Tony Fyler talks the Eighth Doctor. And it’s about time.
It’s almost impossible to underestimate the impact of Big Finish audio on the life of the Eighth Doctor. Without the audios, he’d have had one on screen adventure, a lot of increasingly confusing novels, and then a regeneration. With the audios, he’s one of the most infectiously enjoyable incarnations of the Time Lord, from his post-TV Tiggerish self, through darker days, different universes, love, loss, isolation, hopelessness, despair and a kind of redemption in the Dark Eyes series – all before he gets to the Time War and his final choice on Karn. It’s frankly impossible to pick out all the Eighth Doctor highlights, or even to come particularly close, but eyes down and we’ll give you a handful of great jumping-in points.
1. Storm Warning
Let’s start at the very beginning – apparently a very good place to start. In this case, too right, as the beginning sees the Eighth Doctor in full-on Tigger mode, meeting self-styled ‘Edwardian Adventuress’ Charlotte ‘Charley’ Pollard on board the doomed airship R101. She’s dressed as a boy, he’s just had a run in with a time-eating Vortisaur, the airship’s on a secret spying mission into 1930s Germany, and it’s destined as part of the web of time to crash horribly with the loss of all hands. Let’s play! The Doctor causes a horrible paradox which will come back to bite him in years to come, but also picks up his first, bounciest audio companion and heads off into the vortex, renewed on audio and ready to face the universe with Charley by his side.
So weird it could practically be a Seventh Doctor story, Zagreus is the pinnacle of the Charley’s Paradox arc, resulting in a return to Gallifrey, with President Romana, Rassilon, the Celestial Intervention Agency, and, very oddly, with other Doctor-actors in non-Doctor roles, as Zagreus, a personality adopted by a force of anti-time from a different reality (see – Seventh Doctor) drives the Doctor mad and tries to isolate Charley from him. Charley, faced with an impossible choice and anticipating Wilfred Mott on TV, begs the Doctor to kill her and save the universe. So – a real laughfest, obviously. Zagreus is sometimes hard listening, but it really shows the Eighth Doctor’s strength of character, and exemplifies Charley’s specific qualities as a human being and as a companion to her Doctor. It also kicks their adventures off into a whole new phase, and much of what follows only makes sense if you know the basics of this story.
3. Blood of the Daleks
We’d be lying if we said Blood of the Daleks was among the absolutely toppest notch Eighth Doctor stories – it’s interesting, certainly, and plays out the regularly-mooted fan idea of what would happen if Cybus Cybermen and Mondas Cybermen ever met up…only with Daleks. There’s mind-swapping, deranged Dalek-making and a man with a tin-foil hat, but the Blood of the Daleks is really a great jumping-in point because it’s the story where we meet Lucie ‘Bleedin’’ Miller. In an instance of CIA bungling, the Time Lords lift Lucie – a fiery Blackpool lass who takes no nonsense from anyone but has a real heart of northern gold – out of her timestream and dump her unceremoniously and without explanation in the Doctor’s Tardis. Sheridan Smith, currently starring in almost everything on stage and screen, fills Lucie with an almost annual-companion sense of gumption, and acts as both foil and friend to the Eighth Doctor as he grows up, and she takes him through re-matches with some of the greatest evils in Who history – in Hothouse, she battles Krynoids. In Human Resources she fights the Cybermen. In The Vengeance of Morbius, she takes on the reconstituted Time Lord. In Wirrn Dawn, she takes on…well, you get the picture. But Lucie begins by fighting not one but two factions of Daleks, and she takes them on dazzlingly, while still unsure of ‘this Doctor bloke,’ launching herself with guts and gusto into the life of an evil-battling time traveler.
