Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – EDAs Series 1

Following the resounding success of the TV revival series of Doctor Who that launched in 2005, peripheral Doctor Who mediums quickly adapted to capitalise on the huge increase in potential fans that would want to explore other mediums separate from the TV series. Big Finish were no different, and they launched the immensely successful Eighth Doctor Adventures in 2006 starring Paul McGann as the increasingly popular Eighth Doctor and Sheridan Smith as new companion Lucie Miller. These audios swap out the format of previous Eighth Doctor audios – stories divided into four 25-minute episodes in a format similar to Classic Who – in favour of the New Series story format – single 45-minute episodes, with the occasional two-part story. This means that, if the New Series is a format that you are more accustomed to, the Eighth Doctor Adventures are an excellent jumping-on point because they not only share a similar tone to the modern TV Series, they also use a familiar approach to character and story development, such as recurring story arcs that feature in every story, and a companion who originates from what was the modern day at the time.

1.1 / 1.2 – Blood of the Daleks

The first story in the Eighth Doctor Adventures is a two-part story that introduces new companion Lucie Miller as well as depicting the Eighth Doctor’s next encounter with the Daleks. It does both fairly well, though the introduction of Lucie is over very quickly before the main story begins to unfold. This is perhaps the quickest companion introduction Big Finish have attempted thus far, and this is probably due to the fact that the EDAs were designed to mimic the style and tone of the New Series, which had only recently released when this series of audios began in 2006, so things move a bit faster than in the Main Range audios. The premise is simple – the Doctor and Lucie materialise the TARDIS on the planet Red Rocket Rising, which has been recently devastated by a meteorite impact. The remaining human population is scrabbling to survive amongst the ruins of their society, and a rampaging mob is hunting down the Acting President Eileen Klint and another woman called Asha, as it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to the situation than meets the eye. Another survivor, Tom Cardwell, is considered an insane tinfoil-hat prophesier of doom by his fellow citizens, but despite his appearance Cardwell also knows more than he is telling, as he has created defences against the acid rain and frequent dust storms.

The plot revolves around Professor Martez, an insane scientist who was using human remains and living human specimens to harvest samples for genetic experiments that were intended to improve the people of Red Rocket Rising. Martez and his assistant Asha were arrested for their violations of human ethics, though Martez later died and his assistant was freed by Klint in the hopes that the two of them could try to restart the society of Red Rocket Rising. There is an incredible scene where the two of them are rummaging around in the ruins of Martez’s laboratory and they reactivate a receiver, only to hear the grating voice of the Daleks sending signals down to the planet. Although there are several twists in this story that can be seen coming from a mile off, there are some others that are very well-hidden and there are some great reveals that are very well-executed. If there is one thing that Blood of the Daleks does well, it is that it does an exceptional job of illustrating the incredible devastation that the Daleks can dish out, particularly when they find the actions of a planet or culture particularly offensive. In this case, the Daleks seek to root out and destroy Martez’s work because they see it as any attempt to imitate the Daleks as an affront that must be destroyed.

Another interesting aspect to this story is that, due to circumstance, the Doctor and the Daleks end up briefly teaming up – it is always fun when the Doctor and the Daleks work together, and this story is a great example of why. It is also worth noting that Sheridan Smith does an exceptional job voicing Lucie Miller, for her first audio the new companion is immediately likeable in much the same way as Rose was in the first episode of the New Series. Although Lucie Miller is similar to Rose in that she is a relatable young female companion, there are distinct personality differences between the two, and Lucie often feels more similar to Donna than Rose as she has a much spikier personality. It is great that Lucie’s first audio is a Dalek story, as she is put in the unique position of having a harrowing adventure the first time around and then having more light-hearted travels later on, whereas for most companions the adjustment goes the other way. It is particularly harrowing hearing the Doctor relive memories of the genesis of a Dalek species, as there are a lot of parallels between the events that happen on Red Rocket Rising in this audio and those that happen on Skaro in Genesis of the Daleks. Overall, Blood of the Daleks is a fantastic opening to the EDAs that sets the tone of the series perfectly, introduces Lucie Miller as the Eighth Doctor’s newest companion and tells a fantastic Dalek story.

1.3 – Horror of Glam Rock

The title of this audio is a humorous reference to the Fourth Doctor TV story Horror of Fang Rock, and although there is no direct relation between the two stories, this one does have a distinct 1970s feel. The Doctor and Lucie arrive in 1974, and quickly discover the body of a man described as a ‘Glam Rocker’ who had been murdered by a savage beast, before the creature starts attacking a nearby diner. This story is notable for starring both Una Stubbs and Bernard Cribbins, and needless to say the supporting cast put in an excellent performance that really brings this story to life. The sound design is also excellent, with the soundtrack taking on a bit of the Glam Rock feel. There are some tense scenes in this story, and there are some sequences that are reminiscent of Tooth and Claw from the TV series. Instead of one werewolf, however, the Doctor and Lucie are up against several bear-like creatures with scales, with just the resources and occupants of a 1970s diner for backup.

