All the Eighth Doctor Adventures…

In 2019 I’ve embarked on a fool’s quest to watch, listen to or read all of the eighth Doctor’s many adventures released between the broadcasts of the TV Movie in May 1996 and The Night of the Doctor in November 2013.

For some variety, I’m tackling this from two starting points – the Movie and the subsequent novels, comics and short stories; and from the Mary Shelley Big Finish audios onwards. I’m broadly following the consensus fan timeline that places the novels and comics before the audios, and slots in the Short Trips stories and Telos Novellas in the most likely gaps.

# Range Title Review
1 TV01 The Movie Time has been kind to the movie, now it’s just the introduction of the 8th Doctor rather than a failed pilot for a series that never came. The opening info dump is ever so slightly disastrous (easy fix – a re-edit to put the Skaro/seventh Doctor opening as a flashback as the Doctor explains his background to Grace) and undermines one of the great “bigger on the inside” reveals when Chang Lee does exactly what RTD will have Rose do nearly shot for shot nine years later. McGann was an almost unanimous hit. The screwball comedy of the Doctor and Grace is wonderful, and I think Eric Roberts is marvellous – the scene with the three of them in the back of the ambulance is one of my favourite things ever: “yes very witty Grace”. It’s not Five Doctors joyful but it’s got a hint of that magic. 3/5
2 NA01 The Dying Days At the time this was the most exciting New Adventure of all. Lance Parkin is a really good action writer and writes as if he’s doing an expanded novelisation of a TV story. That works really well here, especially as he’s tried very hard to capture some of the nuance of McGann’s performance on the page. The slight air of sadness because it’s the last Virgin book is more than offset by the joy of the new Doctor heading off with a bang. 4/5
3 EDA01 The Eight Doctors After the “adult” New Adventures this was definitely a culture shock. But Terrance Dicks wrote three good NAs and this isn’t actually significantly more “dumbed down”. The structure of having lots of short interactions with the past Doctors works against there being much plot complexity or development. But the third Doctor and fifth Doctor sections are gloriously funny, and there’s a lot of pleasure in Dicks revisiting his own previous stories. Just a shame it gets a bit bogged down with the Gallifrey revolution mentioned in The Trial of a Time Lord. 3/5
4 E&B01 Bounty Featuring Sam’s one promised trip in The Eight Doctors. It’s surprising in retrospect how much Sam fits the template for new series companions – young, savvy, with an obvious crush on the Doctor. Gets an “audition trip” after which she receives her own key. To be fair, Vicki was pretty much there in 1965. Elsewhere the plot is a bit standard issue Star Trek with a soupçon of Androzani in Sam’s blistering legs. 2/5
5 ST01 Model Train Set Cute story about the Doctor’s attitude towards the people he helps told via the metaphor of his model railway. Feels mainly written to highlight aspects of the 8th Doctor’s character that differ from the previous incarnations at a point when there was only McGann’s performance in the Movie to build from. 4/5
6 ST02 Totem Like someone’s homework for a short story writing class. As far as I can tell it’s about the 8th Doctor atoning for the 7th’s unerring focus on the big picture rather than the “little people” and their lives. Lacks the requisite lightness of touch to be a truly effective short story. 2/5
7 ST03 One Fateful Knight An artless and unnecessarily literal prequel to Battlefield that explains how the 8th Doctor was Merlin. 2/5
8 ST04 From Little Acorns… The framing story for The Quality of Leadership is ironically an uninspiring and earnest “Doctor made me a better man” tale that is a all text and no subtext. 2/5
BF01 Shada A bit of a missed opportunity at the time, since rendered thoroughly obsolete by the release of the complete (animated) Tom Baker version.
9 ST05 The Time Lord’s Story A bored Time Lady gets caught up in a Gallifreyan vampiric conspiracy just after the 8th Doctor and Romana finish their version of Shada. Well paced and enthusiastic. 3/5
10 ST06 The Juror’s Story The Doctors intervene on a jury. Utterly gripping rewritten history story in the Continuity Errorsmould, with a steady escalation of the stakes and a superb punchline. Excellent. 5/5
11 ST07 Thinking Warrior The Doctor investigates an AI weapons research centre and uncovers a conspiracy. There’s clear effort put in to capturing the cadence of McGann’s performance. Hard to appreciate properly except as part of the wider 2040 anthology.
