Toronto #29 – Niagara Falls

(I should’ve just called this ongoing blog “Canada” instead of “Toronto”, shouldn’t I?)

There’s a lot I need to cover in this week’s blog. Starting with something that I should have mentioned in the previous one – I went to my first baseball game a couple of weeks back.

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It was a Blue Jays game (of course). I can’t remember who the other team was. The game itself was interesting, though. Much more relaxed than hockey. Certainly, much less violent. Me and my mate had a good chat over it, which you can’t really do with hockey. The last half hour or so was really cool, as the game wrapped up and the Blue Jays won. Another thing ticked off the Canada list.

Last weekend was really cool, as I finally got to see my first opera! Well, actually, not quite. Back when I was in primary school, we went on a class trip to see Carmen at the Cliffs Pavilion. I have no fucking idea why, though. We were all about 7 or 8 at the time. Hardly the right age to appreciate something as tragic as an opera, especially if it’s in a foreign language!

And that’s one of the reasons why the opera that I saw last weekend was really special. Because for one thing, while it was entirely based on Puccini’s La bohème, complete with the original music, the lyrics had been translated into English. More than that, they had been modernized and there were a few references specific to Toronto. (My favourite in particular was someone getting a job at BMV Books. Gotta admit, that really is one of my favourite places in Toronto.)

The place we went to was also a pretty cool bar, with the performers acting on a slightly raised stage that was right next to the audience. So the whole effect was much more intimate than watching it at a theatre. It almost reminded me of when I performed improv back home, the performers were literally that close to the audience. So in some ways, it’s very different to your standard opera experience.

At the exact same time, though, it was incredibly authentic. For one, those singers? They can sing. Really, really sing. Like, real opera level sing. (I even heard that at least one of the actors had performed in an opera on stage, which didn’t surprise me.) And it really was beautifully made.

Another thing I didn’t appreciate until afterwards was the fact that, despite being modernized and translated into English, it did stick to the exact plot of the original opera, as I later discovered when I read more about La bohème afterwards.

Overall, it was just such a great experience, and great to get my first taste of an opera when I’m finally old enough to appreciate it.

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Last, but definitely not least: I went to Niagara Falls Comic Con today. It was, I must admit, a very last minute thing. I didn’t bother getting tickets in advance, except for transportation, as I couldn’t really afford it until this weekend. Not to mention, there’s your standard last-minute anxiety that makes you think and think again about whether to go or not.

But I had to go. Literally had to. For one guest, and one guest only: Paul Fuckin’ McGann!

(Note: his real middle name is John, but to emphasize his level of awesomeness, “Fuckin'” just seems more suitable in this case.)

He was at the convention all weekend, but it was only today that he was doing a Q&A session with the fans. So being in the same room as one of my heroes and hearing a ton of great stories from him (especially with his voice – there’s a reason he’s my favourite Doctor, even mostly on audio) was too good to miss.

I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a journey up there, and I was afraid that I’d end up missing it. But I got there with just a little bit of time to spare, and in no time at all, I was sitting just metres away from someone who was literally one of my childhood (and adulthood) heroes.

I know what you’re thinking right now. “Never meet your heroes.” Because when you’ve built them up enough in your heads, meeting the real thing can potentially be disappointing. Certainly, it was what was going through my mind before he came on stage.

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But he was just brilliant. While I never asked a question to him myself, it was just so cool seeing how he spoke with fans. It wasn’t just that he was confidant and cheery, but he was really good at seeing if fans were a little nervous and helping with their confidence.

And he had so many good stories and great answers. He was friendly and really engaging with the fans. Even better was that he didn’t just answer questions about Who, but also about Withnail & I and 90s BBC drama The Hanging Gale. It was a really great, informative and entertaining Q&A all round.

My personal favourite moment, though? Getting an autograph from him afterwards and having just a very quick one minute chat with him. Yes, of course, I said he was my favourite Doctor (“I like you a lot!” was his response), but I also mentioned how great Withnail & I was. He was just a really friendly chap, and it really was just the coolest day. They say never meet your heroes. They never met Paul McGann.

