Statement Regarding Big Finish

(41 comments)

As it's come up a few times and I've thus far only said it on Twitter, I figured I should make a quick statement on the site. Short form: I have decided going forward that I will no longer be covering Big Finish material on the site or in my books. There are a handful of existing obligations I'll still fulfill. I've promised Andrew Hickey I'll cover Doctor Who and the Pirates in the revised Volume 6, and while I'm going to swap out one or two of the mooted 7th Doctor Big Finish essays for things on other topics, there'll still be a few of those. And I'm not going to go around deleting already written Big Finish essays. But starting with Volume 8, none of the new essays added to any of the book collections are going to be on Big Finish material.

There are a lot of reasons why I've taken this decision. Many of them are outlined in my post on their UNIT Assembled box set, but I'll sum up a few quickly.

  • The general low quality of their offerings.
  • The preposterous size of their line, which both contributes to the lack of quality and shows a callous lack of concern for fans' budgets.
  • Their egregious failiure, especially given the size of their line, to break in new talent, instead relying on the same pool of often mediocre writers to produce the overwhelming majority of their titles.
  • The resultant lack of diversity, and specifically their abject failure to hire more women.
  • The degree to which they have, creatively, failed to utilize the specific strengths (or accomodate the specific weaknesses) of audio as a medium, even as audio drama undergoes a phenomenal renaissance in the hands of the podcast industry. (Which would be an obivous place to go looking for writers that aren't white dudes.)
  • My distaste for their general attitude towards continuity and traditionalism, and the deep aesthetic conservatism they bring to Doctor Who.
  • Their continued willingness to work with people accused of rape and sexual assault.
  • Their serial queerphobia, including going out of their way to straightwash Clara's relationship with Jane Austen and removing leaving out the trans character when introducing the supporting cast from Russell T Davies' novelization of Rose.

This is not, to be clear, some sort of protest on my part whereby if Big Finish makes some definable changes I intend to reconsider my position. Although I reserve the right to someday change my mind, I'm not doing this as a symbolic or material pressure tactic on Big Finish. I'm doing it because, frankly, the issues outlined above overwhelm any other considerations that might come up when writing about Big Finish's output, and I've run out of new things to say about them. I do not think that further essays on Big Finish would be good or interesting. They would be unpleasant to write and not much good to read. I can write better and more compelling essays than dragging the same shitty spin-off company for making the same tedious errors over and over again, and I intend to do so.

I should note that this is not a sitewide moratorium on discussing Big Finish. Although I wouldn't hold my breath for Jack to start covering Big Finish material, I'm certainly not making a policy on any other contributors writing about anything they want. This is simply my own decision, going forward, for my own work.

One mght fairly ask why this decision is extended to historical Big Finish. After all, there’s plenty of well-regarded Eighth Doctor material I could add to the McGann/Eccleston book. And, of course, I’m ruling out the largest single source of additional Hurt material. But ultimately, my objections aren’t just a boredom with the poor quality of Big Finish; I am at this point simply exhausted with them as a company. They are not a company or a part of Doctor Who that I want to financially support or bring further attention to. I still love the idea of Doctor Who audio plays. I think they’ve got phenomenal potential. I think there are production companies that could do amazing things with the concept..I don’t have specific suggestions, but in the face of the booming podcast industry I have zero doubt that it would be possible for the BBC to find people who are eager to take the opportunities that Big Finish is squandering and do something interesting with them. Preferably while hiring some women. I’ll continue to hope that possibility comes to pass some day.

But Big Finish? Nah. I'm done. 

Comments

Neo 2 months, 4 weeks ago

This definitely seems a gain to me, certainly not a loss. Covering the umpteenth boxset written by the same men, with the same characters and basically the same stories, does no one any favours. Thinks like the continued employment of Dreyfus, the straightwashing of Clara, women-lead boxsets written entirely by men time and time again, it's just gone beyond absurdity at this point. I think this stance will lead to more interesting essays in future books even, as the orthodoxy of McGann's audio adventures (my fucking face when someone uses Night of the Doctor to argue they're 'canon', and his other stories 'aren't') and the like have an understandable but tasteless privilege over the other non-TV content these days, which could be better served with coverage. Seems a good, forward stance for the site to take.

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Sleepyscholar 2 months, 4 weeks ago

This seems like absolutely the right decision. You've persevered with Big Finish for a long time, shovelling through that huge pile because you love Doctor Who and you're conscientious. With your Eruditorum entries you manage to find something positive and provocative to write about pretty well all Who, even when it's at a low ebb, but the Big Finish entries have probably been the weakest in this respect, and I for one got the impression that this was their fault not yours.

