My Love Affair with… The Eighth Doctor
Guest contributor Thomas Gibson on Paul McGann’s underrated Doctor.
In the beginning…
Yes, I have to talk about it. It’s the TV Movie; the very telefilm that we said ‘ta-ra’ (I’m from the North, you’ll get used to it) to the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and ‘hello’ to the Eighth Doctor, wonderfully played by Paul McGann.
Now, I know he’s not at the top of everyone’s lists of Doctors – which is actually one of the reasons why I’m writing this article – but, you can’t deny he did a cracking job portraying the latest incarnation of the Time Lord. In fact, in my opinion, it was the best thing about the whole movie.
McGann brought something new to the table; something never seen before in the show but, would play a major part in the new series that followed just 9 years later. And that was the Doctor’s romantic side. And it worked. Brilliantly, in fact.
I think McGann’s Doctor was the perfect one to give a ‘love interest’ to. To be honest, I think he should have been the only one to have a romantic side as I don’t think it works as well with the other Doctors. Both Ten and Eleven have tried to replicate this romantic side but, if we’re honest, Ten’s relationship with Rose was a bit cringeworthy, and Eleven just flirts with River all the time.
So, why did the Eighth Doctor work so well? Well, despite the horror of a story he had to put with… and a very camp Master, he did actually go about it in a very… Doctor-y fashion. One of the main scenes of the movie I loved was a freshly regenerated Doctor wondering around the hospital. This was very cinematic and McGann gives a great performance as the slightly delusional and shaken Doctor – especially when he collapses on the floor screaming “Who am I?!”
Another part which I thought worked well was when he and Grace were reminiscing about his life on Gallifrey – you could see how much the Doctor cared for and loved his home planet. You felt the joy he felt when he leapt around the park screaming its name, describing every detail in wonderment.
The final face-off with the Master (Eric Roberts) in the TARDIS was, again in my opinion, the Eighth Doctor’s defining moment in the telefilm. It was like reliving a Classic Who episode featuring the villainous Time Lord. You feel the tension of the love-hate relationship between the Doctor and the Master. Although, he wasn’t my favourite incarnation – if you can call it that – of the Master, I still believe Roberts brought out the evilness of our favourite foe and showed how he relished in The Doctor’s pain.
The use of Grace and Chang Lee as the Master’s pawns were used very effectively and McGann echoed past incarnations as he pleaded with them to forget the Master’s instructions and reminded them that they have their own minds.
The Master’s plans were eventually scuppered with a thrilling, yet slightly cheesy, end as the Master was thrown by the Doctor into the Eye of Harmony. The Doctor later asks Grace to come with him in the TARDIS but, she lets him down, leaving him to once again travel alone… but not for long.
In the words of the Eighth Doctor…
So, the Eighth Doctor’s first and only televised appearance was over. There were mixed reactions it’s fair to say but, to me, the movie was a strange success – well in terms of introducing a new Doctor anyway. From here, things only got better. By now, the Eighth Doctor wasn’t regarded as a great Doctor – not even by me – but, this was about to change…
After the 1996 telefilm, Doctor Who was once again becoming a bit more popular amongst the public. The BBC decided to take advantage of this and, instead of renewing Virgin’s license to continue with their ever popular novels featuring the Seventh Doctor, began releasing their own line of novels featuring the new incarnation. Thus, in April 1997, the Virgin New Adventures came to an end with their last publication being The Dying Days, the first and only novel to feature the Eighth Doctor.
The BBC Books began in June 1997 with the very nostalgic The Eight Doctors – this featured the Eighth Doctor suffering from a bout of amnesia and having to go back in time to meet his previous incarnations and regain his memory. This, I’m happy to say, was much better than the TV Movie and showed how, given time, the Eighth Doctor would develop more as a character to become more likeable.
As the series went on, Eight grew increasingly popular with stories such as The Body Snatchers, Genocide, Legacy of the Daleks, Placebo Effect, Interference, The Ancestor Cell, Sometime Never…, Halflife, and To The Slaughter to name just a few.
