With Lucie, Tamsin, Susan & Alex: Season Four.

Audio  A masterpiece.  There's no other words for it.  As I've discovered time and again, one of the benefits of Doctor Who as a multi-platform franchise spread across fifty-odd years, for all the disappointments, there are often pockets of adventures, a run of books or comics or television or in this case audio which can stand TARDIS and lampstand above the best other fictions have to offer.  Whilst, as you've read, I've had reservations about some of its constituent episodes, as a run of four seasons, these Eighth Doctor stories represent the best Doctor Who has to offer with experimental storytelling and characterisation and innovations not just in how Big Finish tell his stories but which must surely have still influenced the television series.  In this final run (including The Earthly Child) we find Briggs, Barnes, Edwards, Robson, Platt and Morris at the height of their powers transitioning between comedy and tragedy perfectly.

There's an odd passage during the Russell T Davies book The Writer's Tale (which admittedly has a lot of odd passages) where he tells Ben about being interested in a particular actress for a companion role (I'm sorry I can't be more specific because I don't have my copy to hand for the moment) and the way he says it, I've always assumed he meant Sheridan Smith (I think he talked about annoying a few people which I always took to mean Big Finish who had only recently written her into their version of the series).  She's a national treasure now thanks to some key television roles, and her Doctor Who recordings happened during the period when she turned from being Janet in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps to the queen of ITV Drama but in the final interview on To The Death it's clear that she loved the character and loved the process of recording and her final moments, indeed her final two episodes, demonstrate the subtleties of her performance as she remains the same character but has matured, the war with the Daleks having taken its toll.

Quick project note: The Four Doctors is not available to Big Finish's non-subscribers and massively expensive in the secondary market, so I'll wait.  It's worth mentioning here that even after I've caught up with the Big Finish release schedule, there's a whole array of short stories and bits of audio which I'll still need to fetch and I do intend to write about for completion sake.  But a lot of those are in the massively rare Big Finish short trips books or old DWMs and the like so it'll be an interesting process to track them down.  Fortunately the TARDIS Datacore has a comprehensive list of appearances including sources to work from.  Turns out the recently published The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who has a Justin Richards short within (as well as a host of stories by authors most of whom wrote for the EDAs and audios) and this Paul Magrs Companion Chronicle The Elixir of Doom, even though it has Pertwee in the cover.

Death in Blackpool

Bye then Lucie.  Possibly although an episode title further down the list suggests it isn't forever and the actual end of this series has been well spoilt already for me by the internets and the party newsletter.  Alan Barnes successfully channels the audio Paul Magrs to complete the trilogy of Auntie Pat stories in an emotionally satisfying way.  Granted it's unfortunate that we have another example of the (almost) possessed Lucie trope which has turned into the dead Rory meme of these audio adventures but at least on this occasion it fits into the overall theme of identity, who the real Pat is, the man who has a logical underpinning to his delusion of being Father Christmas.  Plus the Doctor, always the Doctor.  There's also an interesting discrepancy in the dating.  The play is supposed to be set in 2008 but a Lucie from before she met the Doctor is at her house even though the current version was supposed to come from 2006.  A continuity error or something else?

An Earthly Child

Various chronologies place this special release in this gap and it fits pretty well, the Doctor finally deciding to catch up with his grand daughter almost after all these years (she oddly remembers the events of The Five Doctors even though Sarah Jane wouldn't later - perhaps it's because she's a Time Lord).  Within my version of the Eighth Doctor's timeline, he already met Susan in John Peel's novel Legacy of the Daleks which this does of course contradict, notably in relation to David Campbell's fate and their children.  Oh and the resolution of that novel.  But you know, Faction Paradox, the cracks, the Time War.  The story itself is fine, even if it relies on Susan being incredibly naive, but Carole Ann Ford's astonishingly performance (as good, if not better than she's ever been) just about manages to justify things, especially her chemistry with McGann.  You can hear the history, though he's apparently never seen An Unearthly Child (if the post story interview on the cd is anything to go by ...)

Situation Vacant

An utter joy.  According to the interviews at the end of the cd, the original idea was to have a release featuring four companions, then a public vote, which despite being a logistical and narrative nightmare (did the Doctor not otherwise travel with the losers?) wouldn't have worked because Big Finish tends to be so good at creating these +1s.  Taking that idea then turning it into a viable play that riffs on The Apprentice, writer Eddie Robson manages to include some proper surprises of the kind that even seasoned listeners won't catch up on (unless I'm just being kind to myself).  Having been to a fair few of these kinds of group exercises, I can also well recognise the forced politeness in a hotel setting.  Another top draw cast too: Joe Thomas from The Inbetweeners, James Bachman from Bleak Expectations and Shelley Conn, who was Ashika in Party Animals.  During those interviews, she's asked about her co-star Matt Smith becoming Doctor Who when filming had only just begun which reminds me once again just how long I've waited to listen to these.


