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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Sound doesn't wobble ('Doctor Who' audio)

For our next journey into the expanded universe, we cover the many audio dramas produced for Doctor Who over the years. Radio plays are still popular in the UK; the BBC’s soap opera The Archers has been running on Radio 4 since 1950, when that station was called the Light Programme, and still gets about six million listeners[1]!

There have been a lot of sound-only tales, so I will be going by the ‘series’ we have had.

Please note that this list excludes single-person audiobooks – many are merely dramatic readings of print works. I may well have missed some of the works – please let me know if I have.

We’ll start with the audios produced by the BBC and various independent companies; there are not as many of these.

Glorious Goodwood (1974)

A ten-minute, ultimately not broadcast, tale featuring the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, apparently intended to be broadcast in conjunction with an appearance at Goodwood racecourse. It was released on CD in 2005.

Doctor Who and the Pescatons (1976)

The first licenced Doctor Who audio (produced by Argo for LP release), narrated by Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and featuring Lis Sladen, along with Bill Mitchell, a well-known voiceover artist. My review is here. It was clearly not a great success as Argo did not do another one.

Exploration Earth (1976)

The first broadcast drama, aired as part of a BBC Schools Radio series of the same name; this also featured the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane.

Audio Visuals (1984-1991)

A series of 26 cassette-based stories with original Doctors, this one was definitely unlicensed[2] – if the BBC hadn’t chosen to turn a blind eye to it (it wasn’t that widely distributed), a copyright suit would have been a slam dunk for them. In fact, they didn’t just let it slide, they would later hire two of the key people involved for the revival; Nicholas Briggs to do monster voices and Gary Russell as a script editor.

While the originals are not available, Big Finish remade five of them for their own official range, such as Cuddlesome, which was released as a free CD with Doctor Who Magazine 393 and starred Peter Davison – and made a sequel to another.

Slipback (1985)

Aired during the 18-month gap between Seasons 22 and 23, this six part drama was aired on Pirate Radio Four, a Radio 4 children’s magazine show. Starring the Sixth Doctor and Peri, my review can be found here.

Paradise of Death (1993)

Another Radio 4 drama; this one with the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier and original companion Jeremy Fitzoliver investigating a strange death at a theme park.

It is available on CD and iTunes; as well as that, it became the final Target Books novelisation.

The Ghosts of N-Space (1996)

The four characters mentioned above made a repeat appearance in what would be the final official appearance of Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, in a tale set in Italy; I review it here.

Audio Adventures in Time & Space (1998-2004)

As well as videos, BBV Productions also produced a number of audios; the first being “The Time Travellers”, which featured Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, initially playing characters that were the Seventh Doctor and Ace in all but name… to the point that between season 1 and 2, the BBC had a stern word with them. The characters were duly changed considerably.

Most of the works are excluded from coverage by the Tardis Data Core, such as Lawrence Miles’ Faction Paradox series, loosely based on a group in the Eighth Doctor novels, but with a lot of references altered to avoid infringement.

A number of classic monsters turned up, such as the Zygons and the Krynoids (“Seeds of Doom”) – K9 also turned up in two audio adventures, with Lalla Ward playing “The Mistress” as they could not get the rights to Romana, a BBC property. In general, there was a lot of careful manoeuvring to avoid getting sued.

BBV stopped making these in 2004 and these are increasingly only available second hand.

AudioGo Fourth Doctor stories (2009-2011)

After a long break from the role, Tom Baker finally reprised his role as the Fourth Doctor in three series of audio adventures from the audiobook company AudioGo – titled Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest and Serpent Crest. These featured Mike Yates and new companion Fennella Wibbsey, the latter the Doctor’s housekeeper in his Sussex country home, played by very well-known actor Susan Jameson.

Then we move onto Big Finish Productions, by far the largest producer of licenced Doctor Who audio[3] since 1999. Their recently extended licence covers only the first eight Doctors; they cannot cover the Time War or the new era (those rights belong to the BBC), but this has not stopped the occasional cheeky reference[4] – they also have to stay away from anything too close to planned episodes. More than one of their team has gone on to work for the show proper – and some of these audios have been broadcast on BBC7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra).

