yeah. There’s a reason this one never made it to screen, but it works astonishingly well as an audio, plus Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are excellent in their roles, with Padbury doing especially well as basically every female character.
The Third Doctor
All we have with him so far are Companion Chronicle stories and, sadly, I’ve only listened to a few. Still, here’s what I recommend!
The Companion Chronicles
*** NEW *** – 5.03 – “Find and Replace” – Here we have a fun little tale that features Katy Manning not just as Jo Grant, but also as famed time-traveling eccentric, Iris Wildthyme. She also does the voice of the Third Doctor, but that’s far less interesting to me. This is a fun little tale, and if you want to experience what Iris is like, it’s a good place to start.
6.04 – “The Many Deaths of Jo Grant” – Katy Manning does an insanely good job revisiting her voice from forty years ago, and does an excellent job impersonating the voice of the Third Doctor, or at least a female version thereof. The story itself has recently been nominated for an award, and is some excellent listening!
The Fourth Doctor
This one is a bit tricky. There’s a couple Companion Chronicle stories about him (which I haven’t listened to), a lost stories set and his own personal monthly range. Thankfully (?) there isn’t much available in these ranges yet, so it’s somewhat easier to cover what’s important.
The Fourth Doctor Adventures
1.01 – “Destination: Nerva” – This it the first of the Fourth Doctor stories, and it really is excellent. It’s a great story to bring back the Doctor and Leela, and does an excellent job of tying itself into some of the Fourth Doctor’s earliest adventures.
1.03 – “The Wrath of the Iceni” – This is a very good story for Leela, and allows Louise Jameson to really showcase her talents as an actress. It’s also a nice little stand-alone “historical”, and, with the noted exception of “Black Orchid“, those are always welcome.
1.05 – “The Trail of the White Worm” – The Master is back! Yes, it’s the “beef jerky in a cloak” version of the Master, but who cares? He’s back, and Geoffrey Beevers does an excellent job voicing him. This is part one of a two-part story, and I haven’t heard part two yet (it isn’t out until next month), but just on the basis of part one, it’s an essential!
1.06 – “The Oseidon Adventure” – The conclusion to the two-part Fourth Doctor and Master story. Hey, if you’ve heard part one, you need to hear part two. It’s a bit confusing in parts (which is putting it mildly), but it is pretty damn great. Plus you get Leela riding a horse and terrifying the Master. That alone is the worth the price!
The Lost Stories
The Lost Stories: The Fourth Doctor Boxed Set – An excellent pair of stories, of which “The Valley of Death” is the superior. It’s a little pricey at $45, but for that price you get five hours of audios plus bonus features, so…yeah. Not bad!
The Fifth Doctor
There’s a lot for him. So very, very much, as there is for the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors. Just like before, I’ll be breaking these up into categories, which in this, and the next few cases, will be the Monthly Range, the Lost Stories, the Companion Chronicles and Specials (though for the Fifth Doctor, I don’t have any in the latter two categories yet).
The Monthly Range
024 – “The Eye of the Scorpion” – This story introduces a brand-new companion for the Doctor in the form of…well, you’ll see. It’s a fascinating and well-done story that really does an excellent job of showcasing what Big Finish can do.
038 – “The Church and the Crown” – A story that owes more than a little to the works of Alexandre Dumas. It has swords, musketeers and people who look exactly like other people (and conveniently for us, sound like them, too). It’s a fun, rollicking adventure that is much better than it should have been.
087 – “The Gathering” – No, not that Gathering. This one brings the Fifth Doctor back into contact with Tegan Jovanka circa 2006. Yes, she’s been away from the Doctor for over twenty years and now they meet again, something that makes her less than happy. It’s interesting to contrast the way she reacts to seeing him again with the way that Sarah Jane Smith handles it in “School Reunion”. It’s also part of an unofficial trilogy involving the Sixth and Seventh Doctors.
The Lost Stories
3.01 – “The Elite” – This is another really odd story. It features religion and…well, go look at the squishy thing on the cover and see if you can guess what that is. Indeed. It’s a good story, and important if for no other reason than the fact that it’s the first Lost Story for this Doctor.