12 ST08 The Ethereal Framing narrative for the 2040 collection that makes little sense as a story in its own right.
13 ST09 Not In My Back Yard Cheldon Bonniface, Christmas 2017. The Doctor faces down both an alien invasion and a rising tide of populist isolationism with panache. Cameos from the Brigadier and the 7th Doctor, ex-Timewyrm Ishtar, and mentions of Bernice and Jason reunited. 3/5
14 ST10 Suns and Mothers Cute vignette about the Doctor’s role in reigniting the relationship between estranged mother and son. 3/5
15 ST11 Phoenix Amusing story of a sentient book, a Fire Elemental and an invasion of mythical creatures and a final rash action. 3/5
16 RT01 Dreadnought The Radio Times strip, with only about 3 pages to tell a whole story, is necessarily terse. But this first one, which introduces new companion Stacy and the Segalified Cybermen, manages a lot in that space. The 8th Doctor is characteristically impulsive, and Stacy is very much established as a working class character (she basically works in space haulage). With hints of everything from The Flood (the Cybermen’s plan), Nightmare in Silver (the Doctor confronting a Cyber version of himself in cyberspace) and The Night of the Doctor (the Doctor turning up to rescue someone from a doomed ship), it feels weirdly seminal. And almost certainly reached more people than any 8th Doctor story barring the movie. 3/5
17 RT02 Descendance Not quite as direct and coherent as Dreadnought, the second Radio Times strip introduces Ice Warrior Ssard and a conspiracy in one of the Martian great houses – directed by the very Cersei-like Ice Lady Luass. 3/5
18 RT03 Ascendance A continuation of the previous Mars story, with some more betrayals and a satisfactory climax just in time for presumably the Christmas edition of the Radio Times. 3/5
19 RT04 Perceptions Probably the best of the strips with a pretty vivid depiction of alien horses crashed in Victorian London and another more sinister alien presence. In a scene that would be shocking even outside the sci-fi page of a TV listings magazine, one of the aliens kills a child with a massive dose of electricity – an event that’s then dealt with (as much as a 3-page strip can) for the rest of the story. 4/5
20 RT05 Coda When the Radio Times pulled the plug on the strip, this 12-panel coda was hurriedly written to wrap up the Perceptions story and leave the Doctor, Stacy and Ssard’s further adventures undocumented (at least until Placebo Effect). It’s a shame: while by no means fleshed out, there was definitely some mileage in these characters. 3/5
21 TN01 Rip Tide The Doctor arrives in a Cornish village to come to the rescue of a stranded alien. It’s a very well written YA novel, with a pretty vivid sense of place and a nicely steely but gregarious 8th Doctor. Besides him there’s only one other fully developed character: Nina, who is, like Sam, a surly and rebellious teenager. Had Sam been written with this level of clear-eyed characterisation I think she’d have been regarded as one of the stronger companions. Nina is a pain in the neck but she’s also brave, caring and tenacious. The plot unfolds fairly leisurely without much peril, although the climax does make up for it. And there’s a lovely epilogue that wraps things up really nicely. 4/5
22 TN02 The Eye of the Tyger Magical realism with a hint of Paul Magrs, as a soldier of the British Raj transforms into an alien tiger creature, falls in love with a space princess and is pitched into the middle of a revolution. It flows well, but the Doctor flits round the edges and is inessential to the main thrust of the story. 3/5
23 BF02 The Company of Friends: Benny’s Story Good concept; quite fun and Bowerman always good value. Parkin is a great action writer which doesn’t necessarily translate to audio where a lot of the back half is shouting about a monster (that – to justify the descriptions – the Doctor can’t see). Interesting how much it reiterates the plot of The Dying Days. 3/5
24 EDA02 Vampire Science Originally conceived as a comeback for Grace, it’s probably a good thing that didn’t happen otherwise Sam’s second appearance would have been as overshadowed as her first. As it is, you sense the writers wish that Grace-substitute Carolyn went off in the TARDIS at the end instead of Sam. The best that can be said of Sam here is that she’s not awful – in a lot of ways she’s a more believable teenager than Ace. Her desperation to find a Great Cause becomes her defining characteristic. The Doctor is overly characterised by the slightly puppyish bits of the TV Movie, perhaps overstated in the attempt to make him very unlike the NA’s 7th Doctor. Though there is a hint of the Doctor’s cynical, sharp-tongued edge in his first confrontation with Slake, having heard McGann’s sardonic performance for Big Finish it’s hard to picture his 8th Doctor being as goofy as the one here. Overall it’s a strong novel, albeit one that pushes a very specific version of the Doctor and Sam. 4/5
25 EDA03 The Bodysnatchers After The Eight Doctors barely featured her and Vampire Sciencepreferred to focus on Carolyn, this is the first novel Sam gets to take a major role. She throws on a Victorian outfit, makes a few smart comments and bounces off the Doctor like an RTD companion (even declaring them ‘Smith and Jones at one point). She’s also needlessly truculent and vaguely useless since George Litefoot fulfils the role of a companion carrying the B-plot – it would have been fun to keep him on board the TARDIS for a while. Sadly the story degenerates into a string of gory tableaux including a decapitated baby, a whore thrown to her death and a boy having his tongue cut out with broken glass, which sits slightly askew from riding Skarasens like something in the DWM comic strip. Tonally weird, and very linear, it has its moments but isn’t very good. 2/5