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Toronto #25

Wow, I am really getting slow at writing these! Once again, things have been fairly quiet overall, although there has been some exciting stuff happening.

Last weekend, I went to a Marlies game, which was pretty good. Especially as the score was 4-0. Quite impressive. Once again, there were quite a few fights that randomly broke out during the game. Yes, hockey is undoubtedly quite the violent sport.

Outside of that, along with work, which is still progressing quite nicely, I’ve still been writing. Not much fictionally, but I’ve been using the journal, at least, which has helped me to work a few things out, on top of writing down a few ideas. I’m also back to writing a few articles for Doctor Who Watch, which I kind of took a break from for a while while I tried to concentrate on other things. The creative writing I’m still continuing with, even in small doses, at least.

Outside of the writing, I’ve also been reading a fair bit. Currently, I’m focusing on Doctor Who: ‘The Witch Hunters’. This was a book that I first read almost twenty years ago, but it’s still one I have a soft spot for. Purely historical (other than the time travellers themselves, of course), and focusing on the Salem Witch Trials, it really is an absorbing read. It’s also a story that, despite its clear period setting, still feels quite present.

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This weekend has been interesting. I’ve been able to enjoy a lot on not much money, for one thing. I’ve watched three films, and I’ve only needed to pay for one of them.

The first was the 1983 remake of Breathless starring Richard Gere. It was very, very eighties and not perfect, but it wasn’t without its charm, either. I especially appreciated the use of Jerry Lee Lewis in the soundtrack. It probably says a lot about Quentin Tarantino that he considers it to be one of the “coolest movies” of all time. To be honest, I can’t say I blame him too much. It’s got quite a few faults, but I certainly appreciate any film that takes comic books as seriously as this film does. Best quote:

The Silver Surfer sucks!

I also accidentally checked out the Toronto premiere of the amazing horror movie, The Void. Now, when I say “accidentally”, don’t get me wrong, I had definitely planned on seeing it. Especially since it was Saturday, I had nothing to do, and after seeing a few movies at the Royal, I was able to see a movie of my choosing for free.

So I checked it out, but I didn’t know that it was the first showing in Toronto. So, to my surprise, the writers and directors were there, plus some of the cast and crew. (To those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you’d know that this isn’t the first time that this has happened.) It was definitely awesome to see the people who had made this movie actually answering questions from the audience, I must admit.

As for the movie itself? It was pure old-school brilliance. It was very dark, very twisted, and incredibly shocking. It was very reminiscent of movies like HellraiserThe Evil Dead, plus it had a very strong Lovecraft influence, but it was still able to spin these into completely its own thing. It was also very, very refreshing to watch a horror with a ton of practical effects, particularly the monsters. There was some clear use of CGI in it, but it was for more surreal moments and for glimpses of other worlds than for the monsters. I’ve gotta admit, this is definitely one of my favourite horror movies in recent years, and I’m really impressed by just how daring and refreshing it really is.

The final film that I watched this weekend – this one on a cinema pass, so once again, I didn’t have to worry about paying for it – was Get Out. I’ve gotta admit – it really lives up to the hype. It’s not quite a full blown horror (well, not compared to The Void, but there’s few films quite as openly horrific as that one is), but it’s definitely a great suspense movie. I’ll be honest, I was initially surprised to find out that one half of comedy duo Key & Peele had directed a film like this…until I actually saw it.

Keep in mind, while there’s definitely some moments of awkward humour in it, I’m not saying that this film is a comedy. But it definitely has clear elements of satire, and particularly vicious satire it is, too. These are the kind of stories that I love. It’s why I love Judge Dredd, why I love Black Mirror (which lead actor Daniel Kaluuya had previously starred in an episode of), and why I really loved this film.

What I was really impressed by was how easily it shifted from uncomfortably awkward to suspense, very subtly but very easily, too. “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” This quote from Charlie Chaplin got me thinking about the storytelling of this film in relationship to how uncomfortable it gets. There are some moments that seem strange, almost ridiculous, and that you can’t help but laugh at. Then there’s other moments when there are extreme close ups that make even a simple conversation difficult to watch. That’s just really good filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele will direct next.

