“Once upon a time…” Who doesn’t know those words? They are universal and probably one of the common links between individuals.
Stories send us back to childhood, because they are our first contact with fictional worlds. They trigger our imagination, convey memories, traditions and they can be passed on to preserve history.
Stories can take many forms and can also be a way to save a TV show that has been cancelled. When Doctor Who disappeared from TV screens, fans took it upon themselves to make their favourite show live on by using any means they could think of: books, movies, audiobooks.
What are audiobooks if not a story told pretty much like the ones we heard when we were children? Only this time, we are either teenagers or grownups listening to stories just like we used to do when we were small children.
Audiobooks can fill a gap (like the Virgin missing adventures did for instance). It’s not uncommon to advise a fellow Whovian to start with the Seven and Eighth Doctors’ stories when asked where to start with the Big Finish collection. Right now, said collection is pretty huge, making it difficult to choose a starting point. As a result, it makes sense to start from when the show stopped, especially since actors tend to reprise their role, turning the story into something very credible. But this of course tends to raise the problematic canon/non canon question once again.
Another advantage of audiobooks is their format. While a Doctor Who episode lasts usually 45mn (this is going to change next year!), audiobooks format vary a lot. There are short and long stories, but what I like the most about “long” stories is the fact that they are made into serials, much like Classic Who used to be. So when I listen to the First Doctor’s range, it feels real, like a proper episode… Allow me take an example of just how it can feel real.
Farewell, Great Macedon was an unproduced story written by Moris Farhi that had been commissioned in 1964 and that was rejected. 46 years later, Big Finished released an audiobook based on the storyline developed by Farhi (and adapted by Nigel Robinson). As a result, we got a First Doctor era episode turned into an audiobook lasting a little over 3h30 and featuring William Russell and Carole Ann Ford. While some missing episodes get to be animated, discarded storylines can come into life thanks to audiobooks. Furthermore, the boundaries that a TV show could meet in terms of special effect or budget might very well be of no consequence because audiobooks don’t need visuals, only sound effect!
Also, with a universe as vast as Doctor Who (pun intended!), the possibilities are quite endless. There is always room for a new story and it’s quite amazing from a Whovian point of view to discover what resembles a parallel universe providing everything the TV show offers minus the pictures. But if I was to be a cynic here, I would claim that we got a scent of what it was like with some of the Classic Who episodes for which only audio tracks remain.
While some might still question the canon/non canon aspect of audiobooks, others might be more interested in comparing the scripts. Indeed, if we consider both the TV show and the audiobooks, there are good and bad episodes in each of them. But what if the audiobooks’ quality was to exceed the TV show’s quality? What if the audiobooks were simply better? This debate is still going on in various Whovian communities and I doubt a definitive answer will ever come out of it. Doctor Who has been created for television and the Whoniverse evolves around the TV show. To me, the TV show and audiobooks complement one another but audiobooks shouldn’t take over as it would feel wrong. Furthermore, do you think the regeneration process would have such an impact on Whovians if a new Doctor would happen to appear in an audiobook? I sincerely don’t think so. It wouldn’t be the same. Some of the emotional baggage would be lost on its way.
In any case, there is something comforting about audiobooks. In the event of Doctor Who being cancelled one day, I’m fairly sure that Big Finish wouldn’t give up on the Doctor and keep on making great audiobooks. And that’s quite reassuring if you ask me!