Audio Having slept several times in between, I'd entire forgotten that when this first series of "The Eighth Doctor Adventures" was broadcast on BBC7, Charley's departure itself hadn't yet been released. We didn't know why Eighth was in such a taciturn mood at the start or how the two joined together narratively. What we could hear was that this was a bold new, slightly more accessible approach to the character influenced by the new television series, with shorter, punchier episodes and a contemporary companion in the Ace/Sam/Izzy/Rose mode. This was also the surprising tinsel on a Christmas tree which that year included The Runaway Bride, two episodes of Torchwood and the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures (which was broadcast just an hour ahead of this), all of which I was busily reviewing for Behind The Sofa. My first original pieces about this series are still there in which I'm unbelievably harsh on stories which having heard again I've dramatically reappraised. I almost didn't link back to them, but then realised someone would ask why I haven't. So ...
Anyway, having forgotten the chronology I can now see this bold new direction for the character was actually written and recorded a full year before Absolution and The Girl Who Never Was which themselves were recorded two years after their predecessor Memory Lane which means those final two stories of the earlier era were actually a sort of authentic recreation of a format which was already done. There wouldn't technically have been anything to stop Big Finish running both in parallel (which is something which has happened with the other Doctors) but perhaps they'd sensed themselves that Charley and certainly C'rizz had run their course with Eighth and it was time to give them a send off. Though he'd return to the monthly releases with Mary Shelley later anyway. And Charley for the anniversary. In any case, it's a curiosity that if you are listening to these stories "in narrative order" that order bares just as little relation in terms of Paul McGann's work as those other actors.
But it does also explain the Eighth Doctor's attitude at the end of the previous era. His dismissal of C'rizz's death is almost Capaldi-like in its harshness which is why Charley is quite cross about it leading to her initial decision to go a different way. It seems out of character for someone who'd previously given up his habitation in a universe in order to save one of his friends and especially bizarre if you've followed him through the novels and comics. Except in franchise terms it's really nothing new. Unlike some shows which will spend whole season explaining why a character is leaving, in Doctor Who they will just up and go in the space of a couple of minutes and even when killed off the adventure just continues and on the majority of occasions for production reasons. But the format is flexible for us to rationalise it as a way of reminding us that the Doctor is an alien and doesn't react to things the way we do. The fact that we can also understand his attitude to C'rizz certainly helps (even if I'm not sure I wanted him to die horribly) (um).
So in project terms we can assume this series happens not too long after The Girl Who Never Was though there's a big enough gap for someone to fit in some solo adventures or with another companion in the future. In theory there's nothing to stop the comics appearing here but as I've suggested before, there's something nice and simple about viewing the era as novels then comics then audios and that's especially true now that we're effectively listening to the Doctor's run up to the Time War and presumably the older version he becomes in Mary's Story. Plus Big Finish seem to mean for them to run one after the other. Gallifrey's also the same version from the previous run of audios and features a character who would retrospectively be written into those audios too which as you know is a constant barometer in these discussions, no need to rationalise anything there. Anyway after nearly ten years I've finally reached the Eighth Doctor's penultimate narrative epoch. As it stands.
Hello Lucie. Having been a follower of the good 'ship Charley, her being one of the reason I became a fan again, when I originally heard this series back in 2007, I wasn't entirely convinced by Lucie, partly dismissing her as simply, as I've already suggested above, another iteration of the Polly/Jo/Ace/Sam/Izzy/Rose paradigm, the young contemporary girl. Which she is. But there's an alchemy at work here in which she comes across as being more realistic than usual in her vocabulary and attitude, an evolution of the form. Slang and not just slang, realistic slang; she's from Blackpool and sounds like it, not just in her accent but how she expresses herself (which isn't always true of Clara who has to remain legible for the international market). Northerners are so rare in Doctor Who, it's simply refreshing to have one of us in the programme and as a main character who's just as brave as the Doctor, if not moreso.
Blood of the Daleks
Boom. One of those story ideas which is so innovative it's surprising the television series itself hasn't attempted it yet, Steve Lyons's script highlights just how good Doctor Who can be when it's simply going about the business of being Doctor Who. What if someone tried to copy the Daleks? You would think they'd be quite pleased that another species is nodding in agreement but quite rightly, and consistently with the new series, they're not happy that the original is being polluted by this inferior version (rather like the Transformers). As the first story of a new format this is a corker too, setting up all the necessary mysteries whilst simultaneously also telling a thumping story with introduction of the Headhunter prefiguring the Missy interjections from the first Capaldi season. Who is she and who does she work for? Back in the day, Anita Dobson and Kenneth Cranham would have been considered the big signings (and still are), but look (or rather listen), it's Agent Carter Hayley Atwell in the year of The Line of Beauty and Fear of Fanny bringing real, cold menace to her role of as a kind of nuDavros.
