For Christmas my wife decided to fuel my recently acquired and somewhat crippling addiction to the Big Finish Audio Doctor Who stories and set me up with the first two seasons of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. 16 wonderful, non-stop radio plays starring Paul McGann as The Doctor and Sheridan Smith as his companion Lucie Miller.
As we begin the long journey to autumn when Peter Capaldi will fully assume his place as Doctor and begin a new series of stories with Clara Oswald in the Tardis I plan to spend them communing with as many of the audio plays as I can fit onto my aging iPhone and laptop. In a weird way, I've come to almost love them more than the actual series.
I mean, they'll never take the place of the show proper, of course, but there are a few distinct pluses they have over watching Doctor Who on television. Such as...
5. My Imagination Has No Budget: The things that Doctor Who manages to pull off on television on its budget are simply spellbinding. "The Name of the Doctor" rivals the Star Wars prequels in FX magic, at least in short bursts. Even older New Who episodes like "The End of the World" are visually stunning in a way that usually only Hollywood can pull off.
Even with that going for it, though, a ripe imagination is always going to outdo even the most amazing of cinematic wizards. When Lucie finds herself working for giant war robots being run as a everyday office building in "Human Resources" (Think Pacific Rim on the outside, Dilbert on the inside), that's an amazing mental image. It's a complete juxtaposition of the straightlaced corporate culture with giant freakin' battle mechs, and in my head it's just amazing.
Could the show pull it off? Probably, yes, at the expense of the funding of other episodes, but when you're employing a listener's fancy as set designer you can do things like that every week.
4. The Character Interactions Are Easier and More Dynamic: Again, I'm not knocking the wonders that the various TV Doctors work with their companions and villains. There's nothing like Nine and Captain Jack flirting, or Eleven and River Song doing the same for that matter. Still, it's a television show shot on a television schedule, and that means that everyone is working at a feverish pace in order to get from one place to another in time to adhere to everyone's hellacious schedules.
With the audio plays you can literally feel the easy and relaxed nature of the recordings, especially in the extra interviews after each one. With just their voices to rely on, the cast puts every ounce of their talents into playing off each other, and it's an investment that pays back tenfold in solid character development.
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3. Less Bloody Sonic Screwdriver: I've voiced my desire to see the sonic screwdriver broken again before, and the events of the last couple of specials only serve to reinforce that position. It's become less of a tool and more of a magic wand, enabling an increasing amount of lazy writing.
For the four Doctors that make up most of the audio plays, the sonic is largely absent. Five and Seven use it only sparingly (It was written out for much of their canonical television runs), and Six doesn't use one at all. Only Eight seems to make a habit of carrying it around full time (And weirdly, his alone works on wood), but it is still only a minor presence. Even when it is used it's usually for very specific purposes, like in "Phobos" where he remotely unscrews the leg of a killer robot.
Perhaps since you can't fill up the screen with a bunch of wand-waving it just doesn't translate well. Or maybe the Big Finish plays just aren't as invested in selling toy sonic screwdrivers. Regardless, the deus ex machine takes a backseat.
2. You Can Listen While Doing Other Things: I love the show, and I love the spin-off novels as well, but the thing about television and reading is that require most of your immediate attention. That's the nature of being a primarily sight-based mammal.
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My favorite evenings lately are spent level grinding in an RPG with the headphones on listening to the stories. It's the perfect way to wed my desire to overpower every single battle in a 100+ hour game and to not be bored to death while I prepare for that. Plus, you can also listen in the car, which as Dave Ramsay tells me is one of the keys to not being poor anymore.
1. Your Favorite Doctor Will Never Die: One of the defining attributes of Doctor Who is that eventually, your protagonist dies and some new guy goes swaggering off wearing his life. It's a heart-breaking way to tell a story, but it is also essential to the story being told.
But in the audio stories that will never happen! Every Doctor who participates has now had his death shown onscreen, which means that we never have to worry about him not making it. Oh sure, they'll kill companions off left and right, and that's hard to take, but at least we know that no matter how dark the outlook is, we can smile and think "Not today" at least as far as the Time Lord is concerned. That's a small, but welcome comfort to those of us still reeling from the loss of Matt Smith and his emotional departure.