26 EDA04 Genocide A Paul Leonard science-fiction morality tale in which humans are the monsters, but the Doctor has to side with them against the Tractites to preserve the web of time.  It’s interesting, but suffers from a lack of development for the human characters, including the main villain, and a bizarrely redundant return appearance for Jo Grant who ends up doing nothing of any interest. There are also some very gory scenes of two human scientists being eaten alive by wild dogs. The Doctor spends almost the whole book locked up and being tortured, which conveniently means Leonard doesn’t have to put much effort into thinking what he might be like. And Sam is, again, fairly useless – hand-wringing and vacillating, and more concerned with what the Doctor thinks of her than anything else. The whole feels thoughtful, but ponderous, and lacks the oomph of the similarly-themed Blood Heat. 3/5
27 EDA05 War of the Daleks John Peel clearly enjoys writing about the Daleks: there are some pretty good war sequences as they take on Thals, Space Security agents, Draconians and each other. The flip side is that the Doctor and Sam mostly sit around in prison cells while the action happens around them, reduced to bit parts in their own series. Sam is especially useless here, moping about her own lack of skills and once again jealous of an older and more experienced woman who strikes up a rapport with the Doctor. And given the main thrust of the plot is a civil war between the Dalek factions it boils down to which bunch of evil monsters is going to win. Which makes the whole thing feel like faintly pointless Dalek porn. 2/5
28 EDA06 Alien Bodies Clearly a leap forward in prose quality and imagination, although in retrospect what’s surprising is how tentative and cautious it is. A lot of these ideas – the Doctor’s death and complicated corpse; a time war raging between the Time Lords and their enemies; Time Lords fleeing the war to become creatures of consciousness alone; the companion’s biodata being warped by TARDIS travel; creatures that only exist as memes – have cropped up in the 2005 series, but with less ambiguity. What’s really interesting though is that the war is explicitly in the Doctor’s future – something he’s inevitably moving towards. It’s an idea that sets the tone for the rest of the 8th Doctor books and (as 2005 series is set after the Time War) the audios too. However much he tries to avoid getting drawn into it, the Doctor’s fate, to become a warrior, is set here. The setting is vivid; the collection of alien delegates is always good value for Doctor Who (cf Kembel, Peladon and Platform One), and makes up for an out of focus 8th Doctor and a sidelined (again) Sam. 5/5
29 EDA07 Kursaal Entertaining sci-fi Werewolf story, understandably grisly with a slightly beefier role for Sam than previously (although she spends a chunk of it as a werewolf). The Doctor is characterised as the death-defying, seat of his pants version from the TV Movie. 3/5
30 EDA08 Option Lock A whole novel written around a James Bond style sequence of a nuclear missile strike done purely as a ploy to enable a bigger gambit. It’s a truly thrilling sequence. Sadly, it involves the Doctor sitting and watching it happen on TV. He doesn’t do a lot for the other 200 pages either. Sam comes off a bit better as she’s actually written as a viewpoint character and for once seems to have one. Still, the contemporary Earth thriller works well a third time for the 8th Doctor, and this is relatively gripping. 3/5
31 ST11 The Peoples’ Temple Overlong and sadly boring story about the tribulations of the people building Stonehenge. Like a Stone Age Emmerdale Farm. 2/5
32 ST12 Dead Time Quite good, largely dramatised and passably creepy tale of the TARDIS arriving on a wreck in the vortex and encountering some frighteningly powerful alien conquerors. Several dramatized sequences in McGann’s Earth & Beyondaudiobook make this technically the first ‘performed’ 8thDoctor audio 3/5
33 EDA09 Longest Day When RTD said people don’t care about alien zogs from the planet zog he might have been thinking about this. As the start of a miniseries meant to put Sam through the wringer, bashing out some of her naive platitudes to make her harder, it’s also as horrible as a Jim Mortimore NA. Hard to recommend in any way. 1/5
       
       
57 BF03 The Company of Friends: Izzy’s Story Good but not great. Roper’s Izzy both feels accurate to the cartoon version while also being really quite annoying. Clever way to capture a comic book on audio though and a bit of a love letter to both the DWM strip and 1980s comic culture. 2/5
       
       
114 BF04 The Company of Friends: Fitz’s Story Mildly amusing but undermined by (I) not including a role for Anji; (II) not being anything like an EDA. Given it’s by his creator, Fitz’s characterisation – a cowardly lech who occasionally refers to something from the 1960s – is not exactly very nuanced. 2/5
       
       
141 ST23 The Long Midwinter Christmas Short Trip about a very alien people whose myths and legends surrounding their annual cycle of midwinter, rebirth and reaching for the light are oddly similar to Earth’s. Samson is an amiable layabout, somewhat Fitzlike. Gemma is headstrong and impulsive but aside from having them in it, the story sheds little light on them. 2/5
142 ST24 Dear John Gemma is a party animal, Samson is socially awkward. But this is mainly notable for being the work of a convicted child abuse porn owner, focusing on a six-year-old boy rolling round with the Doctor complete with stranger danger jokes and a weird man/boy vibe. Genuinely chilling and uncomfortable given the context.
