The Essential Guide to Big Finish Audios


*** 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.

Specials

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.

Specials

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. :P

*** 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!

Special Releases

*** 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!

Monthly Range

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.

Specials

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!

Multi-Doctor Stories

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…

Monthly Range

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!

Companion Chronicles

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”.

Specials

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!

Spin-Offs

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.

Unbound

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!

Sherlock Holmes

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!

Conclusion

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!

Big Finish Review – Doctor Who – “The Jupiter Conjunction”


(special thanks to Big Finish for providing me with a review copy!)


Eight slash Q Panenka, a craggy comet with a 13km circumference, has an elliptical orbit that takes it between Earth and Jupiter. Which, in the year 2329, makes it a cheap means of space freight – the second class postal service of the solar system.

But when the TARDIS lands on Panenka, the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa discover a community falling apart at the seams – plagued by thefts, and mysterious disappearances among the ‘piggybackers’ who eke out a desperate existence on the comet.

While Tegan and Nyssa suit up for a dangerous excursion into the comet’s Unstable Zone, the Doctor and Turlough find themselves pawns in a game that could lead to tragedy for both Earth and Jupiter alike…

Starring: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Rebecca Front (Patricia Walton), John Cummins (Anton Falcao), Ellie Burrow (Chica St Jude), Zoe Lister (Violet Silvaner), Ben Porter (Major Nash), Simon Blake (Manny), Philip Pope (Jovians)

This particular audio was one that I had reasonable hopes for. Good cast with one of my favorite Doctors and one of my favorite companions (Tegan). And, indeed, for the first two parts, everything was quite good and interesting, with a wonderful mystery, a fascinating setting and interesting characters.

But somewhere mid-way through part three, it totally lost my interest. I’m not sure why. I know at least part of it was because the various revelations about who were the good guys and who were the bad weren’t all that surprising, and the concept of sentient gas creatures seemed a tad unlikely to me.

The cast is, of course, their usual great selves, and I’m happy to see that events that effected Nyssa in last month’s audio are being addressed, though I’m still unclear as to why BF had the older version of Nyssa turn up back a few stories ago if they were only going to youthify her.

Overall, if I did star ratings on here, this one would probably get a three out of five, because those first two parts are quite good, but they don’t really make up for the last two.

DVD Reviews – Doctor Who – “The Gunfighters” and “The Awakening”


Many Doctor Who fans have somewhat less than fond memories of “The Gunfighters,” a First Doctor serial that aired from April 30 – May 21, 1966. I hadn’t seen it until this DVD was released, but I’d heard about it long before from people who really disliked it.

I am therefore happy to report that it’s actually pretty decent! Not great, by any means. It’s not even “Great for a First Doctor story” or “Great for a historical”. But it is acceptable and it is enjoyable.

The plot concerns the Doctor, Steven and Dodo arriving in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881 just a day or two before the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. When they arrive the Doctor is complaining of a toothache. Naturally with access to dentists everywhere in space and time he decides to go with Doc Holliday in the Old West. The fact that appears as a viable option may be commentary on the state of British dentistry in the 1960s…

Almost as soon as the TARDIS trio set foot outside the stable where they’ve landed, they’re accosted by Sheriff Wyatt Earp, who warns them about the place and offers them his protection. They then split up, with the Doctor looking for Doc Holliday while Steven and Dodo pretend to be vaudeville stars (yes, you read that right).

While this is going on, Ike Clanton and his gang are preparing for trouble, planning to corner and kill Doc Holliday as part of their sinister plan to do… I don’t know what, really, but it’s all quite exciting! Holliday gets wind of this and, after treating the Doctor, dresses him to look like Holliday himself. Before long the troubles build up, the Doctor gets arrested (for his own safety), Steven nearly gets shot, Dodo gets taken hostage and through it all there’s singing. Endless singing.

I was somewhat surprised at how enjoyable this story is. It’s nicely paced, well-acted (especially once you get past the attempted American accents in part one), and establishes the Doctor’s very strong dislike of guns in no uncertain terms. The sets were also really good and the whole thing was nicely atmospheric, and a little more adult than the show usually was.

On the other hand, there’s the historical accuracy, which is minimal. Even worse, though, there’s… that song… “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon”. It’s not horrible, but it is constant. Every three minutes or so you hear a line or two from it, and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s an ok song, but not so good that I want to hear it endlessly.

As usual with the old series DVDs, there’s more extras here than you can shake a Colt .45 at (sorry, sorry…)! You get the expected commentary with actors Peter Purves (Steven), Shane Rimmer (Seth Harper), David Graham (Charlie), and Richard Beale (Bat Masterson), and production assistant Tristian de Vere Cole, all moderated by Toby Hadoke, best known for “Moths Ate my Doctor Who Scarf.” The commentary is vastly entertaining and quite amusing at parts, as should be expected.

Additionally you get the First Doctor version of “Tomorrow’s Times,” a new series on the discs that shows contemporary media coverage of the program, with this version hosted by Mary Tamm (Romana I). You also get a photo gallery, PDF materials and an excellent documentary called “The End of the Line.” It talks about the problems the series had during its third year, and includes interviews with Purves as well some of the other actors, including Maureen O’Brien (Vicki). And for people like me, who’ve always wondered, you get some insight into why Jackie Lane left the series (short version: she didn’t look young enough on camera and was written out while her first serial was still airing).

The Gunfight at the OK Corral has made its way into Western mythology like almost nothing else, and that’s a surprise considering just how short it was. The whole thing lasted only 30 seconds, but from that we’ve gotten this story, the third-season Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun,” and numerous movies and books. It’s really quite amazing the industry it spawned.

