Big Finish will this month celebrate release number 200 in their main series range, an astonishing landmark and testament to the hard work of all those involved over the years. The release, The Secret History, will conclude the so-called Locum Doctor’s trilogy and features the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison. So in celebration, we take a look back ourselves at some of the highlights of the Fifth Doctor at Big Finish, with those universally heralded.. and some equally surprising choices ahead.
Apologies in advance for leaving out Circular Time, it’s a lot of fans and regarded by many as a classic, but just like the show itself, there’s always such varied opinion and it makes no placing here, as doesn’t the also well regarded The Emerald Tiger, The Eternal Summer or even Prisoner of Fate. That such great titles were left out, including those to follow, show the great depth to the Big Finish back catalogue.
Some personal favourites that came close include Red Dawn (well we liked it!), The Eye of the Scorpion, Loups-Garoux, 1001 Nights, Phantasmagoria and how the excellent Butcher of Brisbane got left out…
Brave heart readers!
10: Heroes of Sontar by Alan Barnes
Planet Samur was once a peaceful haven. Pilgrims journeyed across the seven galaxies to meditate in the courtyards of the vast Citadel that spanned its equator. It was Samur’s misfortune, however, to find itself situated on the furthermost frontier in the eternal war between the amoeboid Rutan Host and the belligerent, troll-like Sontarans… Twenty years after detonating a bacteriological weapon over Samur, rendering it uninhabitable, the Sontarans are back: a select platoon of seven has landed here on a secret mission, carrying sealed orders given to them by Fleet Marshal Stabb. The TARDIS has landed here, too, bringing the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa into the second great Battle of Samur. Fighting not only the Sontarans, but mystical mercenaries… and a deadly, decades-old curse.
We make no apology for it being on the list over some of the great titles listed above – we loved it! It’s one of those marmite titles that will either be loved or hated depending on how the listener reacts to the humour on display and essentially if you find it funny or not and “get” the many Dad’s Army references. Heroes of Sontar ends as being quite moving as an exploration of the Sontaran psyche as it deals with issues of fear, pride, honour and the futility of war.
9: The Bride of Peladon by Barnaby Edwards
Peladon will bathe in oceans of blood! A mysterious voice, a missing girl and a murdered queen. The Royal House of Peladon is once more plunged into intrigue, terror and death. The Doctor, Peri and Erimem must find their way through a treacherous labyrinth of lies if they are to distinguish friend from foe before it is too late. For deep beneath the Citadel of Peladon, something infinitely ancient and immeasurably powerful is stirring…
We love ourselves a bit of Peladon here at DWW as anyone who read our Favourite Companion Chronicles piece about this time last year will know. Paying faithful tribute to what was seen on TV while giving us a whole new take on this much explored planet and it’s culture, the gothic Bride of Peladon builds upon the mythology and sees the sad departure of Erimem, one of the more successful of the Big Finish companions.. she has her own book range know you know!
8: Omega by Nev Fountain
A strange telepathic message prompts the Doctor to travel to the ‘Sector of Forgotten Souls’, a place where, thousands of years ago, Omega’s ship vanished whilst detonating a star. He’s not the only one journeying towards it. ‘Jolly Chronolidays’ prides itself on giving its tourists an experience of galactic history that is far better than mere time travel. Its motto is ‘We don’t go into history, we prefer to bring history to you’. When Omega’s ship suddenly materialises in front of their shuttle, and one of their employees goes insane and tries to destroy his hands… suddenly it’s not just a motto anymore. And Omega – and his madness – is closer than they think.
2003 was an excellent year for Big Finish (until Zagreus at least), with all three villain plays (Omega, Davros and Master) being particular highlights. Even as the weaker of the three, Omega was a highly entertaining and intelligent script that brought out both the best in Peter Davison and the character of Omega, giving him depth beyond his raging megalomania, Ian collier returning to the role from Arc of Infinity… and the cliffhanger to Episode 3 is a corker! Plus, Treguard from Knightmare is in it so bow dow before it’s greatness!
