For what I plan to be my last review for this blog, I thought it would make an interesting change of pace to review a book about audio. This is the first volume of a new guide by Richard Dinnick to the releases of Big Finish, the company that since 1999 has been making licensed Doctor Who audio plays featuring the characters from the show’s classic television years between 1963 and 1989 as well as Paul McGann’s sole stab at the role in 1996. But they have made much more besides …
This large hardback coffee table book is subdivided into over a dozen separate sections, though after a general introduction to the company’s early history the bulk is inevitably related to the Doctor Who releases that were its initial raison d’être. Starting in 1999 with The Sirens of Time by Nicholas Briggs, a multi-Doctor story featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, the guide details the first 75 main range releases, stopping in 2005 when Doctor Who came back to TV and the company now found itself with a major audiovisual competitor for the first time. Up until then, under the creative stewardship of Gary Russell, the show had celebrated the TV series of the 1980s using the actors that were still alive rather than recasting and in addition were bringing forward McGann’s adventures, in effect continuing where his single TV Movie left-off. Each individual story gets a single page and along with a detailed 300-word synopsis and the usual cast, crew and running time details, it also includes some trivia about the making of the play, working titles, its placement in the Who universe and so on.
How well does this book distinguish itself from Benjamin Cook’s previous guide to Big Finish, The New Audio Adventures: The Inside Story published in 2003? Well, although it’s not meant to, with Dinnick apparently going out of his way to keep the two separate and not recycle pre-existing material, they do in fact have rather a lot in common beyond their main subject. In fact any attempt to make the two entities distinct is rather sabotaged by certain production design decisions starting with its overall look which is remarkably similar, using similar fonts, layout and even thickness of the paper! This is a bit of a shame because the Cook volume is much more detailed, providing original interviews and lots of juicy behind-the-scenes gossip (and even some downright bitchiness), whereas the Dinnick volume is much more paltry in this regard, really more of a printed catalogue with a few stray bits of information added, though it certainly has its own virtues. Chief amongst these is the simple fact that Cook’s book only covered the first 50 releases and some of the direct spin-offs, so where the Dinnick volume is really useful is in its brand new areas, covering some of my favourite ranges from the company such as the ambitious Companion Chronicles talking books, the splendiferous Jago and Litefoot ‘infernal adventures’ as well as the sadly curtailed Sapphire & Steel audios which, according to this book, was ultimately aborted due to adverse effect on sales from illegal downloading. It also covers the new Sherlock Holmes series, Highlander, the early Bernice Summerfield titles and lots of other spin-offs from the main range.
My main criticisms are that it often doesn’t make enough of the space it has, insisting on leaving sections blank (like ‘working titles) when there is no information for pre allotted sections rather than expanding others to provide some extra info; and most infuriating of course, the lack of an alphabetical index, which in a guide like this is crucial one would have though! Definitely loses a star just for that I’m afraid.
The main ranges not included here are, apart from Who spin-offs like Gallifrey, such series as Stargate, Dark Shadows, The Tomorrow People and Iris Wildthyme but presumably these will be part of the concluding volume by Kenny Smith and due out …? Well, not sure to be honest as this first part was delayed several times so I wouldn’t want to stick my neck out too far. I am greatly looking forward to it though as this is a useful guide to the often thrilling output of a company that deserves a lot of support and works hard for its success in a crowded marketplace. Long may it continue. It is available to buy online from: www.bigfinish.com
I will continue to occasionally review their releases, but over at the Tipping My Fedora blog. After twelve months and 49 posts this is the end of Audio Aficionado, so it’s over and out – and thanks for listening.