4. The Zygon Who Fell To Earth
Finding new stories to tell about creatures that might be classed as rather limited outside their ‘Oooh, we’re the baddies’ role in Doctor Who is something Big Finish has always done exceptionally well, and The Zygon Who Fell To Earth is a prime example of the art. Sure, there are ‘bad’ Zygons here, including Tim Brooke-Taylor, who – be honest – you sort of wondered about anyway. But there’s also another side to the ‘big red rubbery things covered in suckers’ here that gives a greater depth to their society and individuality and rather brings them in from the cold of just being out to take over the planet. If you listen to this one though, you’re almost duty-bound to follow it up with Death In Blackpool, which continues the story, and ends with a heartbreaking moment for the Eighth Doctor and Lucie.
5. An Earthly Child
This is a pure fangasm moment – ‘One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back,’ the First Doctor said as he abandoned his granddaughter on a Dalek-ravaged planet for having a bit of a snog with an Earth boy. Witness the moment when he keeps his promise here – the Eighth Doctor going back for Susan, and first encountering his great-grandchild, Alex. Need we say more?
6. The Book of Kells
A proper old historical! Or…is it? For most of the running time, it really does feel like shenanigans with Vikings and medieval Irish monks and kings, all centering on a crucial book in the history of the Earth – the Book of Kells (go Google it). There’s lots of running round corridors and cloisters with the Doctor and new companion Tamsin thwarting all sorts of plans and ambitions to make sure the course of history is maintained. Towards the end though, there are two absolutely punch-the-air surprises, one involving the Father Abbott, and one involving his acolyte, Brother Lucianus. Chances are, you’re gonna love them both.
7. Lucie Miller/To The Death
It’s almost impossible to say anything about this two-parter that isn’t a massive spoiler. Let’s say that it’s the end of a truly epic adventure with Lucie Miller, and that the title of To The Death doesn’t tell you the half of it. If you believe that companions deserve to go out in a blaze of glory, this Dalek double-bill will both horrify and gratify your senses. If the measure of a companion is their ability to fight on without the Doctor, as Martha did in The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, then listen to Lucie Miller and To The Death and be astounded by the friendship, the love, the Blackpool-rock determination of this star in the companion honour roll. You may very possibly shed at least a couple of tears over this story. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
8. Dark Eyes
The Dark Eyes arc is frankly massive. Four hours of story per iteration, and at least four Dark Eyes series planned, three already released at the time of writing. The story is basically a chance for the Doctor to redeem hope from a seemingly hopeless universe, plagued by evil world-conquering monsters at every turn. Where does he find that hope?
In World War I, naturally, among the muck and bullets, in the form of a compassionate but no-nonsense Irish nurse named Molly O’Sullivan, who has the titular Dark Eyes. Needless to say, the reason why her eyes are quite so dark is convoluted, devious, and so far has involved several returning villains – the Daleks (including the Dalek Time Controller), Alex McQueen’s playfully psychotic Master, the Time Lords, the Viryans and the Eminence with their Infinite Warriors. Dark Eyes 4 will add the Sontarans into the all-star villain-off, and the Dark Eyes arc itself is very much where the Eighth Doctor is now, after Charley, after Lucie. You could theoretically just jump in with Dark Eyes and experience this harder, grittier Eighth Doctor as your Eighth Doctor, but if you miss out Charley, Lucie, C’rizz (told you – listen to Zagreus then follow it up with the next few releases or C’rizz makes no sense), and Tamsin, you miss the many bridges he’s had to cross between the enthusiasm of his first story and the exhaustion of his arrival on Karn in Night of the Doctor. With the Eighth Doctor, perhaps more than any other, you really don’t want to miss a thing. In terms of the Doctor as played by Paul McGann, the audio stories are so much of what there is, missing out on the beats along the way is almost heartbreaking. Jump aboard the Eighth Doctor’s Tardis as early as you can, in Storm Warning, and cling on for dear life all the way to Dark Eyes and beyond.
Where To Start With Big Finish: The First Doctor
Where To Start With Big Finish: The Second Doctor
Where To Start With Big Finish: The Third Doctor
Where To Start With Big Finish: The Fourth Doctor
Where To Start With Big Finish: The Fifth Doctor
Where To Start With Big Finish: The Sixth Doctor
Where To Start With Big Finish: The Seven Doctor
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk