Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Late Charley Era Part 2

The Late Charley era continues with the next set of audios that seem more of a deviation from the Divergent Universe in terms of setting, but are still somewhat reminiscent of the audios of the previous era in terms of tone. Although one could argue that the overall tone of the audios is dictated by the presence of C’rizz, as he was a native of the Divergent Universe, it is unfortunate that because almost every audio featuring the character is a bizarre dreamscape-like world that leaves the listener constantly second-guessing everything, we never get the opportunity to fully get to know the character in a regular setting before he departs.

#83 – Something Inside

From the get-go Something Inside seems completely derivative, featuring the fractured-narrative presentation that has become a regular trope in this series of audios at this point as well as the time-honoured tradition of having the Eighth Doctor suffer from memory loss. As with all Big Finish audios, the sound design is excellent, but unfortunately there is little substance to back up the great sound effects, voice acting and musical score. The plot follows a base-under-siege format that is common enough for Doctor Who but at this point there is expected to be a spin on the concept, yet here there is a particularly bland aspect to the delivery that makes this audio somewhat forgettable.

As a general rule the post-Divergent Universe audios do tend to blend into one, and Something Inside only adds to the fatigue of a sequence of particularly bizarre and dreamscape-like audios that really should have just been included in the Divergent Universe arc. At this point it probably sounds like a stuck record as these reviews keep swinging back to the old ‘Divergent Universe’ point, but at this point it’s important to emphasise that the decision to prematurely end the Divergent Universe arc and hastily rewrite the remaining audios to accommodate this fact was a decision that seems very questionable in hindsight. The reasoning that newer listeners would feel alienated by the Divergent Universe arc seems somewhat flimsy, considering the fact that Big Finish had three other ranges running with the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors at the same time, and that their entire back-catalogue was still available online.

If you’re a fan of stories that use the base-under-siege format, then it is recommended that you listen to this one in isolation – there is nothing wrong with the story when taken as a single entity, it just isn’t particularly stunning – what really brings this audio down is that it sits at the end of a long line of generic non-linear stories. Clearly the audios in the post-Divergent Universe run of stories are meant for a very particular kind of fan, and nothing showcases this more than Something Inside. The best thing about the audio is its frightening horror-elements, which it communicates fairly well, but it is definitely not the best or scariest story in the Eighth Doctor’s audio selection.

#88 – Memory Lane

A bizarre audio that delves into the nature of memory and childhood, this one benefits from a small cast, a concise story and a beautiful soundtrack – in fact, the soundtrack to this one is reminiscent of the ambient music from the Kashyyyk level on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The premise is simple – the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz arrive in an area that is seemingly constructed around the memories of a single person, a man who has regressed to a child-like state and spends his time building Lego spaceships whilst a seemingly benevolent yet inhuman construct resembling his long-dead grandmother continuously supplies him with fish fingers, chips, peas and other refreshments, whilst the street a hundreds of identical houses outside is patrolled by a deranged ice-cream man wearing an astronaut suit.

Of all the dreamscape-like audios in the post-Divergent Universe arc, this is the most memorable. Memory Lane stands out as a breath of fresh air – there’s some funny moments that lighten the mood, the imagery is stark and impactful, and there is perhaps the best use of C’rizz in his era. Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas are exceptional as always, and this audio delivers a lot of great scenes that illustrate how close the trio have become during their travels together. Another thing worth mentioning is how interesting the villains of this story are, there is an element of mystery surrounding their intentions – as the events unfold, it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

We also get to learn more about Charley, who has received little in the way of character development since her and the Doctor confessed their feelings for each other in Scherzo. As she is slowly drawn into the bizarre dreamland that surrounds them, the Doctor learns more about her childhood as false representations of her mother, as well as a version of Charley as a child, give us an insight into her upbringing. We also get a brief insight into the Doctor’s ‘perfect moment’, the ideal that he strives for, and we discover that it is the moment after defeating a menacing foe when his companions are safely back in the TARDIS. A small detail perhaps, but a heart-warming notion nonetheless.

#101 – Absolution

This audio kicks off to a great start with some bizarre imagery and horrific concepts, as the TARDIS is wrenched apart in a forbidden sector of space that the Doctor theorises is the Hell that so many species across the Galaxy believe in. The sound design is exceptional, with a nightmarish score that emphasises the horrendous nature of the setting. The heart of the TARDIS scene is truly horrifying, with the central column filling with blood easily being one of the most disturbing and visceral images in the series so far. As usual Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas are excellent, and they are given some great scenes as this audio deals with some interesting concepts.

Unfortunately, there are some pacing issues with this one, and there are stretches that are quite boring, with the hellish setting becoming dull and repetitive after a while. Naturally, the most notable thing about this audio is that it is the final story for C’rizz, and his departure is perhaps one of the most decisive in Doctor Who history, as his fate has been foreshadowed from as far back as Terror Firma. We finally learn what the various pieces of the puzzle mean and how they fit together, with a few last-minute pieces being conjured up to fill in the gaps.

C’rizz’s departure scene is particularly heartfelt, and although the sequence has been criticised in the past, there are some genuine moments and India Fisher in particular is exceptional. In the end, C’rizz’s fate was predetermined, and although some have said that the Doctor’s reaction is out of character, the idea of the Doctor being emotionally detached has been explored a lot in New Who, and Charley’s reaction to this is understandable – in many ways the scene between the Doctor and Charley is similar to the Doctor and Clara in Kill the Moon, the only redeemable thing about that atrocious episode.

#103 – The Girl Who Never Was

Still reeling from the loss of C’rizz in the previous audio, Charley decides to leave the TARDIS. The writers handled the Eighth Doctor’s first companion departure story well, and we see a hint of the New Series angle of throwing a crisis at the Doctor that forces his companion to separate from him. The Cyberman on the cover spoils that they appear here, though it is clear before they even show up that the Doctor and Charley’s relationship has been irreparably damaged. Ironically, Charley would later go on to travel with the Sixth Doctor in a later series of audios, which will probably be reviewed here once the Eighth Doctor audios are finished. Charley gets some great character development in this story, and we get a sense of how she could hold her own as the main character in her own spinoff, which she would eventually get in the Charlotte Pollard: Edwardian Adventuress spinoff series. As a conclusion to the Charley Era as a whole, The Girl Who Never Was is a great send-off for the Eighth Doctor and Charley as a pair and their departure scene is truly heart-breaking. Charley is probably the closest that Big Finish got to creating a character like Clara from the New Series, in that she eventually gained the ability to adapt the Doctor’s mannerisms and character traits to the point that they are just as capable of problem-solving as the Doctor themselves – and Charley is easily one of the most independent and capable of the Doctor’s companions, from any medium, and there is no better showcase of this than The Girl Who Never Was.

