They’re coming thick and fast now, these Big Finish forays into the world of post-2005 (don’t call it Nu) Who. We’ve had Churchill, we’ve had River. And of course we’ve had the Doctor Donna. But the one I’ve been waiting for with a shedload of excitement (and a small toolbox of dread) is the one that’s out today: Doctor Who – Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 1.
Excitement because… well… it’s classic Doctors with new monsters, and considering there’s some crackers in there, what’s not to love? And this sort of canon-expanding boxset is bread and butter to BF now. Hard to see how it could go wrong.
And yet… and yet… well, let me explain that toolbox-sized modicum of concern. See, the line-up of new monsters – Weeping Angels, Judoon, Sycorax and not-as-new-as-they’re-pretending Sontarans – doesn’t necessarily look terribly audio. Or even audible for that matter, in the case of the Weeping Angels. And thereby hangs my dilemma: it’s a simple ‘will it work?’.
I needn’t have worried. Each story does what BF does best in the Whoniverse – it takes something we know and love, and somehow shows it to be bigger, more colourful and with greater depth than we knew before. It expands the canon, and in a very fulfilling way for the audient.
Take Simon Bernard and Paul Morris’s Judoon in Chains for example, a Sixie courtroom drama with one of the eponymous rhinoforms in the dock. Bernard and Morris, purveyors of the excellent Scaryfiers franchise for many years, have a strong and identifiable house style, which is very much in evidence here from the get-go. Gags, bonkersness and upper-middle-class oiks abound. But even with all that going on, there’s time here, in what has to be said is a pretty packed hour, for intergalactic corporate greed, a Victorian freak show full of grotesques, and your actual Judoon poetry. Yes, a Judoon with a sensitive side: ‘Mo Bo Flo Jo’ indeed.
Similarly, James Goss’s Seventh Doctor story, Harvest of the Sycorax, builds on the TV interpretation of that race really rather well. The Sycorax, snarling and spitting their way through some beautifully intimidatory lines, are every bit the bone and sinew warriors from our past and the Doc’s future. And even blood control, an intimidation technique summarily dismissed by the post-regenerative Ten on telly, is taken far more seriously and given a degree of credence (even if it’s not actually explained much better). Oh, and not to forget Zanzibar Hashtag, another in a long line of companions that, sadly, didn’t quite happen.
Phil Mulryne’s Fallen Angels was, it has to be said, the one that worried me most. Monsters that are necessarily silent and only able to attack when you blink – which ears, quite important for listening pleasure, are famously not brilliant at doing – didn’t sound like audio gold. Well, I was wrong. This is a great story which makes full use of Michaelangelo’s 16th century Rome, and genuinely, the Angels in this one are just as frightening as the ones in Blink. No mean feat.
Lastly, Andrew Smith’s The Sontaran Ordeal is a bit of a strange one, mainly, I think, because I can’t see how Sontarans can be described as new monsters, the first having seen the light of day in 1973. However, the fact is this is a marvellous story which expands the canon of both the Sontaran race and the Time War alike, and as such it very much deserves to be here.
(By the way, kudos to BF for casting a person of restricted growth as a character of restricted growth. It would be very easy to hide behind the curtain of audio here and cast someone closer to the middle of the humanity physical form bell curve, just as so often able-bodied actors are cast in disabled roles on TV, limiting the roles available to actual disabled actors. It’s great to see that, for once, this didn’t happen.)
Overall, there wasn’t one story here I didn’t like, and while it’s not uncommon for BF stories and boxsets to be unputdownable, it’s always a joy to find another that delivers in the same way. And this boxset, well, it really does deliver. Long story short: the shed of excitement was justified; the toolbox of dread wasn’t. This is another that I will personally bet you’re not going to regret buying. Just hide the toolbox back in the shed and enjoy.
Written By: Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, James Goss, Andrew Smith
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Peter Davison (The Doctor) Sacha Dhawan (Joel Finch), Diane Morgan (Gabby Finch), Matthew Kelly (Michelangelo), Joe Jameson (Piero), Dan Starkey (Priest). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Judoon in Chains
Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicholas Briggs (Captain Kybo), Kiruna Stamell (Eliza Jenkins), Trevor Cooper (Jonathan Jaggers Esq), Tony Millan (Justice Burrows/Jonty), Sabina Franklyn (Herculania) Nicholas Pegg (Business Owner). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Harvest of the Sycorax
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Nisha Nayar (Zanzibar), Jonathan Firth (Cadwallader), Rebecca Callard (Shadrak), Giles Watling (The Sycorax Chief)
The Sontaran Ordeal
Paul McGann (The Doctor), Josette Simon (Sarana Teel), Dan Starkey (Jask), Christopher Ryan (General Stenk/Flitch), Sean Connolly (Tag Menkin/Ensign Stipe).
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Classic Doctors, New Monsters – volume 1 is available from Big Finish