Ultimately I recommend this disc, but really only for the fans. If you’ve got someone you’re trying to get interested in the series, there’s probably better choices. But for what this is, it’s pretty decent and far better than the detractors would have you believe.

——————————————————————-

Ah, historical war recreations. Here in the States we get them in the form of people who dress up in grey and wander about playing soldier while shouting, “The South shall rise again!” In the United Kingdom, at least as far as this video is concerned, you get them in the form of people who take over small villages, ride around on horseback and intend to burn a woman at the stake.

Frankly, the British version sounds more interesting.

The year is 1984, and the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson, who later became a producer and went on to discover Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin. Seriously!), turn up in the town of Little Hodcombe, arriving smack in the middle of a historical reenactment of a battle that happened during the English Civil War. They are there because Tegan wants to find her grandfather who, it turns out, has gone missing.

The Doctor starts to figure out quickly that things aren’t exactly as they seem when he runs into Will Chandler, a boy from 1643 (Keith Jayne). Soon the Doctor discovers that one era is leaking into the other and that the war gamers are being controlled by an evil alien force that’s about to make the game more real than anyone expected.

This was an odd story. First off, it’s two parts, which wasn’t done very often in Doctor Who back in the day and when it was done, you got stories that were pretty good, like “The Sontaran Experiment” and stories that… well, weren’t, like “Black Orchid”. This story is good, but it’s confusing. I never quite understood what the Malus, the previously-mentioned evil alien force, was doing or what its motivations were. It was just sort of there, hanging out behind a crack in the wall.

Speaking of cracks in the wall, one thing I will say about this story is that it very much “felt” like a new series adventure. Switch it around so you have the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory, trim about five minutes and you have something that would fit well with modern Who. Heck, even the notion of going to visit a family member seems almost lifted from the modern stories.

On the other hand, despite the odd story, the acting is especially good, particularly from Jayne and other guest actors like Polly James and Dennis Lill, all of whom are entertaining enough they might serve to distract you from the flaws in the story. Also, as you’d expect from a BBC historical production, the costumes are all top-notch.

2 Entertain have crammed their usual list of special features onto this disc, and those add value far more than the story. You get commentary by the director, Michael Owen Morris, script editor Eric Saward and comedian Toby Hadoke, who I really hope they utilize more in these commentaries. It’s a decent commentary, though the absence of Davison is felt keenly. I was reassured to note that even the director wasn’t entirely sure what the Malus was doing hanging out behind the wall.

Other extras include “Return to Little Hodcombe,” a “making of” feature with the director, Fielding and Jayne, “Making the Malus,” about the SFX behind the story, “Now and Then,” showing what the locations look like today, some extended and deleted scenes, a photo gallery, an isolated music score, PDF files and something called “The Golden Egg Awards,” which was really quite amusing.

Like this month’s other DVD release, “The Gunfighters,” this one is not really for the casual fans or the people who are entirely new to the series. But if you’re even slightly more than a casual fan, you might want to pick it up. In the States it’s sold apart from “The Gunfighters” and at only about $11. A decent price for a decent DVD!

Second Gallifrey Update


So here’s the report for Saturday at the exciting convention, and what an exciting convention it’s been! All sorts of interesting people, lots of fun events, and a larger attendance than ever have combined to make this easily my favorite Gallifrey con and one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended period!

Not much happened during the first part of Saturday, aside from me getting some breakfast which is, let’s face it, always an important thing. After the food was squared away I finally got a decent picture of Janet (Teagan), Fielding.

The delightful Ms F!

I said decent, not great.

After that I attended a panel discussion called “The Men of Doctor Who“, which featured Frazer Hines (Jamie), John Leeson (K-9), John Levene (Sergent Benton), and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric, and whom I still have yet to get a decent picture of. Today, perhaps). It was a fun little conversation with lots of delightful patter between Hines and Levene, who, it turns out, is returning home to the UK after 22 years of living in the LA area. He’s going to be taking care of his ailing, 95-year-old mother. I’m glad I had a chance to see him one last time!

After that I got into the autograph line for the free signatures, unlike the ones I’d gotten before where I was having to pay for them. I got signatures from Peter Davison (5th Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), and Frazier Hines. During the line I wound up in pleasant conversation an incredibly cute young fellow who the night before had been running around playing Turlough. This day he’d been with a friend of his playing the aged version of the 10th Doctor to her version of the Master.

Trust me, he’s better with the mask off.

Oh, my...

Here’s the rather pathetic picture that I got in the autograph line. One has to take what one can in those.

Davison, Sutton and Hines

After that I attended a panel with Fielding and Sutton talking about many things, including how much their roles on the show basically sucked and lacked any sort of character development. This is true of all the roles on the old series, really, but it was especially true of the women’s roles. It may not be a coincidence that both left acting shortly after they left the series.

Again, one does what one can from a distance with a crap camera...

I then spent much of the rest of the day wandering around getting pictures of people in costumes. I’ve decided that all the costume pics will get posted in a large post tomorrow, so don’t expect any today. It was during the time that I found myself in the dealer’s room where I found… him

Now astute readers will remember that last year I got to meet Tommy Knight from The Sarah Jane Adventures. He was a very sweet young man and had his mother take this photo of me and he.

It was one of my cherished little moments at the convention. Well, this year he wasn’t here, but Daniel Logan was. For those who don’t recognize the name he played young Boba Fett in Star Wars – Episode II, Attack of the Clones. I hadn’t seen anything of him since he looked like this.

Picture from Wookiepedia... seriously!

Well, surely there’s no way he could have changed very much in the intervening years! Let’s just wander over to his little autograph signing area and check him out! Certainly, I don’t expect anything terribly interesting and-

*swoon*

And… and… I… uh… excuse me. *dashes off to a cold shower* Ah… ok. Back. Right. To recap, Daniel Logan now looks like that. Oh, my. Now the interesting thing is that before I took this photo of him, he suggested a photo of the two of us together. It was with a sense of deja vu that I agreed.