As far as the Cybermen go in this story, they aren’t actually introduced until the third part – but their presence is still menacing, and the idea of a gang of rusty Cybermen with rotting brains skulking around a Ghost Ship is a horrifying concept, and this audio brings it to life with a fantastic story involving two separate Cyberman invasions taking place at two points in time. This is one of the instances in which the use of a fractured narrative is warranted, as we see both the Doctor and Charley reach the same conclusions as they repel their subsequent Cyberman invasions as they are separated, though there is a bizarre twist or two in here that make it a memorable story to say the least. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the sound design, as the Cyberman voices are exceptional in this story and it is clear that Nicholas Briggs has nailed a wide variety of different Cyber-voices, from the bizarre sing-song voice of the Mondasian Cybermen, to the robotic-sounding voices used here that are similar (but not identical) to the voices used for the Cybus Cybermen in the New Series.

Overall, The Girl Who Never Was is a great conclusion to the Charley Era. As companion send-offs go it is definitely one of the best, there are some great scenes with the Cybermen, and Charley gets some incredible character growth before her departure from the Eighth Doctor is concluded. Despite a run of lacklustre stories in the run-up to this one, The Girl Who Never Was feels like a return to form and it is a great conclusion to the first era of the Eighth Doctor. Following this audio, the Eighth Doctor received a few more audios in the Main Range, set before he met Charley, in which he briefly travels with Mary Shelley, and after that he received his own series in the Eighth Doctor Adventures starring Sheridan Smith as new companion Lucie Miller. Having listened to the entirety of Charley’s run with the Eighth Doctor, it is easy to pick out the best of the run. There were some great Dalek and Cyberman stories, some surprising reappearances of classic villains, and more than a few fantastic original audios. It is difficult saying goodbye to Charley, even after half a dozen listens of these stories, though her further travels with the Sixth Doctor are definitely worth a listen, and eventually we will get round to reviewing them. But before then, we must continue with the Eighth Doctor odyssey.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – EDAs Series 1

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Late Charley Era Part 1

Following the abrupt cancellation of the Divergent Universe storyline when the New Series was announced in 2004, Big Finish shifted the next wave of the Eighth Doctor audios into a completely different gear. However, it seems in hindsight that they did this without giving the writers of each individual story enough time to compensate, because a big criticism of a lot of the audios in this initial wave of post-Divergent Universe audios is that they were clearly written for that setting, and although some measures were taken to retroactively slot them into the pre-existing Doctor Who universe by including the TARDIS and some other familiar concepts, these audios are so bizarre and dreamlike that they clearly beyond in a pocket dimension. Still, they represent some of the most unorthodox of Big Finish’s story ideas to date, and are an important chapter in the Eighth Doctor’s life…

#72 – Terror Firma

The post-Divergent Universe era kicks off to an incredible start with Terror Firma, easily one of the best outings of the Eighth Doctor against the Daleks that you are likely to find on audio. The previous Eighth Doctor Dalek story, The Time of the Daleks, was an entertaining romp in its own right but it did not live up to the expectations set by previous Dalek audios such as The Mutant Phase and The Apocalypse Element. However, between The Time of the Daleks and Terror Firma Big Finish released several excellent Dalek audios – including Jubilee and The Juggernauts – as well as the classic fan-favourite Davros, and Terror Firma continues the run of great Dalek and Davros stories by picking up Davros’ story where it left off from Remembrance of the Daleks. Terry Molloy is fantastic as Davros as always, and here we see him combating the personality of the Dalek Emperor that is beginning to assert itself over Davros, playing off the idea that Davros had set himself up as Emperor of the Imperial Dalek faction in the final Classic Who Dalek story.

This audio is full of references to past stories, particularly past Dalek stories – Genesis of the Daleks gets a nice call-back in this, there are references to Storm Warning, Zagreus and Creed of the Kromon, and there are some great plot developments that re-contextualise the entire Eighth Doctor era, this one is definitely the kind of audio that needs to be experienced first-hand. The direction, editing and pacing is excellent – and there are some exceptional performances from Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas. There are really some exceptional scenes in this, especially between the Eighth Doctor and Davros, which showcase how truly evil and twisted Davros is – spending hundreds of years alone in an escape pod has not helped Davros’s sanity.

This is also a great showcase of the Daleks themselves, as these are a race of brand new Daleks that Davros has created post-Remembrance of the Daleks, removing the distinction between Imperial and Renegade Daleks and creating his own faction. This means that both the Daleks and Davros are quite mad, making for some great scenes that make this audio distinct from any other Dalek story. In a lot of ways this audio is mad, it makes no attempt to fit into the continuity of either the wider Doctor Who universe or the Dalek timeline, and trying to locate when and where this audio was set either in Earth’s history or in the timeline of the Daleks is unknown, as the plot threads of Earth being conquered by Daleks, the majority of humanity being transformed into Daleks, and Davros physically transforming into the Dalek Emperor have never been revisited. Some fans have pointed out that the plot point of using humans to create Daleks parallels The Parting of the Ways, leading to Big Finish officially confirming that Davros does not become the Dalek Emperor seen in that two-part story. In many ways, Terror Firma could easily have been set in the Divergent Universe, something that is apparent about the next three post-Divergent Universe stories.

#75 – Scaredy Cat

A huge shift in tone and setting from the previous story, Scaredy Cat presents an interesting premise – two planets, one populated, one empty, with the population of the inhabited planet pledged to prevent anyone from ever setting foot on their untainted sister-world. As the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz soon discover, however, not all is as it seems on the pristine world of Endarra, as there are scientists from Caludaar performing experiments on the native life forms. The story deals with the morality of good and evil, and explores why criminals are motivated to commit horrendous crimes.

Scaredy Cat utilises the same fragmented story structure as Terror Firma, though the end result is not as effective as in the previous story as we are not familiar with the characters – juxtaposing the Doctor and his companions with scenes involving Davros works because we already know who Davros is, but in this case Scaredy Cat uses original characters which are not known to the audience, so establishing the context for the cutaway scenes is difficult. Scaredy Cat also suffers from a lack of general background context, and relies on throwaway terms like ‘political activist’ without any real establishment of the basis on which we can judge characters based on their political motivations alone.