143 BF05 The Silver Turk Slightly disastrous theme remix aside, it’s very good. Marc Platt clearly has a thing for Mondassian Cybermen, and this – like Spare Parts – milks the body horror aspect mixing in grave-robbing and macabre puppetry. Mary is quite prim and reserved compared to Charley and Lucie, and that tends to make the Doctor have to be a bit more enthusiastic as a result. Whereas with Lucie and Charley he’s the sardonic one, with Mary he feels a bit more like the bouncier TV Movie version. 3/5
144 BF06 The Witch from the Well A “be careful what you wish for” time travel plot that separates the Doctor and Mary for most of the play. The Doctor is stuck, much to his disgust, in what’s very like The Witchfinders, with a sinister Witch Pricker and two possessed children. It’s all quite atmospheric and doomy. Mary’s story – paired up with the squire’s descendant – is a bit less interesting, they seem to spend most of the time in a library. 3/5
145 BF07 Army of Death Tiresome range of robotic voices, urgent declaiming and panto villains that fails to make much of an impression at all. Pairing a conspiracy thriller with Jason and the Argonauts skeletons – on audio, where they lose all impact, is of questionable taste. McGann has nothing of interest to do and Julie Cox is again asked to be a bit earnest and hand wringing. A really disappointing finale to a very underwhelming trilogy. 1/5
146 BF08 Storm Warning McGann’s first audio drama for Big Finish remains a watershed moment for everyone concerned. From the opening of the David “James Bond” Arnold titles – a dark, romantic arrangement of the theme – to McGann’s excited, energetic performance and a winningly jolly introduction for India Fisher’s Edwardian adventuress – everything about this speaks of a quality production. The script gives McGann moments of adventure and wide-eyed passion that play to the TV Movie characterisation: paired with the equally exuberant Charley (rather than the more sarcastic Grace) this feels a little too much – I think in later plays McGann relaxes into a rather more sardonic characterisation in contrast to Charley’s expressiveness. Grabbing the opportunity to take the series forward rather than noodling in the dead-end world of past Doctor adventures, Big Finish introduce the idea of the Web of Time and an ominous cloud hanging over the Doctor and his new friends. This is all really good, very exciting and a great start for the audio series. 4/5
147 BF09 Sword of Orion It’s fun to drop the 8th Doctor and Charley into a 1980s Saward story, where everyone is called by their surname and it’s all very militaristic, and see how they brighten the mood rather than getting sucked into the misery. McGann’s performance here is much more like his Big Finish standard than Storm Warning, but that’s probably in response to the script which has the Doctor as cynical (“It’s probably stolen”), rather tha passionate – possibly because this was written for Nick Briggs’ Audio Visuals Doctor in the Eighties not Paul McGann in the Noughties. Maybe that also explains why the first half is quite ponderous: it takes forever for the Cybermen to turn up and when they do, they do very little. On the other hand, it’s pretty good at doing the Alien “gothic spaceship” on audio. In retrospect a much better indication of what the audios will be like than Storm Warning. 3/5
148 ST25 Repercussions Anthology framing story with a faint whiff of Amicus. Mostly interesting for focusing on Charley’s early impressions of the TARDIS. 2/5
149 ST26 Best Seller A book becomes popular to the point of mania thanks to alien intervention. While the Doctor confronts the ringleaders, Charley has to take desperate measures to prevent a catastrophe. 3/5
150 BF10 The Stones of Venice Enchantingly weird: it’s like listening to The Keeper of Traken, with grand, velvet-robed dukes and priests conversing in flowery language, touching on love, and the folly of valuing things over people. There are some wonderful moments like the Doctor’s private tour of an art gallery about to be lost forever, and the opening of the cursed duchess’ tomb. If I have a criticism it’s that the Doctor and Charley are fairly passive – the Doctor wanders around getting dragged into events, and Charley is drugged and forced to play the part of the resurrected duchess. Paul Magrs is more focused on his own characters and their twisted relationships than in the Doctor and Charley. But the dialogue is great, the plot is magical and it’s really entertaining. 4/5
151 BF11 Minuet in Hell If – and it’s a big if – you can get past some of the put-on American accents, there’s some good stuff to enjoy – especially the moment when an asylum full of lunatics all start thinking they are the Doctor, and the Psionovores doomy encounter with Charley. It quotes its sources – mainly Buffy (especially the wisecracking demon) and the Queen of Sin episode of The Avengers – a bit too freely. It’s baffling why when Big Finish go to the extent of including the books’ Sam in their list of old companions that they forgot the Brigadier had a very high profile adventure with this Doctor in 1997. And Malebolgia sounds more like some fake African country from The West Wing than somewhere in the continental USA. So it’s in the details that Minuet in Hell is weakest. It’s also a lot longer than it needs to be, and I feel with a bit less self-indulgence in dodgy details and a bit more focus there’s probably something much better to be made of it. What we actually get is bloated, uneven and sounds uncomfortably amateurish in moments. 2/5
