What is it?
A series of audio stories by Big Finish Productions, overall focusing on the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companion Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith). Set in the ‘classic’ era of the show, the stories are more based on the style of the revival TV series that began in 2005, with longer episodes but mostly shorter stories compared to the more serialized story telling of the classic era, a faster pace, and story arcs that built up to epic finales. As a result, the series was initially designed to be more accessible than with most other Big Finish stories to fans of the new TV series who didn’t know much about the classic era, although like the new series, it has featured a number of classic era enemies, some that have yet to make an appearance in the new era on television. The series ended in 2011.
Why do I love it?
For one thing, and this is the first thing you should know about me: I am a massive Eighth Doctor fan. While I admit, I haven’t read all of the Eighth Doctor Adventure novels that were published in the late 90s/early 00s, I have listened to all of the wonderful stories made by Big Finish that focus on his Doctor. This is mainly because I love McGann’s performance as the Doctor, ever since it made me a fan back in 1996 (say what you want about the TV movie, but McGann nailed it in his debut story), but also because Big Finish have taken his Doctor in such brilliant directions, both before the series came back on TV and the future of not just his Doctor but the Doctor in general was in uncharted territory (although admittedly, I wasn’t too keen on the Divergent Universe arc overall, but even that had some damn brilliant stories), and after, when the series returned on television in 2005.
Arguably, there was a clear influence from the TV series revival on Big Finish, especially with the Eighth Doctor, most significantly in two ways. First, the faster paced style of the new series – moving away from 4-part, 25-minute episode serials to stories told in one, maybe two 50-minute episodes – was copied when Big Finish decided to give the Eighth Doctor his own range back in 2007, with the wonderfully talented Sheridan Smith playing one of my favourite companions ever, Lucie (bleedin’) Miller. I really adored this series right from the first season: while I still love the Eighth Doctor’s previous stories in Big Finish’s main range of Who audios, it had started to lose some of its fun in later seasons. But then came a new, feisty companion from the 21st century, someone who doesn’t seem to fit the Eighth Doctor’s more classical, Edwardian style and yet compliments it so well. The dialogue between the two was often hilarious to listen to, and their journey from reluctant companions to the best of friends was a joy. Suddenly, the sheer fun of the Eighth Doctor, the one who had been so enthusiastically happy over a pair of shoes when we first saw him, was back.
At least, at first. Because something else that strongly influenced where Big Finish took the Eighth Doctor was the story. When the revival began with Eccleston’s Doctor, we quickly found out that between where the classic era ended and the new one began, the Doctor had wiped out his own people and the Daleks (well, mostly) to end a long and bloody war. And while the overall series of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller’s adventures were overall brilliantly fun (although they still had their dark and dramatic moments, of course, especially in the finales), towards the end, particularly in the final season, things started to get, well, pretty darn grim.
You’re probably expecting me to say that, once again, the Eighth Doctor’s story had lost some of its spark, but honestly, the final season of the Eighth Doctor Adventures is one of my favourite seasons of Who ever. And I do mean ever. It had an excellent exploration of what made the Doctor tick, why he tries harder to be a hero in his Eighth life more than ever, even when he’s faced with some truly terrible choices (The Resurrection of Mars especially is a brilliant example of this). Even some of the low key stories are brilliant: Prisoner of the Sun, a completely stand-alone story, has the Doctor imprisoned in just a couple of rooms for six years while trying to prevent the deaths of billions. He’s a man trying harder to be the hero more than ever, saving every single life he can and never taking another, not through choice, not if he can help it, which makes the knowledge of what he becomes – the man who fought and ended the Time War – even more horrendously ironic.
Then there’s the final two episodes: Lucie Miller and To The Death. Possibly one of the darkest and most grim Doctor Who stories of them all, this is by far one of my favourite finale stories. The Daleks are calculating and ruthless – really ruthless, for a change – the Doctor is pushed to his limits and perhaps even beyond in every possible way, and, most surprising of all for a Who story, there’s a body count of major characters that even George R.R. Martin would be proud of.
After four seasons of fun and thrills in time and space, (with more than a little bit of drama along the way,) the series ends with the Doctor a broken man, and far closer to a man ready for a war. The final scene especially is incredibly haunting. It also nicely leads into the series Dark Eyes (coming to an end early next month), although it is a great series that stands well on its own.
Who would I recommend this to?
The group of people I’d immediately recommend this to first are definitely fans of the new series. Not only do these stories have that style down to a tee, but it’s also very accessible continuity wise, with any backstory explained as easily as, say, those of the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master in the TV series. There’s also the prequel nature of the stories and how it plays around with it – for example, if you’re relatively new to the series and know about the Time Lords but know little of what those bastards were actually like, then this gives you a pretty good idea right from the first ep, as they pretty much thrust Lucie Miller right into the Doctor’s lap (no, not like that – one thing this shares in common with the TV series is that it’s still very family friendly).
There’s also some truly great drama that the new series has become known for (I’ve mentioned how dark and soul destroying To The Death is, but other notable examples of eps that are heartbreaking include The Vengeance of Morbius, Orbis, Death in Blackpool and The Resurrection of Mars), and it’s a nice way for newer fans to ease into the classic era. Obviously, classic fans like myself will enjoy this too, both for the little references and returning enemies along the way, but the mixture of classic and new it has makes it the perfect bridge for new fans to jump on board with the classics.