Unfortunately, this audio has some serious issues, and its bizarre pseudo-scientific explanation for the strange happenings going on throughout the story mean that this audio could have been better utilised as part of the Divergent Universe saga – likely because it was originally written as an audio set in the Divergent Universe, and was hastily re-written to accommodate the fact that the Divergent arc was brought to a premature close. Overall, it is definitely an interesting listen, and it gets points for its creativity – but it can’t hold a candle to some of the next few stories that share the same ethereal post-Divergent Universe atmosphere.

#77 – Other Lives

This is an interesting audio as it is a pure historical – the only one of its kind that Paul McGann has recorded as the Eighth Doctor to date – and as pure historicals go, this one is strong but ultimate quite predictable. Pure historicals usually range from being either focused on a particular figure from history, or take extra care to set the scene for where and when it is set. Other Lives does both, whilst also taking full advantage of the setting of the Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851. The Crystal Palace makes for a dynamic setting, and there are some great characters that are brought to life by a host of talented voice actors.

The main premise of the story involves the trio being separated by a series of increasingly bizarre circumstances (including the TARDIS being stolen by a rich French couple) and the Doctor is soon accused of murder and kidnapping. Unfortunately, C’rizz and Charley are not given much interesting to do, and several of the characters some off as somewhat cliched, if it were not for the Doctor’s plotline being slightly more interesting, there would be little much to say about the first two parts plot-development wise. Charley and C’rizz both spend a lot of time interacting with characters that amounts to very little, and overall their escapades contribute little to the overall story.

Despite its status as a pure historical, Other Lives still retains the ethereal nature of the Divergent Universe arc – it is telling that these first few stories were originally destined for the Divergent Universe. There are some interesting elements, such as the focus on the horrors of Victorian freakshows, but there is a severe issue with pacing and overall the plot is very low-stakes compared to others in the series. Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting listen for fans of the Eighth Doctor, Charley and C’rizz, as they are each separated and faced with unique situations and India Fisher, Conrad Westmaas and Paul McGann deliver exceptional performances as always.

#80 – Time Works

Although its becoming a tired criticism at this point, Time Works feels like the breaking point of the post-Divergent Universe arc – it is obvious that these plays were supposed to be set in the Divergent Universe, so the writers had to jump through hoops to make them somewhat grounded in reality in order to set them in the prime universe – it is a shame to see really creative ideas stymied in this way. Nonetheless, Time Works is an immersive experience that presents a very interesting setting for the listener – there is a lot of clock and clockwork imagery involved, making the setting familiar enough that visualising the setting is easy as it leans on concepts that we are very familiar with – clockwork and castles spring immediately to mind – although its attempts to be overly enigmatic do occasionally fall a bit flat.

It is worth noting that this audio has a fantastic soundtrack, as the score contains several haunting melodies that help to illustrate the otherworldly setting. Speaking of which, the setting depicts a society that runs with a strict adherence to timekeeping, and it also features Clockwork Robots that are similar to, but not the same as, the ones seen in The Girl in the Fireplace and Deep Breath, and are also not in any way related to the Clockwork Men from the Ninth Doctor novel The Clockwise Man. Nonetheless they make for effective villains as the concept is particularly creepy, especially when paired with the incredible sound design.

Overall, Time Works deals with some interesting concepts coupled with exceptional direction and sound design that make it one of the strongest audios in the post-Divergent Universe series. Whilst there are a lot of elements that were clearly intended for the Divergent Universe, this story stands in its own right as an exceptional audio, and listened to in isolation it offers a fully-realised world with exceptional execution. Unfortunately, it is brought down somewhat by the others in the series, as they are sadly bundled together as the ‘what could have been for the Divergent Universe’ collection, with Time Works being the series finale. For good old-fashioned Doctor Who escapism, however, Time Works delivers on every front.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Late Charley Era Part 2

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Divergent Universe Arc Part 2

The bizarre excursion through Big Finish’s Divergent Universe continues, as the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz search for the TARDIS among a myriad of disjointed worlds existing in a universe without time. As the setting of this arc has been firmly established at this point, the latter few Divergent audios aim to fill in the essential gaps that remain in the story that explain the nature of the Divergent Universe itself. Doctor Who thrives on imaginative, inventive and inspirational storytelling, and the Divergent Universe provides a great setting for new and creative story ideas.

#61 – Faith Stealer

This sentiment is illustrated perfectly in Faith Stealer, which deals with some thought-provoking concepts. A society in which dozens of separate religions exists in peaceful co-existence by regulating spirituality and congregational numbers in the same way that human economists monitor the stock market is a fascinating idea that Faith Stealer aims to explore – after being redirected to a hub of spirituality by the beings that guide the Doctor and his companions through the Divergent Universe, the trio begin to unravel the sinister machinations of the bizarre cults that inhabit the realm of Multihaven. Faith Stealer also delves further into the backstory of C’rizz, giving us more insight into his character and history that was only briefly alluded to in previous stories. The fact that C’rizz had to murder his lover to prevent her from becoming a Kromon breeding queen takes its toll on him as he begins to relive the memory of her death over and over again, and this among other things drives the mystery of what is amiss among this spiritual sanctuary that is Multihaven.

The intrigue and political developments between the various faiths in Multihaven is an interesting concept, the only unfortunate downside is that this idea isn’t given as much focus as it perhaps deserves, as there are a fair few story elements in this audio that are running concurrently, as the Doctor and Charley are trying to locate the TARDIS, discover what has happened to C’rizz and get to the bottom of events unfolding in the Multihaven all at once. In many ways this audio depicts a shockingly realistic depiction of a poly-religious society, as those who are responsible for administrating the Multihaven are reluctant to impose any restrictions or limitations on any faith, yet are powerless to prevent a particularly infectious doctrines from converting as many adherents as they wish.

Overall, this audio is definitely one of the strongest in the Divergent Universe arc. Like many stories from this era, revealing too much about the story would spoil the experience of listening, but needless to say that this one is worth a listen. Not only do we learn more about C’rizz and the Divergent Universe itself, but we finally get a sense that the aimless wanderings of the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz within this strange universe actually have some structure to them, and over the course of the next few stories it is revealed just how truly bizarre and unlikely their situation is. Even without the context of the wider Divergent Universe arc, Faith Stealer is a great standalone story that has some very interesting things to say about the nature of faith, spirituality and religious conversion that prove just how diverse and wide-ranging the scope of the Divergent Universe stories can be.