X – “The Five Companions” – Set during the events of “The Five Doctors”, this audio follows the adventures of the Fifth Doctor, Ian, Steven, Sarah Kingdom, Polly and Nyssa as they try to escape from Sontarans, Daleks and dinosaurs! A great story, that really gives the companions a chance to shine and that ties in very nicely with “The Five Doctors”.
The Sixth Doctor
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Colin Baker’s acting is not the reason the series was put on an 18 month hiatus during his time as the Doctor. He’s proven time and again in the audios that he’s very good at what he does and a real treat to listen to!
The Monthly Range
006 – “The Marian Conspiracy” – The Doctor is in modern times investigating some odd goings on in the spacetime continuum. He isolates those problems to Evelyn Smythe, a 50 something history teacher. It seems something is rotten in her past, somewhere around the Elizabethan era. The “around” word in that sentence is the important one. This story is the first to introduce an entirely new, audio-only companion for the Doctor, and it’s also a really good one!
009 – “The Spectre of Lanyon Moor” – With his new companion, the Doctor investigates strange goings on at Lanyon Moor, and as he does, he and Evelyn are joined by the Doctor’s old friend, Sir Allister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart! Yes, the Brig is back in his only (I think), appearance with the Sixth Doctor. He was missed, and it’s very nice to hear him again.
011 – “The Apocalypse Element” – Time Lords, Daleks, Romana…this story really has it all! It’s also, if I’m not mistaken, the first real visit the audios make to Gallifrey, though given that they’ve set an entire series of stories there, it certainly isn’t the last.
014 – “The Holy Terror” – FROBISHER! FROBISHER! FROBISHER! Previously only ever seen in the comics, Frobisher is a shape-shifting detective who normally looks like a penguin. In this story, he…oh, who cares what he does? FROBISHER!
*** NEW *** – 023 – “Project: Twilight” – This story was released in 2001 and it’s only just a couple months ago, eleven years later, that we’ve finally finished tying up all the plots that it introduces. Yes, it’s that big and important. It introduces the character of Nimrod, who goes on to plague the Seventh Doctor, as well as his organization, the Forge, who has connections far beyond anything we’d ever imagined. As an added bonus, it’s also really good!
027 – “The One Doctor” – Well, sort of just one. You’ll have to listen to hear what I mean, and you’ll also get to hear Mel in one of her rare appearances alongside the Sixth Doctor!
133 – “The City of Spires” – CC 4.11 – “Night’s Black Agents” – 134 – “The Wreck of the Titan” – 135 – “Legend of the Cybermen” – I list these three stories together because they’re part of a mini-series featuring the Sixth Doctor traveling with his latest companion, Jamie! Yes, you read that right. Also the final story features the return of another former companion, Zoe! The companion chronicle story “Night’s Black Agents” is included on the above list as it takes place during this time and is told from Jamie’s perspective, something which confused me later.
156 – “The Curse of Davros” – The Sixth Doctor, Davros and a (mostly) new companion! What more could one ask for? Well, you also get the daleks, Wellington and Napoleon, plus a wonderful Abba reference. If that hasn’t convinced you, I don’t know what will!
The Lost Stories
1.01 – “The Nightmare Fair” – The Doctor and Peri go up against one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies: the Celestial Toymaker! While this isn’t a perfect story, it does start off the Lost Stories line, and it really is entertaining. It’s only a pity Michael Gough couldn’t return to the role.
1.02 – “Mission to Magnus” – Remember Sil, that jolly fellow from “Vengeance on Varos” and “Trial of a Time Lord”? There was another story planned for him, and this is it. Yes, he’s returned in all his burbbling, giggling weirdness, and it’s nice to have him back!
The Companion Chronicles
6.06 – “Beyond the Ultimate Adventure” – This is a sequel to a stage-play even most of the die-hard fans never heard of (though Big Finish made a version. See below). Nevertheless, it’s a great story, and actually has Colin Baker doing the Doctor’s voice, which doesn’t usually happen with the companion chronicles.
