Back in 2007, Big Finish did a massive change in their direction. They created the 8th Doctor adventures as a series, separate from the monthly range, and broadcast on BBC Radio 7 as an officially sanctioned Doctor Who series.
This series was made for me!
Confession: I wasn’t getting on with the TV series at the time. I had no problem with Tennant…. but I didn’t like the aesthetic of the show, the stories. I didn’t really get on with Rose and had decided that TV show wasn’t for me. As far as I was concerned, Paul McGann hadn’t had a regeneration story so he was still the Doctor. I got over this immensely childish behaviour later, but we’re all allowed our little foibles occasionally, aren’t we?
“There’s no point being grown–up if you can’t be childish sometimes. ”
You see, McGann was my Doctor. I was 4 when the show was taken off the air, so only discovered it through reruns, Target novelisations and by scouring the local libraries for copies of the show on VHS. When the movie hit the screens, I was delighted. Finally, he was back: I had new Doctor Who to watch. Okay, so not everything about the movie filled me with glee, but McGann was PERFECT.
So I always held it against Russell T. Davis for not using McGann when he brought the show back. And now, here he was, in his own series…. and it was perfect. The storytelling was excellent: there was a good blend of darkness, adventure, horror and comedy. The fact that the format matched the TV series, while initially putting me off, probably helped to get me back into watching the show.
And then we had Sheridan Smith. Lucie Miller was amazing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Charlie Pollard, McGann’s first audio companion. But the dynamic between Lucie and the Doctor created a whole new dimension to the character. McGann and Smith bounced off each other and we properly got to explore how much fun the 8th Doctor could be. And, over the course of the four seasons, we got an incredible character journey for both 8 and Lucie, and it ends with probably the greatest finale in the show’s history.
I never thought we would get any more. There was something very final about that grand finale. Also, surely, I thought, Sheridan Smith is now far too big and busy for the likes of Doctor Who?
And what a delight this box set is. It’s set between seasons 1 and 2 – so she’s established as a companion, but still fresh faced, innocent, undamaged. And, to emphasise that, we get a wonderful montage of adventures the two of them have been involved in, with a few poignant references to what’s to come. Okay, that may have brought on a few tears.
The first story, the Dalek Trap, is beautifully done. A very clever little story that reminds me of the Doctor’s Wife. Being a Doctor-lite episode, it nicely starts off the box set with a brilliant showcase of Sheridan Smith’s acting. It’s a Nicholas Briggs story, and, unsurprisingly, it has Daleks, but Briggs is too good a storyteller to be complacent, and I loved every minute of this one, especially the incredibly minimalist, almost horrific character portrayed by the Doctor.
If Dalek trap is dark, brooding and creepy, The Revolution Game is fun, energetic and full of life. It’s human oppressor story, in the vein of some Third Doctor serials, with a critical eye on the free market economy and exploitation, but with an added sense of fun and feels more like Lucie stories such as Max Warp. The writer, Alice Cavender, explores the complex relationship between oppressed and the oppressor’s culture in a way rarely given much scope in stories this short, and this allows us to be treated to rich variety of characters from the oppressed race. Standout performance here from Tom Alexander, playing Spartacus. Another thing that stands out from this story is how visually rich it feels. Yes, it’s an audio adventure, but it’s impressively visualised in a way that could have looked amazing on TV, but inevitably would never have lived up to what’s rendered here purely on audio.
The House on the Edge of Chaos is different once again: an absurdist stately home drama in space. And it works and is beautiful and has all the ridiculous characters you would expect with a nice blend of murder and increasing horror blended in for good measure.
The final story in the set, the cover story, the Island of the Fendahl, gives us the welcome return of the Tom Baker villain. The world perhaps isn’t lacking in Wickerman pastiche stories, but that’s not to say that we couldn’t bare another. This one is done with wonderful flair and manages to feel both very 70s and modern at the same time. A dramatic, exciting climax to the set which leaves us wanting more.
This set of stories is self contained. It doesn’t require you to have heard any of original 8th Doctor adventures and, could, in fact, be a perfect introduction to the series or, indeed, to Big Finish Doctor Who stories. It’s called “Volume 1”, and I certainly hope there’s more in the works, but even as a stand-alone, it was a welcome return for a beloved companion.
I purchased this story at the beginning of a four hour car journey which included slogging it down the M6, and the journey just flew by. If that’s not praise enough, I don’t know what is.
Feel inspired to treat yourself? Buy it here at the Big Finish website.