#62 – The Last

The previous audio dealt with intrigue on a religious and pseudo-political level, but The Last takes political machinations to a whole new level. Set on a dying world in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, this bleak story is perhaps one of the most impactful stories in the Divergent Universe saga. In some ways this is perhaps the best audio in the entire arc – it keeps you guessing throughout the whole story, and as the pieces gradually fall into place it becomes clear that this story is dealing with some incredibly serious concepts. The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz find themselves in a wasteland surrounded by the ruins of a devastated city, and are soon separated – the atmosphere that this audio generates is spectacular, and the sound design effectively conveys the horrendous conditions in this desolate land. Big Finish often deals with settings and story elements that would not be seen in the TV show, and The Last is a great example of this. A story populated with horrifically insane characters, twisted by war and lies, in a way that surpasses even the legendarily grim Genesis of the Daleks.

The Last gives a great opportunity to develop the relationship between Charley and C’rizz, as there are several scenes of the two spending time together that solidify the two as friends who care about each other – in fact, this audio solidifies the notion that C’rizz feels more for Charley than just friendship, and through this dynamic we learn more about his character. The desperation and horror of the setting provides an intense situation that forces the characters to make difficult decisions, and there are some shocking twists and turns in this story that make it an incredible listen from start to finish. Speaking of which, the sound design for this story is exceptional – the howling winds, the creaking of glass and girders, and the eerily creepy music make a fantastic combination.

Needless to say, this audio is quite a heavy listen, and is not to be taken lightly. The Last is easily one of the most mesmerising audios in the Divergent Arc, and it is a quintessential lynchpin in the wider narrative for many reasons – we learn more about C’rizz, the Divergence and the nature of the universe in which the Doctor and Charley are trapped in. Overall, this is a fantastic listen, and there are few audios in the Divergent Arc – indeed, the entire run of Eighth Doctor audios so far – that can compare to this one. In terms of tone, emotional weight, atmosphere and intrigue, The Last is one of the best Doctor Who audios out there, and it definitely ranks in my top 10 most unsettling Doctor Who stories of all time, across all mediums. From beginning to end there is a constant feeling of unease, tension and horror that makes it a great listen.

#63 – Caerdroia

As the penultimate story in a series based on mystery and the fear of the unknown, Caedroia is where we finally start getting some answers. The first part is dedicated to an interview between the Doctor and the Kro’ka, the being who has been shunting the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz from location to location throughout the arc. After a great intro we start to find out more about the universe that the Doctor and Charley are in, which is refreshing after being kept mostly in the dark about the lack of the concept of time that has been a recurring motif throughout the Divergent Universe series. The Doctor is able to locate the TARDIS, and the trio set off to recover it by manipulating the interzone portals to direct them to a place called Caedroia, or the ‘fortress of many turns’.

In the process, the Doctor is split into three people, his ‘usual’ self, a jovial Doctor that Charley names ‘Tigger’ and a brooding, depressed Doctor who Charley calls ‘Eeyore’, and the three Doctors split up with C’rizz following Tigger and Charley going with Eeyore, which makes for some comical scenes in part two as each companion interacts with their respective version of the Doctor. Credit has to be given to Paul McGann for his ability to pull off voicing three identical characters, distinguishing between them simply by the tonal shifts in his voice. An interesting and slightly meta detail that I decided on while listening to this audio was to picture the three separate Doctors as the three versions of the Eighth Doctor that we know – the more jovial and happy-go lucky version dons the classic Wild Bill Hickok look, the regular Doctor has his Divergent Universe attire (allegedly a variant of the Fifth Doctor’s costume according to the comics) and the brooding, darker Doctor dons the Dark Eyes attire, though that was just an indicator that I included in order to easily differentiate between the different Doctors.

As a rule the voice acting and sound design in the entire Divergent Arc is excellent, but there is a significant improvement in the creativity of the music in the final three stories, The Last, Caerdroia and the final story, The Next Life. This audio scales back the cast, with the main characters being the Doctor, his two companions and the Kro’ka, with very few other characters – this allows for a sharp focus on the story and interactions between the main trio, as well as the other Doctors. There is a small twist near the end of the story that is delivered excellently, and there is no shortage of dark moments in this one that make it a great listen from start to finish. Overall, the final act of the Divergent Arc has been a significant improvement in quality, this one delivers a satisfying ending that dovetails perfectly into the finale.

#64 – The Next Life

The Divergent Universe saga concludes somewhat abruptly with The Next Life, a six-part audio that is vaguely reminiscent of Zagreus, but only for the fact that it is somewhat abstract, it involves Rassilon, and that it goes on for far too long. The Next Life ironically feels like it is juggling several ideas that belong in separate audios, yet at the same time it manages to be very slow-paced at times with lots of padding. This is not entirely the fault of the writers, as it is clear listening to this audio that it was patched together as a means of providing a satisfying conclusion to the Divergent Universe arc when it became clear that plans for a third and final ‘season’ of audios set in the Divergent Universe were scrapped due to the announcement of the 2005 TV revival. Big Finish wanted to capitalise on new listeners who might give the audios a try having seen the new TV series, and as such they made the decision to return the Eighth Doctor to the ‘normal’ universe as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, The Next Life wears its behind-the-scenes issues plain for all to hear, and despite an appearance from Daphne Ashbrook as a character who is unfortunately not Dr. Grace Holloway from the 1996 TV Movie and a fantastic performance from Don Warrington as Rassilon, The Next Life failed to impress. As a finale to the entire Divergent Universe arc it does raise some interesting metaphysical questions but these are sadly not the primary focus of the story as one would expect, and the revelation that Rassilon was behind everything had already dawned on most listeners before this audio was even released due to his frequent appearances in previous audios. As such, the finale falls somewhat flat, which is a shame as the Divergent Universe certainly had a lot of promise that could have been explored with greater detail had there been another series produced.

One saving grace of The Next Life is its stellar cliff-hanger ending, listeners had to wait a full seven months for the conclusion to this one back in 2005 but thankfully we know from hindsight that the first adventure that the Eighth Doctor, Charley and C’rizz embark on when returning to the ‘normal’ universe involves Davros and the Daleks, bringing this TARDIS team quite literally crashing back to their home reality only to be immediately confronted by their worst enemy – the inclusion of Davros in particular is interesting, as for the Doctor the destruction of Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks is still a recent memory…

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Late Charley Era Part 1

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Divergent Universe Arc Part 1

At the conclusion of the myriad labyrinth of lore and lengthy monologues that was Zagreus, we left the Doctor and Charley as they embraced their fate as outcasts of N-Space and entered the Divergent Universe. This arc of stories is one of Big Finish’s most interesting experiments, as it involves separating the Doctor from the TARDIS in a way that was never truly attempted during the TV series, in order to allow the writers complete freedom to create creative settings outside of the regular Doctor Who universe.

