*Last updated July 2014*
Quite contrary to its name, Big Finish is a humble little company. And, from its monthly range of Doctor Who audio dramas (and its ever-increasing list of spin-offs) to Dorian Gray and Terrahawks, its cover art has always been fascinatingly fluid.
First, a little history on the time-traveling department of Big Finish: Doctor Who. In fact, the company’s most popular area focuses its repertoire on classic Doctor Who—that’s Doctors four through eight, with the occasional step into the 1960s and early ’70s territory along the way. Within this area are a number of ranges, including the Lost Stories, the Companion Chronicles, Short Trips, the Fourth Doctor Adventures and the Eighth Doctor Adventures, the Early Adventures, spin-offs of the spin-offs such as Bernice Summerfield, and the longest-running of them all: the monthly range.
With a total of well over 350 audio dramas directly related to Doctor Who and fifteen years under its belt, Big Finish has inevitably come a long way.
This is reflected in the cover art of each range’s CDs, which, like the Roadshow BBC DVDs released around the same time, all feature a work of art constituting photo collage, digital painting, image manipulation and in some cases, 3D and physical modeling.
The first piece of Doctor Who cover art from Big Finish was by Gary Gillatt and James Arnott for the multi-Doctor serial The Sirens of Time. Featuring the logo from the 1996 television movie, sans-serif title text and a black banner below the center advertising the specifics, the main attraction of the piece was clearly the digitally edited background image. This was the most basic of Big Finish cover art, and it only got better from here.
It wasn’t until two years later, with Storm Warning, that the covers got a slight facelift (presumably to introduce the Eighth Doctor into the Big Finish family). The black bar was removed, and the logo recoloured. From then on, for a while, the covers of stories featuring Doctors Five to Seven would show the blue Doctor Who logo, while the next few Eighth Doctor stories after Storm Warning boasted a golden one.
With the occasional exception (such as The Rapture and Zagreus), this would prove a strengthened form for Big Finish cover art, and one that would stick around for a long time.
Eventually, in 2007, Renaissance of the Daleks saw a brand new face for Big Finish’s main range. The logo was moved to the left along with a transparent bar, the respective Doctor’s face and the production information, leaving the entire right side of the cover (albeit with text on top and bottom) free for art. This style remains today, seven years later.
Highlights during this time included the simply but effectively designed 100, marking Big Finish’s 100th monthly range release – and 100th monthly range cover artwork. Another strength was 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men.
From time to time, Big Finish would complete loose trilogies of audio dramas. While released as single monthly CDs, these dramas often featured similar manipulation and colour schemes for each cover of the trilogy. Examples include the Fifth Doctor trilogy featuring Tegan (Janet Fielding), Turlough (Mark Strickson) and an older Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), the Key2Time trilogy, and the “Doctor alone”/Drashani Empire trilogy comprising The Burning Prince, The Acheron Pulse and The Shadow Heart.
Most recently, the quality of Big Finish cover art has increased greatly. Like the BBC DVD releases of classic Doctor Who stories, the most recent art became more focused on order, drifting from strength to strength in the layout and design department. Rather than focusing on the inclusion of everything relevant to the story, Big Finish artists have begun to include select media for their artwork to create simpler, more elegant designs. A refinement of details has also come – the improved logo and change from lower-case to upper-case credits to actors, for example.
And, while there are always exceptions to the “simpler is better” rule (here’s looking at you, Signs and Wonders), the recent Doctor Who cover art from Big Finish is always on top form – much paralleling the increased quality of sound design in the audio dramas themselves.
One interesting area for Big Finish cover art is the Lost Stories range. Each cover comprises a white background with a single-colour themed image collage or vector – or, in some cases, a combination of the two.
Other ranges in the worlds of Doctor Who include the Companion Chronicles, which, besides following the same format of art since its debut, featured one or two rather unsuccessful covers.
In 2014, Big Finish began to release mobile artworks through YouTube. The animation was minor and not altogether successful. It did, however, show the position of Big Finish towards their artists: experimental over conservative. Effort over ordinary. Examples of this artwork can be found here.
Both the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the Fourth Doctor Adventures, as well as the Early Adventures and various box-sets (like the UNIT: Dominion, Gareth Roberts, Philip Hinchcliffe, Fifth Doctor and New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield boxes) all presented, more-or-less, similarities to the later set of monthly range covers.
However, spin-offs such as (but not limited to) Jago & Lightfoot, Doctor Who: Unbound, Charlotte Pollard, Iris Wildthyme, Counter-Measures and the regular series of Bernice Summerfield releases all featured unique artwork.
Due to popular demand, artwork began to be released earlier than before and covers such as The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death were released on the company’s website and official facebook page some six months before the stories’ releases.
Today, cover art and Big Finish are two terms that, together, equal quality. Be it from the numerous “likes” on the company’s facebook page whenever a new artwork is published, or the attempts to bring artwork into the 21st century with animated (and somewhat gimmicky) videos, the story is simple: Big Finish loves its art, and certainly tries its hardest. It’s this or DeviantArt, folks, and frankly DeviantArt couldn’t hold a candle.
You can support Big Finish and their wonderful artworks by purchasing Big Finish audio dramas direct from the Big Finish website.