I’m definitely fond of the idea of combining Classic Doctors and monsters from the rebooted Doctor Who, and this box set really proves why that’s such a fabulous idea. Even when the monsters aren’t quite the best fit for an audio only story, the writing of the episodes in this box set is some of the strongest writing for a Big Finish adventure I’ve heard yet. All of the episodes are clever and engaging and I absolutely adore this box set. Classic Doctors, New Monsters (Volume 1) is a box set with four stand-alone stories featuring Doctors from the classic run of Doctor Who in adventures with monsters from the rebooted run of Doctor Who as the villains. Featuring stories from the Fifth (Peter Davison), Sixth (Colin Baker), Seventh (Sylvester McCoy), and Eighth (Paul McGann) Doctors, Classic Doctors, New Monsters (Volume 1) is a unique entry in Big Finish’s series of box sets, and one that I really enjoyed. (Spoilers ahead.)
Fallen Angels (by Phil Mulryne)
I have mixed feelings about this episode. On the one hand, the writing is utterly spectacular, but on the other hand, I really don’t think the Weeping Angels work well in an audio only format. From the Big Finish website: “2015: When sightseers Joel and Gabby Finch encounter a strange man in Edwardian cricketing garb in the Sistine Chapel, their honeymoon suddenly takes a terrifying turn. 1511: Michelangelo is commissioned to create some very special sculptures by a mysterious sect. But as he carves, angels seem to emerge fully-formed from the rock. Almost as if they are alive… From Michelangelo’s workshop to the catacombs of Rome, the Fifth Doctor must keep his wits about him and his eyes wide open as he confronts the Weeping Angels.” There is much to praise about this episode, mainly the writing. Phil Mulryne has written one of the most interesting Weeping Angel stories yet. The episode really has some fun with what the Angels are capable of. What if the Weeping Angels were loose during the Renaissance (where stone statues are literally everywhere)? The threat feels very real and imminent as Michelangelo and the future of his artwork are in danger, and it’s just such a clever idea that’s executed brilliantly.
The problem is that the Weeping Angels rely so much on the visual element. What makes them scary is the whole concept that you have to look at them or else they’re liable to kill you. This works beautifully on TV as you’re compelled to never blink when they’re on the screen. They’re able to use clever camera tricks and lighting tricks to really emphasize how scary the Angels are. But you can’t do this on audio. They rely on this one sound effect to show the Angels have moved, but it’s really more of a music sting and it just doesn’t work without the visual element. I adore the story itself, but I’m not sure the Weeping Angels are really a good monster for Big Finish to be using. They just aren’t anywhere near as scary or creepy in an audio only format. But, man, this story was good. One of my favorite Fifth Doctor stories. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Judoon in Chains (by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris)
Once again, I have some mixed feelings on this audio. On the one hand, I adore how the Judoon were used in the story, but on the other hand, I feel the story was stretched a bit too long. From the Big Finish website: “The Sixth Doctor is no stranger to courtroom drama, but faces a very different challenge when he prepares to defend a most unusual Judoon. After an environmental clearance mission goes wrong, Captain Kybo of the Nineteenth Judoon Interplanetary Force is stranded in Victorian England, bound in chains, an exhibit in a circus show. But he has allies: Eliza Jenkins – known to audiences as ‘Thomasina Thumb’ – and the larger-than-life ‘clown’ in the colorful coat. Uncovering a trail of injustice and corruption, the Doctor and Kybo soon find themselves on trial for their lives…” The idea of setting a story about the Judoon in a courtroom and telling the story through a trial is a clever one for multiple reasons, two of which being the fact that one of the Sixth Doctor’s most well-known serials is The Trial of a Time Lord and the other being that the Judoon are a race that adheres strictly to law and order. So having the story be done as a court drama was definitely really smart, and I love the idea of a Judoon whose heart has begun to soften. There’s something really funny about a Judoon reciting poetry.