In some ways this audio is the polar opposite to the Third Doctor’s first arc of TV stories in which he was stranded on Earth, as while those stories saw the Doctor grounded on one planet with the TARDIS present but inoperable, the Divergent Universe arc depicts the Doctor cast adrift outside of the universe, exploring a diverse array of bizarre locations in the Divergent Universe in which Time itself does not exist, so the TARDIS is completely absent.

#52 – Scherzo

The first audio in this arc is easily one of the most heartbreaking audios Big Finish have ever produced. Convinced that his sacrifice at the conclusion of Zagreus had saved Charley, the Doctor is devastated that Charley decided to follow him into the Divergent Universe, particularly since they are aware of their mutual romantic feelings for each other. This fact makes him very depressed and surly throughout this story, which foreshadows the dark stories to come later on in the Eighth Doctor’s life. Paul McGann puts in an excellent performance that demonstrates the versatility and range of his acting, as he definitely expands the scope of the character of the Eighth Doctor to show us aspects of his personality that we have never seen before.

India Fisher is also fantastic in this story as Charley, she has been given a truly incredible character journey throughout her previous audios and this is the culmination of that journey. This audio is not for the faint-hearted, and there are many scenes that fans who are against the idea of the Doctor having romantic feelings for his companion may find uncomfortable, as this audio focuses on the Doctor and Charley interacting and dealing with the fallout of not only the Doctor’s decision to rescue Charley in the first place but every decision made since that led the two characters to this situation. Written by Robert Shearman, this audio is famous among the fanbase for being one of the most creatively designed audios in Big Finish’s range, and the story would not work in any medium other than audio because it is dependant on the lack of visuals for the story to work.

#53 – Creed of the Kromon

The first real ‘adventure’ in the Divergent Universe, Creed of the Kromon introduces us to the new companion of the Doctor, C’rizz, a chameleon-like Eutermesan who is the first friendly individual that the Doctor and Charley encounter. The eponymous Kromon are giant termite-like creatures who reproduce by hybridising individuals from other races into queens to breed new Kromon, and have enslaved C’rizz’s species in their search for water and new slaves. In many ways this audio adheres to the standard tenets of a Doctor Who story, though there are many references that help to contextualise the nature of this new universe – the inhabitants have no concept of time, and the Doctor is as much in the dark about the nature of what is going on as Charley (and the listener), so his abilities as a Time Lord that were taken for granted in earlier audios are not present here.

Creed of the Kromon explores some interesting ideas, as the Kromon themselves represent the idea of a natural force that has been corrupted by corporate motives – after a company destroyed their homeworld, the Kromon assimilated the corporation’s mantras and abilities in direction to expand their colony from a simple hive to a huge facility with factory-level efficiency. This concept might seem bizarre, but it is reflective of the nature of the stories set in the Divergent Universe, as often there are concepts that are very much grounded in the reality of our universe but twisted or turned on its head.

A suprising highlight of this story is the Oroog, a large furry digging animal voiced by Brian Cobby, the voice of the speaking clock from 1985-2007. One of the many bizarre creatures that the Doctor and Charley encounter in this story, Oroog is perhaps the most memorable for his charming personality that gives the Oroog an almost Cheshire Cat-like personality. Unfortunately, this audio does have a significant setback in terms of its general popularity among the fanbase, as it contains some of the most disturbing scenes in the series as Charley is physically mutated in a strange body-horror sequence that is somehow able to out-do Peri’s transformation at the hands of the cell mutator in Vengeance on Varos.

#54 – The Natural History of Fear

The Natural History of Fear is another audio story that requires the format of audio in order to work – this story simply wouldn’t work if it was adapted for TV, but explaining the reason why would be a huge spoiler. This audio is truly incredible, but unfortunately it is difficult to explain why without ruining the whole point of the story. The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz arrive in a place called Light City in which the residents are subject to continuous memory revision. The parallels to George Orwell’s 1984 are clear, though the narrative of The Natural History of Fear takes a very different direction. This audio exemplifies how the combination of the audio medium and the creative minds behind Big Finish can create some truly incredible stories that transcend their source material to become timeless classics in their own right. Although the Divergent Universe arc has a somewhat mixed reception among the fanbase overall, nobody can deny that The Natural History of Fear makes the entire arc worthwhile.

As always, Paul McGann and India Fisher are excellent – in this audio they are given the opportunity to showcase their range, and they share some incredible scenes together in this audio that keeps the listener questioning what is real and what isn’t for the entire runtime – this audio keeps its cards close to its chest until the very end and there are dozens of tiny details laced throughout that only become obvious once the ‘twist’ has been revealed. Spoiling the end of this audio would be similar to spoiling the twist ending of films like The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, so this review won’t divulge any more about the plot – but needless to say this one is definitely worth a listen.

It is also worth mentioning that Conrad Westmaas gives an excellent performance as C’rizz – this companion seems to have fallen by the wayside as there have been few references to him and absolutely no audios featuring him since the Divergent Universe arc concluded, which is a shame since he is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters Big Finish has ever created – in a way his character is reminiscent of the early appearances of Vislor Turlough in the Fifth Doctor TV stories, as the audience is never quite sure if they can trust this new addition to the team based on their previous actions.

#55 – The Twilight Kingdom

This audio kicks off a mystery straight out of the gate, with the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz finding a decomposed dead body in the jungle that initiates a series of events involving terrorists, mind control and a sinister cave with a dark secret. This is a fairly standard Doctor Who story in its basic story structure but unfortunately this story does suffer from having a bit too much padding, particularly in the first two parts. This does allow for a lot of time with Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas which is always welcome, but the supporting cast are not as memorable as other stories in the Divergent Universe arc.

Arguably the most interesting thing about this audio is that the motivations of the characters cannot be taken at face value, because almost all of the characters are under some degree of influence from external psychic forces. Throughout the Divergent Universe arc there is a fair degree of uncertainty about the TARDIS, as it is never certain whether the Doctor and Charley will ever be reunited with her again given the seemingly hopeless situation that they are in – this audio reaffirms the Doctor’s desperate search for the TARDIS among the myriad of bizarre locations and settings within the Divergent Universe, the driving force behind this series of audios.