7: Cobwebs by Jonathan Morris
“You know what cobwebs mean. Spiders…”
In search of a cure for a sickness that’s so far claimed six billion lives, scientist Nyssa arrives at an abandoned gene-tech facility on the toxic planet Helheim. ‘Hellhole’, more like. Nyssa’s not alone. The TARDIS has also been drawn to the Helheim base – and in its cobweb-coated corridors, she soon runs into the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, her travelling companions of half a century past. But who, or what, has engineered this strange reunion? The Black Guardian, perhaps? The answer’s here, in the dark. With the Cractids. In the cobwebs
Maybe a controversial choice over Jonathan Morris’ other noted Fifth Doctor audio The Eternal Summer, Cobwebs was a great reunion for the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough and we’ve always been big fans of predestination paradoxes, so this one had added interest. A strong script, Tegan (of course) stealing the show, sees all three companions duly cared for, which was often not the case in the famous crowded TARDIS on TV. A great piece of 80’s Who nostalgia.
6: The Church and the Crown by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
A nation divided. A Queen’s life at risk. A net of conspiracy closing in… Sometimes being a time travelling adventurer just isn’t easy… For a start there’s a temperamental TARDIS that lands a few thousand years off course in 17th Century Paris. But why shouldn’t the Doctor, Peri and their travelling guest Erimem take a look around the city on the morning of King Louis’s annual State Ball? As Peri becomes embroiled in a plot to kill Queen Anne and smash the unity of the Church and the Crown, the Doctor finds himself duelling Musketeers on the streets. With Peri missing, Erimem catching King Louis’ eye and a Musketeer’s sword at your throat, could things get any worse? Probably…
Being a fan of the Doctor Who historical and French history besides, this one was always going to make this list. Not taking itself too seriously (how could it), the Church and the Crown is a veritable romp that screams fun. With Nicola Bryant shining, she stands out amongst a strong cast that make the most of the quality and humorous material they’re given to work with. Fine performances all round, excellently plotted, it’s a rollercoaster of a swashbuckler here at number 6!
5: Fanfare for the Common Men by Eddie Robson
If you remember the Sixties, they say, then you can’t have been there. The Doctor remembers the Sixties. That’s why he’s taking Nyssa on a trip back to November 1963. Back to where it all began. Back to the birth of the biggest band in the history of British music. Back to see those cheeky lads from Liverpool… Mark, James and Korky. The Common Men. The boys who made the Sixties swing with songs like Oh, Won’t You Please Love Me?, Just Count To Three and Who Is That Man. The Doctor remembers the Sixties. And there’s something very wrong with the Sixties, if the Beatles no longer exist…
Eddie Robson’s tale of Commonmania deals with themes on the power of celebrity and was one of the standout highlights of the anniversary year. Fanfare for the Common Men is a quite genius riff on the Beatle’s legend that Paul McCartney was killed in the 1960s, being replaced by “Faul” and as a consequence is full of knowing nods to the Beatles history. But there’s something here for everyone with a cracklingly entertaining script, fantastic songs and a wonderful inflection of the 1960s as an era. An essential purchase.
4: Son of the Dragon by Steve Lyons
Son of the Dragon features Vlad Dracula played by James Purefoy, he of Joe Carroll fame via Fox’s The Following… does anything else need to be said? Purefoy’s performance is a joy and the script is full of dark gothic imagery, brutality and gives the regular cast such weighty material that they can’t fail to live up to the occasion as each bares differing struggles in this most harsh of historic climates. Magnificent.
3: Iterations of I by Jonathan Morris and John Dorney
The house on Fleming’s Island had been left to rot. Ever since a strange and unexplained death soon after it was built, and plagued with troubling rumours about what lurked there, it remained empty and ignored for decades until the Cult moved in. As twenty people filled its many rooms, the eerie building seemed to be getting a new lease of life. But now it is empty again. The cult found something in its corridors… and then vanished. Trapped on the island one dark night, the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric look into the building’s mysteries, its stories of madness and death. Their only chance is to understand what terrible thing has been disturbed here… before it consumes them utterly.
Adric.. what do you do about a boy like Adric? well, have two excellent adventures it seems. The Fifth Doctor Boxed Set was a revelation, with both Psychodrome and Iterations of I being quite brilliant in their own right, and as a package may even have topped this list.