Ignore the smart-ass git in the back trying to ruin the shot.

Yeah. Yeah. I’d hit that up, down and sideways. Wowsers. I needed another cold shower right after that. Particularly when he shook my hand which put me in mind of something my friend Rob said at the con in 2009 after shaking hands with Gareth David-Lloyd.

Anyhow, I was quite smitten by Mr Logan who also engaged in some delightful conversation with me. Clearly this was all about him trying to get me to buy a photo of him to autograph. Well… it worked, dammit.

'Chris: The Dark Side awaits... Join me!'

Yeah. It’s been a good convention. Anyhow, that’s all for updates for now. I’ll finish the rest later. Meantime, here’s a fun video I shot!

Essential Doctor Who


*** UPDATED JUNE 8, 2011 ****

I got an email a while ago from someone who was a new fan of Doctor Who and, among other things, wanted my recommendation on which episodes were essential viewing. I compiled a list and sent it to her, and I have since decided that I should put up a list on my blog. For her I sent only three episodes from each Doctor, but there’s a few more episodes than that which are really recommended.

Sadly, there’s a lot of missing stories that I have not viewed. You see, back in the 1970′s the BBC wiped a great many of their master recordings. This included shows such as The Avengers, Z-Cars and Dad’s Army, as well as, sadly, Doctor Who. Over the years a great many of them have been recovered, but there’s still lots missing. Most of what’s missing are Second Doctor episodes, but there’s quite a few First Doctor ones that are gone as well. The curious can see some of the episodes from incomplete stories on the “Lost in Time” collection. It’s a bit esoteric, but worth seeing.

For purposes of this list, I am including only complete stories that have been released on DVD and that I have watched and find to be essential.

The First Doctor – 1963 – 1966

The First Doctor, played by character actor William Hartnell (view him younger and in color in The Mouse That Roared), was a mysterious time traveler, origins unknown, who moved through space and time in his police box-shaped TARDIS, known for being bigger on the inside than the outside. While at first he was something of an anti-hero and disinclined to involve himself in whatever was happening, he began to slowly evolve and soon started putting himself in the way of evil at every chance.

This version of the Doctor was something of an old man. He was often cranky and cantankerous, frequently prone to doing things he wanted to do even if it put his companions in danger, and, on rare occasions, a kind, gentle man who showed genuine affection for those around him. The way his character changed throughout the four seasons he was on the air is part of his real charm.

“An Unearthly Child/The Daleks” – This DVD set includes the first-ever adventures of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan. Thus it is by definition essential viewing. But even better than that, you also get “The Daleks”, which contains the first appearance of, you guessed it, the Daleks. It’s a great set of stories and a great DVD set!

NEW – “The Keys of Marinus” – This is an odd little story, or rather, set of stories. It’s six broadly connected episodes focusing on the Doctor and friends trying to find the missing segments of the Key to Time the Keys of Marinus. It plays kind of like a video game where they get each one and then walk to a man with an ! over his head for the next step on the quest. But this enables them to tell some really interesting different types of stories including, of all things, a police/courtroom drama.

“The Dalek Invasion of Earth” – The return of the Daleks, plus a fairly dark and epic storyline and the end of one companion’s journeys with the TARDIS. All around great!

“The Rescue / The Romans” – “The Rescue” is no great shakes, but it’s not bad. The real quality piece on here is “The Romans”, which is one of the earliest existing “historical” episodes, as well as being essentially a comedy. It’s a really fun episode and a nice break from what’s gone before.

Entirely too pleased with himself.

NEW – “The Space Museum/The Chase” – As with the previous discs, the first one on here, “The Space Museum”, is no great shakes, though it’s wonderful seeing the First Doctor hide inside a dalek. But the real win on this set is “The Chase”. It’s not a great story, though it’s not bad and features daleks and Dracula, so there’s that, but it’s an important one for it marks the departure of the last original companions. Yes, Ian and Barbara leave at the end of the story, leaving Vicki alone with the Doctor. It’s a sad moment, but it’s only the first of many departures we’ll see over the decades.

“The Time Meddler” – What’s up with the mysterious Monk and his vaguely odd abbey? The first of the psuedo-historical adventures.

“The War Machines” – The Doctor returns to “contemporary” Earth, loses one companion and gains two others. The last fully-intact First Doctor story.

The Second Doctor – 1966 – 1969

William Hartnell was getting fairly old and in frail health. The show was doing well and the powers that be wanted to keep it going. What to do, they wondered. What to do? Eventually some brilliant sod hit upon the notion of regeneration, and thus a new Doctor was born!

This new Doctor was very different from the original. Patrick Troughton, largely known to non-Who fans from his brief role in The Omen, played the character as rather comedic and disarming, presenting him as something often referred to as “a cosmic hobo”. But despite his charm, very real strength and ability lay within.

As mentioned there’s very few of this Doctor’s adventures that exist in full. Not all of those have been released on DVD. Nevertheless here’s the best of those that have been, including one special one.

“The Tomb of the Cybermen” – First fully-existing story featuring the Second Doctor. It also has Jamie and Victoria (in her only fully-existing story), and features the return of the last villains faced by the First Doctor, the Cybermen!

NEW – “The Dominators” – This is an interesting one. When I first saw it back in the 1980′s, I clearly didn’t like it, since I had no fond memories. This is doubtless due to the Quarks, which were intended as a replacement villain for the daleks. After you watch this story, you’ll realize just how insane that idea is. But anyhow, I watched the story again on DVD and I must say, my memories were faulty. This is a much better story than I’d remembered it being. The story is solid, and the guest actors, particularly the lead Dominator, do a very good job. Even the Quarks come off better than I remember. This isn’t a perfect episode, but it is a solid one and worth seeing.