I listened to a relatively small amount myself (basically the 8th Doctor stuff and a few other bits and bobs), and I reached the stage where I found it mainly tedious, interspersed with annoying tics. Essentially it is Doctor Who being produced as if it were The Archers (but probably with less socially-conscious plot lines).

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CJM123 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Don't go insulting The Archers. That's a show that has recently attempted to greatly increase its scope and scale, to create story-lines that were unthinkable a decade ago.

Big Finish, it seems, hasn't.

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Sleepyscholar 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I wasn't insulting the Archers (I commented about it having socially-conscious plotlines). I was commenting that making Doctor Who as if it were a conservative version of The Archers is not a recipe for success.

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Kazin 2 months, 4 weeks ago

There was a time when this post would have made me sad, but seeing as I've basically gone through the same change of heart about the company, I'm just sitting here thinking "yeah, I wouldn't want to write about them anymore either." They're indefensible at this point for all the reasons you listed.

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Kazin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

A++++ image selection as well, btw, El. Way to back up your fucking point lol

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Christopher Brown 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Agreed 100%. :D

I'll still go back and enjoy their old stuff, but I decided to stop supporting them after they announced the Talons prequel right after the DWM scandal. Way to throw themselves on the wrong side of history.

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Jeff Heikkinen 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, "swarm" indeed, plus whoever thought The Invisible Enemy needed a sequel should be brought up on charges for crimes against taste.

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Sleepyscholar 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This is exactly the BF mentality, though: everything in Doctor Who needs a sequel, in principle. The Unbound story He Jests at Scars includes references to:
Trial of a Time Lord
Logopolis
Genesis of the Daleks
The Silurians
Colony In Space
Four To Doomsday
Warrior's Gate
The Space Museum
The Horns of Nimon
Delta and the Bannermen
Dragonfire
(and maybe more I'm unaware of)

I think your charges of 'crimes against taste' are inadequate!




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Paul F Cockburn 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, that’s capitalism for you. If they think there are a sufficient number of fans willing to pay for a sequel to “The Invisible Enemy”, to make it worth their while making one... then they will.

And here’s the thing: if YOU don’t want to, you don’t have to.

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Kazin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

brb, adding "sequel to invisible enemy is financially viable" to the list of reasons capitalism sucks

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WCC 2 months, 4 weeks ago

I am quite excited that you're covering Doctor Who and the Pirates, your take on it should be informative and interesting.

I don't follow social media, so it's nice to have your full thoughts about BF here.

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Kat 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Sounds like the right decision.

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Lambda 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It sounds rather like they're trying to do a sort of mass production. I'm guessing their writer pool is a consequence of scripts needing to be optimised for very Big Finish-specific requirements of producing something which will fit the patterns that their audience are looking for as efficiently as possible, rather than any notion of artistic quality. Regardless, I think the output of Rob Shearman still consists of over half of what I've listened to from them, and I think that might be the ideal way to experience them.

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Dan 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I wish they'd optimised for the very specific requirements of producing something which will fit the patterns their as yet unfound and Dr Who loving - but so far alienated in the terms of the points Liz makes - audience are looking for as efficiently as possible within reason and allowing for long and very pleasant lunch breaks. Such as me.

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Bennett 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Absolutely the right call.

I am obsessed with Doctor Who (natch) and thrive on audio content, and I still can't justify following any of Big Finish's current output.

Several years ago I was a satisfied consumer of theirs, but admittedly it was because a) they were heavily discounting titles from the brief moment of time they were a relevant force in Doctor Who history and b) pricing incompetence. For CDs they undercharged on international postage, and for downloads they were applying a 1:1 conversion rate for all overseas currencies but that too is coming to an end https://www.bigfinish.com/pages/v/important-information-for-our-customers-overseas

I can't fault them for moving to a sane pricing model, and am way too ignorant to say whether their pricing is justified for the cost of audio production - but their competition is all other content providers, and so many are providing so much more for so much less that I can't in good faith recommend Big Finish to anyone. I've no doubt they'll continue to be sustained by the same segment of fandom that buys off-air recordings of Galaxy 4 on vinyl, but they don't have to try very hard for that market and it seems like they aren't.

All that said, I'm very glad to hear you will still be writing about Doctor Who and the Pirates. It's one of my absolute favourites and definitely worth your while.