SP1 – “The Ultimate Adventure” – This is the aforementioned adaptation of the old stage-play. It’s a weird story, and quite fun. Also, for those of you who don’t like musicals, don’t worry: there isn’t too much singing in this one.
*** NEW *** – “Voyage to Venus” – The Sixth Doctor takes Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot on a little jaunt to Venus. Why? Well, for that you’ll have to hear the fourth series of Jago and Litefoot stories, but suffice to say that even without hearing those, you’ll likely still enjoy this story, and at only $1 (you read that right), to download, it’s a great value, too.
The Seventh Doctor
The Seventh Doctor’s TV era was…not great. “The Happiness Patrol”, “Paradise Towers” and others rank among some of the worst work ever done for the show. Thankfully, Big Finish’s work is much better. Even Mel improves when she’s with the Seventh Doctor! Here’s his essential stories.
The Monthly Range
013 – “The Shadow of the Scourge” – Not just the Seventh Doctor. Not just the Seventh Doctor and Ace. No, in this one we get the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice Summerfield! Plus the story is even written by Bernice’s creator, Paul Cornell! This is a rather darker story than normal, but an excellent one to listen to and, as mentioned, you get Bernice, so if you want a good introduction to the character, this is what you want.
058 – “The Harvest” – Another one introducing a new companion, this time in the form of Hex. It’s a companion piece with “The Gathering”, but both can be listened to on their own.
140a – “The Word Lord” – Ok, not the most vital story on here. But it’s only 99 cents, so…yeah. Get it.
*** NEW *** – Klein’s Story – This is a set of connected stories about the Doctor and a woman named Elizabeth Klein (Tracey Childs), who isn’t quite all she seems. Her story begins with “Colditz” (guest starring David Tennant), picks up again in “A Thousand Tiny Wings” and “Survival of the Fittest”, concluding, for the most part, in “The Architects of History”. After that, she returns, more or less, in the boxed set “UNIT: Domnion“.
*** NEW *** – Hex’s Story – Hex (Philip Olivier) is a companion created for the audio stories. He’s a young man from, more or less, modern day England who joins Ace and the Seventh Doctor on a whole series of stories. I’ve not listened to every story with him in it, but what I have heard is quite good and I do recommend them.ime in the TARDIS recently concluded with the story “Gods and Monsters”, which also acted as a follow-up to “The Curse of Fenric” (and ties up some threads left dangling ever since the Sixth Doctor story, “Project: Twilight”). I’ve not listened to every story with him in it, but what I have heard is quite good and I do recommend them. You’ll also want to get the Companion Chronicle story, “Project: Nirvana”.
The Lost Stories
2.03 – “Thin Ice” – 2.04 – “Crime of the Century” – 2.05 - “Animal” – 2.06 – “Earth Aid” – So, yes, I’ve grouped these together. Well, I have to, really, as they’re a complete story. The best, most cost-effective way to get this, and believe me, if you’re a fan of the Seventh Doctor and Ace, you want these, is to do the “Subscription” option and select “Season 27 download”. For $45 you get all four stories, which is something like eight hours of listening bliss!
The Companion Chronicles
4.06 – “Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code” – Oh, this is a good one. This is great for fans of Bernice, or even people who might want to try her out for the first time. At only eight dollars, you aren’t risking much, and the rewards are great!
*** NEW *** – “Love and War” – This very important story is an adapation of the novel that, back in 1992, introduced the character of Bernice Summerfield, who went on to be a bit important. It’s a very good story and very essential, since by its very nature, had this story not been written, Big Finish’s Doctor Who line very likely would not have existed.
The Eighth Doctor
As I mentioned a time or two at Phoenix Comicon, the Eighth Doctor, while having only one TV appearance, has more actual stories about him than any of the other Doctors. A large portion of these are audio stories. Here’s the most important!