(I was going to include a trailer, but then, after watching it again, I have to say: it reveals way too much. So here’s a song from the film’s soundtrack that really creeped me out.)

So that’s my life the past couple of weeks. Hockey, writing, reading, and movies. A pretty nice and geeky couple of weeks. I’ll be honest, I think the next month or so is going to be pretty quiet, for my part. With my birthday coming up in May, I’m going to be avoiding going out and getting drunk to good music too much. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write about more exciting stuff next month. Until next time!

Stories: Complex vs Convuluted

A few weeks ago, I finished watching the second season of True Detective. I then immediately re-watched the first season of The Sopranos, but more importantly, I then watched, for the first time, the final season of The Wire. And it got me thinking about the difference between the stories told in season 2 of True Detective, and in The Wire, both in its final season and in general. How they were both loosely in the ‘cop show’ genre, both aimed to use the medium of television and the freedom of HBO to do far more with that genre…but where one failed, the other greatly succeeded.

Honestly, I don’t think season 2 of True Detective was quite the train crash that everyone had claimed it to be. In some ways, it started out promising, with the narrative focusing on three separate cops and their cases slowly converging at the end of episode one. Some of the acting wasn’t as strong as in season 1 (particularly Colin Farrell, who kept reminding me of Judge Dredd with his voice, I just couldn’t take it seriously), but I was happy to take it as decent noir in its own right.

What really let it down for me, though? The plot. At first, it seemed to build ok, but somehow, through a ton of different characters, twists, turns and red herrings, it became incomprehensible. And I’m a fan of time travel fiction, particularly causal loops. I’m usually good with plots. But True Detective felt like it tried too hard. It came at the expense of the very focused character drama and atmosphere that season 1 had in spades. 2 had some character drama, don’t get me wrong. But none of it was as interesting to me. There was never a moment when they clashed, which drama at its best usually is. If the writers had focused more on telling something simpler, at least in terms of its plot, this would have been a different story, in more ways than one.

Now, compare the final season of The Wire. There are many, many different plot developments and angles that run concurrently in the series. This includes plot lines that focus on the cops, to the criminals, to the journalists, to even the children just trying to survive.

But all of these threads are always easy to follow. You know who’s who, what they’ve done, what they’re currently doing, and usually why they’re doing it. You can even get the sense of the general thread – that a cop is desperately trying to bring down a drug lord, by any means necessary, no matter how extreme – but it really is about so much more than that. Everything connects, and through it, we get a great portrait of not just life for the cops, but life for an entire city.

Sometimes, I look at TV writing, and I think that sometimes, writers forget what “complex” means. Sometimes, I tend to think this with Steven Moffat’s writing in Doctor Who. Oh, don’t get me wrong, when he does really complicated time travel, and does it right, I’m not gonna lie, as a time travel fan, I love it. But there have been times when I wonder if he’s cramming in more into an episode than he needs to. One fault I had with his series 9 finale was that he tried to cram in as much as he could, when he just needed to focus on one crucial story point. By contrast, the previous episode had been so brilliant because it had been so simple in structure by comparison. As a result, it allowed for truly amazing drama to unfold, and Peter Capaldi giving one of the greatest performances by any actor in the role.

Complex doesn’t mean “story lines that are deliberately hard to follow”. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s when a story has a plot that’s easy for its audience to follow on the surface, but tells it in a way that shows a lot more depth. This could be due to a large cast of characters. It could be due to a number of clear and subtly done allegorical layers. It could even be due to a strong visual element. When all of this is handled right, it means that the audience not only enjoys it upon the first viewing, but is rewarded with something new on multiple viewings, too. This is a big reason why I’m watching the whole of The Sopranos for the third time, already. As a teenager, I loved the stories of crime, gangsters and violence. Now though, I’m seeing a lot more to it than that. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my stories of crime, gangsters and violence, but at times, I’m also marveling at a perfectly placed shot, or hearing a song play and realize how perfect the scene has been crafted for it.

