Well, you have to start somewhere. And time isn’t linear. That’s my excuse, anyhoo. All of which explains why Big Finish Folly begins with the Peter Davison story Land of the Dead and moves swiftly on through Winter For the Adept.
(A quick note on chronology, while we’re at it: I’m using this Wiki page as a guide to the running order of the main monthly series of Big Finish Audio plays. “Lost Tales” have been inserted as appropriate, as have other plays that don’t seem to have a proper home. Fourth Doctor plays will have to be left on the back burner for now. All mistakes are my own; corrections are welcome. Oh, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.)
Land of the Dead
One of the staples of Doctor Who is the “isolated set” story. Horror of Fang Rock comes to mind immediately. And just like that old chestnut, Land of the Dead sticks half a dozen characters in a snowbound Alaskan house and proceeds to let prehistoric monsters strip their flesh. The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on the scene just in time for the bony beasts to claw forth…
Not a bad debut for the 5th Doctor, chronologically speaking. The story moves at such a pace that you never quite notice the monsters are powered by handwavium, and the dialogue between the Doctor and Monica is snappy and humourous (although Monica’s incessant pessimism grates after a while). There’s also an interesting history between two of the other characters that helps pull this up from just being a chase story.
Winter for the Adept
More snow, this time in Switzerland, where Nyssa spends the first episode Doctor-less while dealing with Peter Jurasik’s policeman and India Fisher’s oh-gosh posh schoolgirl. After that, we get a rum, if unconvincing tale of Spillagers, poltergeists, seances and exploding helicopters. The problem here is that Peter Jurasik’s performance is a little too subdued – whither the Londo-esque histrionics? The rest of the cast almost have to over-compensate, making the whole story appear jokey. The Doctor, meanwhile, seems lost in his own thoughts, hardly paying attention until things really do go wrong. The fact that he is absent for most of the first episode says it all for me.
Bonus review: Bernice Summerfield – Oh No It Isn’t!
Bernice was a character created by Paul Cornell for the Virgin range of Doctor Who books back in the 90s. Big Finish gave her an audio range (with the character played by Lisa Bowerman) in 1998, the year before they actually gained the licence to do official Who stories. Oh No It Isn’t!, like many of the first audio stories, was adapted from the paperback that had preceded it. In this introductory adventure, Bernice’s archaeological field trip to Perfection is imperilled by a missile, the Grel, and a sudden sharp left turn into panto…
Fact: I was grinning through this one. The humour is decidedly more adult than Doctor Who is officially allowed to be, and some of the jokes are downright hilarious. Like most pantos, this one overstays its welcome a bit, though it is more than saved by the presences of Mark Gatiss and Nicholas Courtney. It’s certainly much better than the iffy cover illustration might lead you to believe. And the Grel are just too good to be one-offs, I suspect…
Next time: the Daleks make their first appearance…