Big Finish Top 10 (2021)

Just like that, we’ve reached the end of another year, and, as usual, we’re going to be taking a look back at the top ten Big Finish releases of the last twelve months. It’s certainly been quite an exciting year for audio drama, with the long-awaited return of Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor; the debut of Jonathon Carley as the young War Doctor; a whole new nine-episode arc for the Tenth Doctor in Dalek Universe; a 50th anniversary extravaganza for the Master; and the earth-shattering conclusion to the 275-release strong Monthly Adventures series, amongst all kinds of other exciting treats.

But which ten releases were a cut above the rest? And who will take the number one spot? Read on to find out!

You can find our ranking of last year’s top ten releases here.

Honourable Mentions

Before we go any further, let’s look at some of the releases that didn’t quite make the top 10.

  • The Diary of River Song: New Recruit – a fun collection of stories that revel in 70s nostalgia while also being strikingly modern, with a delightful rapport between Alex Kingston as River and Daisy Ashford as Liz Shaw
  • I, Jacobi – a charming two-hour interview with Derek Jacobi himself, full of fascinating tidbits about the life of one of Britain’s finest actors
  • Torchwood: Curios – the sinister Bilis Manger (Murray Melvin) makes a return in this atmospheric, creepy story set in a Welsh mine requisitioned by the Torchwood archive
  • The Year of Martha Jones– a triumphant return for Freema Agyeman as Martha, with some excellent worldbuilding and great performances

Now, on with the countdown!

10. The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Lost Warriors

With two more traditional opening episodes, and an absolutely outstanding finale, Lost Warriors isn’t quite as consistent as its predecessor, Respond to All Calls, but it’s still a strong collection of stories to claim the number 10 spot in this year’s rankings. Christopher Eccleston‘s performance is excellent throughout, in scripts that combine the more lighthearted audio version of the Ninth Doctor with his more serious TV self, and comes to a head in his electrifying first confrontation with the Cybermen in John Dorney‘s Monsters in Metropolis: our number one ranked individual episode of 2021. Fantastic stuff.

9. Lady Christina: Series Two

With an engaging, nuanced central performance from Michelle Ryan, and three strong scripts, Lady Christina: Series Two maintains the enormous sense of fun from the first set, while incorporating darker, more serious elements. While all three stories are strong, the boxset opener, James Goss‘s The Wreck is the standout, and is another of this year’s best scripts: scary, exciting and character-driven all at once. More Lady Christina, please, Big Finish! 

8. The War Master: Killing Time

Killing Time is a triumphant return to form for the War Master range, pitting the Master against opponents old and new in his quest to take over the Stagnant Protocol. Derek Jacobi puts in one of his finest performances yet, particularly in the last three stories, wherein he gets to show just how horrible the Master truly is, while Alexandria Riley makes a stunning debut as the dastardly Calantha.

Meanwhile, Katy Manning and Sarah Sutton return to their old, much-loved roles from the TV series, bringing Jo and Nyssa back to life faithfully, while propelling them in directions we’ve not yet seen for their characters. Along with a haunting, atmospheric score from Rob Harvey, all of this comes together to form a really strong set. 

7. The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 7

The strongest instalment in the series so far, The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume Seven combines two very different, but equally as exciting stories and throws us back to two eras of 1970s Who that we haven’t really had explored on audio. Tim Treloar, Jon Culshaw, Sadie Miller and Daisy Ashford all do a wonderful job at putting a new spin on the Third Doctor, the Brig, Sarah Jane and Liz, while Mark Wright and Tim Foley effortlessly recreate Season 7 and Season 11, while also putting modern twists on them. Add to that era-authentic music by Nicholas Briggs and evocative sound design from Benji Clifford and Luke Pietnik, and this boxset comes highly recommended.

From the gut-punching emotion of The Lost Resort and Nightmare of the Daleks, to the swashbuckling adventure of The Perils of Nellie Bly, this set has something for everyone, but will be particularly special for fans of the Fifth Doctor era on TV, who have been clamouring for an emotional resolution to Adric’s death since the 1980s! The cast are on top form throughout, all getting their standout moments, and cementing this as one of the most well-rounded TARDIS teams in Doctor Who history.