As an aspiring writer, I have been wanting to write a time travel story myself for a long time. I’ve even made a few attempts at it. But I think, as much as I hate to say it, I need to wait on it while focusing on other stories. One is that, as I’ve said before, I take my time travel very, very seriously, and this has been rather difficult to map out. But more importantly, there is a danger of making it convoluted and rather shallow. And that’s not something I want to do. For the moment, I think I need to write a story that’s simple and know how to flesh out my characters better.

If I can eventually hone it down enough that I can genuinely write something with as much depth as some of my favourite writers, whether in literary, TV or even audio sources, that’d be something I’d be incredibly proud to have accomplished. In the meantime, I just hope that more writers in TV learn where True Detective went wrong and try something better when they want to be “ambitious”.

Toronto #15

Well, it’s a little later than usual, but here’s the latest blog entry.

First off, I want to say that I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas and had a great time. Christmas has been interesting this year. It’s the first time I’ve had one that’s been away from my folks back home. It’s a strange feeling, celebrating a time that’s always spent with your family spent half a world away. It makes you think about what’s important.

Before I get into that though, let me describe my Christmas. It was pretty good, all things considered. Started off quietly, as I focused on sending messages of Merry Christmas to friends and family while watching Love Actually or playing L.A. Noire. (I must admit, The Red Riding Quartet has left me with a real need for the latter kind of fiction. I tried to get some from season 2 of True Detective but, while it isn’t quite as bad as everyone made it out to be, it wasn’t half as satisfying for dark, noir-ish fiction as season 1 was.)

Later on in the day, a housemate invited me to her family Christmas dinner. It was a nice time, and I got talking with quite a few people over an incredibly large meal.

When I got home, I avoided the Internet for a bit, since the Doctor Who Christmas special had been broadcast. After watching some of season 1 of The Sopranos, a show I think I’m appreciating more and more with every re-watch, I discovered that George Michael had passed away. Honestly, on possibly the most ironic day he could’ve left us, really.

It’s obvious to say it, but 2016 really has been a terrible year for celebrity deaths. What’s been especially shocking is how relatively young most of them have been. While one or two celebrities have passed away in their 80s or 90s, as in the case of Liz Smith today, far, far too many have been much younger. Honestly, I think that passing away in your 50s or 60s is still far too young to go.

If there’s one lesson I’m taking from this, it’s that life’s too short. Not just for us as individuals, but for our heroes, as well. It’s easy to think that our heroes will always be there, that we’ll never see the day when we find out that they aren’t there. And that’s simply not true, as hard as that is to face.

More importantly, many of us have heroes that are, of course, nearer and dearer to us than faces on a television or film screen. There are many people we look up to in life, whether it’s our parents, our mentors, even our friends.

So I’m going to say what needs to be said, and to the people that you love, I suggest you do the same. To anyone you feel you owe so much to, to anyone that you’ve ever cared about, to anyone you know who’s truly inspired you, now is the time to say it. To say what you really feel. To say “Thank you”. To say “I love you”. Or even just to say, “Ta, mate”. Because life is short, for every single one of us, and you never know when you’ll get the last chance to say it.

Unless, of course, you’re in unrequited love with someone you hardly know, and that person’s already happily married, so you decide to do it with signs. Then it’s just kind of creepy.

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Remember: the WRONG WAY to do it.

Other than that, though, it should be okay to say it. Earlier this year, just before I left for Toronto, I received a card from one of my friends, about how great it was that I was doing what I wanted to do, in a big way, and that I was making such a brave decision. While she’s a good friend, she isn’t one that I’ve been especially close to, which made her message more of a surprise, but a very welcome one. It really moved me, and it let me know that, whether my trip to Toronto proved to be amazing, or ended badly, I knew I was making the right decision, no matter what. To the people who truly matter, you can’t underestimate how great it can be to get a message like that, I think.

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and I wish that 2017 will be a great year for us all.

Toronto #12

Bloody hell, what a week! After a few quiet weeks, this week has been absolutely packed. Where to begin?