152 BF12 The Light at the End There’s a lot to like about this story. It gives all the past Doctors – including the first three – something different to do, allowing them some time in the spotlight. It’s up front about the villainy of the Master rather than using him as an underwhelming ‘surprise’. Colin Baker actually sounds like he’s playing the 6thDoctor, not a neutered ‘safe’ version. It’s entertaining enough. But, and it’s a big one, it also has all the faults of Big Finish at its worst: a badly jangling version of the theme tune, and an absolute focus on nostalgia. Whereas the TV anniversary stories all focused on bringing back the old favourites, they tempered this with a new direction – be that the 3rd Doctor regaining full access to the TARDIS; the 5thDoctor fleeing Gallifrey with a renewed sense of purpose, or the 11th Doctor resolving his guilt over the Time War and setting off on a new mission. Accepting Big Finish has a more limited scope, even the opportunity to introduce a new companion and series of adventures for the 8th Doctor – last heard returning Molly home, and so travelling on his own – is passed up, instead bringing back Charley for yet another farewell appearance. In the absolute final analysis, it’s a very good Big Finish audio, but a far, far weaker anniversary story than anything seen on TV. 3/5
153 ST27 A Good Life The Doctor can’t resist getting to the truth behind a seemingly idyllic human colony – but the truth is not what he expected. Interesting for the first hint of Charley’s disillusionment with the Doctor after a particularly traumatic adventure. 4/5
154 ST28 Venus Very good ear for McGann and Fisher’s voices: the opening TARDIS scene is great. The rest of the story is a bit Beast Below, with a really grisly twist. 3/5
155 ST29 Be Good for Goodness’ Sake Very effective short story that pitches the Doctor against a burglar on Christmas Eve. With suspense, a strong visual sense and a central twist worthy of a Tale of the Unexpected it’s one of the strongest Short Trips. 5/5
156 ST30 War in a Time of Peace The Doctor and Charley arrive for Christmas in Prague in the 2060s and find the city cut off from the rest of the world. Passable thriller that could have been written for any Doctor/companion pairing. 3/5
157 ST31 You had Me at Verify Username and Password The Doctor bails Charley out of jail with the help of a love struck alien. Interesting for the way it’s written (a string of emails from the alien – we don’t see the Doctor’s responses), and for exposing the 8th Doctor’s cynicism and streak of selfishness. 3/5
158 ST32 They Fell Alien angel creatures inhabit the bodies of a family at Christmas. Creepy scene of them menacing a little girl, but otherwise uninteresting. The Doctor and Charley are generic. 2/5
159 ST33 Faithful Friends 3 The Brigadier enjoys Christmas with the old UNIT family and, inexplicably, the 8th Doctor and Charley. Would probably have been more effective with the 2nd or 3rd Doctors. Sweet but entirely disposable. 2/5
160 ST34 Doctor Who and the Adaptation of Death Amusing story about literal minded aliens who abduct and interrogate a scriptwriter for portraying them inaccurately in a film about an invasion. Focusing on the difference between actual events and history, it’s both thought provoking and fun. 4/5
161 ST35 Second Chances A megalomaniac genius / sad loser is foiled by the Doctor and Charley and reconsiders his life choices. The love story angle is quite cute. 3/5
DOTD08 Enemy Aliens Alan Barnes introduced Charley in Storm Warning and wrote her out in The Girl Who Never Was. Bringing her back for this 8th Doctor instalment of the 50th anniversary Destiny of the Doctor series he focuses much more on her than the Doctor and nails it by returning her to her native era for a very contemporary adventure. This is a 1930s Hitchcock in the vein of The 39 Steps complete with Charley as the gutsy heroine, a feckless young man, spies, a musical clue that leads to a music hall, a memory man, a wild train journey to Scotland, and a showdown in Broadcasting House. India Fisher narrates it brilliantly, and it’s breezy, thrilling stuff. A highlight of the Destiny of the Doctor series. 5/5
162 BF13 Invaders from Mars After the “dark” first series of Charley plays this is silly fun. The cliched American gangster accents work much better than the dodgy “realistic” accents in Minuet in Hell, and David Benson’s Orson Welles is a brilliant caricature. Although Charley is a bit sidelined, the Doctor and Glory Bee make a great pair. Delighting in pastiche and homage, it’s typical Gatiss and probably better than at least a couple of his TV scripts. It’s all fairly frothy and inconsequential but great fun. 4/5
163 BF14 The Chimes of Midnight The first episode is like The Dimensions of Time, edging into Ghost Light. The whole is like a mix of Sapphire and Steel Assignments 2 and 3. Rob Shearman’s script is pitch black comedy: a bumptious cook stuffed to death with her own plum pudding; a kitchen maid killed with a sink plunger etc. The social commentary is pointed without feeling laboured: only Edward Grove’s explanations go on a little bit too long. Bringing Charley’s paradoxical escape from the R-101 back to the fore, having the Doctor express his need for Charley as a companion, this also feels a significant moment in probably the most significant 8th Doctor series. 5/5
164 BF15 Seasons of Fear This is one of the best stories for the Doctor and Charley: a light and witty double act in the best tradition. The script includes some gorgeously funny moments for them, like the Doctor berating himself for soliloquising, Charley teasingly plotting awful deaths for Grayle, and admitting to a shocked Doctor that she once attended an orgy. Plus, the Nimons – the best sad trombone cliffhanger ever. I also really like the Doctor’s occasional narration in the style of the TV Movie opening. One of my favourites 5/5
165 BF16 Embrace the Darkness In true Nick Briggs style it’s very Saward: angry space marines on a gloomy base with something dangerous waiting for them in the darkness. But unlike Saward, Briggs usually tries to go beyond straight pastiche and make the danger something a bit different: the Cimmerians aren’t what they appear to be, and the story takes a bit of a turn in the final episode. There are some decent horror moments (the eye removals etc) and McGann gets some reasonable comedy with a literal-minded military robot. It’s all solid, standard Big Finish – the problem is coming after 3 outstanding audios it suffers by comparison. 3/5
