Audio Here we are then, after all the preamble, with the real opening chapter of the Eighth Doctor audios, albeit with some new retrospective additions. Half way through the first I realised I first heard these when I was in my twenties. I'm forty years old. In chronological terms, there's now a longer period between the original publication of Storm Warning and now than between the TV movie and Rose. Actually thinking on, the revival has now been on-air longer than that gap too, which is irrelevant to this cause but jiggers, makes me feel old. But I was only twelve when the classic series finished which makes me younger than some. Sorry. Up until this point, my purchasing of the Big Finish audios had been pretty sporadic and remained so. The Eighth Doctor audios are the only complete run I stuck with which meant that these initial series had the genuine feeling of being in seasons with a long gap in between, and even longer beyond Neverland. If they seem so familiar listening to them again now, it's because I had them on repeat in the months between seasons.
At the risk of pitching over old ground, but what I failed to notice while writing my tribute to Alan Barnes's story back in 2013, in the opening ten minutes or so the Doctor isn't talking to himself, he's talking to us, which of course he is, but its in such a way that we effectively become his companions, we become the viewpoint characters. In reintroducing this incarnation to the audience, Barnes makes our process of switching on a cd player (as it was back then) a real world equivalent of Ian and Barbara blundering into a junkyard, Rose into a department store basement or Christmas Clara up a spiral staircase, of entering his world. But what's really interesting is when Charley's introduced later, that doesn't change. He has someone to talk to, but towards the end, when he realises how he's potentially affected time, we're listening to him soliloquise, regarding is new companion from afar, confiding in us as to what he may have done. Sound familiar?
The Sword of Orion
Cybermen! Primarily of interest here is how little it resembles the new Who approach to second stories for companions in that Charley's pretty much TARDISed in already. The visit to the market at the start of the play could be seen as a forerunner to The Rings of Arkanoid, perhaps, but Pollard's already pretty much accepted the concept of time travel and the blue box and all of that business. The closest parallel is Peri in The Caves of Androzani who in the opening scenes already seemed like she'd been travelling with the Doctor for months (and as Big Finish later revealed ...) Also contains one of the scariest moments in Who history as three of the main characters enter a conversion chamber and nothing good comes from it. I've always been intrigued as to how much of the script and story changed from the AudioVisuals version to accommodate McGann. Incidentally, some soul has animated the first few scenes and uploaded the results to YouTube.
The Light at the End
Dropped into this slot by a number of online continuities, thanks to Charley's repeated mention of the R101, apart from the lack of reference for poor Ramsey the Vortisaur, it fits perfectly especially since Eighth is treated as the "present" incarnation and the lead in figure in much the same way as Third, Fifth and Eleventh do elsewhere. Though it's worth noting that the story generally foregrounds Fifth, Sixth and Seventh, perhaps in order to create some balance due to their lack of major televisual participation during the Fiftieth. Of the Eighth material, I'm not entirely sure about him sodding off when Charley's in distress but it's not entirely out of character based on what we've heard up until now. If you haven't it's also probably worth listening to for the world's best Russell Tovey impression by John Dorney as Bob Dovie. I must confess, having entirely attempted to stay spoiler free on first time of listening, I actually thought it was Russell Tovey.
The Stones of Venice
Which is about as conventional as Paul Magrs gets, which is saying something given that it's about Venice falling to the sea, coaxed along by fish people, so a homage to The Underwater Menace I suppose. If this first series is about box ticking and the Eighth Doctor, then this is the one with Michael Sheard. To this day, I'm not sure what I make of it. On the one hand it's hilariously theatrical in language and performance and you can see its original origins as a Fourth Doctor tale bubbling across the surface but the four episode structure does it no favours in terms of drawing out the action and as with all of these original stories the Doctor's rather dragged along by events rather than motivating them. But McGann and Fisher are clearly having a ball, their chemistry crystallizing with each word.
Minuet in Hell
Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart! Fly meet ointment. As his Datacore entry shows the post-classic series timeline for the Brig is all over the place, having him either live until at least 2050 thanks to his own regeneration in the New Adventures or dying in time for Kate Stewart to talk about him the past tense. The audios have never quite managed to work out how they work in relation to the books. On the one hand, at time of production, the Sam mentioned here was supposed to be Sam Jones (later retconned to be Samson) but makes a nonsense of The Dying Days which was also the Brig's first encounter with Eighth. Either way, I always find Minuet in Hell desperately difficult to get through, overlong and unfunny as it is in places, only really snapping into place when the Doctor's memory returns (and how often is that the case with this incarnation?). His and the Brig's final conversation is incredibly poignant.
Destiny of the Doctor: Enemy Aliens
Bloomin' marvellous. The Eighth Doctor entry in AudioGo's contribution to the 50th anniversary this was the unexpected pleasure which brought Charley as close to canonicity as we thought she could ever be until McGann said her name on actual television (albeit on the red button). A Buchan pastiche of all things, as I said at the time, you can hear India remembering how to play the character after a few years out as it goes along, slipping from simply reading the text to acting it about ten minutes in, with her scenes with Michael Maloney's mysterious helper Hilary offering some brand new audio drama. Writer Alan Barnes is in his element, inventing a missing adventure which occurs just before this in the same time period which sounds like the kind of messy, overfl but thrilling story which might have turned up in the novels. One of the highlights of these stories was hearing the given reader offer us their Matt Smith impression and this doesn't disappoint on that score either.