Firstly, on Tuesday, I finally got to see one of my favourite bands, Steel Panther, perform live. They were exactly as brilliant as I had hoped. Not only were they amazing at playing so many of their awesome songs, including ‘Gloryhole’, ‘Death to All But Metal’ and ‘Community Property’, but they were really great at getting the crowd going. You could feel a real sense of energy from the crowd, and everyone was clearly having a great time. I even got to chat to complete strangers about the band’s awesome music, which was nice.

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Everything I had heard about previous Steel Panther shows actually happened. Lead guitarist Satchel got challenged to guitar solos by members of the audience. Tons of women from the audience got on the stage towards the end. One or two women were even very keen to show their breasts at one point. It’s funny how the line between exaggerated parody and genuine rock band really does blur with something like Steel Panther. Especially when you’re seeing stuff like a guy in a gorilla costume shredding (not very well) on his guitar.

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Seriously.

Overall, it was an amazing night, and the nightclub, Rebel, was a really great venue for it. I’m not sure if I’ll be going there more often, but if there’s more great bands playing, I’ll definitely head down there again soon.

On Wednesday, I got to indulge my geeky side. Well, indulge it more than usual, anyway. I went and saw newly animated Troughton serial ‘The Power of the Daleks’ on the big screen with a friend. How was it? Troughton’s initial story starts off slow, but it’s definitely worth the build-up, especially in the final two episodes. I prefer ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ out of his two Dalek stories, but it was great to get the chance to experience ‘Power’ again, the first time I had done so for a couple of years, at least.

How was the animation? Clearly low budget. The human characters did tend to move a little stiffly at times. However, I liked how the environments were done, and the Daleks themselves were absolutely perfect. It’s a bit of a shame that none of the humans looked as good as the Daleks, really. Still, it was nice to watch ‘Power’ in a new visual way. It’s not as good as watching the original episodes, but it’s a decent enough substitute for what it is.

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Thursday and Friday were rather chilled, and I needed to catch up on sleep, if I’m honest. Saturday though, I decided to head downtown. There was an event that had drawn my attention on Facebook: “Heavy Metal Weekender at Cherry Cola’s”. It sounded like a good enough place, and I’ve been itching to find some kind of Toronto alternative to the Railway back in Southend – a small but decent place with a good crowd of people and good live music.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed. While I didn’t really chat to anyone down there, I enjoyed a lot of the music, and the drinks were cheap. (Especially the soft drinks. As someone who gets drunk really easily and knows their limits, there is nothing like going straight for the soft drinks just to even things out. $1 for a glass of coke? Fuck, yes!) Cherry Cola’s Rock ‘n’ Rolla Caberet & Lounge seems like exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for, and could be the kind of pub I’d visit regularly.

So that’s my week. By my standards, pretty fun and pretty packed. And this is exactly the kind of week I had been looking for since arriving in Toronto. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting every week to be like this, and I’ve had plenty of amazing times here already. But it is nice to finally get a week that mixes some of my favourite things – live music, cool places and of course, Doctor Who! Moving away from home, even for just a couple of years, was always going to be a risky and difficult move. But this has been one more week that has made it more than worth it. Especially for sights like this:

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Because downtown Toronto is a sight I’m not going to get used to anytime soon.

2016 – The Year of Big Finish and New Who

Last week, Big Finish Productions were clearly building towards something, most notably through their Facebook and Twitter pages, using the hashtag #BF27June and photos of people with fingers to their lips shushing. Plenty of people joined in, not just the actors and writers at Big Finish, including Colin Baker, but plenty of fans as well. Not that any of us knew what was going to be announced, but it certainly looked set to be pretty big.

And then, on the morning of 27th June, one more photo was shown of someone shushing: Alex Kingston. Or, as Whovians know her, River Song.

Two things instantly became clear: first, that Big Finish’s announcement was huge, possibly one of the biggest they’ve ever made, and second, what the shushing was for: “spoilers”.

Oh boy, was the announcement big. In 2016, Big Finish are going to release several key audio releases that will feature characters and monsters from the New Series, including a series of Churchill’s adventures with the Doctor, River Song getting her own spin-off series and even appearing in the 2nd season of the upcoming Eighth Doctor series Doom Coalition.

