To celebrate five years of The Doctor Who Companion, and hundreds of hours spent listening to Doctor Who and its spin-offs through the work of Big Finish Productions, we’ve had a go at picking out the best Doctor Who-related release from the company in each of the years we’ve been about.
Agree with our picks?
2016: Forever Fallen
Joshua Wanisko’s winning entry in the inaugural running of the Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity, Forever Fallen, was the very last Big Finish release in 2016 – the year of The Doctor Who Companion‘s creation – and the very best.
In such a short time, it delivers a brilliantly thought up, structured and delivered piece of drama. And it’s free.
The opening scene goes straight into the pantheon of iconic moments for the Seventh Doctor across all mediums, playing on Sylvester McCoy’s physical and comedy skills in addition to his height (I know, this is audio!), his incarnation’s intergalactic chess playing, and how he can command a scene through a calm and somewhat sinister Scottish brogue alone. Except being a Short Trip, this is Nicholas Briggs playing the Doctor, Ace, and the antagonist Sean Calvin.
The story doesn’t just play on the Seventh Doctor’s strengths, but also holds a mirror to some of his defining traits as he revisits Calvin once a year.
It’s a beautifully simple setup that masters the compilation format that can so often lack dramatic punch, and as a result Winisko’s script actually packs in character development. There are some incredibly quotable lines in this, and the use of fixed moments in time at its conclusion is an inspired choice that makes you wonder how Big Finish could give away such a beauty of a piece for free, but also how it hasn’t commissioned Wanisko for a script since.
2017: Aliens Among Us Volume 1
After long consideration, and a look at a lot of Short Trips again, I settled on Torchwood: Aliens Among Us 1 as the best release of 2017.
For so many years, there had been calls to bring back Torchwood for a fifth series, and finally those calls were answered thanks to Big Finish. There are a handful of flaws with the first four episodes of the series, much like Series 1 of the show itself, but it reintroduces Cardiff as a city of the 2010s so well and also extremely effectively brings in new Torchwood Three members St John Colchester, Orr, and Ng, as well as journalist Tyler Steele.
It’s no surprise that several of those characters have established an online following that rivals that of some of their television contemporaries, and the show is as full as much sex, swearing, and monsters as on TV. There’s also a decent amount of queer representation again (including on the writing and production side this time), and none of the new relationships being formed feel like copies of the storylines fans fell in love with 10 years prior.
This release successfully brought Torchwood into the modern day (which is already four years ago, eck), and paved the way for twists and turns and conspiratorial action for the next five boxset releases. Big Finish fans are still waiting for Series 7…
2018: The Master of Callous
After getting hold of the license in 2015 to use characters and storylines from the revived Doctor Who television series, Big Finish steadily increased its output of spin-offs that made use of its new toybox. First, there was UNIT: The New Series, then Torchwood, The Diary of River Song, the War Doctor with the late John Hurt, and eventually David Tennant returned to the role of the Tenth Doctor. But the biggest addition of all to the Big Finish canon was the last great Time War, as it meant the Eighth Doctor and opposing Masters now had an end destination for character development to take.
One of the best uses of the expanded license was giving the War Master his own series. The second boxset, The Master of Callous, was a highly experimental listen that devoted an entire episode to essentially one long hallucination. Sir Derek Jacobi is predictably brilliant as the War Master, and he gets to play more than just the Master here as part of his devious scheming includes taking on the persona of Mr Orman.
The inclusion of the Ood, and the talented Silas Carson supplying their voice, is inspired and makes the whole boxset an incredibly uncomfortable yet compelling listen. It also proved that Big Finish was still experimenting, as it should be, after 19 years of pumping out Doctor Who.
2019: Ravenous – Day of the Master
Michelle Gomez made her Big Finish return in 2019, having appeared in a Monthly Range release 12 years prior, this time starring in River Song’s spin-off series as Missy and then in her own. However, it was her venture into the Eighth Doctor range that had the biggest impact.
The 16-episode Ravenous series came to its conclusion with the final four episodes in a fourth boxset released in October 2019, and John Dorney pulled out all the stops in the two-part series finale, Day of the Master. Causing havoc in this story are four incarnations of the Master/Missy (Geoffrey Beevers, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, and Gomez), as well as the Eleven.
Despite being packed to the brim with these huge personalities (and Robert’s first bit of performed Doctor Who since the TV Movie in 1996 is certainly a treat) as well as the TARDIS team of the Doctor, Liv Chenka, and Helen Sinclair, it juggles all these elements perfectly and throws in a highly complex time travel plot that links directly to and concludes the storylines of the previous boxsets.
An incredibly rewarding listen for long-time fans of the Eighth Doctor range, especially those who waited over 20 years for a rematch between Paul McGann and Roberts after their TV battle, but also a piece of drama and a boxset that stood out and still stands out on its own for its brilliance.
2020: Out of Time
Regardless of what Big Finish was producing in 2020, it was going to be consumed through the lens of lockdown and so it was rather apt that the first boxset of Stranded, which followed on directly from Ravenous, came out and Torchwood’s monthly range had episodes based around a barbeque in a literal social bubble and a small group of people taking part in a Mars habitation simulation in Wales. Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue in particular was a very poignant hour of drama.
All three of those were firm contenders for best release of the year, and obviously felt very apt at the time of listening, and re-releases of series such as Dalek Empire and Sarah Jane Smith also compiled lots of great drama at an affordable price but were released as individual stories many years prior.
The most anticipated release of the year was of course the combination of the Fourth and Tenth Doctors in Out of Time, and Matt Fitton’s Dalek-filled story delivered. It combined the humanity and alienness of both incarnations, featured great characters scenes, action, and a level of zing that was much needed during lockdown, and was brimming with great Doctor on Doctor moments. It was lacking in some areas, the acting of some of the supporting cast in particular, but it was such a great bundle of fun during a dark time and no doubt brought many new listeners to Big Finish.
Combining two of the most popular Doctors of all time in one story was a risk if the story didn’t live up to their legendary statuses, but the outcome was very much a reward.
2021: Masterful… So Far!
There’s not a huge deal to choose from in 2021 so far, as not only are we only four months in but The Doctor Who Companion hasn’t got round to listening to all of it yet. And truth be told, there are plenty of productions coming out of Big Finish’s doors later this year that we are very excited about. It’s a shame we can’t consider those until they’re actually released.
Masterful kicked off this year’s special releases, and it really was a special piece of work by James Goss and his gang of motley Masters when combined with Trevor Baxendale’s Terror of the Master and the highly rated Short Trips I Am the Master and The Switching in the Limited Edition version of the release.
The supporting content really adds to the asking price, with Third Doctor adventure Terror of the Master an incredible new audiobook narrated by Jon Culshaw. The main Masterful story itself successfully navigates its inclusion of almost all of the Master’s television and audio incarnations, as well as throwing in Jo Grant, and marks the debut of John Simm’s Master on audio.
It goes big and it goes small, and we’re anticipating much of the same when the Tenth Doctor returns for his fourth full series, dubbed Dalek Universe, and Christopher Eccleston returns as the Ninth Doctor too. The spin-off ranges have some surprises up their sleeves in 2021 as well.
We can’t wait.