However, there is another aspect to this audio that makes it memorable – it is a rare example of the companions and the Doctor having a serious difference of opinion in relation to the events of the story, as both Charley and C’rizz believe that the Doctor is wrong to assume that the terrorists are necessarily in the wrong, and Charley in particular flirts with outright betraying the Doctor because she believes her interpretation of events is right, and we gain an insight into Charley’s frustration at the change that has come over the Doctor since entering the Divergent Universe. Overall, although this story has a somewhat negative reputation that is somewhat deserved due to the slow pacing of the first two parts, the second half definitely picks up with some great moments from the Eighth Doctor – definitely worth a listen.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Divergent Universe Arc Part 2

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Early Charley Era Part 2

Concluding the first series of Eighth Doctor audios, we resume our review of the Early Charley Era with the second ‘wave’ of audios that was released in 2002 and 2003. This was a fascinating turning point both for Big Finish and Doctor Who in general, as audios were quickly establishing themselves as a fundamental aspect of Doctor Who in their own right. The audios in this list are famous for defining the Eighth Doctor’s early era and dazzling fans with a wide variety of creative concepts and thought-provoking stories that question the very nature of Doctor Who itself.

#28 – Invaders from Mars

We begin with a cult classic, Invaders from Mars, by Mark Gatiss. This is a fascinating audio with a very creative story idea – the story revolves around the historic broadcast of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds on a 1938 broadcast of the American radio show The mercury Theatre on the Air directed by Orson Welles that allegedly misled many listeners into believing that the Earth was actually under attack by a real-life Martian invasion, and essentially asks the question of what would happen if aliens were actually attempting an invasion at this time – only to be tricked into believing they had been beaten to the planet by an even more powerful race of aliens. This audio also features an incredible cast that includes Simon Pegg, Katy Manning, Jessica Hynes and Mark Gatiss, so it is a fascinating listen for that alone, and fans of Orson Welles will appreciate that he is included as a historical figure in a Doctor Who story.

Written by Mark Gatiss, this audio features the customary fun and wonder that would later become a recognisable trait of episodes of the New Series penned by Gatiss, so fans of his work are bound to enjoy this one. It’s got just enough murder mystery and New York accents to be called a Noir, yet this story also stays true to its science fiction roots to create an interesting blend of genres that makes for a great listen. It’s certainly one for those who enjoy the more light-hearted approach to Doctor Who but it is not short of atmosphere or suspense.

#29 – The Chimes of Midnight

The famous ‘Christmas Special’ of the Big Finish audios, The Chimes of Midnight should, despite its setting, be considered a Halloween special more than anything – this is without a doubt one of the most atmospheric and creepy Big Finish audios starring the Eighth Doctor. This audio highlights the backstory of Charley and continues the story arc revolving around her being saved from the R101 when in reality she was supposed to have died, whilst at the same time delivering a fantastic standalone story that makes for essential listening every time the festive season comes around. Although the ‘haunted house’ is a tired trope at this point, The Chimes of Midnight gives a fresh new take on this concept and also advances Charley’s story by exploring the temporal consequences of a house with occupants that should not exist.

This audio is not for the faint-hearted, and it deals with issues that the televised series would not be able to tackle in such a head-on fashion – there are several scenes that some listeners might find upsetting, a testament to how well the audio executes its central premise – and one of the main reasons why this audio has become an enduring classic that fans listen to time and time again is that it creates a spectacular atmosphere that, to date, has not been replicated in any other form of Doctor Who media to quite the same extent. Subsequent episodes of the televised series have attempted to utilise the ‘haunted house’ setting to varying degrees of success, but The Chimes of Midnight has a distinctive identity that cannot be imitated.

To reveal more about The Chimes of Midnight would spoil some essential aspects of the story, and it won’t be the only audio in this review that is difficult to discuss in writing as we will see later, but for those who enjoy creepy Christmas stories about haunted houses that also involve raspberry jam and copious amounts of plum pudding then this is the story for you. It is easily one of the best Christmas-themed pieces of Doctor Who material out there, especially for those who appreciate a festive ghost story.

#30 – Seasons of Fear

Despite being a franchise that revolves around the concept of time travel, there are actually very few Doctor Who stories that use time travel as a central concept to the story, instead the process is mostly used as a means of transportation rather than a plot device within the stories themselves – there are some exceptions, of course, but generally speaking this pattern holds true for Doctor Who TV episodes and audio stories alike. However, Seasons of Fear is a rare example of a story that not only spans multiple timeframes in a single narrative, but also utilises time travel in a way that is unique among Doctor Who stories.

One of the most refreshing aspects to this story, which is a driving force behind the narrative, is its exceptional villain – Sebastian Grayle is a great example of an original villain who fits into the Doctor Who mythos as if he was introduced in the 60s. The interesting thing about this story is that although Grayle is presented as maniacal and arrogant from the beginning, he is also a tragic, almost sympathetic character as over the course of the story we witness his deterioration as he becomes more and more obsessed with killing the Doctor and sacrificing the Earth to his ‘masters’ in order to achieve immortality.

This story also develops the relationship between the Doctor and Charley and hints at a romantic relationship developing between the two. Although the hints have been fairly strong throughout the series, it is here that the notion becomes less of an implication and more of an inevitability. There are those who find the idea of the Doctor having romantic relationships with their companions to be distasteful, but Big Finish did an excellent job of writing Charley to be an intellectual equal to the Doctor, but it is India Fisher’s exceptional performance that sells Charley’s wonder and sense of adventure, and that is what draws her and the Doctor together.

#31 – Embrace the Darkness

If The Chimes of Midnight somehow wasn’t spooky enough for you, this series delivers yet another excellent ‘scary’ episode in Embrace the Darkness, a story that takes full advantage of the format of the audio dramas by telling a story set in almost complete darkness for the majority of the runtime, with creatures who have adapted to live in the dark and who take the eyes of the Human inhabitants of a science station. One of the best things about the early Eighth Doctor audios is the diverse variety of experimentation in storytelling that is displayed throughout, and that is clearly demonstrated by audios like Embrace the Darkness.

A highlight of this story is ROSM, or more specifically Rescue Operational Security Module G723, voiced by Ian Brooker – an AI operating several assault units designed to carry out search-and-rescue – at any cost. The other supporting characters are very clearly defined, though their more grating personality traits can get tiresome, especially the persistent pessimism from the Humans in the base – something the Doctor actually comments on. Nonetheless, Embrace the Darkness is a memorable audio that has its fair share of chilling scenes, and is one of the first choices for a ‘scary story’.

The best thing about this audio is Paul McGann, who by this point is firmly established in the character of the Eighth Doctor. This era of Big Finish invokes a sense of nostalgia for fans who listened to them on release, as the early Eighth Doctor audios were, at that time, the only source of ‘new’ Doctor Who, as in stories set after the TV Movie aside from the various novel and comic series, and Big Finish did an excellent job of establishing their new era of Doctor Who, and to this day the early Eighth Doctor audios stand as a truly unique era of experimentation for the audio series.