How excited am I about this? A few months ago, I posted about how much I’m seriously looking forward to the spin-off UNIT: The New Series, but this is even better. In fact, to me, it’s even better than if Big Finish had announced that they had gotten Eccleston, Tennant and Smith to reprise their roles for new adventures. Because it’s another beautiful way of merging the classic and the new eras together.

When Doctor Who came back ten years ago, it was the greatest feeling in the world. Despite having a brand new Doctor, a faster pace and perhaps a slightly different tone, it was still most recognisably the same show that ran for 26 years: the same old theme tune, the same old police box time machine, and the same old mad, bonkers and brilliant Doctor. It was brand new but at the same time, still very, very familiar.

But it was also keen to present itself to new viewers as a brand new show. This was not only understandable, but practically essential in drawing in a new audience. I still love the way Russell T. Davies handled it – not by taking the easy option and chucking away 26 years of continuity, but actually skipping ahead years (no, centuries) later from the Doctor’s point of view from the end of the classic series and presenting both the oldest fans and the new viewers a brand new backstory that no one knew about.

This left me even more excited, not just for where the TV series could go, but for where the expanded universe could go. Especially Big Finish, who had already given McGann’s Doctor 4 seasons in audio that had been denied to him on television. Before, his Doctor was the ‘current’ Doctor, and his story could literally go anywhere. With the return of the new series, that was no longer the case – or at least, not quite – but this wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, in my humble opinion, it might even have helped in giving his Doctor some direction at a time when he really did need it (while I adore his first two seasons, for reasons that I won’t go into, I wasn’t too keen on the overall arc of the two seasons afterwards, although I must admit, they still had some great stories). That direction was clearly given by Russell T. Davies – War with the Daleks and the destruction of his own race.

And perhaps there were other stories to tell, as well. Stories of classic Doctors meeting monsters from the New Series and finding out about their earliest encounters (I’m still really curious about the Doctor’s previous encounter with the Krillitanes. I love the idea that they adapt and change so much that they would’ve looked completely different). There were so many ways of exploring and celebrating the rich history and the legacy of the show.

But that didn’t happen. At least, not exactly. For reasons that I can only begin to guess at, a clear line had been drawn – Classic and New Who were, as far as Big Finish was concerned, two seperate entities. Of course, the New Series could use as much mythology from the classic series as possible, and in fact has done more and more as the series has gone on. (Something I really enjoyed about RTD’s take on Who is the way he re-introduced some of the biggest enemies of the classic era as each of his seasons’s “Big Bad”, as it were. It was a nice way of bringing back in spectacular fashion some iconic villains for the classic fans, while getting across to newer fans just how major these enemies were to the Doctor. The final 10 minutes of Utopia especially is practically a masterpiece in how to do re-introduce a major villain to an audience so perfectly.)

But, for clearly complicated legal reasons, Big Finish could never return the favour – it could never tell stories showing how the Doctor met the Judoon or have an earlier encounter with the Vashta Nerada, and they certainly couldn’t tell any stories about the Time War. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they have done a brilliant and marvellous job hinting and even building up to it, but anything set during the War was off limits. In fact, when licensing issues were at their worst, even established classic enemies like the Master seemed to be off limits, as one particular story originally written to include the character was re-written enough to make his identity more ambiguous (even when the character’s name is as obvious as “Stream”). For the longest time, it almost looked as if Big Finish, if not classic Who altogether, were to be seen as separate as possible from the New Series. (For the record, one thing that’s become clear is that this wasn’t RTD’s doing – he has done nothing but heaped tons of praise for the company and adores their work. This came across incredibly clear during an interview he had for the special edition of the adaptation of his 7th Doctor novel, Damaged Goods.)

Thankfully, over the last couple of years at least, the barrier between the two eras was slowly coming down. Personally, I think the biggest reason for this was the 50th anniversary – if ever there was a golden opportunity to market the hell out of the classic series license and show to new viewers just how great it really is, the 50th anniversary was the perfect time to do it. This was partially done with Big Finish. Small things that allowed for even greater acknowledgement of the new series. The Beginning, for example, was a First Doctor story that told of the Doctor and Susan’s first trip in the TARDIS. At the very start, there’s a lovely little nod to the opening scene in The Name of the Doctor, and you even see that depiction of the TARDIS from that episode on the front cover.