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Annie 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I remember reading the unit assembled post and agreeing with everything there.
The fact is that apart from the torchwood range, which has more diverse writers and can consequently get away with more interesting themes, Big finish has been using the same handful of writers for the last five odd years to churn out scripts, and it’s the same stories over and over again.
And I don’t understand why they’re so Conservative, particularly with the new series; I suppose the case could be made for the old series that traditional fans wouldn’t enjoy that kind of thing but New series fans are generally more diverse and supportive of LGBTQ, removing the trans-character from Rose was just bizarre.

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Dan 2 months, 3 weeks ago

And yet a huge percentage of old series fans would surely enjoy something a bit different, so maybe it's just the custodians of Big Finish that are a bit conservative.

I think the point that chimed most with me in this statement was the "squandering" aspect. They have the income and resources to use all these amazing classic series actors, including Doctors, to make new Doctor Who involving them, and yet...well, Liz has said it, and nothing I can say is likely to make any difference. I'm not even majorly a part of fandom, yet it still makes me sad. Especially as otherwise I might buy and enjoy some of this stuff.

(N.b.I do wonder if old and new series fans could ever be compared in terms of some kind of metric of progressiveness, since it seems that history is on a retrograde cycle at present.)

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Christopher Brown 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Will you still be covering The Unknown in Volume 7? I was looking forward to reading as you rip it to shreds :D

Also, I quite like your Death in the Family essay...will that remain?

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Christopher Brown 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Oh whoops! Missed the bit about "already written" essays which I assume includes the Unknown at this point. I paid good money to see that eviscerated...muhahahahahahaha! :P

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Elizabeth Sandifer 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I have not written that essay yet, and it's probably first in line for getting dropped in favor of an essay trying to work out Dalek chronology.

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Christopher Brown 2 months, 3 weeks ago

While I'd ask you to consider consulting your backers on that one since some of them may have paid for that essay in particular (hey, anything's possible...), honestly, The Unknown fits the points above to a tee. River and Seven run around a spaceship with mutual amnesia, preventing any truly interesting reactions...the Doctor is a useless idiot
who chides River for shooting the monster that was about to kill them in five seconds - and then dies attempting to reason with the mindless monster when he and River are just going to reset the timeline anyway!! Basically, the story is written for Chibnall's idea of a generic Doctor rather than specifically Seven. :(

So yeah. Much as I wanted to see it snarked...as a Kickstarter backer myself, I hereby give you my blessing to not waste time on it :P

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Daru 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This feels like a really sound creative choice for you, as I can imagine that writing (what must feel like) endlessly about mediocre conservative pieces would just be soul crushing.

I have really struggled to not only listen to Big Finish but also just found it impossible to keep up with. I wholeheartedly agree with all the bullet points above - they all feel equal to me, but I do despair at how little they have really used well the audio format, and it really is ridiculous how they have kept to the classic series episode style and cliffhanger as a norm. There are so many places they could go.

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David Moran 2 months, 3 weeks ago

They could indeed go anywhere, but are locked into their pattern. Currently Nic Brigg's big project for BBC R4 Extra is, of all things, an audio remake of The Prisoner. They've got some poor fella in who is doing a really appalling McGoohan impersonation, had him recreate several of the iconic images from the show, despite him looking like no-one so much as Graham " Father Transphobe" Linehan and shoved rethinks of the original episodes under his nose.

So it's all there - recreations of memorable scenes done badly, explicit descriptions of visually exciting moments, and awful music that sounds almost, but nothing like, Ron Grainer. Bet the boxset will look pretty, and cost a ruddy fortune.

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MattM 2 months, 3 weeks ago

They released that a while ago and yes it cost a silly amount of money, and yes everyone was confused as to why they adapted tv scripts.

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Sleepyscholar 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Adapting TV scripts may well have been a rights issue.

There was a project to do audio versions of Robin of Sherwood a little while ago, and they had the problem that the creator of the series, Richard Carpenter, was dead. It was clearly so much easier to work with stuff he had already approved that they approached me to adapt the Robin of Sherwood gamebooks I'd done into audio adventures.

I think this demonstrates how much these things are driven by script ideas (ie not at all!). Can you imagine what an audio drama based on a gamebook might be like? (If it was actually done as an audio choose-your-own adventure, it might have some merit, but the people who approached me didn't even seem to know what a gamebook was).