“The Invasion” – Another Cybermen story, but this one is quite unique. See, two of the eight episodes are missing, and when animated copies were offered to the DVD company at cut-rate prices, they jumped on it. As a result, those episodes are recreated in animated form. They look a bit naff at a times since they’re done with Flash, but they still work surprisingly well! To make matters even better, this is a first-rate story, and features not only Zoe, but UNIT, Sargent Benton and the Brigadier!

NEW – “The Seeds of Death” – Say hello to the Ice Warriors. They’re the original inhabitants of Mars, something I’m sure John Carter would be surprised to hear. They’ve been mentioned in the new series but haven’t turned up yet. This is probably the best use of their characters and also an interesting glimpse of what the producers thought a functioning future version of Earth might be like. Plus you get to see Troughton being his usual insane self. Always a plus.

“The War Games” – A ten-episode spectacular to mark the end of the Second Doctor’s time in the TARDIS, and also the last episode in glorious monochrome! Thrills, spills, chills and lots of scenes of the Doctor and his companions being captured. Repeatedly. Still, a marvelous story, and a great setup for the next Doctor!

The Third Doctor – 1970 – 1974

The Time Lords have forced the Doctor to regenerate and exiled him to Earth. Punishment for all the times he defied their laws and interfered with other words. He arrives in the 1970′s (possibly), and teams up with UNIT. With them, and sometimes despite them, he fights against alien invasions, strange, possibly magical forces, and runs into his best enemy, the Master.

Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was another great departure from what had gone before. He was much more of a dandy, and an action and science oriented sort of man. He drove a bright yellow roadster, frequently took the side of aliens over humanity when he thought humanity was in the wrong and became the first Doctor to have an adventure with his other selves. All of his stories, thankfully, exist in full, so let’s have a look at the best!

“Spearhead from Space” – A new Doctor, a new companion, and new enemies in the Autons. The only original series story shot entirely on film, it looks and feels quite a bit different from anything that had gone before. It truly does an exceptional job of setting the stage for the rest of the Third Doctor’s tenure in (though usually out of), the TARDIS.

“Doctor Who and the Silurians”/”The Sea Devils” – The DVD I link to here actually contains two Third Doctor stories and one Fifth Doctor story. I’m listing it here because the complete set is a great deal and the stories are all excellent! You get to see some of the moral complexity that was introduced during the Third Doctor’s tenure, you get to meet the Silurians and the Sea Devils and you also get to see the first, and best, version of the Master (though not in his first appearance which is not yet available on DVD). Really it’s a set you can’t go wrong with, especially if you’re someone new to the series.

NEW – Inferno – See the Doctor face an evil mirror version of the Brigadier! No, he doesn’t have a goatee, but he has an eye patch and no mustache. Truly a force to be reckoned with. This is one of the few episodes to deal directly with the notion of alternate universes and is just a generally fascinating story.

NEW – “Terror of the Autons” – Well, here we are. The first appearance of the Master. The man who is Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes. In this story the Master turns up being suave, polite, sophisticated and utterly ruthless. He is in almost every way the Doctor’s exact opposite. Roger Delgado really tears up the screen with his performance and makes this a truly must-see story.

“The Three Doctors” – Not the best story the show has ever had, but far from the worst, and certainly the best multi-Doctor story. Yes, you get the Second and Third Doctors running around trying to stop a bad guy while the First Doctor advises them from a TV screen. It actually works out reasonably well and the interplay between Troughton and Pertwee alone makes for a must-see story.

Hello, Sarah Jane.

NEW – “The Time Warrior” – The introduction of the Sontarans, aka: Potato Heads in Space! Oh, and Sarah Jane Smith gets her first appearance here, too. She’s no one important. This is a good pseudo-historical episode featuring knights, castles, aliens and all sorts of fun! It’s well worth seeing.

NEW – “Planet of the Spiders” – The last adventure for the Third Doctor, and the last “true” UNIT adventure. With this story you have Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton, the Brig, Sarah Jane Smith and the Doctor together for one last adventure. The story is a bit confusing and lately when I see it I want to whisper “There’s something on your back!”, but mostly it holds up well and the regeneration scene at the end is very satisfying and moving. It’s also quite bittersweet to watch this now in the wake of the recent deaths of Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen.

The Fourth Doctor – 1974 – 1981

If you’ve only ever seen one episode of Doctor Who, it likely was one with the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. With his powerful voice, distinctive look and exuberant personality, he quickly became one of the most, if not the very most, popular Doctors ever. For seven years he adventured around in time and space with no less than nine different companions. He fought the Sontarans, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master and even ran afoul of the Black Guardian.

Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor really is something to see. He brings a level of energy that was missing with the previous Doctors and which, arguably, the new series has continually tried to recapture, with David Tennat coming the closest. He really is amazing in the role and has had some of the best stories of the entire series. Here’s the essential ones currently out on DVD.

“Genesis of the Daleks” – The Time Lords come up with an idea to rid the universe of the Daleks. They decide to send the Fourth Doctor, only on his fourth adventure, to Skaro to prevent the creation of the Daleks. There he meets up with their creator, Davros, one of the most enduring villains of the series. The story is excellent and really well-acted. It’s heavy on the Nazi imagery (sometimes a bit too much so), and is frequently at the top of the list of best stories ever. I’d say that if you only see one Doctor Who story, this is the one to watch.