There was also the final series of Gallifrey, which showed the Russell T. Davies era Daleks on the front cover. Even this was a pretty big moment, as the usual design for the Daleks on Big Finish covers were based on the 60s design. The bronze daleks were a clear indication that, while the series wasn’t exactly a Time War story, it was certainly approaching for the Time Lords.

But I think the biggest moment that really helped to break down the barrier between the New Series and Big Finish was in the New Series itself – specifically, Eight’s final salute to his companions in The Night of the Doctor. I’ve gone on before about how much I love that episode, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the acknowledgement of his audio companions like Charley and Lucie especially was an absolutely incredible moment. It was Steven Moffat not only paying tribute to them, especially McGann’s Doctor’s journey in them, but also making it that much more difficult for both a part of the audience and the licensing guys to say that they don’t count.

Over the past year, more and more hints of new Who have been steadily trickling through into Big Finish. First, there was the announcement of a Big Finish spin-off based on characters from the New Series. Then there were mentions of mythology that had been, until now, exclusive to New Who in one amazing story released earlier this year. Then in May, it was announced that Big Finish would begin making stories based on Torchwood, with the first episode to be released in September.

All great stuff, but we still had to wonder: would we get anything bigger from the New Series era, and more importantly, would it be allowed to mix in with the classic? Well, on 27th June, we finally got the answer to that question.

It’s taken a long time for Big Finish to reach this point, and I can’t even begin to imagine how much work it must have taken, but it’s finally paid off. As you can probably tell by the sheer length of this post, I’m incredibly happy about this.

For one thing, it’s the sheer ambition of it all. River Song not only getting her own series, but meeting the Eighth Doctor too? Despite the fact that it’s too early for her to meet him (and she knows it)? That’s a bold and incredibly risky story to tell, but it’s also the kind of story that Big Finish excels at. It’s a full-on way of having the classic and new eras collide in an epic fashion.

And that’s only one example, as the upcoming box set “Classic Doctors, New Monsters” shows. As you can guess, it’s some of the classic era Doctors meeting monsters from the new series, and every single one sounds great: with Five against the Weeping Angels (don’t ask me how the Angels are going to work on audio, but with Big Finish making it, I’m sure it’ll be done just right), Six meeting the Judoon (now there’s a clash of massive egos and personalities) and Seven meeting the Sycorrrrrrrrrax, there’s some great combinations to explore right away. But I think the story I’m eager to hear most, despite having a monster that’s technically from the Classic era, but with a version based on the New Series, is the Eighth Doctor going up against the Sontarans. Less for the combination exactly, and more for when it takes place: in the Time War, with Eight in his Night of the Doctor gear on the cover.

Honestly, I have been wanting this to happen for so long because I not only love Who, I also love to see it as one epic journey. Yes, the New Series jumping ahead and giving back a little mystery to the Doctor was a great fresh start, but honestly, as a classic fan, you want to know more about what happened in between. You want to know what lead the Doctor to fight in a War. You want to know what happened to Eight. You want to know how it ended.

All these questions were finally answered during the 50th anniversary, but really, that’s just the start. Ultimately, you want to remember when watching the show that Capaldi is absolutely the same man as Hartnell and all the others, not just Eccleston, Tennant and Smith. Having the classic and new eras merge through Big Finish is absolutely the perfect way to do it, especially as Big Finish have a real talent of making their Doctor’s stories feel true to their eras while feeling as modern and fresh as the New Series, usually at the same time.

It’s going to be a long wait to 2016, and it’s going to be a year of Big Finish releases that I’ll anticipate greatly. However, there’s been plenty of great releases this year already (the final series of Dark Eyes and Damaged Goods especially being two particular highlights), and of course, there’s still plenty to anticipate for the rest of the year. As I mentioned earlier, there’s the new UNIT spin-off to begin in November. There’s the start of a brand new Eighth Doctor epic in Doom Coaltion 1 in October. And then there’s the story I’m anticipating most: The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure, to be released in September. It’s something that I’m sure I’ll be absolutely devastated by, even having already ‘seen’ Six’s regeneration in Time & The Rani.