“Iterations of I is the second story. It takes place on an Irish island in the 1980s; a time Tegan is broadly interested in getting back to. There they find a series of deaths that all appear to be linked to some mathematical computer program that results in the user standing there saying, “I…I…I…I…” So, yeah, that’s a bit creepy.
This story did a great job of incorporating 1980s technology, and better yet, it gave Adric a chance to really use his mathematics skills to make something of a difference. Say what you like about the kid, but his status as a math genius was something that was always at least somewhat interesting, and wasn’t ever used as much as it should have been during the TV series. Again, as with the first story, it was somewhat of an anti-climax when we discovered what was going on, but the story itself was fine, and not nearly as cutesy with the references as the first one. Also, again, good acting from all the supporting cast.”
2: The Kingmaker by Nev Fountain
Dr Who encounters one of the most notorious characters from the past, as he journeys through time to solve the great Historical Mysteries… Not surprisingly the Doctor becomes mixed up with Richard the third himself, as he tries to unravel the perplexing problem of who exactly killed the Princes in the Tower. Peri and Erimem also encounter a suspicious time traveller. Someone from the Doctor’s own past. Someone who shouldn’t really be there at all. So who did murder the Princes in the Tower? Perhaps it’s best not to ask a question like that. You might not like the answer…
The funniest Doctor Who has ever been, The Kingmaker is a laugh-out-loud triumph and were it not for our first placed entry, would have run away with this list, the play being not only a Big Finish great but one of the truly great pieces of Doctor Who in the entirety of the canon. Juggling genuine drama, great characterisation and the ever present humour, Fountain gifts the cast a sparkling script, with all the regulars shining, particularly Peter Davison. The highlight however has to be the brilliant Stephen Beckett as a Mancunian Richard III, who we were so convinced was Christopher Eccleston we had to double check! (If Big Finish ever get to do the Ninth Doctor…) Sublime.
1: Spare Parts by Marc Platt
On a dark frozen planet where no planet should be, in a doomed city with a sky of stone, the last denizens of Earth’s long-lost twin will pay any price to survive, even if the laser scalpels cost them their love and hate and humanity. And in the mat-infested streets, around tea-time, the Doctor and Nyssa unearth a black market in second-hand body parts and run the gauntlet of augmented police and their augmented horses. And just between the tramstop and the picturehouse, their worst suspicions are confirmed: the Cybermen have only just begun, and the Doctor will be, just as he always has been, their saviour…
What’s left to say about Spare Parts? Marc Platt’s tale is by far and away the best Fifth Doctor audio from Big Finish and potentially their greatest single release of all time. It is a play that leaves the listener genuinely affected, living long in the memory and very much the Cybermen’s Genesis of the Daleks, dare we say it may even be better?
“Although Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis are the true pioneers of the idea of the Cybermen, Marc Platt comes into the mix by taking the tragic story of a people driven to the edge of despair, and give the story a human quality that is missing from other origin stories in Doctor Who, and also getting the full fear that Pedler had about dehumanising medicinal procedures with the not quite fully converted Cybermen on horseback (See the DWM picture for the full horror that brings). Platt also takes the human elements of the family struggle (with the Hartleys) and lets Nyssa fully grieve of the loss of not only Adric (though personally I jumped for joy when he died) , but also of the lose of Traken and her father with the scene of her and Yvonne decorating the tree. This little subplot give Nyssa a new level in her character that was never fully seen on screen. The Doctor is also given more depth with his own feelings on the Cybermen, knowing that he cannot directly stop the creation of them, but can convince the remaining population to avert their destiny, little knowing that in reality he himself is the main cause of that destiny being the template of all future Mondasian Cybermen. It is this twist that makes Spare Parts far more emotional in its feel over other audio’s, and in some ways other stories on TV.
Now I will get this out of the way, Spare Parts is my favourite Big Finish audio, it was the first that really got me into the Big Finish line. If anyone was to ask you of a starting audio, or you were thinking of an audio to jump on to start off with, then this is the one to go for. It gets a 10 out of 10 from me.”
So there you have it, our ten favourite Fifth Doctor releases from Big Finish. As ever it’s all personal opinion so why not let us know your own favourites via Facebook, Twitter and the comments section.
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