Image Credit: Matthew Kemp (All Rights Reserved)
Image Description: Assembled guests on stage at Big Finish Day 2019
Matthew Kemp reports from Big Finish Day 2019 for the commemoration of two decades of Doctor Who audio adventures
Big Finish—We Love Stories. The perfect tagline for a company with a great story of its own. Evolving from a group of fans who made unofficial audio plays during the Who-less dark times of the 90s, they obtained the license to make Bernice Summerfield audio adaptations, and on the strength of these productions nabbed the rights to Doctor Who in 1999. Now they produce hundreds of audio plays a year, with such stellar actors as David Tennant, Catherine Tate, John Hurt, and many more, expanding the worlds of Doctor Who in bold new directions. They’ve come a long way over the past twenty years, so are celebrating in style with many special adventures (such as the six-part The Legacy of Time) and with a convention, Big Finish Day, which landed in the Quad creative centre in Derby on 22 June 2019.
I boarded the Big Finish train quite late, but over the past few years I have devoured many of their beautifully crafted and expertly produced stories. Be it Paul McGann’s ongoing series to all of the spin-offs featuring “new” series characters, such as River Song, UNIT and the Paternoster Gang, there’s always a different world of Who waiting for me. Listening to these full-cast audio dramas is a very solitary pursuit—they accompany me on many a commute, laundry run or cooking sesh—but it’s conventions like these where you really feel that you’re part of a bigger community of enthusiastic audiophiles. It’s also a great opportunity to meet the creatives behind the company’s success, so I made a particular point of saying thank you to all the writers, producers and directors for making stories that I love.
The day started with an introduction from head honcho and Dalek dramatist Nick Briggs, who, in his usual witty way, struck up a rapport with the assembled masses while giving some hints of stories to come. As River Song would say, “Spoilers!” Next up was Peter Davison and his son Joel (one of the ever-growing Davison dynasty), who discussed the merits of working with your family. His son took particular glee in getting to torture his cousin in a Survivors episode, while Peter discussed acting opposite his daughter in the aptly named Relative Time, part of The Legacy of Time. Though Doctor Who obviously means a lot to him, Davison often seemed a tad bemused by the hordes of fans, but after I mentioned that I was enjoying his recent turn in Gentleman Jack when we were getting a photo taken, he seemed to relax a bit.
The Paternoster Gang were next to take to the stage. Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey and Caitlin Stewart were together at a convention for the first time. They all obviously get on so well, and seem overjoyed to finally get the chance to tell more stories with these beloved characters. Intriguingly, they revealed that the producers set up a meeting with the gang before scriptwriting was underway in order to ask them what directions they thought the series should go in, as they’ve been playing these characters for so long. It’s just another example of Big Finish’s drive to create the best possible stories in the most collaborative and thoughtful way.
Alongside the photographs, autographs and cosplay, one of the most exciting parts of the day was a communal listening of the first part of The Legacy of Time, featuring the first lady of Big Finish, Bernice Summerfield, alongside River Song and the Eighth Doctor. It was a strange and beautiful experience, sitting together in a cinema theatre just listening to the audio. The plot went in all kinds of directions (no spoilers here: #DavrosDemandsYourSilence) and all the while, the creatives behind it watched our faces with delight to see our reactions. I think they often wonder about the response of their productions, as the interaction between the creators and the audience is not perhaps as strong as that of the theatre or television, so I believe this very visceral view of our feelings was very much appreciated.
There were some other panels featuring a plethora of writers and actors, and the day ended with a gloriously moving panel dedicated to the Third Doctor Adventures. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw have all been lovingly recreated by Tim Treloar, Jon Culshaw and Daisy Ashford (Caroline John’s daughter), who all spoke about how much it meant to them to pay tribute to this era of Doctor Who. Katy Manning, the inimitable Jo Grant herself, stole the show as usual, reeling off story after story of her many escapades, including supergluing her phone to the table and getting locked in various toilets!
My personal highlight of the day was talking to Jon Culshaw, the impressionist and fan who so perfectly evokes the spirit of the Brigadier in the latest audio series. I told him that he was the one that first got me into Doctor Who, due to his presentation of Doctor Who Night on BBC Two in 2005. Released just before the “new” series began, his description of the idea of Doctor Who completely hooked me as a ten-year-old. He found this very moving, saying that it meant a lot to him that he spread his love of Who to a new generation.
There were so many guests at this convention, perhaps too many, but I think it shows just how lucky we are that such high quality audio dramas are being made by people who love the show so much! Here’s to another twenty years of audio adventures in space and time, and I can’t wait to see where all these characters go next, because as Doctor Who fans,“We Love Stories.”
This article was first published in The Tides of Time Special Edition Summer 2019