While toiling away to make their own audio drama Infinite Variations as badass as humanly possible, the Lords and Masters of OneOfUs have bestowed upon me the right to review Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas. For any who don’t know, Big Finish is a company that makes full-length (and often full cast) audio dramas including Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Judge Dredd, Highlander, Sherlock Holmes and a few inventions of their own.The Doctor is Big Finish’s bread and butter and their dedication to Who is boundless. For example, aside from being the current voice of the Daleks and other Who baddies on the TV show, Nicholas Briggs is co-executive producer of all of Big Finish’s projects and often lends his voice and writing talents to the various ranges. Now that’s love!
But enough with this preamble crap, on to the review.
Phantasmagoria (1999) is the second Doctor Who story Big Finish ever released. One thing they nailed is the feel of the show. Nothing feels out of place for Doctor Who tonally or structurally. Big Finish didn’t try to jazz things up and modernize elements. Instead they chose here (and in almost all of their Who work) to make it in as close to the style of classic Who as they could. The story focuses on the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and his companion Turlough (Mark Strickson) as they investigate a mysterious set of disappearances and deaths of young men plaguing 1702 London’s streets. The Doctor and Turlough are separarated almost immediately and it is interesting to see the paths they both take take to investigate the mystery and try to find the other, only to get split up yet again. Both men track the case back to the Diabola Club, where someone is playing a much darker game than the usual games of chance.
It is interesting to go back and listen to Davison’s voice. In a few years time, his voice would change slightly and become more gravely but here before the change he was better able to adopt a tone and delivery similar to what he had in the TV show. Additionally, Strickson also slips back into both Turlough’s snarkiness and evasiveness with relative ease. Special commendation should be given to the frequenters to the Diabola Club. The actors deliver just the right blend of extravagance and foppishness that not only makes them a delight to hear, but adds an air of authenticity because while the Diabola Club itself is fictitious, places like it did actually exist and such characters as the ones in the story did frequent such establishments.
Despite a script from the likes of Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, various Doctor Who TV episodes) the simple story, music, mixing, and overall sound design leads to a product that isn’t quite up to the standards Big Finish would soon achieve only a few entries later in the series. The run time is also short of main ranges standard 120 minutes, clocking in at only slim 89 minutes instead. While the story is serviceable and there isn’t a bad performance across the board, it is just that, serviceable. Big Finish has been really cool and reduced Phantasmagoria (and in fact, the entire first 50 entries in the series) to a meager $2.99 for download, but even with this in mind I can’t recommend anyone save the biggest Who fanatics pick this one up. The whole thing is done well and the asking price is about as good as anyone could hope for, but nothing here elevates it to any form of greatness or required listening. Fans of the classic series will enjoy it, but otherwise it is entirely skippable.