“Pyramids of Mars” – Egyptology was a major thing back in the 1970′s, and leave it to Doctor Who to get into the act. This story is a wonderful pseudo-historical and ties in nicely with Egyptian mythology. The only real weak point are evil mummies that kill you with… er… group hugs. Ahem. Otherwise, a great story!

“The Deadly Assassin” – An excellent story, and the only one of the original series to feature the Doctor traveling solo! Something nasty is afoot on Gallifrey. Someone is offing Time Lords left and right. The Doctor shows up just in time to be a suspect and then to help solve the case. With great shades of The Manchurian Candidate, more Time Lord lore than you can shake a stick at and a really good plot, this one is a definite must-see!

“The Talons of Weng-Chiang” – Production values on the original series were never higher than in this story! The Doctor and his companion, Leela, a warrior woman from a fairly primitive planet, arrive in old London Town in the 1880′s. They’re looking to have a good time at the theater and then stumble onto murther! Murther most foul! The Doctor, very much channeling Sherlock Holmes, begins to investigate! Heavy on the atmosphere, with a great story, exceptional acting and, as mentioned, very high production values, this is also a story that ranks at or near the top of every list of best stories compiled for the series. It’s certainly the best pseudo-historical ever made, and if you only ever see one of those, make it this one.

“The Key to Time” – The Doctor gains a new companion in the form of Time Lady Romana. Together with her he travels around the universe in a season-long story arc centering around their efforts to get the Key to Time and stop the ruthless Black Guardian. This set of stories is not everyone’s cup of tea, and one of the stories within is arguably one of the worst ever made for the original series. But that said, you can’t fault them for a lack of ambition and most of what’s in here is really good!

NEW – “City of Death” – An all around great story with Baker at his manic best! The screenplay was massively rewritten by Douglas Adams and you get a brief cameo by John Cleese. Add in location filming in Paris and Julian Glover as the villain and you have a really incredibly good story!

“The E-Space Trilogy” – These stories see the departure of two companions and the addition of one (the constant focus of my lusts when I was a teenager, Adric). These are terribly good stories and are all worth seeing. They also do an excellent job of clearing the decks for what’s to come.

“The Keeper of Traken”/”Logopolis” – “It is the end,” Doctor says at last. “But the moment has been prepared for…” Yes, it certainly was. These two episode form a minor arc that leads into the last of the Tom Baker years and the start of the Peter Davidson years. While fans are somewhat divided on how the Fourth Doctor meets his end (really? That’s the best they could come up with?), and many really dislike the “strange white figure” concept, there’s no denying that these are strong stories, and not only see the farewell to Baker but also the addition of companions Nyssa and Teagan. Truly these stories cannot be missed!

The Fifth Doctor – 1982 – 1984

With the departure of Tom Baker, the series was set for some major changes. The TARDIS now carried a new Doctor played by noted, and notably younger, actor Peter Davison. The youngest actor to play the Doctor until Matt Smith, Davison brought a fresh new air to a series some thought was growing stale. With a crowd of three companions, something not seen since the Second Doctor, we got a whole series of wonderful stories, a hugely epic 20th anniversary special and the tragic death of a character.

The Fifth Doctor once again squared off against some of the same old adversaries (the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sea Devils, the Silurians, Davros, the Master, the Black Guardian), but still managed to find time for some new enemies, and also got to embark on the last of the historical adventures; the sadly awful “Black Orchid”, about which I have written before. But there’s also a hell of a lot of good stories with him, too! Also, to this day he remains the only Doctor from the original series to appear in the new, albeit in a ten-minute short film. We fans will take what we can get!

“Castrovalva” – Hmmm… that link seems familiar. Anyhow, this is part three of a trilogy. It follows directly on the heels of “Logopolis”, and shows the Doctor’s regeneration starting to fail. Much of the story is kind of iffy, but Davidson’s performance is good enough to compensate and there’s some truly bizarre images that make for fascinating viewing.

NEW – Kinda – A really strange story with lots odd, atmospheric content. This also features a really meaty role for Janet Fielding who has a great time playing Tegan and the Mara. Good enough that it spawned a (nice but not required), sequel.

“Earthshock” – Notorious for featuring the first death of a real companion (Sarah Kingdom and Katarina just don’t count, dammit!), this story also features the return of the Cybermen as well as some great performances by Davidson and Matthew “Adric” Waterhouse. It’s a bit depressing at the end, depending on how one feels about the companion who dies, and it’s certainly a great story.

The Black Guardian Trilogy – An old companion leaves and a new, rather suspicious companion, joins. Turlough is the name of the latter and he’s a terribly iffy character throughout the series, always anxious to sell out at just about every opportunity, at least at first. He’s introduced in this three-part story arc that also features the welcome return of the Brigadier and the less welcome return of the Black Guardian.

“The Five Doctors” – Really, it’s more like “The Three-and-a-Half Doctors”, because Tom Baker didn’t want to be in it, and William Hartnell was dead. He’s replaced by Richard Hurndal who looks and sounds quite a bit like the First Doctor, if you’ve never seen nor heard the First Doctor. The story is mediocre in the extreme, but on the other hand you get to see the First (sort of), Doctor, the Second Doctor, the Third Doctor, the Fifth Doctor, Susan, Jamie, Zoe, Liz, Mike Yates, Sarah Jane, K-9, Tegan, Turlough, the Cybermen, the Daleks, a Yeti and a slew of Time Lords! Made for the 20th anniversary this is also the only 90 minute episode, and if you get this DVD version of it, make sure to listen to the commentary by David Tennant and some of the people from the new series. It’s something of an Easter Egg on Disc 2 and well-worth listening to.