Big Finish has featured nearly all the living classic regulars reprising their roles, with the exception of Matthew Waterhouse as Adric and Grace from the TV movie (the latter due to rights issues with FOX). In addition, they have created a number of new companions for their series, the most notable being:
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Evelyn Smythe, a retired professor
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Erimem, a princess  from ancient Egypt
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Lucie Miller, played by Sheridan Smith – now a well-known TV and stage actor in the UK[5].

BF has a general ‘no-recast’ policy when it comes to those characters whose actors have passed away, although they have made some exceptions.

This list covers most of them, but excludes subscriber-only releases and ones given away with Doctor Who Magazine. Some of these releases were box sets containing multiple releases or shorter bonus stories.

Main Range (1999-present, 180 released or announced to November 2013)

Featuring the 5th to 8th Doctors – indeed the first story featured three Doctors – this ‘main range’ is a series of full cast adventures, as most of these are, released one a month. A number of stories here have provided strong influence on later episodes of the TV series:

<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Colditz (2001): Which featured David Tennant playing a Nazi. Tennant featured in a number of audios before becoming the Tenth Doctor.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The One Doctor (2001): A comedy Christmas tale guest starring Christopher Biggins, this is the clear inspiration for “The Next Doctor”.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Spare Parts (2002): A Cyberman origin story, which clearly impacted on “Rise of the Cyberman/The  Age of Steel”.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Jubilee (2002): A Dalek story that is the strong basis for “Dalek” – boxes from ‘Jubilee Pizza’ feature there and in Torchwood.

Fourth Doctor Stories (2012-present, 22 CDs released or announced to August 2014)

Adventures featuring Tom Baker’s Doctor (natch) with Leela, although the second season featured Romana I – Mary Tamm recording seven plays before her death. There are none with Romana II – it is generally believed not to be a good idea to put Baker and Lalla Ward in the same room.

The New Eighth Doctor stories (33 releases, 2007-2012)

Featuring, for most them, Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller, these ones see a progressively darker Eighth Doctor, who notably changes his costume and hairstyle towards the end of the run. The first season of these was broadcast on BBC7.

Bernice Summerfield (71 stories released or announced to September 2013, 1998-present)

Lara Crofting before Tomb Raider, Bernice “Benny” Summerfield (voiced by Lisa Bowerman, who is also her ‘model’ for CD covers) made her debut in the Virgin New Adventures novel Love and War in 1992 (that novel has since got a BF adaptation)[6] and was so popular she got her own spinoff novel series after Virgin lost the rights to the main show. This was an audio spinoff of that – this was the first lot of audios that Big Finish did, before they got the IP proper.

The Companion Chronicles (2007-present, 85 released or announced to September 2014)

A series of two-hander audiobooks/mini-adventures, recounted by a companion with another actor playing a key role in the story, this series mainly covers the first four Doctors, all of whom were unavailable at the time of first commissioning (although others have featured), three by the good reason of death.

Counter-Measures (2012-present 8 stories in two box sets announced or released to July 2013)

A series focussing on a proto-UNIT, the Intrusion Countermeasures Group (ICMG) featured in “Remembrance of the Daleks”, as they investigate alien phenomena in 1964 Britain.

Cyberman (8 stories, 2005-9)

A two season set and the follow-up to the next entry, focussing on the Orion War in the 26th century, implied to be part of the Cyber Wars.

Dalek Empire (18 stories, 2001-2008)

A spin-off from four stories in the main run, this focussed on the Dalek invasion and conquest of the Milky Way in the 42nd century – along with another war 2,500 years later. This was BF’s first spinoff not focussing on a pre-existing character.

Doctor Who Unbound (8 stories, 2003-8)

A series of ‘what-if’ tales, looking at alternative universes and ‘unbound’ incarnations, such as the Doctor never leaving Gallifrey or a Doctor that believed the ends justified the means.