It’s such a shame that this particular chapter in the Fifth Doctor’s adventures is over, as we say goodbye to the wonderful George Watkins as Marc, and producer/director Scott Handcock, but it’s safe to say that this entire run of stories, starting with 2019’s Tartarus, will be remembered as some of the best material this particular Doctor and his companions have ever had. 

5. The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Respond to All Calls

Respond to All Calls is a wonderful addition to the life of our favourite leather-jacketed Time Lord, picking up the baton from where Ravagers left off and running to new heights, in what promises to be one of Big Finish’s strongest, and I’m sure most popular, ranges going forward. Girl, Deconstructed is a glorious recreation of the domestic stories made famous by the 2005 series of Doctor Who; Fright Motif is a creative historical, while Planet of the End is one of the best Ninth Doctor adventures in any medium. As with Lost Warriors, there’s really only one word to sum up this boxset… fantastic!

4. The War Doctor Begins: Forged in Fire

Four years after John Hurt‘s sad passing, the War Doctor is back in this new boxset of three audio adventures! Jonathon Carley takes up the mantle of this particular incarnation of our favourite Time Lord in a new series chronicling his earliest adventures in space and time: The War Doctor Begins. Carley proves not only a pitch-perfect recast of Hurt, effortlessly and near-indistinguishably recreating his iconic voice, but also an incredibly strong actor in his own right, perfectly bringing to life the varied material in each of these three stories. Along with a guest cast on top form, as well as three pacy, creative scripts, this central performance makes Forged in Fire one of the strongest boxsets of the year.

3. The War Doctor Begins: Warbringer

Warbringer is another outstanding collection of stories, living up to- and, indeed, exceeding- the high standard set by Forged in Fire. Told from the point of view of compelling new character Case, who is brought to life with a layered performance from Ajjaz Awad, each of these three stories is both action-packed and character-based: the perfect combination for a successful Doctor Who adventure. Meanwhile, Carley continues to impress as the War Doctor, leaving us all excited to see him return in Battlegrounds next May.

2. Dalek Universe 1

April 2021 saw David Tennant return in Dalek Universe: an all-new nine-part saga from Big Finish Productions and his first full series as the Doctor since 2008! Joined by Anya Kingdom (Jane Slavin) and Mark Seven (Joe Sims), the Doctor is thrust into a pre-Time War universe, and forced to contend with a whole host of old enemies… including, you guessed it, the Daleks!

Packed with twists and turns, surprise reveals and reunions between old friends, Dalek Universe 1 is so exciting that I finished it in less than a day. This is truly an event release, and this is reflected in the strong guest casting (Mark Gatiss, Gemma Whelan and Kevin McNally!) and the impeccable sound design and music from Howard Carter. The stars of the show, though, have got to be David Tennant, Jane Slavin and Joe Sims, who make a fantastic team and put in some really fantastic performances throughout, especially in John Dorney‘s superlative opening two-parter.

While the Dalek Universe series as a whole didn’t quite regain the soaring heights it reached in this opening boxset, this release in particular is definitely highly recommended.

1. “Torchwood: The Five People You Kill In Middlesbrough” by Yvonne Hartman

And, in our number one spot… well, what else could it be? The Five People You Kill In Middlesbrough, written by none other than Torchwood‘s Yvonne Hartman, is a biting, scathing, furious satire of the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as hilarious as it is tragic, and infuriatingly pertinent.

Parodying the left, the right, and everyone in between, this story is refreshing unapologetic, refusing to hold back from showing what an absolute mess the last two years have been for everyone, completely capturing the public mood. Zeitgeisty, acerbic and so, so relatable, The Five People You Kill In Middlesbrough is Who Review‘s best Big Finish release of 2021.

So that’s it: Who Review‘s top 10 releases of 2021. Let’s once again say a big thank you to Big Finish for continuing to produce such wonderful stories through the struggles of the pandemic; I think I speak for a lot of people when I say the last couple of years would have been a hell of a lot harder without all of these enchanting adventures beamed directly into our ears!!

And that’s all for Who Review in 2021! We’ll see you again in 2022! Happy New Year!


One response to “Big Finish Top 10 (2021)”

  1. […] War. Forged in Fire (review here) and Warbringer (review here) were #3 and #2 respectively on our Big Finish Top 10 of 2021, so my expectations are high for this one. Will Battlegrounds live up to its […]

    Liked by 1 person

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