“The Caves of Androzani” – We say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor in this story. It’s a very good story, with some wonderful acting, particularly by Davison, especially in his final moments. Something of a shadow hangs over the tale, since we know he dies at the end, but he goes out doing what he should have done and sets the sage for the most controversial Doctor of them all.

The Sixth Doctor – 1985 – 1986

Ask ten fans of the series what they think of the Sixth Doctor and you’ll get at least ten different opinions, if not more. From the very start the producer, John Nathan-Turner (another one to ask ten fans about), wanted to have a very different sort of Doctor. He wanted someone a bit more abrasive and hard to like, someone that would grow on the audience. His choice, relatively unknown actor Colin Baker, did very well at the first part of that formula, but perhaps somewhat less so at the second part.

To be honest Baker never really had a chance as the Doctor. He was dressed in what is possibly the worst outfit ever on the show, and saddled with some rather odd plot lines. He did too well initially at being unlikable, and in the end failed to grab hold of the audience. For the first time in the show’s history, it was put onto an 18 month hiatus. It was then brought back for a shortened season which hadn’t been planned as Baker’s last, but nevertheless ended up being so, as he was fired at the end. He refused to come back for a regeneration scene (and who can blame him?), and so his unexpected last words were, “Carrot juice?!”

The character does have a following, however, and has redeemed himself in the eyes of many through a series of novels and audio adventures by Big Finish. Those will be addressed in a separate article on the spin-offs. Meantime, here’s the essentials for the Sixth Doctor!

“The Twin Dilemma” – The story here is frankly crap. It concerns some weird twins with the unfortunate names of Romulus and Remus (names made more unfortunate by the fact that neither of the rather adorable actors playing the twins can say “r” without it sounding like a “w”. Why they weren’t renamed Castor and Pollux I’ll never know), who get kidnapped by some guy who needs their math powers to do some thing against some aliens and take over the universe or something. I’ve never understood it nor cared for it. But the story is worth viewing to see the totally different take Baker has on the character right from the start. First he tries to strangle Peri and then he tries to sell her out. Damn! Now that’s some change we can believe in! Or not, since as I mentioned, he got fired.

“Vengeance on Varos” – In many ways a rather prescient story, this one tells us of a world where reality TV has gone horribly wrong. It also introduces us to the completely repulsive character of Sil, who turns up later on in the series and in at least one of the audios. He’s quite fascinating and a great example of the sort of creatures the series could make when they really tried.

“Mark of the Rani” – A very decent story that introduces us to the Rani, a renegade Time Lady, and brings back the Master. It’s also set in 18th century England was filmed in a preserved coal town. You get some fascinating glimpses of life back then as well as a pretty damn fine story!

“The Trial of a Time Lord” – Unintentionally this was the last set of episodes with the Sixth Doctor, but at least he gets to go out with a bang! Featuring the return of Sil, as well as an appearance by the Master, and special guest star BRIAN BLESSED, this set of stories also sees the departure of Peri and the… well, not arrival, exactly, but first series appearance of new companion, Mel. It’s a pity that this was the end of the line for the Sixth Doctor, but at least we went on to someone almost universally liked.

The Seventh Doctor – 1987 – 1989 (and 1996)

The Seventh Doctor was played by Scots actor Sylvester McCoy and he brought a very interesting take on the character. His Doctor was far darker than what had gone before and very ruthless and manipulative. This was partly due to the so-called “Cartmel Masterplan“, which was supposed to restore some of the mystery to the character. There’s several hints through out this Doctor’s episodes that he was something more and different than he claimed. Hints were dropped that he might’ve been directly involved with the experiments that started time travel for the Time Lords, and certainly his primary companion, Ace, was more than she appeared to be, or so the Doctor believed.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Cartmel Masterplan come to fruition. Several of the first stories with the Seventh Doctor were truly awful, including such crap as “The Happiness Patrol”, “Paradise Towers”, and “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”. By the time the show returned to form with some exceptional stories the audience had stopped caring. The show was put on hiatus in 1989 and wouldn’t return for almost seven years. The time between was filled with a series of “New Adventures” novels, including the famous Lungbarrow, which finally brings the Cartmel Masterplan to some sort of resolution.

But before the cancellation there were some great stories! Let’s see what they are (and notice that none involve Mel. She was created for the Sixth Doctor and would’ve worked well with him, but did not work at all with the Seventh).

NEW – “Time and the Rani” – This is a fundamentally broken story. It’s stupid, ill-conceived and makes little to no sense. It also turns the Rani from an interesting character to just another Time Lord bent on taking over the universe. It’s a real waste. So why is it here? Well, because it’s the first story to feature the Seventh Doctor. That’s it, really. There’s really nothing good to say about this story other than that.

“Remembrance of the Daleks” – What was the Doctor doing on Earth with Susan back in the day? Turns out he was there to hide a Time Lord artifact of great power. Now the Daleks have shown up to find this artifact, and opposing them is the Doctor, Ace and… some other Daleks? A hell of a great episode.

“Battlefield” – The last appearance by the Brig in Doctor Who, though he did show up later on The Sarah Jane Adventures. This was a very good story to send him out on. It’s steeped in Arthurian legend and seems to indicate that an alternate universe version of the Doctor is actually Merlin. It’s a bit off and a bit odd at times, but it’s a great storyline and really good example of what the show could do when it tried.

“The Curse of Fenric” – This story delves a bit into Ace’s past (as does a less worthy story, “Ghost Light”), and also contains World War II, vampires and Soviets. It’s a busy story, but it holds up quite well!

“Survival” – Click the link. See that picture on the cover? No, not Ace. The one with the Doctor holding a rock. Yeah, he’s about to bash that into the Master’s head. A dark story, you ask? Oh, yes. The Doctor and Ace return to her home town to find it overrun with odd cats and to discover that many of her friends have disappeared. Eventually the friends are found and have gone through some changes, as has the Master. This is, sadly, the last story in the original series. It goes down on a high-note, but it’s sad that it was the end for many, many years.

