Getting into the 8th Doctor Audio Adventures
Guest contributor Nick Ferrazza provides a guide to Big Finish’s 8th Doctor range.
Last November, Doctor Who fans were treated to a little surprise. Along with the other festivities of the program’s 50th anniversary, we were treated to a spectacular minisode featuring the surprise return of Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. Since then the internet has exploded with petitions and articles explaining why the 8th Doctor should get more minisodes, or maybe even his own spin-off. What many fans fail to realise however is that the 8th Doctor already received his own spin-off, not on television, but on radio. Between 2007 and 2011, BBC7 broadcast a series of full-cast audio dramas by Big Finish starring Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith. In this article, I plan give a brief overview of the series to fans who have not experienced it in the hope that this may inspire them to do so. Before I begin however, I should point out that, while I have done my best to avoid spoilers, some smaller plot elements will be discussed.
The story begins with the 8th Doctor doing what he does best, travelling through time and space in his old type 40 TARDIS, when all of a sudden Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith), a seemingly typical Blackpool girl appears in a very Donna Noble style on board his TARDIS. While trying to work out exactly how she got there, the Doctor quickly warms to her and the two go off on a series of adventures together, battling monsters, solving mysteries and running down a whole lot of corridors. Along the way the meet new friends like Tamsin and Alex, old friends like Susan, and a whole heap of enemies. That’s about all I can say without giving too much away.
The format for the first two seasons is fairly consistent, with eight 50-minute episodes each, some acting as single stories while others make up two part adventures. Season 3 sees a notable change in the format, with the eight 50-minute episode format being swapped for one of sixteen 25-minute episodes. This still means the same number of stories, only that single part stories are now made up of two episodes and 2-part stories are now made up of four episodes instead. The length of each story remains the same, with the only real difference being the inclusion of an extra cliff-hanger in the middle of each story. These first three seasons all keep the same cast of Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith.
It’s during series fourth and final season that things are really shaken up. This season is given an extra 4-part episode, taking the total up to twenty 25 minute episodes. It’s also during this season that we see the biggest change in cast, with the inclusion of several new regulars, namely Niky Wardely as new companion Tamsin Drew, Jake McGann (son of Paul McGann) as the Doctor’s great-grandson Alex, Graeme Garden as a new incarnation of the Meddling Monk, as well as Carol Ann Ford returning as the Doctor’s grand-daughter and very first companion Susan. It’s also worth noting that between the first and second stories of this season, the Big Finish bonus release ‘An Earthly Child’ occurs. This story is technically not an Eighth Doctor Adventure and was not broadcast on BBC7, however, it does introduce Alex and reintroduce Susan who become important characters later in the story and I would highly recommend listening to it as well if you have the chance.
Is it Any Good?
The fact that I’m even bothering to write this article pretty much answers that question, but I think a more in depth analysis is needed. Season 1, I’m sorry to say, is not the best the series has to offer. Listening to them, I get the feeling that the Big Finish writers, who are used to writing much longer stories, haven’t quite gotten used to the shorter 50 minute time yet. Both two part stories are brilliant, but most of the single part stories feel a bit squeezed for time. It seems like just as a story is beginning to get off the ground, it’s suddenly over, which is a shame because season 1 has some of the most original story ideas and it would have been great to see them get a lot more fleshed out. The only exception to this is Phobos, an absolutely brilliant story written by Eddie Robson, who also writes that season’s finale story, the 2-parter Human Resources, which is in my opinion the highlight of the season. Despite any problems story wise however, all of the actors are on top form, with Paul McGann really expanding on his Doctor and Sheridan Smith instantly becoming a fan favourite companion.
It’s during season 2 that the series really finds its footing. The writers finally seem to have wrapped their heads around the 50 minute timeslot with the stories being consistently brilliant. Of particular interest is the second story ‘Max Warp’. The basic premise of the story is Top Gear with spaceships, and a good old murder mystery thrown in for good measure. It’s also during this season that we enjoy the long awaited return of Morbius in the season finale. Without giving too much away, it’s definitely one of the series best stories.
By season 3, the format of the Doctor and Lucie running about and having adventures is getting a little old, so the writers find a new way to keep it fresh. I can’t really go into too much depth on this matter, but in the first episode we encounter a very different 8th Doctor to the one that had been present in the previous seasons, and it’s very interesting seeing how this affects his relationship with Lucie. My highlight of this season would have to be ‘The Cannibalists’, an interesting tale set on a robot inhabited space station. Of particular note is Phil Davis’ (Fires of Pompeii) portrayal of the evil Titus.
Season 4 is perhaps the series’ most interesting. For the first time, the series gets not one, but two Christmas specials. Both of these are brilliantly written and both very different. The first, ‘Death in Blackpool’, is a very emotional story that deals with several plot elements that have been in play since nearly the beginning of the series. Once again, it’s hard to really dig into without giving too much away, but the ending is brilliant with both Paul and Sheridan giving their best performances to date. The second Christmas special is a far more light-hearted story, but still manages to deliver on the emotional side when necessary. This story alongside the earlier mentioned ‘An Earthly Child’ deal with Alex’s new found knowledge that his mother Susan is from another planet, as well as the Doctor and Susan’s long awaited reunion. Both are brilliantly executed by both the writers and actors.
Also introduced in this season is a new companion Tamsin Drew, played by Niky Wardley. She may be a little annoying and will never be as great as Lucie, but she’s definitely still a great character with a great story filled with unforeseeable twists and turns.
This season, and indeed the entire range, are brought to a crashing end in the finale story ‘Lucie Miller/To the Death’. This story sees the return of the Daleks, who last appeared in season 1’s opening 2-parter. If ever there was a story to remind you exactly why the Dalek’s are the Doctor’s arch-enemies, this is it. The first part of the story ‘Lucie Miller’ is particularly interesting in that it introduces the Doctor fairly late into the story. Up until then we see the story through the eyes of his companions, and how they, as human beings, deal with the Dalek’s latest threat against humanity. The second part ‘To the Death’ is perhaps one of the most brilliant pieces of fiction even released within the franchise. I can almost guarantee you’ll cry in it. Why you ask? Well I’m hardly going to tell you, but the title is ‘To the Death’, so that might give you a clue. The final scene is one of the franchises most brilliant. Paul McGann delivers some of his best acting to date, guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine.
Dark Eyes and Into the Future…
With ‘To the Death’ the Eighth Doctor Adventures may have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean time’s up for the 8th Doctor. Following on from the series thrilling conclusion, Big Finish delivers us a brand new adventure in the form of ‘Dark Eyes’. This story was not broadcast on radio and is available exclusively from Big Finish’s website. It sees the 8th Doctor with a new look and a new companion, battling it out once again with the forces of the Daleks, as well as the mysterious X. This story is much darker that the previous one’s but just as brilliant. The story of the 8th Doctor is still going though, with the announcement of Dark Eyes 2, 3 and 4. While little is known about these releases at this stage, of particular interest is the return of Alex McQueen’s ‘Other Doctor’ from ‘UNIT: Dominion’, another story I must highly recommend.
I would highly recommend the Eighth Doctor Adventures to any Doctor Who fan. With no baggage from previous Big Finish releases, it’s a brilliant starting point for anyone wanting to get into the audios. Hopefully this article has convinced you to give to range a look, whether it’s something you’ve been meaning to get into for a while or something you’ve never even glanced at. Either way I can guarantee you won’t regret hopping on-board the TARDIS with the 8th Doctor and Lucie Bleedin’ Miller.