The problem, though, is that the story is nearly 80 minutes long. Most of the stories in these box sets are somewhere around 60 minutes, and that usually works perfectly for them, but this one is longer, and as such, it suffers from what feels like a lot of padding. It gets off to a good start, then drags to a screeching halt in the middle of the story as it meanders its way towards the climax. It’s unfortunate because otherwise, it’s a really enjoyable story. But, judging it on what it is, it’s still fairly good. Not as strong as the previous episode, but definitely not a bad episode either. (3.5 out of 5)
Harvest of the Sycorax (by James Goss)
Unfortunately, this one fell really flat for me. It’s partially because I don’t much care for the Sycorax as villains and partially because I found the episode itself to just be kind of meh. From the Big Finish website: “In the far future, humanity has a remedy for everything. Whatever the problem, Pharma Corps has the answer and a designer disease tailored to every human’s blood-type. Zanzibar Hashtag has no need to be sad, scared, stressed, or depressed ever again. That is until vicious aliens arrive on her space station intent on opening its Vault. What will it mean for the human race if the Sycorax take control of what’s inside? And when the Seventh Doctor arrives on the scene, can he convince Zanzibar to care about her life long enough to help him?” It’s important to note that this isn’t a bad episode. But it’s not as good as the previous two were, that’s for sure.
For starters, the Sycorax are just such boring villains. They’re nothing more than your typical Aliens who invade places. There doesn’t seem to be any real motivation for them. With the Daleks, you know they want to rid the universe of anything that’s not Dalek and with the Cybermen, you know they want to convert everyone to be like them. But the Sycorax just invade and kill. And that’s fine, but it doesn’t really make them interesting for more than one story. Once you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them enough times. And this story definitely suffers from that. I did like Sylvester McCoy’s performance in the episode, though. and the writing for the various characters was nice. I just really don’t care for the Sycorax and that very blatantly clouds my judgment of the episode. (2.5 out of 5 wands)
The Sontaran Ordeal (by Andrew Smith)
It confuses me why the Sontarans are a part of a box set that’s focusing on monsters from the 2005 reboot of the show as they appeared a number of times throughout the Classic run. It would be like including the Daleks in a box set dedicated to the reboot’s monsters. Sure, they’re in the reboot, but surely you want to show off monsters created for the reboot. From the Big Finish website: “An instant of the Time War brings centuries of conflict to the planet Drakkis, and the Eighth Doctor is there to witness the terrible results. A Sontaran fleet, desperate to join the epic conflict, follows in its wake to take advantage of the fallout. But when Commander Jask is beamed down to the ravaged surface, there is more to his arrival than first appears. Soon, an unlikely champion joins forces with the Time Lord to fight for the future of her world, and together they must face the Sontaran Ordeal…” This is the first Eighth Doctor story from Big Finish that’s set during the Time War and it’s a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. It’s not bad, or anything, it just doesn’t really do all that it could do with the concept.
The biggest misstep the story made was using the Sontarans as the villain. If you’re gonna do a story set in the Time War for the first time, maybe use a villain that’s more interesting than the Sontarans. Not that they’re bad villains or anything, especially the way they’re used in this episode, but I’ve just always found them a bit of a strange fit for Time War stories. But that’s just me. Aside from that, it’s a pretty solid episode. Not as good as Fallen Angel was in terms of writing, but still enjoyable. I really liked the character arc that Commander Jask went through in the episode, and I like how Sarana reacted when she found out that the Time War (and the Time Lords) was responsible for the ordeals her planet is going through. It’s always fascinating seeing the Doctor having to deal with the repercussions of the Time War and its impact on other civilizations not involved. That was the most interesting aspect of the episode, and I wish that a bit more of it could have been devoted to that. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the box set for that kind of story. The story we got was still pretty interesting, for a Sontaran story. The Sontaran plotline was definitely one that I hadn’t heard before, so that was nice. I really did enjoy it, it was just a bit of a mixed bag, too. (3.5 out of 5 wands)
Even though I found the episodes themselves to be a bit of a mixed bag, I really like the concept of this set. It’s a really fun idea to pair Classic Doctors with monsters from New Who. As evidenced by Fallen Angel, it can definitely work well, but some care has to go into the writing so the episode actually feels like more than just a gimmick. I appreciate the attempt by Big Finish and the writers of these episodes to try something new, and I applaud the results they were able to achieve. Hopefully following box sets will be even better. I do recommend this box set to anybody trying to get into either Classic Who or the Big Finish lineup of Doctor Who audios. It’s a great jumping on point that requires very little in terms of any knowledge of the previous Doctors. The stories are mostly good and getting to hear these classic Doctors face these newer monsters is more than worth the price of the set.
(4 out of 5 wands)