166 BF17 Solitaire A two hander pitching Charley against the Celestial Toymaker, with a highly imaginative and amusing appearance of the Doctor as a ventriloquist’s dummy – voiced by the companion as per the normal, narrated Companion Chronicles. More dramatic and better than the original story because it focuses not on a fairly tiresome sequence of games, but the idea of game playing in all senses – what’s fair, what isn’t and so on. With two very strong performances and some genuinely chilling moments this is probably the best of all the Companion Chronicles. 5/5
167 BF18 Living Legend Silly DWM freebie about an alien invasion during Italy’s 1992 World Cup win, with a nice role for India Fisher as Charley posing as an imperious Time Lady. Inessential but amusing. 3/5
168 BF19 The Time of the Daleks An idea in search of a plot: “Wouldn’t it be fun if the Daleks quoted Shakespeare? “Mildly amusing I suppose. What’s the story?” “Erm…” Manages to be both thoroughly boring and perplexingly complicated at the same time. The best bit is probably the denouement that reveals Charley herself is the source of the time breach powering the Daleks’ mastery of time, which neatly sets up a big finale. A shame the first McGann vs Daleks story is an almost complete failure. 1/5
169 ST36 Apocrypha Bipedium Very amusing story – told via various sources – of the Doctor, Charley and William Shakespeare meeting Cressida (AKA Vicki) and getting the timelines in a tangle. 4/5
170 ST37 The Heroine, the Hero and the Megalomaniac Somewhat laborious and gruesome story of an event from three perspectives – Charley, the Doctor – in his 7th and 8th incarnations, and the villainous Baron. Some back and forth on the 8th Doctor’s irresponsibility in risking the Web of Time to save Charley. 2/5
171 ST38 Lady of the Snows Sweet, Out of the Unknown type vignette about an artist who falls in love with an amnesiac Charley against the backdrop of a bitter Prague winter. 4/5
172 BF20 Neverland As a climax to the ‘Charley paradox’ arc this is good stuff. Having the Doctor desperately break every law of time even at the risk of time itself to save his friend is almost a precursor to Clara Oswald’s farewell episode – a comparison that is even more obvious because of the mad Matrix ghosts, trapped Daleks, and Rassilon. Given it features all the camp politicking of the Gallifrey series, it’s surprisingly engaging and straightforward. McGann doesn’t get a huge amount to do, but he’s much more comfortable passing sarcastic comment than being a typical leading man, so having the Doctor be very reactive and back-footed works quite well. Lalla Ward also seems to be enjoying herself. It’s Charley who comes out of this the worst, being a victim and fairly useless – not even able to sacrifice herself to save the universe. Lucky that India Fisher gets to play a dual role. With a grandiose climax, an existential menace, moments where the Doctor gets to be quietly contemplative as he risks everything, this is very much in the vein of the modern series finales, and is really solid. 4/5
173 BF21 Zagreus Starting with a 7-minute recap is an interesting choice that sets the tone for a story that goes on 3 times longer than it should. The first episode has some amusing moments, although the ghostly 3rd Doctor is an almost entirely incomprehensible misstep. McGann spends ages talking to himself. And it just keeps going on. And on. And on. Old actors wander in and out doing a guest turn as different characters, and none of it seems to matter. The second episode consists of vast swathes of a robot reading out what sounds like TARDIS Wikia pages of niche fan theories, and is as tiresome as it sounds. The big reveal that Rassilon is a git isn’t: the main surprise is the reversion to type after Neverlandpresented him as a wise old man. Romana likewise seems to have switched from her Neverlandpersona and finally both the TARDIS and Charley are reduced to awful, snivelling jilted girlfriends. The final episode doesn’t climax with the Doctor bravely striking forth with new hope – but bitterly turning his back on our universe to enter self-imposed exile. This hardly feels like a celebration, more like a sour ending. Not only the worst anniversary story, but one of the worst audios. 1/5
174 BF22 Scherzo Continuing with the theme of misery and whining, this Rob Shearman effort is typically dark but for the first episode lacks much of the black humour that made The Chimes of Midnight so enjoyable. The Doctor is nasty. Charley is a nag. Luckily there’s more to it than that – the second half as the Doctor and Charley begin to adapt to their audio only world has some very Pan Horror moments, and McGann finally gets material that feels crafted to his lazily sardonic, John Lennonish take on the character – a long way from the TV Movie, the novels or the earlier Big Finish audios. It’s hard to unreservedly like, but it’s pretty compelling. 4/5
175 BF23 The Creed of the Kromon I suppose getting in Philip Martin, whose scripts were probably the most distinctive of the Colin Baker years was a sort of coup. It’s less impressive that he doesn’t seem to have moved on at all in the intervening 19 years. I reckon you could replace the Kromon with the Mentors and have the same story. There are some half hearted swipes at management culture. Martin revisits the “horrid transformation of the girl companion” and the “young male tied up and tortured”, and the Oroog feels like a slightly more erudite Lukoser. Revisiting themes is fine if they’re examined in new ways. These aren’t – it just feels like tired repetition. The Divergent Universe storyline is dead on arrival when the first planet the Doctor visits is pretty much a copy of Thoros Beta. There isn’t really a story, just a bunch of stuff that happened. One of the very worst. 1/5
