Wednesday, May 22Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Is audio killing the TV star?

Beth Carr discusses the new Doctor Who spin off content that is for your ears only.

‘Torchwood Series 5 confirmed!’, ‘Billie Piper returns to Doctor Who’ and ‘Fourth Doctor gains new companion’ are just some of the headlines that have graced the websites of TV news providers CultBox and Digital Spy over the last month. Add in a new series on BBC One full of twists and turns and it is enough to make any Doctor Who fan faint with joy – or is it?

The headlines, above all, relate to new audio adventures released by Big Finish, a production company which began its life creating audio dramas based on Doctor Who novels while the show was off air in the 1990s. And it seems that, with the rich television content that fans are enjoying now, audio has vastly fallen in favour.

Take the announcement of the fifth series of Torchwood. It only takes a cursory search on Twitter to realise that there was a lot of outcry about the series ‘only’ being a full-cast audio drama. Sure, it’s not a visually rich television series on BBC One, featuring sweeping shots of Cardiff Bay and the beautiful Mermaid Quay. There will be no impressive monsters and fancy sci-fi base to stare at, but that isn’t to say that these things won’t exist, they’ll just be images in each listener’s imagination.

So, is audio that bad? The audiobook market has been growing since 2005, with the first audiobook sales chart launching in 2015. In the first three months of 2017, listeners spent on average 12 hours a week listening to BBC Radio 4, the leader in spoken radio and audio drama, out of an average 20 hours listening to the radio (RAJAR, June 2017). Big Finish releases Doctor Who and Torchwood audio dramas monthly alongside many other science fiction ranges, and the newly advertised content featuring David Tennant and Billie Piper, and the Fourth Doctor’s new companion shows that the audiobook market is booming.

Yes, the new series of Torchwood will not be broadcast on BBC One. We won’t see John Barrowman in his sweeping army trench coat. But we can imagine it. Full-cast audio dramas are completely different to someone reading a book aloud: close your eyes and you can be transported to the stunning Roald Dahl Plass as easily as watching a screen. All the voices you know and love are there, and most importantly we hear from the original showrunner Russell T. Davies about the fortunes of the Torchwood team after the game changing and controversial Miracle Day series.

Love them or hate them, audio dramas are here to stay, and with a new Doctor waiting in the wings on TV and all sorts of stories being released on audio, there’s never been a better time for a Doctor Who fan to get into listening to rather than watching their favourite show(s)!