DOCTOR WHO - Which are the best PAUL McGANN stories?

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In our look back at the best Doctor Who stories from each incarnation of the Time Lord, Matthew Kresal counts down five of the best from Paul McGann.


Putting together a top five list for Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor is perhaps a harder experience than it would be for any other Doctor. This is largely because of the fact that, until last year's Night Of The Doctor, he had appeared onscreen only once in the 1996 TV Movie aired in the US on Fox and on BBC1 in the UK. So with only those two onscreen appearances, putting together a top five list of TV stories was impossible.

Perhaps because of having only those two screen appearances seventeen years apart, the eighth Doctor has been defined more in spin-off media more than any other Doctor. He featured in two different comic strip runs during the gap between the TV Movie and New Series' launch in 2005, with one in Doctor Who Magazine and the other published in the Radio Times between June 1996 and March 1997. He also featured in a long running series of novels, published by BBC Books between 1997 and 2005, that introduced concepts (such as a Time War in the Doctor's future, the destruction of Gallifrey and the Doctor encountering his own potential future dead body) that would be explored in different context's in the New Series.


One particular section of spin-off media though stands out more than any other in regards to the Eighth Doctor, largely because it's the one that saw McGann himself return to the role. Beginning in 2001 and running to the present day, Big Finish Productions have produced numerous stories on audio for his Doctor, including a series of adventures commissioned by BBC Radio 7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra), with a number of companions accompanying him on his travels through time and space. Through the audio adventures McGann's Doctor has thrived and had such a long life, it seems appropriate that it was the naming of his Big Finish companions in Night Of The Doctor (“Charley, C'rizz, Lucy, Tasmin, Molly...”) that would seem to give the audios (or at the very least those with the Eighth Doctor) something of canonical status alongside the TV series.

As a result, this list will focus on the audio advetures. That isn't to dismiss or diminish either the comics or the novels, which both produced some remarkable stories ranging from the final Doctor Who Magazine Eighth Doctor comic The Flood, to the novels by Lawrence Miles (such as Alien Bodies). Between their seemingly canonical status as well as McGann's performances in them, the audios are the closest equivalent we have to the TV stories used in the other lists.

So without further ado...


5. Sword Of Orion
While only the second Eighth Doctor audio, Sword Of Orion remains a go to place for fans both old and new. Partly it's because that the story (itself a remake of a story that the chaps at Big Finish made as a fan audio back in the 1980s) is the ultimate traditional Doctor Who adventure: a scrap-ship coming across a Cyberman craft floating in space, where things get very atmospheric very quickly as the Cybermen start waking up and it soon becomes a scrap-ship under siege. While the script really contains more of the archetype Doctor and companion, rather than catering for McGann and India Fisher's Charley Pollard, McGann comfortably slips into the role of the Doctor, filling out the archetypal writing perfectly, especially with a haunting moment where he briefly tells of the Cybermen's history to Charley. Also, by being a traditional story, the Cybermen themselves are put to effective use and they come across as a genuine menace to the crew of the scrap-ship. It's perhaps no surprise then that the story remains a popular seller and was the launching off point for Big Finish's own Cyberman spin-off series.


4. Prisoner Of The Sun
Imagine the Doctor, captured while helping a group of rebels, being put into a prison. Typical Doctor Who fare right? Imagine though that the Doctor doesn't want to escape because instead of just being a prisoner, he's also got the fate of billions of people to worry about? That's the premise of writer Eddie Robson's story from 2011, where we meet the Doctor at a complex in the heart of a star that, having been once used in an attempt to turn it into a weapon, is permanently unstable with liquid guards overseeing him and androids modeled on companion Lucie Miller (played by Sheridan Smith) to assist him. Robson's script makes an interesting exploration of the Doctor's character as a man who could escape at anytime but instead is now trapped by what one character calls “a prison of responsibility”. Robson though shakes things up with the arrival of a group of rebels who have mixed motives and conflicting information about what's really going on. The results make for tense and fascinating listening.