176 BF24 The Natural History of Fear In total contrast to The Creed of the Kromon, this story is both entirely vivid (a 1984-ish world of proles, censorship and state control), and thoroughly compelling. The story – of a revolution in this grey world – on the surface almost doesn’t seem like a Doctor Who story at all, with McGann, Fisher and Westmaas all playing other roles. But by the end it’s clear that the whole story hinges on the presence of the Doctor and friends. Indeed, by having the very presence of the Doctor becoming so critical to the events that follow, it’s almost the ultimate example of how the Doctor warps the world around himself. With brilliant performances, clever sound design and a concluding twist that’s both funny and utterly Outer Limits, this is a masterpiece. 5/5
177 BF25 The Twilight Kingdom This feels like a 1980s Saward story – opening with the Doctor and co. stumbling into a war zone and captured by super macho soldiers, Charley accidentally getting poisoned and her hand forced into boiling water etc. C’rizz is still under-written and vague, the Doctor has the blandest material to work with, and McGann has nothing to inspire him. Quilliam’s is possibly the worst performance in any audio to date. It’s not even interestingly bad: the idea of a hostile planet isn’t especially new anyway, but develops into nothing intriguing. Nebulous and dull. The Divergent Universe boils down to “they don’t have a word for time”. Only the very final word is enough to grab my attention. 1/5
178 BF26 Faith Stealer This restores something that’s been lacking in the 8th Doctor audios for a long time: fun. McGann and Fisher sound like they did in their first series and a half, free from some of the angst and bickering that was so unenjoyable. C’rizz also finally gets some characterisation and a plot to carry, and just like a precious Chameleonic companion turns out to be easily influenced and turned his against his friends. Everyone seems to be on the same page, none of the performances is weak and the story is engaging. I really like this one. 4/5
179 BF27 The Last On the one hand it’s back to grim and dark, with paralysis, euthanasia, genocide and insanity. The opening scenes sound like they are from a mid 1980s episode written by Eric Saward – although that’s almost certainly a deliberate parody. On the other hand Excelsior is a great villain – Helen A meets Hitler; and the sci-fi concepts actually seem to illuminate how the Divergence operates. India Fisher is very good at doing a Charley who’s desperate to keep her chin up. Once again C’rizz is the one who falls victim to the influence of the planet, but he gets more to do than ever before and finally feels like a proper part of the team. Overall v good. 3/5
180 BF28 Caerdroia The first episode is almost entirely made up of squabbling with the Kro’ka, tolerable only because the regulars seem to be enjoying themselves winding him up. The rest of the story is pretty good fun – the Doctor is divided into 3 including an irritable, terse version and a puppyish version, which is a nice way of acknowledging the tension between the TV Movie deduction that the 8th Doctor would be passionate and expansive, and McGann’s preference to play him as sardonic and contained. Finally, this seems to pull together the strands of the Divergent Universe diversion retrospectively imposing a sort of arc on previous audios and setting up for the conclusion with the return of the TARDIS and Rassilon. 3/5
181 BF29 The Next Life As usual for Russell and Barnes, it’s much too long. Like Zagreus, it uses lots of weird character ‘types’ and guest stars like Anneke Willes, Paul Darrow and Daphne Ashbrook in an effort to “epic up” the story, as if the conclusion of Big Finish’s longest ongoing story to date isn’t epic enough in itself. But in its favour is the fact it’s much better than Zagreus, and the plot complications – while largely just convoluting the story – are a bit more pointed. While Rassilon feels like a bit of a damp squib and the enforced “kiss and make up” between Charley and C’rizz is a bit weird, the final plot twist is a brilliant way of showing that the TARDIS has found its way back home. As the final McGann audio before Rose, there’s also a sense of wrap up and closure – having the Doctor shed his TV Movie costume, and pairing McGann and Ashbrook. Not brilliant but better than it might have been. 3/5
182 BF30 Terror Firma McGann is full of joy – or at least he’s playing the Doctor’s happiness at being able to Lord over Time again, which is infectious. Terror Firma is clearly written by a professional TV and theatre writer. The plot isn’t amazing, but the structure and storytelling is the best since Seasons of Fear. Having Davros get under the Doctor’s skin, trying to rob him of the friends that define him, is interesting. Goes right back to the first Hartnell series where he needed Ian and Barbara to make him the hero (rather than a grumpy old man with a bashing rock). I like the little flashbacks to Samson and Gemma’s travels – sounds much more fun than Charley and C’rizz. And then having the Doctor’s delight at being “home” turn to cold fury at Davros, gives McGann a really meaty role. 5/5
183 BF31 Scaredy Cat Bad, but mercifully brief. The plot barely passes an hour, and even that has time for some slow bits. Written for the Divergent Universe arc and you can tell. Best bit is C’rizz confronting another killer. Worst bit: the appalling “little girl” acting not even being the weakest performance. 1/5
184 BF32 Other Lives A decidedly different historical story – the Great Exhibition is the backdrop but it’s not really about that; the Duke of Wellington is in it, but it doesn’t need to be him particularly. It’s about the Doctor, C’rizz and Charley adopting other personas – The Doctor as the double of Edward Marlow, living a life of Victorian domesticity; Charley and C’rizz as French diplomats (having previously been mistaken for a prostitute and a circus freak). It’s all refreshingly small scale and straightforward and light, and I really like it. 4/5
