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So many audios September 21, 2021

Posted by sjroby in Uncategorized.
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I’ve been buying Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios for many years now. There’s sometimes several out in a single month, and most are an hour or two long, so you can imagine how much of a backlog you can build up if you don’t listen regularly. Mine’s several hundred hours of listening at least. So I’ve been trying to make myself catch up. For the last couple of weeks I’ve tried to get through one of the main range audios (two-hour long full-cast stories featuring either the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth Doctor from pre-2005 comeback Doctor Who) a day, taking some time away from reading, Xboxing, or watching TV. I’ve got backlogs for each of those, too.

Anyway. Laura and I had listened to a fair number of the first one hundred main range audios during various road trips over the years, and I’d listened to a few by myself. But I didn’t start with any we’d skipped or with the point we left off. There are some stories with continuity elements from other stories I haven’t heard, or that are part of long character arcs. I wanted to ease back in. Also, because I can’t concentrate on audios while doing much of anything else, I decided to read audios for which I had script PDFs, which BF didn’t start doing until the 120s or 130s of the series.

So… I’ve listened to more than a dozen. But I did a couple of more-or-less one-offs, first.

There may be some SPOILERS ahead for Doctor Who audios from more than a decade ago,

First, 100, the 100th in the main range. Four short stories with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smithe, by four writers. The first two are reasonably fun romps messing with history (not least in that the first story refers to an event in the second as something that’s already happened). The third is a much darker, more claustrophobic tale of a family with a dangerous secret. And the fourth is a sometimes meta tale of Sixie lurching frantically through his own past and future to find an assassin who at some point shot him with a viral weapon that will kill him in a hundred days. Not the only meta thing about this one. It’s fun, as Evelyn gets to see other incarnations of the Doctor in action. And Six proves that he’s capable of a devious plan or two. Enjoyable overall, but a more subtle anniversary celebration than might be expected.

Then The Girl Who Never Was. I thought I might have listened to this a long time ago. Laura and I listened to the Charlie Pollard arc then went into the Lucie Miller stories years back, but this one wasn’t flagged as already heard in my Doctor Who audio spreadsheet. And… I don’t think I’ve heard it before. I know we listened to the last C’rizz story and I thought I’d listened to this one, but it was not familiar. So, a lot of timey-wimey shenanigans, Cybermen, and a lot less time spent on big goodbyes than I’d expected. And a post-credits scene setting up what comes next. Well, that was reasonably entertaining, if not earth-shattering.

So on to the 120s. At this stage in the run of stories, BF was doing three-parters. Each story stood somewhat on its own while being part of a bigger story that would be resolved in the third. Good thing I’m listening to them this way, I guess, because going a month between stories would mean I’d forget a lot of what was going on. As for how good the stories, are, well, it varies.

Castle of Fear is the first part of the Stockbridge trilogy, with the Fifth Doctor visiting a town established in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip as a place where strange things happen. This one tries way too hard to be Monty Python. It’s one thing to bring a Pythonesque sense of humour to a story, but too often the writer of this comedic part-historical thinks it’s enough to throw in elements taken directly from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or wherever. Introducing French knights with outrageous accents and references to mothers and elderberries is just coasting on someone else’s work. The trilogy continues with The Eternal Summer and Plague of the Daleks. Eternal Summer had some good moments, showing Stockbridge as a town mysteriously sealed off where time passes at the wrong speed and repeats, a bit of Sapphire and Steel in the mix, until the story gets tangled in its technobabble, . As for Plague of the Daleks… well, it managed not to focus too much on the Daleks, which generally helps. In a far future Stockbridge, people are behaving strangely, because in fact they aren’t exactly people. It’s a tourist destination depicting old Earth life. But somewhere nearby, underground, long forgotten Daleks in suspended animation have begun to wake.

And I followed up with , the first of the Seventh Doctor stories bringing back alternate universe Nazi Elizabeth Klein. The first trilogy finds the Seventh Doctor encountering Elizabeth Klein, a Nazi scientist he’d encountered in a previous story, who finds herself in our universe, more or less, instead of the one where she’d helped the Third Reich win the war. A Thousand Tiny Wings is a pretty grim story, appropriate enough for a Doctor travelling alone post-Ace. A small group of white British colonial women — and Klein — are hiding in a farmhouse as the Mau Mau rebellion spreads through Kenya. That’s more than enough for a suspenseful story, but the stakes are raised with a dangerous alien threat. The story doesn’t lighten up. It may be that it actually is a fair bit shorter than the Davisons, but it certainly felt like I got through it more quickly. In Survival of the Fittest, the Doctor and Klein find themselves on a planet populated by strange aliens being killed off by unscrupulous humans, and Klein seems to be learning the lessons the Doctor is trying to teach her, becoming a better person. But no. In The Architects of History, time is wrong, due to Klein stealing the Doctor’s Tardis and trying to remake the universe as a Nazi dream. But it’s not a big time-spanning story, it’s mainly set on a moonbase attacked by the sharklike Selachians. Over the course of the three stories, we’re sometimes led to think there’s hope for Klein. But a Nazi is a Nazi.

The next trilogy features Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. In City of Spires, the Doctor finds himself in a distorted version of Highlands Scotland. He encounters Jamie McCrimmon, whose memories of the Doctor were wiped by the Time Lords after The War Games. He’s a few decades older but still fighting the British and their strange monstrous assistants, who are drilling for oil and building a big city to refine it and do sinister things. But there are people there from different decades, and Scotland is not recognizable because of the mysterious villain’s activities. The Wreck of the Titan brings a lot of nautical adventure, with the Doctor and Jamie finding themselves on the sinking Titan, then the sinking Titanic, and then on Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, and the listener figures out where the Doctor is before he seems to. In Legend of the Cybermen, the Doctor, realizing he’s in the Land of Fiction, finds himself in a war with Cybermen determined to convert everyone in the Land of Fiction, and with help from Jamie, Zoe, and some of the land’s picturesque inhabitants, he has to find the Land’s Mistress. The thing is, once it’s clear they’re in the Land of Fiction, the story’s stakes seem a lot lower. There are good stretches of the story that are a lot of fun but they’re generally in the first two parts.

Next up: the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, and an older Nyssa in what turns into a Mara trilogy. In Cobwebs, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough find themselves in an abandoned base — literally, as the skeletons in a medical suite are theirs. And they find Nyssa, who’s left Terminus and is researching a deadly disease. And there’s some jumping between the same place in two times. It’s a bit twisty and suspenseful. In The Whispering Forest, the gang find themselves on a planet with a small human colony living a low tech existence and obsessed with cleanliness and with the mysterious Takers, who kidnap their people but are never seen, and Shades, insubstantial whispering things in the woods. Yes, there’s a long ago crashed spaceship and the ship’s robots and a hidden medical facility and other complications. And I’m only a little way into the third, but the Mara’s made itself known already.

I can’t say I’ve been blown away by any of these. They’re generally competently entertaining but dont do as much for me as, say, some of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures with Lucie Miller, or the main Torchwood range stories. But for anyone who liked the classic series, they’re fun. If only there weren’t quite so many of them.

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