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Tom B 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I think the second collection had a new story in it. It doesn't address the question of why they aren't all new stories (except for Arrival, which I could see having an audio adaptation for)

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Przemek 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Can't say I disagree. I'm glad you won't have to waste your time on BF anymore.

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MattM 2 months, 3 weeks ago

On the one hand it's nice that BF exist and that you can still get stories with the original actors but on the other hand yes, yikes. So much and there's a lot that's very bland, very samey. I've still got piles of newer ones to listen to, and the other week I found myself listening to some of the really early stuff as opposed to stuff I'd not listened to before. Anything past 50 (and definitely past 100) all sort of blur into one for me. Especially those boxsets!

I can understand wanting a small writer pool who really understand how writing in the format works, but 1) it seems the well of ideas is dry and what's being produced anyway isn't particularly amazing and 2) There has to be some middle ground between barring the door apart from a dozen writers, and the early 'open submission' process.

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Tom B 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Will you be covering any of the BBC audios? I know they've been putting out some new stories, really more audiobooks of new stories, but they are covering the new Doctors. As it's the BBC I suspect they have to follow the BBC guidelines also, so would have to be in line with the company's diversity policy.

I haven't listened to any of the ones in the past few years (actually I think the last one I listened to from the BBC was the audio for Neil Gaiman's story for the 50th, and before that the Tom Baker stories by Paul Magrs) but would like to know if they're worth it

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Elizabeth Sandifer 2 months, 3 weeks ago

They’re certainly possibilities. It’ll be a case by case basis past that. Audiobooks are less interesting to me, but original productions are tempting.

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Brian B. 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Elizabeth, purely from curiosity: I know you're familiar with the blog Downtime, which probably means you know they keep writing about a politically/ socially progressive creative revitalization of Big Finish as an ongoing thing. I have no opinion (haven't heard any Big Finish except six audios from the cheap early main range yet), just: do you have any idea, in your own head, how you guys are hearing such different things? Or are you stumped?

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TomeDeaf 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It's not so much hearing different things as listening to different things. The stuff the guys on DownTime praise as being really good and the stuff Elizabeth writes about and rightly eviscerates are almost never the same thing. So basically, she hasn't heard the most recent good stuff, unfortunately, and has the bad luck to sit through shit UNIT box sets instead.

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Brian B. 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks. In a year or so I figure I’ll have heard the $2.99 range’s highlights and be ready to explore further. It’s nice to have some reason to think I won’t regret it.

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strudwick 2 months, 3 weeks ago

ah well... I agree with all of the points mentioned in the post, but then again Liv Chenka is my favourite companion in Doctor Who, so I will always keep listening to audios that feature her. A lot of it might be down to the way Nicola Walker plays her, I guess, but I do like the writing as well - Liv just doesn't take any shit from the Doctor ever and is very vocal about it, and very funny. I wish she would appear on TV at some point... and I'll definitely keep following any BF audios from Lizbeth Myles, if there will be any more. I really liked her Aphra Behn / 12th story. Having audios from other production companies with a (lot!) more queer content would of course be great as well... but that probably isn't possible for copyright reasons, right?

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Paul F Cockburn 2 months, 3 weeks ago

“...in the face of the booming podcast industry I have zero doubt that it would be possible for the BBC to find people who are eager to take the opportunities that Big Finish is squandering and do something interesting with them.”

Possibly... BUT isn’t this missing the most important point? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that it’s the BBC – specifically the branding team in Cardiff – that licence BF and give them nod to everything they do. Doesn’t that, in fact, suggest that the real “problem” here is that Chibnall and his team are perfectly content with what Nick Briggs and company are doing? If that’s the case, things aren’t going to change any time soon.

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Chris 2 months, 3 weeks ago

In 2016 Big Finish had their licence to make Dr Who audios extended to 2025, so I don't think Chris Chibnall and the current team have any say in the matter.

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Paul F Cockburn 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Fair point re the licence dates, BUT it’s the current team that surely approves what BF are now putting out, in the same way that they keep an eye on the BBC Novels, DWM, etc. (We know, from Russell T Davies, that the team in Cardiff checked his novel of “Rose” and highlighted some of the changes he’d unconsciously made. Though, obviously, in that case they didn’t try to change them back.)

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Vadron 1 month, 2 weeks ago

As concerns additional War Doctor stuff — seems a bit late now, but the "Squire" storyline in the Eleventh Doctor comic had some additional War Doctor material, and was generally quite good.

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