185 BF33 Time Works An intriguing and visually arresting idea that almost works on audio – the ticking clock and the mechanical sounds of the clockwork men are effective. Charley and C’rizz get to work out some of what’s happening and take action while the Doctor is caught between tick and tock. However, the concept isn’t quite strong enough to support a fairly sparse four-part story, and the play gradually winds down rather than ending with a rousing chime. 3/5
186 ST39 Before Midnight / After Midnight Not very good waffle about the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz hijacking the bodies of some security guards to foil a time travelling criminal. Mainly exists as a ponderous framing story for the Day in the Lifeanthology. 1/5
187 BF34 Something Inside A joyless, humourless slog. From the height of the torture porn boom, but without the visceral horror that make things like Saw effective. It’s just a bunch of not entirely likeable people – including the Doctor, oddly – growling at each other. 1/5
188 BF35 Memory Lane There are some good lines (juxtaposing the everyday and the uncanny, like the TARDIS being stolen by an ice cream van, or the spaceship in the attic – later reused in The Lodger) and the concept is fun but this feels much more suited to the imminent Lucie adventures than the main range: the plot unfolds too slowly, Charley’s mum turns up – again – to keep the story going, and there’s not really enough for three regulars to do. Still, at least they all sound like they’re enjoying themselves. 3/5
189 ST40 Salva Mea  
190 BF36 Absolution What was that about then? Oh yes: to get rid of C’rizz with some noise. But in the rush to end an era, Big Finish have forgotten to give it any meaning, and the result of it is a play that makes a big gesture toward’s C’rizz having a significant death without actually imbuing it with any significance. There’s a nod towards the ongoing plot of the Church of the Foundation and C’rizz ‘saving’ people, but in a pretty throwaway way that doesn’t seem to have much connection to the rest of the story. And the Doctor’s offhand reaction to C’rizz’s death is at odds with all we’ve seen of this incarnation (and will see again). Just because the audience never hugely warmed to C’rizz doesn’t mean the plays should have made him this disposable. Very poor indeed. 1/5
191 BF37 The Girl Who Never Was I like the concept of the “old Charley” (and Anna Massey!!!). They so nearly preempted Donna’s departure but then spoil it all by labouring Charley’s exit for ages so by the end you’re glad to see the back of her. And then she’s back by the time the credits finish. Given she has a reputation for having more endings than The Lord of the Ringsthis isn’t necessarily a good thing. Overall it’s a bit convoluted and could have done with a polish to clarify or streamline some of the plot. And I definitely wouldn’t confuse the listener further by having the same actor playing father and son with the same voice. But it’s overall a fitting farewell for Charley and a much better exit than for C’rizz. The Doctor’s final, grumpy line is great. 3/5
192 ST41 The Sorrows of Vienna  
193 BF38 Blood of the Daleks 1&2 An immediate improvement, that really feels like a new beginning: longer episodes, clearly informed by the 2005 series (and a hint that these Daleks may be from the Time War). Lucie sort of just arrives, albeit fully formed and brilliantly played by Sheridan Smith, but I like how this means the relationship with the Doctor isn’t like either wooing the other: it reminds me of The Runaway Bride a bit – new companion arrives in the TARDIS and doesn’t immediately fall in love with the Doctor. It makes it very different from Charley and means McGann gets to be spiky but not in a cruel way like the Zagreus stuff. This is exactly the sassy, screwball relationship that works in Doctor Who – like Grace without the kissing. It’s not the most original story, but the cast is excellent and the new pairing is superb. 3/5
194 BF39 Horror of Glam Rock Cribbins! Stubbs! Playful but dark, almost Shearmanesque. The 1970s motorway service station evokes Sapphire and Steel. Having straightforward evil hungry monsters is refreshingly direct. McGann and Smith get to share some cute scenes that start to thaw their relationship. The glam version of the theme tune is spot on. 4/5
195 BF40 Immortal Beloved Fake Greek Gods called things like Geoffrey create clones to be immortal. Fizzy and ethereal, with no particular peril or urgency, and lots of people chatting whimsically about nothing much. Easy to drift off to. Even the spikier 8th Doctor and Lucie can’t raise this above tepid. 2/5
196 BF41 Phobos On the one hand I like the fact that this is unashamedly and deliberately a Scooby Doo story, with a pretty vivid setting (ski resort in space), big roaring monsters and a load of horny teenagers to feast on. On the other hand, it is quite similar to Horror of Glam Rock (evil entity wanting to feed on people and using a human as a conduit, scary monsters a bit of a distraction), and there’s not much to it. The tougher characterisation of the Doctor is great, and he and Lucie continue to make an excellent pairing. 3/5
197 BF42 No More Lies Very Radio 4. It’s different, and gentle, without ever threatening to be compulsive. I like it, but I think it’s faintly forgettable. 3/5
       
230 BF The Company of Friends: Mary’s Story The best story in The Company of Friends. It’s a multi-Doctor story with a twist that it’s the same Doctor at different ends of his life – one the carefree early 8th Doctor, the other one who is mourning the loss of so many friends and companions and well on his way to Karn. For a timey wimey piece it’s all fairly simple but really just a hook to pair up the Doctor and Mary – and give her an excuse to actually have the adventures Percy Shelley promised her but never delivered. 4/5
  TV02 The Night of the Doctor  

 

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