The use of the stylophone as part of the setup is great, not only because the unique instrument has its own distinctive sound but also because it is used in a really creative and creepy way in this story that really adds to the atmosphere. The creatures use the stylophone to possess the musician who plays them, and the creatures eventually use this to undermine the Doctor’s efforts to protect the people in the diner. Arnold Korns, the manager of a band called the Tomorrow Twins who is played by Bernard Cribbins, proves himself to be particularly cruel and ends up doing more harm than good by attempting to save himself, purely so that he can make his appearance on an episode of Top of the Pops. Another of the side characters, called Pat, turns out to be Lucie’s auntie in her youth, which creates a fair bit of intrigue as Lucie gives away too much to her without realising the implications.

As Lucie’s first trip to the past, Horror of Glam Rock is a great audio that takes full advantage of the shorter format to deliver a punchy story that would not have felt out of place in the Russel T. Davies era of the TV series. We get to hear more of the Doctor and Lucie interacting as their friendship strengthens, and at the conclusion of this story there is a heartwarming moment where the Doctor asks Lucie to travel with him as a full-time companion, instead of as a temporary passenger. We also get more of a development of the series arc that was hinted at in the conclusion of the previous story, as the mysterious Headhunter searches for Lucie Miller in the diner after they have left, proving that she is chasing the Doctor and Lucie through time and space.

1.4 – Immortal Beloved

This audio deals with the concepts of young love and religion, and thrusts the Doctor and Lucie into a bizarre society styled after Ancient Greece that exists on a planet in the 34th century. They meet two lovers, Sarati and Kalkin, who at first appear to be attempting suicide, though it is clear that there is more going on than it first appears when military helicopters arrive to intervene. The society is run by two individuals, called Zeus and Hera, who seem to be part-ruler and part-god, worshipped by their subjects. Other high-ranking figures in this society have names inspired by Greek mythology, such as Ares and Ganymede, and the architecture of the planet is also inspired by Ancient Greece. Though this might seem a strange choice, all becomes clear as the story of this audio unfolds. As usual the sound design is excellent, and it is interesting to note that Paul McGann’s son, Jake McGann, appears in this audio, and it won’t be his last role in the Eighth Doctor Adventures.

At this point, Lucie Miller has been firmly established as a companion, and Sheridan Smith does a fantastic job of actualising the character. Lucie is a great companion who is very different from Charley, and this audio is a great showcase of how she reacts to situations differently. Although she and the Eighth Doctor didn’t get on initially, by now they have become close friends and have learned to trust each other. They are confronted with an interesting dilemma in this story, as the society has been constructed around the concept of the members of the ruling class transferring their consciousnesses to younger clones of themselves who they raise as children. As such, there is a constant cycle of life and death as the older rulers rear their young only to steal their bodies. The original crew of the colony ship who brought the settlers to the planet continue to do this in order to preserve the society that they have created, as they believe that without their guidance the carefully-crafted civilisation would fall.

This audio is definitely an interesting listen, not least because it deals with the bizarre implications of a society built by body-hopping consciousnesses who have set themselves up as gods. They have transferred their minds so many times under their fake god names that they can barely remember who they originally were, and although all talk of the worlds outside the planet are banned, the ‘gods’ are quick to turn to drastic measures to try to find the parts for their cloning machines and mind-transference devices that, after thousands of years of use, have started to decay. Faced with the downfall of their civilisation, it is clear that the former humans masquerading as gods will go to any lengths to ensure their own survival.

1.5 – Phobos

This audio starts with one of the best cold opens in the series so far, set in a ski resort that has been constructed in a bio-dome on the surface of Phobos, the innermost moon of Mars. As the blurb on the back of the CD points out, ‘Phobos’ is the Ancient Greek word for ‘fear’, and it quickly becomes apparent that some kind of creature is stalking skiers on the resort, despite the extreme nature of the setting. Rumours are abound amongst the staff of the resort and the adrenaline-junkies that bizarre monsters stalk them in the night, and this audio does a great job of using the setting to create some really tense scenes set amongst the howling winds of the icy environment and some very creepy imagery. The Doctor and Lucie find a woman shivering from fear, not cold, and next to her lies a mutilated body that kicks off the mystery.

Phobos is another monster run-around, though it is distinctly different from Horror of Glam Rock in both setting and tone. The soundtrack is excellent, as is the sound design, and Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith put in excellent performances as always. Unfortunately, the supporting cast are not very memorable, and apart from a few exceptions they are mostly interchangeable. There are a few surprising twists in this story that make it an interesting listen, though it does seem to resemble Scooby-Doo at times, with Lucie even dropping a reference that confirms this. That is a suitable analogy for this story -if you enjoy classic monster run-arounds with overblown sci-fi concepts then this is the ideal story for you, so from that point of view it somewhat resembles a Third Doctor story.

Arguably the only downside to this story is that Lucie Miller is not given much to do as a companion, as the quick pacing means that the vast majority of the plot advancement is spearheaded by the Doctor, with Lucie seemingly just tagging along for the ride. As such, the Headhunter appears but is played more for laughs than an actual serious threat, though it seems certain that the next story will feature the long-awaited encounter between her and Lucie Miller.