The Doctor travelled alongside many companions during the series beginning with Samantha Jones, a 90s teenager who hopped aboard the TARDIS as the Doctor was trying to escape London at the end of The Eight Doctors, and being later joined by Fitz, Compassion, Anji Kapoor, Sabbath and, on occasion, Iris Wildthyme, Susan Foreman, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, K9, Romana and the Brigadier.
The books came to an end in June 2005 with the climatic finale The Gallifrey Chronicles as the Doctor was seemingly killed off at the book’s end.
In 2003, the BBC had announced that they were bringing back Doctor Who, with acclaimed Welsh writer Russell T Davies at the helm. Many fans called for McGann’s Doctor to return but, the decision was made to cast a new Doctor. Although the series became just as popular – if not more – as the Classic Series, fans believed it was a shame that McGann wasn’t given the chance to return and many felt it was a bad decision by the BBC. This, to me, shows exactly how popular the Eighth Doctor has become over the years, thanks to the books and audio adventures featuring his character.
To be heard, not seen…
In 1999, Big Finish Productions launched their Doctor Who audio adventures featuring initially the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. These adventures became extremely successful and it wasn’t long before they were signed to produce a series of adventures for the Eighth Doctor.
It all started in January 2001 when Paul McGann and India Fisher teamed up to play the Eighth Doctor and his new companion Charley Pollard. Their adventures would take them from Venice to Manhattan, Singapore to London, as they encountered a new friend along the way; Eutermesan, C’rizz.
The Eighth Doctor’s adventures became Big Finish’s most popular series and soon his adventures with Charley and C’rizz came to an end, with McGann gaining his own independent BBC radio series titled The Eighth Doctor Adventures which began in December 2006 and introduced new companion, Lucie Miller, played by Sheridan Smith. These adventures instantly became a hit.
Their relationship was admiring and Lucie fast became a favourite amongst fans; they became the new favourite Doctor-Companion pairing for many – including myself. Their adventures continued for another three years before Lucie decided to leave the Doctor and the TARDIS behind to stay in Blackpool, after the Doctor failed to tell her the truth about her relatives.
The Doctor gained a new friend in the next adventure Situation Vacant, Tamsin Drew, played by Niky Wardley. The Doctor continued his travels with Tamsin but, he never felt the same as he did when he was travelling with Lucie. What he didn’t know was, she was coming back to him.
The Doctor and Tamsin reunite with Lucie in the second part of story Deimos/The Resurrection of Mars as they battled against the Ice Warriors on Mars. His companions disagree with his actions in this adventure and the Doctor is torn between two options. At the conclusion of this narrative, Tamsin decides to leave the Doctor to be with the Monk, and Lucie follows in the next adventure Relative Dimensions, which sees the Doctor and Lucie spending Christmas in the TARDIS with his grand-daughter Susan and her son Alex.
The Doctor’s greatest battle, and in my opinion, defining moment throughout all of his adventures – came in February and March 2011 with the story Lucie Miller/To The Death. This saw the Doctor and returning companions Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew, Susan Foreman, Alex Campbell and the Monk fight in a war against the Daleks.
Now, granted it wasn’t as big as the Time War, we’ve never actually seen that particular adventure, and this was the day that the Doctor lost the people closest to him. This escapade saw the biggest shift in the Eighth Doctor’s character as he was forced to live with the consequences of his actions.
By the end of the battle, the Doctor finds himself alone. Fully alone. Alex is dead! Tamsin is dead! Lucie is dead! They all sacrificed their own lives to stop the Daleks from conquering Earth. The Doctor could never forgive himself. He tried to save everyone and failed. He is a changed man; both physically and mentally scarred.
This is why I place the Eighth Doctor as my fourth favourite Doctor. His character can change in so many different ways and yet stay the same. In my opinion, his Doctor has had the hardest life – except maybe the First – and it’s only set to get worse as the Time War looms over him. I hope this article persuades you to give McGann’s Doctor another go as I personally think he’s worth it.