The Early Adventures (announced for 2014)

Featuring the early Doctors, few details are currently available.

Gallifrey  (2004-2013, 24 released or announced)

Set on the Time Lord home world, this series of political thrillers features Leela and the second Romana, the latter having become Lady President, as they deal with enemies alien and domestic.

Graceless (2010-present, 9 stories released or announced to June 2013)

A spinoff from the Key 2 Time arc in the main run (another hunt for the Key to Time), featuring two characters, Abby and Zara[7] from that.

Iris Wildthyme (2005-12, 10 audios)

Starring Katy Manning (who played Jo) as Iris Wildthyme, who claimed to be a Time Lady but was in fact something else – although she certainly liked the gin and tonic. First featuring in Paul Magrs’ non-Who novels, she made her way into the Whoniverse.

Jago and Litefoot (2010-present, 32 released or announced to December 2014)

Set in 1890s London, this spinoff featuring one of Robert Holmes’ most popular double acts (from “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”) is also one of BF’s most popular ranges, featuring the two characters solving mysteries.

The Lost Stories (2009-present, 23 released or announced to December 2013)

Stories intended for TV airing that were never made for various reasons i.e. other things were picked instead or external events intervened, such as the hiatus. This includes many of the planned tales for the original Season 23, but also other tales like “Farewell Great Macedon” (for the first Doctor) and the bizarre “Prison in Space”, intended for Season 6, that would have seen Jamie in drag and the Doctor have to smack Zoe’s bottom to deprogram her after brainwashing[8].

Sarah Jane Smith (2002-2006, 9 stories)

Featuring the companion in a modern day setting on Earth, after she left the Doctor in “The Hand of Fear”, this series was ended early when The Sarah Jane Adventures was announced and Lis Sladen became contracted for that. The final story, “Dreamland”, was ended on a cliffhanger (as a third season had been planned) and any plans to finish it off were permanently ended by Sladen’s death in 2011.

UNIT (2004-2005, 5 audios – UNIT: Dominion is not part of this range)

A modern day series featuring UNIT and with the Brig popping up – the last of these was David Tennant’s final audio role, released the same month he first appeared as the Doctor.

It’s clear from this that there has been a great deal of EU media – in fact, it’s been claimed, with much justification, that more works of fiction have been published about the Doctor than any other fictional character.

In our next edition, we look at one of the oldest mediums of fiction of them all… the printed word.

[1]The show is the longest-running soap opera still going since CBS’ Guiding Light was cancelled after 72 years in 2009. It was also the source of the BBC’s first shot in the ratings war with ITV – when Associated Rediffusion launched as the first franchise (for the London weekday slot) on 22 September 1955, The Archers killed off a character in a fire.
[2]This would make it fan fiction… but the significance of it is such as that it has to be included.
[3]They don’t just do Doctor Who. Their other ranges include Stargate SG-1, Blake’s 7, Highlander and 2000 AD… that’s just for starters. Original works include the Mervyn Stone mysteries, where a former sci-fi script editor loosely based on Terrance Dicks investigates sci-fi related murders. I’ve bought the first novel and review it here.
[4]BF are producing audios for Nine to Eleven this year, but details on these and who they will feature are unclear.
[5]One of Sheridan’s stage roles was in the West End production of Legally Blonde, where she got to slap and kiss Peter Davison.
[6]Paul Cornell’s best known novel. He’s written two TV stories, both Hugo-nominated (and both losing to Steven Moffat) – “Father’s Day” and “Human Nature”, the latter an adaptation of his own 1995 novel.
[7]Both human ‘Tracers’ (who could find segments of the Key… stop me if you’re not following this), Abby was called Amy initially, but her name was changed in the story, probably to avoid confusion with Amy Pond.
[8]The story was abandoned at a late stage; Robert Holmes had to write “The Space Pirates” as a replacement, while his other tale “The Krotons” was moved up the running order to take its slot.

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