016 – “Storm Warning” – This one started it all! It features the Eighth Doctor arriving on the R101, an airship that history tells us met with an unhappy fate. While there, he meets Charley Pollard, a young woman who is destined to become his new companion. Or possibly his old companion. Or possibly die in the crash of the R101. This is the first Big Finish audio I ever heard, and as a starting point, it just can’t be beat!
019 – “Minuet in Hell” – This is not, by any means, a pleasant story. But it is an important one. Why? Because it introduces the Eighth Doctor to his longtime friend, Sir Allister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart! Yes! We get the Eighth Doctor and the Brig! Story be damned; it’s all about the two of them together!
153A – “Mary’s Story” – The Doctor arrives in Switzerland in 1816. Or at least, some odd creature who might be the Doctor arrives. He also happens to fall in with a young woman named Mary Shelly, who is to become his newest companion. Not just an essential story, but a very good one, and another that’s only 99 cents!
The Companion Chronicles
4.12 – “Solitaire” – Charley, companion to the Eighth Doctor, finds herself trapped in a sinister game controlled by the Celestial Toymaker. This is the only 8th Doctor companion chronicle so far, which by definition makes it essential. Plus it’s really, really good. I could see it reworked if the BBC ever wants to do a “Doctor light” 11th Doctor story.
The Eighth Doctor Adventures
This is another one of those tricky ones. See, these are broken up into four seasons, rather like a TV series (and, indeed, in structure they borrow much from the new series). They also form arcs and really, if you’re going to listen to them, you kind of need to listen to all of them. Now these aren’t exactly cheap. Season one is $40 as a subscriber bundle, two and three are $55 or so each, and four is $85, but with that you get hours upon hours of stories plus a great deal of extras. These are excellent and essential and worth every penny.
VIII – “An Earthly Child” – Ever wonder what became of Susan after the First Doctor left her behind on 22nd century Earth? This story, which is a subscriber bonus but can be bought separately, attempts to show us, sending the Doctor back to 22nd century Earth where he meets not only Susan, but also her son, Alex. Yes, the Doctor has a great-grandson, and he’s played by Jake McGann, the son of Paul McGann. It’s a very good story, and given that Susan and Alex factor into the fourth season of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, it’s essential listening!
Yes, there’s been a few of these, though not as many as you might expect. There’s one, “Zegreus”, that’s apparently truly excellent (and features the Third Doctor, as well as the others), but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Once I do, it will probably be on this list. But in the meantime…
001 – “The Sirens of Time” – Yes, the very first of the Doctor Who audios was, more or less, a multi-Doctor story, with the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh all running around doing their thing! It’s essential listening not only because it’s multi-Doctor, but because it’s the very first of the Big Finish Who audios, and if you’re looking for a place to start, it might as well be here. Plus, hey, it’s only $8 for two hours!
5.07 – “Peri and the Piscon Paradox” – This story begins with the Fifth Doctor and Peri and ends with the Sixth Doctor and Peri! It is, as far as I know, the only multi-Doctor companion chronicle, and it’s really entertaining. It also provides an interesting set of explanations for Peri’s fate at the end of “Trial of a Time Lord”.
IX – “The Four Doctors” – It is what it says on the tin: you get Doctors 5, 6, 7 and 8! Now, I’ll be honest here, the story isn’t the greatest. But on the other hand, you do indeed get the four Doctors all in one adventure, and even the weakest of those sorts of stories is still something special!
There’s a lot of spin-offs. I mean a lot of them. You have Jago and Litefoot, Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme, Sarah Jane Smith, UNIT, I, Davros, Dalek Empire, Cybermen, the Unbound series, Gallifrey and probably at least one or two others I’ve forgotten.
Now it’s important to note that I haven’t heard a lot of the spin-offs. I’ve heard almost all of season two of Jago and Litefoot, but nothing else in the range. I’ve ordered the first season of Bernice Summerfield, but I haven’t received it yet (it’s not available for download for reasons unclear to me). Same thing with Gallifrey. I’ve heard one episode each of Iris Wildthyme, UNIT and Sarah Jane Smith, and so I cannot recommend any one way or the other as essential.