Big Finish have been making great Doctor Who stories and spin-offs based exclusively on the classic series for over 15 years, and I’m more than certain it could’ve continued to do so if it had to. It’s just great to know that their universe to write stories from has just gotten a whole lot bigger.

Doctor Who: The Secret History review

Big Finish Production have just reached a landmark this month with the release of their 200th monthly Doctor Who story. To celebrate, they decided to do something special: a “season” of 3 linked stories of 80s Doctors swapping places with their earliest incarnations. So you’ve had McCoy turning up in a Pertwee era story, C. Baker in Troughton’s and Davison in Hartnell’s. The result? A trilogy of stories that’s proved to be a rather intriguing listen – not just a great excuse to hear Doctors meet companions from other eras, but also a great look at how much the Doctor has changed over the years and the contrast of what happens when one incarnation ends up in a story that doesn’t suit ‘him’. I’ve enjoyed all 3 of these stories, but The Secret History has definitely proven to be my favourite one of the trilogy, for several reasons.

One is how well writer Eddie Robson gets the First Doctor’s era spot on. It begins with all the right ingredients for a Hartnell classic: the Doctor and his companions land sometime in ancient history, at least one companion gets separated/kidnapped from the rest, with a good strong focus on both the historical characters and the setting. There’s even a villain who appeared in a couple of Hartnell TV stories, but we’ll get to that later. In short, almost everything about the story fits Hartnell’s Doctor spot on.

Except, of course, for the Doctor himself, and this was my favourite thing about The Secret History. Because the story really helps to highlight two things about the Fifth Doctor: first, that he is, despite his outward appearance, much older in personality than his first self, and second, that he’s a lot less sure of his actions. This is a man who has lost a companion and seen too much death, and while he still knows that history can’t be re-written, the cost of maintaining history is a great deal harder for him to bear than it once was. I love how the difference in personality to his earlier self is a central point to the story, and indeed the entire trilogy, and how one moment’s hesitation causes utter disaster.

I also enjoy the return of a particular villain with Graeme Garden back as the Monk, for the first time in 4 years. I love how this character that’s been sadly ignored by the new series (and to be fair, most of the classic series after Hartnell) has been given a wonderful new lease of life by the excellent team at Big Finish – less of an ‘evil’ character like the Master and more of an amoral, overgrown child whose complete lack of responsibility causes more danger than some of the Doctor’s more traditionally ‘evil’ foes. In fact, the last time he showed up, his actions caused more pain and suffering to the Doctor in his Eighth life than the Master could even begin to hope for, and the worst thing was that they were the actions of someone as reckless and naive as a child instead of someone who actually wants to be destructive, something that probably made the Doctor angrier than ever before (seriously, if you haven’t listened to it yet, check out the excellent 2 part story Lucie Miller/To The Death, one of my favourite finales/Dalek stories ever. If you want to get a good idea of what it’s like, imagine Journey’s End as written by George R.R. Martin. Yep. That dark/shocking/depressing/bloody brilliant).

But the Doctor here hasn’t lived through any of that – while he’s still more than aware of how dangerous and reckless the Monk can be, he hasn’t reached the point of completely hating him, either. A point I can certainly never reach: Graeme Garden is delightfully charming in the role. As I’ve mentioned, childlike but intelligent, both the writers and the actor have continued to avoid the trap of making the character just another copy of the Master, and instead continued the legacy that writer Dennis Spooner and actor Peter Butterworth created fifty years ago.

The Secret History is a fantastic way for Big Finish to celebrate it’s 200th main range release. It not only shows just how far Big Finish have come since releasing The Sirens of Time back in 1999, with a mix of an 80s Doctor, 60s companions and their own fresh take of a brilliant villain, but in it’s own right, it’s both a great science fiction story and a great drama, too. 9/10