The Eighth Doctor – 1996 (or possibly 1996 – 2005)

Which Doctor has more stories than any other? If you include all the spin-off media (books, audios), then believe it or not that answer is the Eighth Doctor. Yes, despite having only one, really crappy, TV appearance the Eighth Doctor was instrumental in keeping the series alive from the time of his movie until the new series launched.

Played by Paul McGann in the movie and audios, the Eighth Doctor is something of an enigma to me personally. I’ve not read too many of his stories nor head many of his audios (a friend who has is going to come up with an essential list of those), but I will say that his appearance in the Doctor Who movie is the only thing, the one and only thing, that makes that movie worth seeing. Well, that plus Chang Lee. He’s terribly cute.

NEW LINK – Doctor Who – This film is bad. Very bad. I’ve written one of my little snarky recaps about it, that’s how bad it is.

And yet despite it’s awfulness, it is worth seeing. Why? First, it occupies an interesting middle ground almost directly between the old series and the new, and contains elements of both plus things unique to it. It also features the Seventh Doctor’s final appearance and the previously mentioned great performance by Paul McGann as the Doctor. He showed some real potential in the role and it’s a great pity a new series with him as the Doctor wasn’t commissioned (or possibly not such a pity). It’s also worth picking up the new DVD release (which I link to above), for the wonderful commentary by Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy!

The Ninth Doctor – 2005

When the series returned in 2005, veteran producer Russell T Davies, best known for the groundbreaking Queer as Folk, hired actor Christopher Eccleston to play the Doctor. At first there was some question as to whether he was the Ninth Doctor, the Tenth, the First or something else. This was eventually settled and it was determined in cannon that he’s the Ninth Doctor.

The Ninth Doctor was a veteran of the Time War, a particularly nasty conflict that waged between the Time Lords and the Daleks, finally ending with the destruction of both. The Doctor apparently had a hand in this somehow, and was, as far as he knew, the only Time Lord to escape alive. He eventually regenerated and fled to Earth, where he began a whole new series of adventures!

Now as with the Tenth Doctor, all his stories are released not as individual stories, but rather in boxed sets. I am including a link to the set in the first episode discussed for the Ninth Doctor, and the rest will be linkless. Enjoy!

“Rose” – Not really a great story, but it does bring back the Doctor, the TARDIS and the Autons. It also introduces us to Rose Tyler, one of the most… well, interesting companions. She’s a brassy, sassy, nineteen-year-old Londoner and eventually gets all teary-eyed and weepy. But she starts out strong, and here you get to see her at what’s arguably her best, before she morphs into Davies’ Mary Sue.

“Dalek” – Guess who’s back? But only one Dalek. Still, even one is enough to put some serious pain into the world. There’s a lot of twee stupidity in this story, like some man who owns the Internet, but there’s some incredible action scenes and, well, a Dalek that flies!

“Father’s Day” – An attempt at a touching story that sometimes works. It features Rose saving the life of her father in the past and then weird time creatures that pop up and start killing people. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is some of the best acting of the series by everyone in the cast and is worth seeing.

“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” – Say hello to the first story by current series producer, Steven Moffat! Moffat specializes in stories that are heavy on the high octane nightmare fuel, and this is the first one. It starts with some creepy British kid wandering around the bombed-out ruins of London during the Blitz and ends… well, just watch it and see how it ends. Also this story introduces future Torchwood leader Captain Jack!

“Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways” – Another rather crap episode story wise, but it does include more Daleks than you can shake a stick at, plus you get to see Captain Jack nekkid! Full of drama and unfortunately the real beginning of Rose’s transformation into a Mary Sue. Also sadly this is where we bid farewell to the Ninth Doctor. Goodbye, Doctor. We hardly knew ye.

The Tenth Doctor – 2006 – 2009

Well, what to say about the Tenth Doctor? He was manic, occasionally depressive, had variable morality, was rather unlikable at times and could be exceptionally annoying. But on the other hand, as played by David Tennant he was also very interesting, very charismatic and always entertaining to watch.

In a very real sense, Tennant’s time as the Doctor is why the series has taken off so much in the UK. True, Eccleston did a great start getting it off the ground, but it was Tennant who really ran with it. He did a great job of acting like someone who was incredibly knowledgeable and ancient, but who nevertheless had a fascination for humanity and was occasionally burdened down bey dark memories of horrible things he’d done. His Doctor wasn’t perfect, but he was always fun.

Since he had three series plus the specials, that’s how I’ll break down what stories are worth seeing.

Second Series

“School Reunion” – The story doesn’t make a lot of sense, but when you have Sarah Jane Smith and K9 at the party, who cares? Yes, our favorite companions are back for this fun little story set at a school where children are being killed and apparently eaten. Yes, a delightful romp for the whole family!

“The Girl in the Fireplace” – Moffat is back with this award-winning story! The TARIDIS lands on a derelict spacecraft where the Doctor finds a portal to pre-Revolutionary France. Therein he meets a little girl, and runs into her several times throughout her life as she grows up to be Madame de Pompadour. A sad, touching tale featuring one of the coolest looking sets of villains ever in the form of some clockwork robots.

“Army of Ghosts”/”Fear Her” – In a less-than-great episode, the Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie went to an alternate universe where they met Rose’s Dad and had an adventure against the Cybermen. It wasn’t good. But it did lead into this story, which not only shows us something of Torchwood, but also features a battle between the Cybermen and the Daleks as well as the Doctor finally getting rid of Rose! Well, for now anyhow.