Hello Tamsin!  Properly!  It's quite refreshing to have a companion who doesn't seem to be directly connected to the overall story arc of the season other than as a reject of whoever it is the Doctor is chasing (and yes, I know full well who that is and would probably have guessed anyway since the clues given aren't that deceptive).  She's in the Donna mould, slightly older, slightly wearier of the world, less easily impressed by the Doctor's heroism.  She's also notably less prone to acts of heroism.  When I read Poe a couple of years ago, I found his treatment of women tiresome but some of his stories enthralling.  In Nevermore, Alan Barnes appropriates some of the structural narrative techniques from the author and creates a kind of enmeshing of the celebrity historical within a futuristic setting, where it's about the influence of the author on setting.  There are flashbacks, of memory to Mary's Story and it seems to the Earth arc from the books, if this Poe encounter is supposed to correlate with the one mentioned in The Dreamstone Memorial.  The Doctor's mode of speech certainly sounds archaic enough to correlate.

The Book of Kells

Hello again Lucie.  Despite the cover and voice treatment,  was the big reveal of the episode truly a surprise when this was released?  Unlike the television series, there's a fair amount of pre-release and lead in marketing for Big Finish productions and in his script Barnaby Edwards seems to be aware of this, only thinly veiling her character.  The big question is what she's doing with the Monk (oh yes he's back too) and whether she's on board with his morally ambiguous adventures.  Graham Garden makes for a worthy successor to Peter Butterworth as the Monk, though like the Masters up until Jacobi, he's very much of a type, his speech pattern and manner not that much changed after regeneration.  Perhaps at some point we have story which explains why some Time Lords remain roughly the same between regenerations while others go wildly off in genetic tangents.  I'm not so sure about Tamsin though.  She's feels a bit blank, like a placeholder, like a companion of the week rather than someone who feels right for the TARDIS.  It's odd.

Deimos / The Resurrection of Mars

Well that explains my reservations about Tamsin then.  Imagine the television series introducing a companion, going through the business of publicity (as Big Finish did) then having her bug out with the villain having successfully been propagandised against the Doctor.  In a series where everyone's bringing their A-game, here's Jonathan Morris underscoring and emphasising what makes the Eighth Doctor different, cleverly referencing the machinations of his preceding incarnation, the shift from "time's champion" to "life's champion" which was also crucial in the novels.  The notion of people assuming the Doctor has the right to choose who lives and dies, and his own distress over the matter was also the the central theme of Tenth's regeneration which would have been around the time these were recorded (though this was released a year later).  All of this amid an Ice Warriors story which features David Warner as an expert pre-figuring Cold-War...

Relative Dimensions

Happy Christmas!  In a series full of surprises, there's Big Finish doing another full on Christmas episode which thanks to a slight change in the release schedule they made sure would be posted out in December.  Marc Platt's best script for the Eighth Doctor, I think, it nevertheless must have been an odd listen in the year when the tv version also featured fish that swam through the air in a timey-wimey storyline.  In some ways the tour through the TARDIS we might have expected Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS to be, there's the news that until at least this incarnation, the Doctor kept all of his previous companion's room in a kind of digital jukebox, able to call them up if necessary, which makes you wonder why Turlough moved into Adric's room in Terminus.  Perhaps he only keeps the rooms if he thinks they might be needed again or Fifth was simply testing Turlough's moral fibre.  In my mind, when he decides to delete all but one at the end, the TARDIS doesn't actually delete them, just hides them, knowing that like the control rooms the Doctor might want them back in the future.

Prisoner of the Sun

A sort of spiritual successor to The Cannibalists and referencing Silent Running to a degree, this has the Doctor adding another six years of solitude to his age, albeit with some machine company.  His choice of Lucie as the voiceprint for the robots must be him making sure that he'll remember her this time, acknowledging his memory lapse in Orbis though it's pretty jarring in listening terms after only finishing the Charley stories at the end of June to hear him prioritising someone new.  But such is the intensity of interest the Doctor has in the people who join him in the TARDIS and how, like a Tamsin or C'rizz, it's entirely possible to see the ones he's essentially recruiting to fill a space or really nothing more than an acquaintance and those he genuinely cares about.  That's presumably why some of them react so badly on discovering that they're not the first and that's it's often those who shake it off or treat it with good humour that last.  As I said at the time, one of the problems with the Capaldi season is that his relationship with Clara isn't properly defined in this sense.

Lucie Miller / To the Death

The big one.  Even after been comprehensively spoiled in some respects since the release of this story, it's so powerfully written and directed by Nick Briggs and acted, I hung on ever moment and word.  Designing the first half to be structured roughly like a Companion Chronicle just underscores the absence of the Doctor making his late arrival all the more tragic.  Perhaps the strongest element is how it manages to draw together continuity, not just from the past four of these series but also from elsewhere including Briggs's own Patient Zero which in a way means that Charley's obliquely present even if he doesn't presumably remember that adventure as the Sixth Doctor in that way, all without once making the listener feel as though they missed something.  But it's noticeable through all that how Briggs also skillfully manages to keep some of the franchise furniture intact without it feeling like a cheat.  Since Moffat is such a supporter of Big Finish, if he does bring Susan back, will it be in such a way as to not contradict what happens here?

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