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 Battlefieldthat 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 Errors mould, 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
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
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 ST24 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 ST25 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 ST26 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 ST27 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


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

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