There's no way to really launch into this other than to say, I've seen Paul McGann. In person. I noticed his voice first which is why I turned my head and saw him, sitting in a cafe with another person. I gave him a glance then carried on walking, as is always the case with my idols. Of course what I really wanted to do was approach him and say,
but it's not really my thing. They're just people in the end and probably tire of being stopped as they go about their business by some random jerk with a TARDIS complex. But yes, the first Doctor I've seen in real life is the Eight and this makes me extremely happy. Plus it was on the eve of nuWho's tenth birthday. For goodness sake.
It's impossible to really say exactly which parts of the wilderness years directly influenced the revival but this second season must be pretty high in the miasma of material given that three of its authors would then be most of the non-RTD writers on the first series and oddly in the same order as their material appeared here. I'll touch on some of the more direct echoes below, but it's worth also noticing (because I ran out of space in that paragraph) that the motives of the Daleks are roughly the same here as they are in Journey's End. But there's also the sense of the various stories tying in with one another in way which don't really pay off until later, with the final two stories almost acting like a two-part season finale, with many of the mysteries of the series tied up in the first installment before heading off into a thematically connected second part. As with the comics and novels, the Eighth Doctor is serialised.
Invaders from Mars
Of course one of the results of the new series was that when some writers transitioned from the spin-off material into the television series and with the exception of the odd story of an annual didn't return. Invaders from Mars is an example of the kind of multi-layered, fun material Mark Gatiss couldn't produce later in quite the same way, though it's worth noting that it's a tribute to the audio medium in much the same way that The Unquiet Dead demonstrated a love of fiction and The Idiot's Lantern commemorated television. Hilariously starry cast, with Simon Pegg and Jessica (Stevenson) Hynes in key roles before they'd also appear on the television series making this one of the audios I'd often point to when selling them to friends, "It's got the actors from Spaced" in it. Visit here for my anecdote about meeting Simon at the launch of his Orson Welles book at FACT.
The Chimes of Midnight
There's no doubt The Chimes of Midnight remains a stone-cold classic (though oddly only as I write this sentence do I notice the resonance of the title in relation to the story which came before it). If Doctor Who Magazine's periodic votes were inclusive enough to feature spin-off material, there's no doubt this would be in the top ten. Apart from the amazing twists and hilarious jokes, it's a muscular, surprisingly avant-guard scripting from Rob Shearman, that glances towards the theatre of the absurd, making it one of the franchises more literary entries. But on this listen it's also more obvious to see its potential influences on The Doctor's Wife in relation to its antagonist. Lennox Greaves's performance as the house sounds disconcertingly like Michael Sheen. That Shearman hasn't returned to the television series since Dalek is a great loss. Imagine him writing for Capaldi. Imagine that.
Seasons of Fear
Meanwhile, Seasons of Fear is the entire Moffat era in microcosm even to the point of having the Doctor shout "geronimo" as he leaps from the TARDIS into certain doom. The storyline prefigures The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang with its destruction of all of time and space by an external force and the Doctor having to bounce around trying to find a way of changing things back by breaking the rules of time. But there's also the random appearance of a thing which is caused by another thing which happens in a future story that seems like a continuity error or just a red herring and the reveals at the end which again are part of a tapestry of storylines which will come to a head in the series finale. Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox's dialogue really crackles, with Paul and India's performances up to the challenge coming as close as the plays have some so far to the kind of romping screwball relationship of 4th and Romana in Season 17.
Embrace the Darkness
Nick Briggs's Embrace the Darkness has had an odd life subsequent to its release. I remember some of the reviews being a bit sniffy especially because of the conclusion which offers the relatively rare option of there being no real danger and the Doctor actually being the reason everything could potentially go to shit. But there are some immensely spooky elements of body horror and some reveals which could only work on audio. Much is always said about how Doctor Who's primarily a television format, but its real genius is that it can bend itself to other media just as successfully. I remember first listening to this late at night in actual darkness because I sensed the content would lend itself to that and though large speakers so that I really felt like was in the space with the characters almost eaves dropping on what was happening. If ever theres a story which would lend itself to being presented as an art installation or an "experience" it's this.
Solitaire was, perhaps purposefully given the title, the solitary entry for the Eighth Doctor in Big Finish's Companion Chronicle series and true to form when it comes to these sorts of intrusions breaks their usual semi-audiobook format with a full blooded two handed audio drama pitting Charley against the Celestial Toymaker with India holding her own against the onslaught of David Bailey's full on, classic Doctor Who foe performance, never subtle, always mesmerising (if you see what I mean given that this is audio). The first script from John "Only Connect" Dorney is suitably creepy and as with many of stories season two utilises the medium to provide a few twists in this case because the characters are ignorant of parts of their surroundings because Charley's the one with amnesia for a change. Two other points of interest: the puppet on the cover is real, David Bailey hadn't actually seen The Celestial Toymaker at time of recording ....
Originally mounted to the cover of the 40th anniversary issue of Doctor Who Magazine (or there abouts) but now available to download free, Living Legend is their stalwart comics writer Scott Grey's only Eighth Doctor audio and as the cover suggests transposes the manic fun of the strip onto the audio Eighth and Charley. The TARDIS team stumbles into one of the saddest alien invasions ever recorded and simply seem to have some fun with it, like Mickey Bricks and the team from Hustle when they've spotted a really easy mark. With just half an hour to play about with there's never really a sense of jeopardy but that really this is about epic bantz and the bantz are indeed epic. India's on particularly storming mood as Charley pretends to be a Time Lady and the Doctor's superior, her usual haughtiness turned up to infinity when faced with the stupidity of the alien. Not a bad place to start if you've never heard an Eighth Doctor audio before. Plus football!
The Time of the Daleks
Of all the audios, I've never been quite able to decide just how much I like The Time of the Daleks perhaps because in having so much to do it does seem to quite be able to focus on one thing. It's the first time the audio Eighth meets the pepperpots, but it's also the final installment in a cross range narrative begun in the Fifth Doctor story The Mutant Phase and on top of that it's the first time the franchise has really attempted Doctor Who does Shakespeare. Usually reliable Justin Richards's notion of having the Daleks reading mashed up piece of the canon is a sound one, the creepiness of unusual phrases filtered through a ring modulator ala Evil of the Daleks later reappearing in Victory of the Daleks, but there's almost too much going, the narrative never quite managing to fix on one thing to the point that Charley in particular doesn't have an awful lot do than be dragged along by events.
Finally, the Doctor tells a companion he loves them. People always seem to reference Doomsday in relation to this, even the BBC's own Twitter feed's been at it, but 10th never did say the words to Rose. Eighth does. True it' in a friendship sense, but to hear the Doctor say those words and to have Charley repeat them back to him is magnetic and emotional in one of the most intense scenes ever, the Doctor pointing a gun directly at her (and no let's not). When I heard this the first time, walking along Great Charlotte Street (no really) in town towards the bus home in 2002, I cried. Of everything in this series which points to nuWho, Alan Barnes's Neverland predicts the approach to the season finale, the intricate string of events which could lead to the destruction of the universe which is ultimately really about the mortality of the Doctor or his companions. The cliffhanger still has the power to shock. Thank god, I don't have to wait eighteen months for the resolution this time...