3. Dark Eyes
Thanks in part to it featuring on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine, Dark Eyes crashed the Big Finish website temporarily upon its release in November 2012. Listening to the story, it's not hard to see why. Despite obtensively picking up where previous stories, Lucie Miller and To The Death, left off, Dark Eyes is relatively standalone while filling in the listener on a “need to know” basis, this makes it accessible to new listeners as well as long time ones which means it's a good jumping on point. As well as that, Dark Eyes is an interesting thematic bridge between the old series and the new series by combining the serial format of the past with the more character driven elements of the recent years. As much as the story is about the Daleks working with a rogue Time Lord, played by Toby Jones (who played the Dream Lord in the 2010 episode Amy's Choice and more recently played Arnim Zola in the Captain America films), on a plot to wipe the Time Lords from history, it's also a story about a shattered Doctor finding hope again thanks to traveling with feisty First World War Voluntary Aid Detachment worker Molly O'Sullivan (played by Primeval's Ruth Bradley). It's one of Big Finish's best stories, and one that as well as effectively being a relaunch for their Eighth Doctor adventures (with another Dark Eyes box-set having been released in February, and two more sets to come out over the next ten months), also won them the 2014 BBC Audio Drama award for Best Online or Non-Broadcast Drama.


2. The Natural History Of Fear
While Doctor Who has seen its fair share of stories of the Doctor toppling evil regimes, from Tom Baker in The Sunmakers to the Sylvester McCoy era's The Happiness Patrol and Matt Smith in The Beast Below, the series has only rarely done the dystopia genre. Jim Mortimore's 2004 story not only does that but it also does it in one of the oddest and most experimental stories that Big Finish has ever produced. In short, this is Doctor Who meets Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four - but in a parallel universe (the Divergent Universe to be more precise) where the Doctor is without his TARDIS and the normal rules about space and time don't apply. As a result, this is a story that plays on audience expectations about not only how the characters should behave but just who everyone is to begin with. It's a story that ultimately gives McGann, Fisher and a then-new Conrad Westmass (playing C'rizz) the chance to stretch their proverbial legs and do things we'd never expect, from the very first to the very last scene. It's a brave story, one that remains a highlight from the otherwise dreary Divergent Universe arc of stories and one that will either infuriate the listener or take them utterly by surprise.


1. The Chimes Of Midnight
The Chimes Of Midnight was something of an instant classic upon its release in 2002 and it
has remained a perennial favorite of Big Finish listeners ever since. The script by Robert Shearman (who would later write the 2005 New Series episode Dalek) starts off with the Doctor and Charley arriving in an Edwardian manor house at Christmas 1906, before quickly turning into a murder mystery which then begins to take increasingly weird turns. Shearman's script plays not only the conventions of things such as Upstairs, Downstairs and the mystery novels of Agatha Christie but also factors in that most Doctor Who element of all: time itself, as things begin to reset and play out ina different way again and again. It's a story that see's McGann at his most Doctorish, as someone both fascinated and perhaps even frightened by the situation he's in, but also clever enough to put the pieces together around him to work out a solution. It's also a story that, despite it's murder mystery trappings, brings Charley to the forefront as well, with Fisher's performance being the story's emotional anchor as Charley's past, present and possibly even future come into play. The icing on the cake though may be the sound design with a persistent ticking clock that counts down first to what seems inevitable doom and then towards one reset after another. The combination of script, performances and sound design all makes this story what it is: one of the best Who stories out there in any medium.

So what do you think are the best Paul McGann Doctor Who stories? 
Do you agree with Matthew's choices, or do you have a different top 5?
Why not give us your selection in the comments below.

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

Next time it's the turn of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy.

If you'd like to have your top 5 Doctor Who stories from Sylvester McCoy's or Colin Baker's era featured then contact us at warpedfactor@live.com.

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Christopher Eccleston
David Tennant
Matt Smith
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