Third Series

“The Runaway Bride” – Here we meet Donna Noble, the Doctor’s companion through the fourth series. She just gets the one adventure with him to start with, and it isn’t really exceptionally great, but it does show us her character’s start, and that alone makes it worth watching. Well, that plus you have to love a car chase that features the TARDIS zipping along down a busy freeway.

“Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” – Based on the New Adventures novel Human Nature, this story features a man named John Smith who teaches at a boy’s school in 1913 England. He’s completely human, so why does he keep having dreams of alien worlds, and a strange blue box? And what’s up with this woman, Martha, who keeps acting like she’s there to keep an eye on him? A fascinating story with some real heart to it.

“Blink” – Say hi to Sally Sparrow, a young woman who finds herself experiencing a whole lot of time oddities. First her friend disappears and then sends her a letter saying she’s in the past. Then she meets a nice young man who she starts to like, only to have him disappear into the past as well. What’s up with all these odd images of a man in glasses she keeps seeing on TV screens? And what’s with these strange statues of weeping angels, which seem to move when you aren’t watching them? A wonderful, exceptional story by Moffat. Full of atmosphere and creepiness and a definite must-see.

Fourth Series

“The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky” – Now with Donna Noble firmly by his side, the Doctor returns to Earth to investigate some strangeness. While he’s there we get return of the Sontarans and UNIT! Plus the return of former companion Martha, who left at the end of series three. A story that could’ve been better, but nonetheless works quite well, provided you don’t mind hearing Sontarans chanting.

“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” – The Doctor and Donna visit a mysterious library that takes up an entire planet. There they find that everyone is missing. All they encounter are predatory shadows and a group of visitors lead by a woman named River Song, who seems to know the Doctor quite well. Perhaps a little too well. Seriously creepy, but also very good, and a great setup for River Song’s return with the Eleventh Doctor.

“Midnight” – What’s this? A great episode that was written by Russell T Davies?! Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. This story focuses around the Doctor and a group of people trapped on a train together, and the Doctor discovers his greatest weapon is useless.

“The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” – The return of… well, everyone. Yes, we get Rose, Martha, Captain Jack, Mickey, Jackie, Sarah Jane Smith, Luke Smith, K9, Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister, Ianto Jones, Gwen Cooper, Wilfred Mott, the Judoon, the Daleks and Davros! Just that list alone lets you know you’re in for a wild ride, and while part two cannot in any way live up to the potential of part one, it’s still a decent pair of episodes. Just try not to be pissed at what happens to Donna.

The 2009 Specials

“Waters of Mars” – A really sad, creepy story that shows just how close the Doctor is at times to turning into the Master. His victory speech at the end of the episode, and the two things that happen right after that, give us a clue as to what he could become if things went really, really bad.

“The End of Time: Part One”/”The End of Time: Part Two” – They’re back! Yes, the Time Lords have returned, as has the Master. The Doctor’s companion for these stories? Wilfred Mott, Donna’s grandfather! Guest starring just about everyone from the Davies era, this story works well as a final send off for the Doctor, Rose, Martha, Mickey and Donna. I defy any fan to not get at least a little choked-up.

The Eleventh Doctor – 2010 – ?

We’re now a series-and-a-half into the 11th Doctor’s stories. The current series is definitely one of the best ever, and certainly the best of the new series. The Eleventh Doctor has proven to be very interesting and entertaining and Matt Smith has done a great job in the role! Supporting characters like Amy, Rory and River Song have also all proven to be really good and have brought a new dimension to the series. They’ve also helped step up the series’ profile here in the States with BBC America getting their highest ratings ever and advertising the crap out of the show. Heck, Matt Smith was even on an episode of The Late, Late Show, which gives you an idea of how popular the show is becoming here!

That in mind, here’s the essential viewing (so far), for the Eleventh Doctor.

The Fifth Series was a bit uneven, with some really great stories and some… well, there were the Silurian episodes, and let’s just leave it at that, shall we? This is a happy place.

“The Eleventh Hour” – The Doctor, newly-regenerated, crashes the damaged TARDIS on Earth. There he meets a seven-year-old girl. She helps him adjust and then asks to come with him. He says sure, he’ll be back in five minutes. She packs her things and sits down to wait. She waits quite a long time before he comes back. Not a perfect episode, but a decent start to the new series and a good idea of the “flavor” of stories we can look forward to (hopefully not fishstick and custard flavored).

“The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” – The Weeping Angels are back, as is River Song. She hasn’t been to the library yet, but she knows the Doctor and he knows her. We aren’t yet at her first meeting with him. Got that? Anyhow, there’s lots of unpleasant nightmare fuel here, as well as some really effective scenes centering around Amy, plus the mystery of River Song deepens. The first really good story with the new Doctor! Here’s to hoping we get many, many more!

NEW – “Vincent and the Doctor” – A sad, sweet story about Vincent van Gogh. The Doctor and Amy meet the man and get to know him. They help him fight off an invisible monster and try to cheer him up. In a wonderful, heart-warming moment, They even bring him to 2010 so that he can see a museum exhibition of his works. A really excellent story with wonderful performances by all, particularly Tony Curran as van Gogh.

NEW – Series Six, Part One – Series six has been broken up into two parts. I’ve seen the first seven episodes which are being released on DVD in July. Here’s what’s essential from them.

Every episode.

There, that was easy. ;) Oh, you could probably skip “The Curse of the Black Spot”, but really each episode builds off each other in such an amazing way that you won’t want to skip any. From the regenerating Time Kid, to Schrodinger’s Baby to the true identity of River Song each episode is required viewing in a way that no other series has managed to be so far. Really a superior set of stories and probably the best series thus far since the return of the show

Because I Feel Lazy


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 232 other followers