Once I’ve heard more things in the various spin-offs, I’ll expand this section to be more useful.
The Unbound stories are a series of “What If…?” titles. Basically they gave Big Finish a chance to create completely new Doctors with completely new actors and send them off to do…well, completely new things, like getting rip-snorting drunk and watching The X-Files. No, really!
Sadly, these titles didn’t perform well in sales, and there probably won’t be any more. But what we have is pretty wonderful, and only $5 each! Of the ones I’ve heard, I’d say there are three that are essential listening.
02 – “Sympathy for the Devil” – An alternate Third Doctor (played by David Warner), arrives in Hong Kong on the eve of the handover to China. There he meets an old friend, one Allister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, now retired and running a bar. But even as they enjoy their reunion, something sinister is brewing. Also features a certain very special guest star playing a UNIT officer.
06 – “Exile” – This alternate Doctor is a woman, played by Arabella Weir. She’s more-or-less hiding out from the Time Lords on Earth, spending her days getting drunk, handing out with friends and watching TV. But the Time Lords haven’t given up looking for her, and send a team to Earth to find her. A team which includes the same previously mentioned special guest star actor, this time playing, of all things, a Time Lord!
08 – “Masters of War” – After the events in Hong Kong, the Doctor and the Brig go traveling, eventually winding up on Skaro, where they encounter the Daleks, the Thalls and Davros. An excellent story that does a good job of bringing the Unbound range to a close.
Jago and Litefoot
Remember Jago and Litefoot from the Fourth Doctor story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”? They were popular enough back in the day that serious consideration was given to creating a spin-off TV series for them. That never happened, but now Big Finish has stepped up to create a series centering on the two!
3.11 – “The Mahogany Murderers” – This story, which doesn’t feature the Doctor at all, is essentially a backdoor pilot to the Jago and Litefoot series. It features the two investigating a series of strange murders that seem to involve giant wood golems. It’s a fascinating story, and a great way of reintroducing the characters to a new era!
*** NEW *** – The Boxed Sets – Now I’ve only listened to two, three and four. I’ve not gotten my hands on series one yet. But that said, these are not only great stories, they are kind of essential, since each story builds on another and each series ties into another. If you don’t like the characters, there’s probably no point, but if you do, these are really great and a must-hear.
Other Big Finish Ranges
With 2000 AD (Judge Dredd), Highlander, Dark Shadows, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Blake’s 7, Sapphire and Steel and Sherlock Holmes, among others, there’s something out there to please just about anyone! Again, I haven’t heard most of these ranges, though I’m itching to give Sapphire and Steel a try. But I have at least heard all of one series of Sherlock Holmes and I feel comfortable tagging some of those as essential!
1.03 – “Holmes and the Ripper” – What do you get when you send Sherlock Holmes, the great consulting detective, off to find out who Jack the Ripper is? You get this, rather wonderful, story. It’s the first to bring Nicolas Briggs to the role of Holmes and it’s a great story!
2.02 – “The Reification of Hans Gerber” – Holmes investigates a murder, an inheritance and the meaning of the word “reification”. Ok, not that last part, but I do wish. Anyhow, this is a very good story, and it’s an original one that isn’t based off any of Doyle’s work. It holds up very well and is an excellent place to start!
2.03 – “The Hound of the Baskervilles” – Most people, if they’ve only ever heard of one Holmes story, have heard of this one, even if they know nothing about it beyond the title. It isn’t a perfect story, but it is pretty good and essential listening because it ties into another story.
2.04 – “The Tangled Skein” – Holmes meets Dracula. Yes, that’s what happens. Yes, he’s an actual old-school vampire. This is a story that should, in every way, not work, but astonishingly it does, and in just about every way. We can argue about the idea of vampires in a Holmes story, but this story is so good that I had no problem suspending my disbelief and enjoying the ride!
That’s it for now. I’ll be updating this as I get my hands on more audios. Given that I listen to at least two or three a week, I hope to update monthly. If I don’t, well…get on my case about it!