#32 – The Time of the Daleks

The first Dalek story starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor is unfortunately quite a lacklustre one, as although this audio is the fourth and final instalment in a story arc that ran through the three previous Dalek stories produced by Big Finish (The Genocide Machine, The Apocalypse Element and The Mutant Phase) this audio does not share the same space-opera quality of those audios and instead opts to retell the events of The Evil of the Daleks with a subplot about the Daleks attempting to remove Shakespeare from history, among other things, and the end result is less-than-stellar. Recycling plot elements from The Evil of the Daleks has been a common occurrence in the past, likely due to the fact that many fans have reached the conclusion that the episode is lost forever, but unfortunately every attempt to rewrite this story – from this audio to the Eleventh Doctor TV story Victory of the Daleks – has been lacklustre.

Fans of the Daleks will be able to appreciate this audio, not least because of the excellent voice work provided by Nicholas Briggs. As this is the fourth audio featuring the Daleks to be released by Big Finish, by this time the iconic Dalek voice that fans know from the New Series had been well-established. Unfortunately, as the weakest of the ‘Dalek Empire’ story arc this story doesn’t give the Daleks much to do, although there are several scenes of the Daleks quoting Shakespeare that is perhaps the most memorable aspect of this story.

There is an appearance from the Dalek Emperor, however, which is always welcome – although featuring most prominently in The Mutant Phase, the Emperor appears here using the same booming, authoritative voice that Nicholas Briggs used for the later appearance for the Dalek Emperor in The Parting of the Ways in 2005. Overall, the final part is fairly strong so this audio is definitely worth a listen, and fans of the Daleks in particularly will enjoy this story. However, it is not among the strongest stories featuring the Daleks that Big Finish have produced.

#33 – Neverland

Lovers of Gallifrey lore will feel right at home with Neverland, as this story is perhaps one of the most interesting insights into Time Lord society since The Deadly Assassin. It also stars Lalla Ward as Romana II, continuing her story from the Sixth Doctor audio The Apocalypse Element and establishing her role as President of Gallifrey that becomes a central plot point to the Big Finish Gallifrey spinoff box sets. This audio has generous helpings of intrigue, critical plot revelations and a fantastic story – as the penultimate story of the first wave of Charley-era audios, Neverland delivers on every front. The Doctor and Charley’s relationship reaches its most critical point as the Doctor realises the full extent of the damage that saving Charley from the R1-01 has done to the Web of Time, and we empathize with his desperation to find a way of saving Charley without destroying the universe.

The characters in this story are very interesting, as nothing is as it seems – without delving into too may spoilers, Neverland deals with the consequences of one of Gallifrey’s darkest secrets, and presents a very interesting interpretation of the concept of time that allows for some very creative narrative developments. The performances given by the cast are all excellent, but standouts include India Fisher and Paul McGann, as always, as well as Lalla Ward who always delivers a great performance as Romana that makes me wish she had appeared in the Monthly Adventures series more often, although she would go on to play the primary role in the Gallifrey spinoffs leading right up to the Time War.

#50 – Zagreus

Writing about Zagreus is difficult because it is rather like trying to describe a dream you had when you don’t fully understand what the dream was supposed to mean and find it extremely disturbing yet fascinating to consider how it might have subconsciously affected you. The three-hour long audio was produced in celebration of Doctor Who’s 40th Anniversary, and all of Big Finish’s regular cast from the Monthly Range of Doctor Who stories were creatively cast in different roles in Zagreus, meaning that Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy all appear as well as all of the other recurring cast from Big Finish’s range of Doctor Who stories, and they are all playing different characters which is a very unique and fun feature of this audio.

The story itself is steeped in Time Lord lore, as well as the lore of the show in general, though this is not a traditional ‘Anniversary celebration’ episode – in fact it is quite unlike any other Doctor Who story ever produced, but it is for each individual listener to decide if this is good or bad. There are a few often-repeated phrases describing Zagreus that pop up in reviews and essays related to the drama, these are that it definitely doesn’t need to be four hours long and that it is almost completely impenetrable to newer listeners. Although it was marketed as a 40th Anniversary celebration story, it definitely requires a lot of contextual listening in order to have any chance of understanding the story.

Describing too much about the story will spoil crucial plot developments, but the basic overview of the audio is that Charley and the Doctor are separated and wandering among the many rooms and corridors of the TARDIS, as she generates holographic representations of real-life events happening elsewhere in time in an attempt to guide Charley through the story. Overall, Zagreus is a bizarre listen that can only be fully appreciated if the entire Eighth Doctor and Charley arc up until this point has been listened to at least once, if not multiple times. Zagreus itself often requires a few listens in order to fully understand the plot, and it is not recommended for newer listeners to the audio genre. As a rule, Zagreus is best listened to knowing that the project was perhaps an example of Big Finish overextending themselves. Still, having a main cast filled with cast members from Classic Who is always a treat.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Divergent Universe Arc Part 1

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Early Charley Era Part 1

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts in which I will be reviewing all of the Eighth Doctor audio dramas produced by Big Finish from beginning to end. This series will serve as part-review, part-guide for those who want to get into the Eighth Doctor audios but aren’t sure where to begin. The Eighth Doctor audios started in 2001 when Paul McGann starred in his first audio for Big Finish’s Main Range, titled Storm Warning. Until then, McGann’s only performance as the Eighth Doctor was in the 1996 TV Movie, and although he has gone on to become a cult fan-favourite due to the huge number of audio stories he has since starred in, back in 2001 the Eighth Doctor audios were seen as experimental, allowing the writers free reign to write about more expansive concepts as they were not tied to writing stories for the ‘Classic Era’.

#16 – Storm Warning

The first Big Finish audio starring Paul McGann as the Doctor does a fantastic job of reintroducing us to the character of the Eighth Doctor (who listeners at the time had only seen in the 1996 TV movie up until this point) as well as introducing us to the new companion, Charley Pollard, and the series arc that continues throughout her time in the TARDIS. Charley, played by India Fisher, receives a strong introduction in this story, as her character as an Edwardian adventuress is well-established as she boards the doomed English airship R101 and subsequently encounters the Doctor. Charley is a wonderful companion original to the Big Finish audios who plays an important role in the early phase of the Eighth Doctor’s tenure, and she immediately proves her worth in her debut story.