Horror of Glam Rock
Cribbins! Stubbs! Gately! Buckfield! In a script about the glam era written by Paul Magrs. If you needed a demonstration of how this BBC 7 related series notionally apes the new series whilst at the same time doesn't forget its roots in the wilderness years it's the decision to include this as the third episode in a version of the franchise which is supposed to be attracting new and curious younger fans. Breaking the Wittertainment six laugh rule within the first five minutes, the evocation of the period is so perfect you can almost smell the stale tobacco on the telephones in the service station and taste the tea which the Doctor describes as resembling copper. There's an unexpected level of black humour as some of the deaths are treated in a lighthearted manner which is unusual even for the audios but just about manages to get away with it. My original review was a bit grumpy because I didn't deem this as experimental as The Scarlett Empress, but with a bit of age and experience I can appreciate that writers change their style and interests depending on the media and can see now this is fabulous.
Stumble. To be fair to the writer, Jonathan Clements, he's really trying to create a mood piece with Shakespearean elements but there's still a disconnect moment, not unlike the Doctor's unintervention during Time Heist, when the Doctor could and should be using his wits to intervene during a murder which essentially occurs in order to provide a plot twist and the reasoning provided is that his understanding of the situation is about two steps behind the listener. But there's an overall sense throughout, as sometimes happens, that the Doctor's being dragged along by events having initially changed history by the fact of his initial appearance. Plus there was the unfortunate coincidence of New Earth and Blood of the Daleks also covering body swaps in the same year, though arguably this is the more interesting attempt of the three. What essentially saves this is Lucie, whose force of will and authentic vocabulary sound entirely counter to anything else happening in the play including the Doctor and it's clear that even in the less reliable plays, she's going to be the highlight.
I said last time Eddie Robson's one of my favourite audio writers and although this isn't quite Memory Lane, he still manages to fit acres of plot, enough to have filled six episodes in the classic series, into fifty minutes. Much of that has to do with recognising that familiar character types are often an important part of plot-based storytelling, especially in this franchise, and that sometimes the drive to subvert these elements can work against the story. Robson says this was a rushed rewrite of someone else's script and although there are some obvious similarities with a particular episode that was on tv in 2006 (which he might not have been conscious of), it certainly doesn't show - I certainly didn't guess the mid-story twist which is always a danger if you're a Doctor Who fan who's seen, heard and read a lot of Doctor Who. As ever Lucie has some stonking lines, one of which I giddily said along with her. I spent most of it thinking the character of Drew was played by Tom Hiddleston. It's actually Ben Silverstone who was the star of Get Real.
No More Lies
When this was originally broadcast (I'm listening to this series from my original 2006 off-air recordings), the announcer felt the need to explain that the adventure was beginning in the middle but that the listener hasn't missed anything. It's a clever tactic utilised less than you'd think in Who which allows writer Paul Sutton to set up the antagonism between the Time Lord, Lucie and Nigel Havers's delicious antagonist before shifting gears and convincingly turning him into a tragic figure, albeit of moral ambiguity. After just a few plays McGann and Smith have developed an easy chemistry to the extent that all the jokes about Lucie's bum at the beginning don't feel out of place and work within this format's shift towards contrasting her very contemporary approach to life with his archaism (prefiguring the Eleventh Doctor era somewhat). Project note: return of the Vorticaurs with a reference to Ramsey! I spent most of it thinking the character of Gordon was played by Roger Allam. It's actually Tom Chadborn who played Duggan in City of Death. Ooh a cliffhanger.
Brilliant. The first series ends with a proper, full on, new era style finale with all the epic scope of its television cousin's attempts and in a lot of respects better than some of them. Beginning with a spot-on parody of office life which plays to writer Eddie Robson and Sheridan's comic strengths before throwing the Doctor's own heroism back in his face. Useful treatment of Cybermen too, making fun of the usual confusion as to exactly which is supposed to be their home world and the reveal of the location of the office is a bonkers delight. But it's Katarina Olsson's Headhunter who really shines, as expected a cross between Missy and River Song, stealing every scene she's in. We have absolutely no idea whose side she's on and constantly surprises the listener. Oh and it's also the first appearance for CIA operative Straxus who would later appear but I've already heard in The Light at the End and for the Shinx, the alien race from the first Sixth Doctor and Charley audio, The Condemned. Onward to "season two".