1.6 – No More Lies

This audio has an interesting opening, as we see an adventure already in progress with the Doctor and Lucie pursuing a man called ‘Zimmerman’ who is attempting to collect rare time-travel technology and has attracted the attention of several time scavengers in the area. One thing that is notable is that it appears that some time has passed, as Lucie is now confident and capable enough to chase down a villain through a time ship while the Doctor waits in the TARDIS, and then helps fly the ship by typing in co-ordinates, proving that her and the Doctor have been travelling together for some time and have come to rely on each other greatly, and Lucie is more willing to discuss ‘sciencey’ and technobabble-orientated dialogue, whereas in previous stories she has often shrugged it off.

The setting of this story is interesting – a seemingly unintentional time-loop has trapped Zimmerman, aged 30 years older than he was when the Doctor and Lucie met him, in an endless dinner party along with all the guests – this provides some great opportunities for interesting narrative elements involving such a bizarre temporal anomaly, and despite everything it soon becomes clear that Zimmerman has changed somewhat in the 30 years since he last met the Doctor – he has a human wife, for a start – and as the Vortisaurs and Tar Modowk close in, the Doctor has to figure out if he believes Zimmerman’s stories of redemption and forgiveness, and indeed if the time loop is the result of any insidious action at all.

As always, the sound design of this audio is incredible, and No More Lies is particularly memorable because it features guest stars Nigel Havers and Julia McKenzie as Nick and Rachel Zimmerman. This audio keeps you guessing throughout and delivers a satisfying conclusion, making good use of its runtime to present a well-paced story. The Headhunter also makes her triumphant return in this audio, having literally fallen off her bike in Phobos she has a much more effective presence here, arriving at the last second to snatch Lucie just before she enters the TARDIS.

1.7 / 1.8 – Human Resources

Having been abducted by the Headhunter at the end of the previous story, Lucie is transported to what initially appears to be a boring office – the same one that she was supposed to be started her first day at in the prologue of Blood of the Daleks. The Doctor is sent after her by a Time Lord called Strax, who makes his first appearance in this story but will become more important later, via a Time Ring that is given to the Doctor by the Time Lords. It soon becomes clear that there is more at work in this office than meets the eye, as the office workers and phone operators discuss co-ordinated battle tactics in the same manner as a standard company staff would discuss ordinary day-to-day activities – the Doctor infiltrates the company and soon discovers that they have been commissioned to attack targets on a planet, and the office is in fact a huge mobile structure – the entire staff have been brainwashed to think that they are still on Earth but they are in fact aboard a walking weapons platform. This is a great setting for the first part, and the office environment is really brought to life, complete with overbearing sexist bosses and mundane PA announcements. Lucie soon finds out the hard way that staff who are fired get ejected from the building and have to join the war going on outside, or scavenge among the ruins in order to survive. The Doctor, in the meantime, pretends to be a client looking to instigate a planetary invasion – there is an amusing scene in which the Doctor bluffs his way into the bosses’ confidence by arranging a military coup on Gallifrey, and although he certainly isn’t serious it gives the impression that he has given the matter some thought in the past.

Naturally, the Doctor heads into the situation with the intent of taking down this company, as the thought of reducing the process of planetary invasion to a business arrangement doesn’t sit right with him or Lucie. However, as events unfold and part one draws to a close it becomes clear that there is something that has not been accounted for – the Doctor steps in to defend the inhabitants of the planet under attack, without thinking to investigate who they are and why they are being attacked in the first place. As it happens, the race under attack is the Cybermen, and part one ends with a fantastic cliff-hangar that, due to the two discs being released separately, came as a complete surprise to the listeners at the time. The Cybermen in this story are a variant of the late-Second Doctor era Cybermen who have settled on the planet Lonsis, though they also seem to share many elements with the Cybus Cybermen including stompy feet and a very similar voice, making these Cybermen an interesting hybrid of Classic and New Series Cyberman traits.

The Headhunter is also utilised excellently in this audio, as her motives and character become clear almost immediately. Hired by the company to recover Lucie Miller when she was abducted by the Time Lords, the Headhunter has no real affiliation with them, and so when the Cybermen invade one of the weapons platforms, she agrees to help Lucie to save herself, which makes perfect sense for the character as she is not inherently evil, just motivated by monetary gain. We also learn a bit more about how the Time Lords are beginning to take an interest in interfering with the interstellar wars scattered throughout time, but their willingness to intervene in order to combat the Cybermen foreshadows more serious conflicts to come. Establishing the Celestial Intervention Agency as an even-present threat that has been influencing events leading up to this point is important for later audio stories in the Eighth Doctor’s life, and it is particularly interesting that Straxus is introduced alongside this concept, which is some brilliant foreshadowing for events later in the series. Overall, Human Resources is a great finale to the first series that answers many questions about the ongoing story arc of the EDAs but leaves enough plot threads hanging that, although it provides a satisfying conclusion to the series, it also establishes many of the plot elements for the next series.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – EDAs Series 2, Part 1

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

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