Contains spoilers for The Night of the Doctor and several Big Finish plays.
Now is a very good time to start investigating the Eighth Doctor stories from Big Finish audio productions. If you don’t know why, you should probably look here immediately, and maybe have some coffee.
Mentioned in The Night of the Doctor are the names of the Eighth Doctor’s audio companions: Charley Pollard, C’rizz, Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew and Molly O’Sullivan. The reason this is a big deal is that the Eighth Doctor had previously only appeared in one television story (1996’s Doctor Who TV movie), and as a result multiple continuities had opened up across novels, comics and audioplays. The audioplays are still ongoing, and have now been tentatively slotted into the TV continuity. This will bring these names to a new audience, which begs the question of who are they, and where should you start?
You should probably start, for reasons of economics, with Radio 4 Extra.
Starting tomorrow (Saturday the 16th of November) and continuing through to the end of the month are a number of Doctor Who and Big Finish audioplays and book readings. Tomorrow sees William Russell narrate David Whittaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks novel, based on Terry Nation’s original story. Sunday sees the first Big Finish story, a Seventh Doctor tale called Protect and Survive. The First, Fifth, and Seventh Doctors are represented in these stories.
For the Eighth Doctor, we have Human Resources – a two-parter set in an unusual office block – the finale of the first series featuring Lucie Miller. Played by Sheridan Smith, the new companion and format for the stories was influenced by Russell T. Davies’ work on the restored television show, and it refreshed things enormously. No-one has really come up with a better description for Lucie Miller than ‘brash Northern lass’, and the pairing of her and Paul McGann is one of the range’s highlights. That’s on the 21st of November.
On the 24th and 25th we have Lucie Miller and To the Death, stories that I’ll happily bang on about to anyone given the slightest opportunity. This concludes Lucie Miller’s arc, and also Tamsin Drew’s. It then leads into the start of Molly O’Sullivan’s adventures in Dark Eyes – a four disc Dalek epic recently voted the most popular Eighth Doctor Big Finish story. Molly – a nursing assistant in World War One, played by Ruth Bradley – continued Lucie Miller’s trait of initially finding the Doctor annoying and confusing, before eventually stopping hitting him and growing fond of the damaged, deadpan, nutjob genius. More series of Dark Eyes are coming, but for now just the one boxset exists. If you buy the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine, however, you will find a code to download Episode One (and numerous other Big Finish episodes).
Tamsin Drew features in Series 4 of the Eighth Doctor Adventures (starting off in Situation Vacant), which started by introducing Lucie Miller in Blood of the Daleks. While the long-term plotting can get intricate, each play is self-contained enough to launch into without prior knowledge, and if anything this approach often intrigues you into finding out more about the ongoing arcs. Tamsin – an out of work actress, played by Niky Wardley – may only appear in one series, but as it’s the final one she makes quite an impact. It’s genuinely worth seeking the entire thing out, and it may be repeated on Radio 4 Extra again. Otherwise, if I had to recommend a few episodes from these four series, I’d suggest The Horror of Glam Rock, Grand Theft Cosmos, Relative Dimensions, and Brave New Town, though that last one’s mainly for Paul McGann’s pronounciation of the word ‘Uzbekistan’.
I’m sure other people will recommend more stories in the comments section.
Before all this, and before the series returned to television in 2005, the Eighth Doctor had already returned in 2001. Storm Warning introduced Charley Pollard – Edwardian adventuress and jollier than any combination of hockey sticks you care to imagine – who had rebelled against her soft upbringing and sought a life of adventure.
Actress India Fisher is, for Doctor Who fans, so synonymous with the role that many people choose to interpret her voice-overs on Masterchef as being in character (especially when plum pudding is involved – listen to The Chimes of Midnight to A. Get that joke, and B. Appreciate how good The Chimes of Midnight is). Charley’s death was a fixed-point-in-time, and much of her arc consists of the ramifications of the Doctor rescuing her from it. It’s a measure of Charley’s popularity that she was the Eighth Doctor’s companion in the recent fiftieth Anniversary special The Light at the End (read our review here), and the first two series of her adventures are fondly remembered for the excitement of hearing the Eighth Doctor, and for the generally high quality of the stories.
After the events of Neverland (generally considered good) and Zagreus (Um…) the Doctor and Charley are forced into another universe, and it’s here that Big Finish’s initial surge faltered. Though there are popular plays in this series, the Divergent Universe run is considered a miss-step, and the character of C’rizz (a troubled alien with blood on his hands, played by Conrad Westmaas) is saddled with a lot of baggage as a result of coming from this run (which also features Don Warrington playing the same role that Timothy Dalton did in The End of Time). C’rizz’s backstory is fairly horrible (well, he did first appear in a Philip Martin story), so it’s unsurprising that he suffers from time to time. Even if things pick up when they return to our universe, being brainwashed by the Daleks doesn’t do anyone any good. While C’rizz eventual fate is guessable (his final story is called Absolution) you certainly won’t expect what happens to Charley.
While The Night of the Doctor works without knowing these stories, it has that much more of an impact when you do know what the Doctor has been through in relation to these characters – a testament to the work of Big Finish as well as the BBC Cardiff team. As introductions to Big Finish go, the combination of the forthcoming radio broadcasts and the downloads free with Doctor Who Magazine are an excellent start, as is the Big Finish website.
In the meantime, I think it’s only fair to express gratititude to everyone involved in making The Night of the Doctor, and for expanding the show’s universe so well when they simply didn’t have to. Maybe, in the coming days, there’ll be further reason to investigate the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, or the Seventh Doctor and Elizabeth Klein.
Well, Steven Moffat does, but he’s a massive fibber.
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