Through Charley we are introduced to Paul McGann’s Doctor, who keeps many of the character traits present in the TV Movie but is given much more time to develop the characterisation and add many subtle nuances to his performance. The Eighth Doctor emerges in this story fully-formed, and although he goes on to experience several character shifts throughout the vast range of Big Finish Eighth Doctor stories, his character for the duration of the Charley era is firmly established in this story. This Doctor has the air of having gleaned a huge amount of knowledge and experience from their seven previous lifetimes, and yet is also very scatterbrained and is among the most human and relatable Doctors of the Classic era.

Storm Warning tells a wonderful story within its source material, as the era is brought to life in this story through a range of interesting characters who really help set the scene to flesh out the era of 1930, and there are great cliffhangers throughout that are punctuated by the new arrangement of the theme composed by none other than James Bond composer David Arnold. Although Storm Warning is not technically the Eighth Doctor’s first story, as he debuted in the TV Movie, those who have never seen that film will have lost nothing as Storm Warning does a brilliant job of establishing the new Doctor, new companion and new era for Big Finish.

#17 – Sword of Orion

The Eighth Doctor’s first outing with the Cybermen is written by none other than Nicholas Briggs, who takes inspiration from the Alien series for this audio to deliver a story that is both spooky and thrilling. Sword of Orion is essentially a space opera, with a variety of locations and characters to illustrate the diversity of the Galaxy in 2503, and also references several Classic TV Cyberman stories such as The Tomb of the Cybermen. The Cybermen themselves are depicted well in this story, which is a considerable feat as this was the first audio story to feature them. The voices are reminiscent of the more human-sounding voices of the earlier Cybermen, though there is also a hint of the 80s-era voice in some specific scenes, particularly involving rogue Cybermen. This story is suitably creepy, as its primary setting is a derelict Cyberman Star Destroyer which is excellently depicted by the fantastic sound design present in this story. Everything from ominous creaking bulkheads to distant shrieks of insane Cybermen makes this audio an unnerving one to listen to with headphones on at night.

There is a particularly creepy scene in which the Doctor finds an abandoned Cyber-conversion facility that still contains the remains of its last victims, which gives a chilling insight into the horrific nature of cyber-conversion. The supporting characters give this story a significant degree of depth, particularly as we spend a fair amount of time with the side cast before they encounter the Cybermen – we also get a fair amount of worldbuilding that explains the current situation of not only the Cybermen but also the Humans and their current conflict with a race of androids who rebelled against Human control and eventually conquered their own system – Orion. The introduction of the android race as a third party separate from the Humans and the Cybermen is an interesting dynamic that presents interesting questions about the nature of the Cybermen compared to humanity and a race of synthetics.

Overall this story is a great first outing in the TARIS for Charley, who demonstrates her impressive ability to absorb information and quickly adapts to the nature of space travel despite being from the 1930s. One of Charley’s most endearing characteristics which is prominent in this story is her investigative mind and curious personality, which combined helps her to keep up to speed with the intrigue developing between other characters in a story at the same rate as the Doctor – although she does fill the companion role of asking questions, Charley quickly establishes herself as among the most resourceful and adventurous companions.

#18 – The Stones of Venice

The first audio that Paul McGann recorded for Big Finish, The Stones of Venice is interesting because although it is set in the future of 2294, it often comes across as a historical story because of the manner in which a lot of the supporting characters behave. This story depicts a very stylised view of 23rd century Venice at the point in which the city is doomed to sink into the sea, and the population of the city has essentially resigned themselves to that fate. There is certainly a melancholy atmosphere to this story, though there are enough lighthearted moments to keep it from being too bleak. Although this audio is set in Venice it is a very different story from the more famous Doctor Who story set in the same place, the Eleventh Doctor TV story Vampires of Venice, though there are some unusual similarities.

This audio develops the relationship between the Doctor and Charley and firmly establishes the pair as a time-travelling duo – the best companions are usually established by their second or third story, and Charley Pollard is no exception. There is an amusing scene early on in which Charley criticises the interior design of the TARDIS (which retains the design from the TV Movie), arguing that the Victorian aesthetic seems very out-of-date from her perspective as a native of the 1930s – moments like these continue to reinforce Charley’s role as a companion viewing events through the lens of the past, and yet Charley’s character is as forward-thinking as any modern companion. The bleak nature of this story is counteracted by the dynamic interaction between the Doctor and Charley that keeps this one interesting, though the side characters have a tendency to hop between theatrically melancholy to dramatically over-the-top.

This is essentially an audio that reinforces the pre-existing characterisation of the Eighth Doctor and Charley – whilst it is by no means essential listening to understand the wider story of the series, those who skip this audio will miss out on some great scenes between Paul McGann and India Fisher that helps to firmly establish their characters as a unique Doctor-companion duo – in the unlikely event that you were unsure about the Eighth Doctor and Charley during Storm Warning and Sword of Orion, The Stones of Venice completes the set and rounds off the first three Eighth Doctor audios with a strong audio that builds a rich world and offers some great moments for the Eighth Doctor and Charley.

#19 – Minuet in Hell

This story is intensely controversial among the fanbase for a number of reasons – the two most prominent are that the story uses several tropes that would become tired staples of the Eighth Doctor era, particularly the ‘amnesiac Doctor’ trope, and that it also sexualises Charley in a way that would be wholly inappropriate on the televised version of the show. In many ways Big Finish’s ability to write stories that do not conform to the family-friendly nature of the TV series is an asset, but this audio is a perfect example of how letting that become the driving force behind a story can detract from the narrative – at times it seems as though this audio is deliberately trying to be provocative or even borderline offensive, and to make matters worse the setting is so inconceivable and bizarre that the ‘adult’ nature of this audio seems utterly unearned.

For those who want to complete the set of Eighth Doctor and Charley audios then Minuet in Hell is interesting on its own merits – but for those who want to experience the wider story arc of the Eighth Doctor and Charley, then this audio is completely skippable. It is rare to encounter a Big Finish audio that has a negative reputation among the fanbase, so Minuet in Hell presents a certain fascination based on that fact alone, but it is quickly apparent why this audio has the reputation that it does among the fanbase. Arguably the only significant aspect of this audio is that it features Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, though he meets the Doctor only briefly.

This concludes the first series of the first era of Eighth Doctor stories, and although it ended on a bit of a misstep, overall the audios are promising. Paul McGann fits into the role of the Eighth Doctor perfectly, despite it being five years since his TV appearance. India Fisher is excellent as Charley, who is brought to life as a fully-formed companion out of the gate, and is without doubt one of the most iconic and memorable companions who are original to audio.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Early Charley Era Part 2

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