Companion Chronicles. Gallifrey. Jago & Litefoot. Dalek Empire. Cyberman. Sarah-Jane. Unbound. I, Davros. CounterMeasures. UNIT. Soon to come, Torchwood, River Song and Churchill.
Big Finish has had a prodigious degree of success so far in expanding the universe of Doctor Who in new directions, either following the growth of TV spin-offs or developing its own, to say nothing of the spin-offs of its own audio canon – Charlotte Pollard, Bernice Summerfield and Irish Wildthyme all having their own series.
But where next?
How else might the company expand the universe of Who and make us thrill to part with our money? Where else might there still be viable adventure-seams to mine?
Sadly of course, beyond the conventions of petty (but always extremely useful) profit, there are very real considerations to take on board, inasmuch as some of the most exciting sources of potential adventure are no longer with us. We’ve had all the Sarah-Jane stories we are ever likely to have (and how wonderful it was that we got the chance to have them). The idea of a ‘Liz Shaw Investigates’ spin-off sadly now is unlikely ever to see the light of day. Similarly, while I personally would love to hear such a thing, The Glitz & Bush Chronicles seem equally unlikely. If we’re aiming to expand the Classic canon very far, we have to develop stories for those who are both willing and able to deliver them.
So let’s take a look where the adventure-seams remain.
The Jo Jones Adventures
Moving Jo on from her Doctor-time is surely a goldmine of adventurous potential. Few enough of the TV companions went off with the express intention of saving the world, but Jo Grant did – she went off with Cliff Jones to see new things, save new people and species, and experience the world in all its diversity. That could surely slam her up against evildoers of all kinds – human and alien – in all the more exotic corners of the world. If Sarah-Jane saved the world from a comfortable house in Ealing, Jo Jones could go out to meet fake gods, alien businesses, and ravenous pan-dimensional fiends all over the planet, without the Sarah-Jane necessity of being particularly kid-friendly. We know that Katy Manning still does a great Jo Grant, so why not think about the character’s potential between her leaving at the end of The Green Death and her re-appearance in The Death of the Doctor? With a supporting cast of Cliff and a younger world-saving friend, The Jo Jones Adventures could take a beloved and well-known character into new dimensions of characterization and peril as she grows up and grows older, still putting herself between the bad guys and the planet.
Yates & Benton – The Irregulars
Yes, it’s massively unlikely that John Levene would be tempted back to the Who fold for a regular series, but imagine a 70s-style Avengers/Department S-style show with Yates and Benton as its stars – Yates having left UNIT in something like disgrace after Operation Golden Age and Benton having followed suit for reasons of his own when the Brig went up the chain of command. Together the two go into private investigation work, exploring the odd and the ‘UNIT’ alongside the ordinary, while learning to renegotiate their way of working out on Civvy Street. Like a Mid-Late-70s British A-Team, if it’s out of the ordinary and the usual forces won’t help you, maybe you should call in - The Irregulars.
Ace – A Connected Earth
Another relative no-brainer, Ace is still going strong decades after the end of her TV companion career, and she’s come almost ridiculously far on audio with – and without – her Doctor. A more capable saver of planets it would be hard to imagine, and it’s also difficult, after everything they’ve been through, that Ace would ever leave her Professor. But it’s important to remember that by the time the Seventh Doctor gets to San Francisco in December 1999 for his rendez-vous with a hail of gunfire and a dose of heart surgery, he’s travelling alone. What happens to Ace? Why does she eventually leave the Doctor, and how does she carry on the fight she’s been waging against all the many evil gits of the universe? Can we say ‘Ready Made Spin-Off’? An ensemble piece, along the CounterMeasures line, but for Ace, a broader, more Thunderbirdy, Blake’s 7ish space-based scenario. Say a gang of five – one computer nerd, one tinkerer with techie mechanics, one warrior, one trainee, and Ace, Dorothy McShane growing up and reclaiming her nickname not as a running away from reality, but as a restatement of her awesomeness, standing up to the evil scumbags of the universe from a base in a cosmic scrapyard. Particularly she would lead the fight against an insidious alien conquerer infecting and isolating people in Earth’s colonies spread across the galaxy. Only by working together, she knows, can the people of Earth and its colonies regain their place in the universe. This would be Ace taking the lessons she’s learned forward into an expanded universe, having found a fight important enough to stay behind when the Tardis disappeared. Ace and her team would work to defeat the alien, but also to unite people irrespective of their differences.
The Paternoster Gang
You know this has to be dealt with – it’s the longest-mooted spin-off in New Who history. The Paternoster Gang are three solid characters who, freed of the necessity to be in a Doctor Who story, could perfectly well deliver stories of crime-solving and alien chicanery-bashing. The question, perhaps, would be how they’d be differentiated from the adventures of Jago & Litefoot (although the crossover potential is of course superb – Jago, Litefoot & Strax, anyone?). Perhaps where Jago & Litefoot deal more with the Gothic and the steampunk, the Paternoster Gang would be able to deal more with the traditional Doctor Who fare of outright alien invasion or infiltration, keeping the nineteenth century safe and on the course at least two of them know it followed. Could it work? Absolutely – it would allow the long-mooted spin-off to be realized in a cost-effective way (when two of your leads need to spend hours in make-up for every story, audio really comes into its own), while developing its own particular style of 19th century sci-fi adventure, and giving a chance for the individual members of the gang, and its dynamic, to be properly explored as they deserve.
Torchwood: Team One
That said, if we’re going to strain the 19th century with any more expanded universe, why not go for something harder-edged? We’ve seen in Doctor Who that Torchwood was a Victorian invention in the most literal sense. Why not take us back to that beginning? Who were the very first Torchwood recruits? How did they keep the Empire safe from aliens of every kind? There’s a change to go for hard-as-nails sci-fi character drama here, like the TV Torchwood, only with a properly frontier, turn of the 20th century, steampunk-realpunk feel. Introduce us to the original Torchwood team – pre-Jack - and only bring the immortal one in after several series to shake up the dynamic, to discover what impact having a man who cannot die on your team can have, for better or worse.
Smith & Jones
One of the most questionable plot devices during the Tenth Doctor’s time was the pairing up of Mickey Smith and Martha Jones as an instant, no-explanation married couple. Granted, with the careers of Noel Clarke and Freema Agyeman post-Who, you’d be massively unlikely to get them back in any room at the same time as they’ve gone on to great things, (as of course has Carey Mulligan – don’t think the idea of Sparrow & Nightingale wasn’t on my mind), but an audio series that showed their alien-fighting adventures from the beginning would legitimize the sudden relationship for many fans, and could lead to a truly modern, infrastructure-independent team of alien investigators – Smith and Jones. What’s more, there’s character dynamic to spare, with Martha potentially being insecure about being another surrogate Rose. Follow their adventures from the end of Journey’s End through their marriage, through The End of Time and beyond, and make Smith & Jones the team they have the potential to be.
This of course is just a handful of ideas – what expansion of the Who universe would you like to hear next from Big Finish? Let us know in the comments.
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 day, he 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