There are over 160 Big Finish Doctor Who monthly releases. This doesn't include Jago and Litefoot, Dalek Empire, Gallifrey, Cyberman, Sarah Jane Smith, UNIT, Davros, Counter Measures, Bernice Summerfield and Graceless, Lost Stories, Companion Chronicles, new fourth and eighth Doctor adventures, special releases, stage plays, magazine releases, alternative histories and Iris Wildthyme. There are around 270 of these.
Then there are audio releases for Blake's 7, Stargate, Highlander, Sherlock Holmes, 2000AD, Dark Shadows, Sapphire & Steel, The Tomorrow People, Robin Hood and others.
With such a stupefying amount of material to immerse yourself in the question is, “where to start?” Upon first inspection the Big Finish range feels quite impenetrable, but it isn't. You simply need to decide what you are after and I guarantee that whatever you want, Big Finish can provide. So I've taken some liberties and second-guessed some starting points that may interest you. I've been ably supported by the good folks at the Big Finish forums on a couple of the titles. A smashing community who I would heartily recommend you get to know. If these choices don't take your fancy they'll be keen to help a new 'un out.
I've limited most of the choices to the main Doctor Who range only because they provide an excellent entry point into the world of Big Finish. Executive Producer of Big Finish and voice of the Daleks, Nicholas Briggs has also been kind enough to supply a few words on each release. So we'll start at the beginning:
In the beginning there was...
Sirens of Time (1999) – written by Nicholas Briggs
What a way to start by bringing in three Doctors. Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker and Peter Davison slide effortlessly back into character in this epic Gallifreyan tale. Above all this shows the potential of things to come. The story is well written, the audio production is first class and the acting sublime. This was the first recorded programme since the TV movie and Big Finish had everything to gain, which they ultimately did. With three individual Doctor episodes all coming together in the final part this is a unique and worthy start to a run that is still going, with fervour, 13 years later.
Nick Briggs says, “Where it all began. Four adventures in one and a three Doctor get-together.”
The one that makes you go, "WTF".
The Maltese Penguin (2002) – written by Robert Shearman
Firstly you need to get over the fact that the main character is a Penguin detective. Ready to move on? Good. Colin Baker puts an appearance in as the Doctor, that should help you out. Rob Shearman is one of the best Big Finish writers and brings the character Frobisher, that'll be the Penguin, out from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, where he made his début, into an excellent parody of film-noir, in particular, and obviously, The Maltese Falcon. The story is witty, well-paced and the perfect example of how far Big Finish are willing to push creative boundaries. Originally a free release to subscribers, this story is now available at a very affordable price. Why is it a 'WTF' and not a 'Funny'? Because the protagonist is a PENGUIN! WTF!
Nick Briggs says, "Film Noir on audio, with the award-winning Rob Shearman's wit."
The one that makes you go, "OMG".
If I tell you what makes this 'OMG' then it won't be an 'OMG' moment, so I'm asking for a little trust here. What I can impart is that this is an excellent two-part companion piece to the classic Dalek Invasion of Earth story that now involves The Monk, Susan and her son Alex, the Doctor's Great Grandson. This could easily be the story that turns Paul McGann's Doctor into the oncoming storm tearing through the Time War. The first episode, being Doctor-lite, gives Sheridan Smith a great opportunity to articulate her commanding presence and for us to review this final series of Eighth Doctor adventures before he returned to the monthly releases. The second episode is where it all happens. But you have to listen to both; otherwise you won't feel, with your very soul, the heartbreak, emotion and surprise that'll give you OMG moments at every turn.
Nick Briggs says, "Paul McGann's Doctor, Sheridan Smith's Lucie Miller, invading Daleks and gut-wrenching emotions."
The Marmite one.
Zagreus (2003) – written by Gary Russell and Alan Barnes
The big fortieth anniversary special was a multi-Doctor story. This was the longest, at nearly 4 hours, and most ambitious production to date. It included a plethora of actors from the world of Doctor Who not playing their traditional characters which makes it slightly problematic. Why would you have Sophie Aldred, Bonnie Langford, Nicola Bryant, Elisabeth Sladen and others not playing Ace, Mel Bush, Peri, Sarah Jane Smith et al? Davison, Baker, McCoy and McGann make the most of their alternative roles and the Jon Pertwee appearance, whose part was edited together from a fan made video project, is divine. We simply don't have enough space to go into the ambitious plot but needless to say it is epic and mind-spanning. The problem with the project was that it didn't deliver on fan expectations. Bringing this amazing cast together and then giving them new characters made people think it was a wasted opportunity. Sadly you aren't going to please all of the people all of the time and to my mind this is a monster of a release and deserves to be listened to again and again. It will only be after several repeat listens that the true depth and nature of the story will be realised
Nick Briggs says, "An incredible star cast and imagination beyond belief."
The one that will make you cry.
Spare Parts (2002) – written by Marc Platt
When you produce a story considered the definitive origin, by fans, of the Cybermen you have something very special indeed. As well as being the one that will make you cry this is the one that will make you believe in Big Finish. This is one of my top-five, perhaps top-three, Doctor Who stories of all time, including TV! It is a tragic masterpiece that returns us to the Cybermen of Mondos, with their Tenth Planet voices realised perfectly by Nick Briggs. Davison brings a new dimension to his Doctor, the emotion of the events even getting to him when he displays rare rage directed at Nyssa. Everyone is on their game, there isn't a weak moment and the story ebbs and flows like the tears you will shed when the story hits its bitter, disturbed conclusion.
Nick Briggs says, "The human story of Cyber-genesis and Cyber-conversion."
The one that will make you jump.
A Thousand Tiny Wings (2010) – written by Andy Lane
This production features one of the most divisive characters in the Big Finish range, Nazi scientist Klein from 2001's Colditz. She appears alongside McCoy in this atmospheric base-under-siege story that would sit happily alongside the work of base-under-siege-master John Carpenter. Set in post WWII Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau uprising this character-driven piece has a fair share of twists and turns alongside the bumps and screams of some truly horrifying dispatches. The location is a dream come true for the sound designer who has an abundance of imagination, talent and dedication to atmosphere. It is with these production values we find ourselves in an immersive, challenging and truly scary story.
Nick Briggs says, "An alternative timeline Nazi as a Doctor Who companion?!?"
The one when HE came back.
Destination Nerva (2012) – written by Nicholas Briggs
Almost the perfect jumping on point for Big Finish. A recent release with first class production values, an hour running time and THE RETURN OF TOM BAKER! We follow directly on from The Talons of Weng-Chiang with Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. It is obvious there are issues in finding the rhythm in the story, acting and direction. Understandable considering how many hopes and dreams rest on this project. However the magic of successfully recreating this elemental period of Doctor Who easily papers over any cracks. By planting the action on the familiar Space Station Nerva and keeping the plot and action tight and controlled it is a wonderful introduction, or continuation, of the Tom Baker years. The adventures that follow get more epic and creative and I for one hope Tom Baker has a long, happy relationship with Big Finish as I think the best is yet to come following this solid, enjoyable foundation.
Nick Briggs says, "Quintessential Tom Baker Doctor Who."
The one if you love the Daleks.
Enemy of the Daleks (2009) – written by David Bishop
There are plenty of Dalek stories but I've selected one that stands apart from the crowd. McCoy, Ace and Big Finish companion Hex, played by Philip Olivier, meet the Daleks who find themselves under threat. The story develops the dichotomy of the environment and this feeds perfectly into moral debates associated with the grimmest war scenarios. The urgent, compulsive writing draws our gaze into a dark, claustrophobic story that has a lasting impact on Hex. By far his best story, the character develops a moral compass in reaction to this first encounter. Some of this has been done before but never better. With McCoy in masterful form, interfering and protecting simultaneously I can't heap enough praise on this release.
Nick Briggs says, “A heavy-rock soundtrack and the nastiest race to challenge the Daleks - ever!”
The one that will make you laugh.
The Fourth Wall (2012) – written by John Dorney
Writer John Dorney has quite the imagination and I wish he were here with me now as I struggle to synopsise his outstanding Colin Baker adventure. It's based around a game-show with virtual reality technology into which the Doctor's latest companion Flip gets pulled. Then it starts to get weird. But we are here for the humour. If you are a fan of Robert Rankin, Tom Holt or Terry Pratchett this is for you. There is also a little of the subtle self-deprecating humour Douglas Adams was so great at. I struggled with this one. I like my Doctor Who humour-free but I felt this release provided just the right amount of hard sci-fi, unbelievable creative direction, fabulous audio production and nodding smiles. It's a very clever story and I find myself marvelling at how well-crafted the story was but I think those of you who like stories humorous will enjoy this too.
Nick Briggs says, "TV sci-fi baddies come to life, complain about poor motivation but prove frighteningly ruthless."
The one to get if you like historical drama.
Farewell Great Macedon (on The Lost Stories: The First Doctor Box Set) (2010) – written by Moris Farhi (adapted by Nigel Robinson)
Originally written for the First Doctor by Moris Farhi this story was first brought to light by the publication of the script book by those wonderful people at Nothing At The End of the Lane. Big Finish have produced it as part of their Lost Stories series and what a wonderful job they have done. Featuring the characters of Hartnell's Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan and read by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford; this is in a more traditional audio book, with enhanced production values and format. It captures the essence of the era perfectly. The story encapsulates the final days of Alexander The Great's reign. This is slower paced, rich in historical value historical - epic. It is a great shame it never made it to our screens or our DVD collection. However Big Finish serve the story well and the narrators do a wonderful job. In the faithful recreation of the Hartnell era sound-scape Big Finish have once again outdone themselves, this feels totally authentic and the long running time fills your mind with wonder and images of what could have been.
Nick Briggs says, "Incredibly touching, beautifully made Hartnell story that never was."
The one if you fancy a spin-off.
Jago and Litefoot Series 1 boxset (2010) – written by Andy Lane, Jonathan Morris, Alan Barnes and Justin Richards
Who would have thought that Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter as Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot, their characters from the 1977 TV story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, would spawn such a successful spin-off 35 years later? Yet here we are, four series in with a fifth on the way in 2013. The gentlemen spin through this Victorian dream, weaving their way around stories, capturing moments and gently drawing us into their warm embrace. For me these are the most fantastic tales and rival any Doctor Who story for their originality and soul. The stories are engaging, the talent involved clearly have a deep love for the characters and we all win. Nothing even comes close. You don't even have to know or love Doctor Who for this to work on you. Sheer delight.
Nick Briggs says, "The utterly beguiling Victorian 'odd couple' from Talons of Weng-Chiang triumph against infernal oddities, villains and monstrosities."
The one if you don't like Doctor Who.
Holmes and the Ripper (2010) – written by Brian Clemens
Although the characters of the The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes feel inextricably linked Big Finish do a sterling job in separating the two. This production, taken from the first season of Big Finish Holmes, is based on the stage play of the same name by Brian Clemens. Nicholas Briggs plays Holmes with aplomb and Richard Earl is perfectly cast as the buffoon-come-foil Doctor Watson. Big Finish treat the Holmes legacy with respect and inject their trademark sound design which results in magical atmosphere complementing a robust story. This is an exciting production that is as close to, and as far away from, Doctor Who as you can get.
Nick Briggs says, "Top script by Avengers creator Brian Clemens and my first, jolly well reviewed audio outing as Holmes."
As a huge fan of the show I'd also like to give a mention to the excellent Blake's 7 range Big Finish are currently working on. Well worth discovering.
I don't think you will go far wrong with these suggestions and each one will hopefully open a new Big Finish pathway up to you. The joy of the range is the huge back catalogue; it is unlikely you will ever run out of audio adventures to explore. Releases come thick and fast, companion pieces like The Big Finish Companion book will keep you company and the legacy of classic Doctor Who lives on through a small, but perfectly formed bunch of creatively brilliant people.