As October is a festively spooky month, it is a good time to revisit some of Doctor Who’s scariest episodes. So in keeping with the tradition, here at Sacred Icon we are counting down the Top 5 Scariest Big Finish Doctor Who audios. Big Finish have been making Doctor Who audios for over 20 years, they have accumulated a fair amount of scary stories.
5 – Ravenous 2 | Seizure
This is a spectacular story that firmly establishes the titular Ravenous as truly terrifying adversaries. Previously in the Ravenous 2 box-set the Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen fought against the Krampus and several hellish imps, as well as the notorious Voc Robots, so the scary theme of the set is clear – but the final episode, Seizure, takes the cake. This self-contained story depicts the trio exploring the labyrinthine remains of an insane, dying TARDIS as they attempt to locate potential survivors, one of whom is the deranged Time Lord known as ‘The Eleven’. Afflicted with regenerative dissonance, The Eleven’s previous incarnations live on inside his mind, and with ten other voices in his head at all times, he has been driven quite mad. Yet The Eleven isn’t even the scariest thing that stalks the Doctor and his friends in this story, as the dying TARDIS is also home to an elusive ghost and a ravenous monster that aims to devour the Time Lords themselves.
4 – Embrace the Darkness
Another Eighth Doctor story, but from far earlier in his timeline, Embrace the Darkness is a fantastic narrative that makes excellent use of the audio drama format. The entire story is set in near-total darkness, and the fact that there are no visuals does wonders to enhance the fear-factor, as the story consistently keeps you on your toes. There are some genuinely chilling scenes, particularly involving the humans the Doctor and Charley encounter in the dark world that they visit, and at times this audio seems like the closest Doctor Who comes to doing straight-up horror.
3 – Spare Parts
This audio is often mentioned when people discuss the benefits of Big Finish’s position as an independent company, as it is a great example of the company completely ignoring the ‘child-friendly’ requirement that people expect from televised Doctor Who. A Cyberman origin story set on the bleak, dying world of Mondas, Spare Parts depicts a society in its death-throes as the Mondasians desperately attempt to survive against the bitter cold of their lost planet. Inevitably, the Cybermen rise, and although Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor do everything they can to prevent it, we know from the beginning that the ending is inevitable. What Spare Parts does so well is show that even in the bleakest of scenarios there is still an inkling of hope, but for the people of Mondas their source of hope is the eternal living death of Cyber-conversion. Spare Parts isn’t ‘jump-scare’ scary, but it is the kind of story that will be playing over and over again in your head for days after you listen to it.
2 – Doom Coalition 1 | The Red Lady
Usually, the scariest audio dramas are the ones that capitalise on the audio format itself, as many of the scariest Doctor Who audios would be impossible to adapt for TV without losing an element of the fear factor. The Red Lady is a rare example of an audio that could, in theory, be a televised episode, but it is just so creepy that even without visuals the tale is still terrifying. The story introduces new companion Helen, an assistant language scholar for the National Museum in the 1960s, as her, the Eighth Doctor and Liv attempt to unravel a deadly mystery. An art collection featuring a recurring motif of a red woman is donated to the museum, and quickly people start dying.
1 – Night Thoughts
A creepy story set on a remote island in Scotland, Night Thoughts is a wonderful exploration of psychology and the fear of death. When the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex arrive at a grand old hall and disturb a group of academics residing in an old house, they soon realise that there is far more at work than the bickering of a few scholars – soon the murders start, and the most obvious lead seems to be a girl who talks with her stuffed rabbit – and the stuffed rabbit talks back. With a plot that seizes the potential of time-travel related stories by the horns, an atmosphere that is steeped in classical horror and twists and turns that keep the listener engaged to the very end, Night Thoughts is the quintessential spooky story in Big Finish’s backcatalogue.
Ever wondered why Daleks need their casings? Find out here on Sacred Icon:
The 2019 New Year’s Special of Doctor Who featured the return of the Daleks and the introduction of a new Dalek variant – the Recon Scout, a mutant with genetic modifications and extra abilities that allow it to survive in almost any environment, as well as allowing it to exist outside of its casing.
However, this does seem to contradict Doctor Who lore, as historically the Daleks have been confined to their casings, so is this a mistake? Well, to answer that question, let’s first dive in and explain why the Daleks actually need their casings to begin with.
Locked inside a Cold, Metal Cage
The Daleks originated on Skaro, a planet ravaged by nuclear and chemical warfare, as the result of experiments conducted by Davros that focused on adapting the existing races of the planet so that they could survive in the polluted and ruined atmosphere. The idea behind this was that, once the war was over, some form of life had to survive to live on otherwise the entire conflict would have been meaningless. However, in the process Davros created a monstrous creature that lived to hate and required a life support machien to survive.
Though it might seem ironic that Davros’ attempts to create the ultimate creature ended up creating a race that were dependent on life support to exist, Davros countered this by also inventing the ultimate weapon – the Dalek shell, a self-supporting battle tank with extremely powerful weapons, armour and shields. In many ways, the Dalek mutant and the casing are intrinsically linked, to the extent that in the Big Finish Audio Story In Remembrance, an Imperial warrior states that “A Dalek is it’s casing”, further solidifying the idea that, to the Daleks, their casing is almost like an extension of itself.
Daleks and Their Casings
Nonetheless, the casing is not always necessary for a Daleks’ survival. In past episodes of the show we have seen that some Daleks are capable of surviving outside of their shells for some time, as was seen in Resurrection of the Daleks, Twice Upon a Time and Resolution. But how is this possible when the casing provides such essential life support? The answer to this question varies depending on the context and the episode – in some cases Daleks have been seen to adapt to life outside their casings over time, and in other cases the Daleks are capable of temporarily leaving their casings.
Either way, the primary purpose of the Dalek’s casing is to provide life support – that was its primary function before the Daleks even adapted for interstellar warfare. Daleks have also been known to use their casings to depict rank or allegiance. This was certainly the case with Supreme Daleks, and in the case of important individual Daleks such as the Dalek Time Controller or Dalek Sec. During the Imperial-Renegade Dalek Civil War, the different Dalek factions were denoted by their different-looking casings, that each sported their own unique colour scheme and overall design.
The Paradigm Daleks used bright colours to determine rank among their limited number, and their casing deviated radically from that of the standard Dalek of that era to denote their unique position in Dalek society. Despite these differences, the overall design of the standard Dalek casing has always remained constant. The Daleks have no desire to adapt the shape or design of their casings, and they see any attempt to do so as an abhorrent deviation, except in the most dire of circumstances. Daleks view themselves to be the supreme beings in the universe, so they revere imagery of their own casings, building skyscrapers in an image that resembles them, both on Earth and even on Skaro itself. Overall, it’s safe to say that the Dalek casing is an important part of the Dalek itself.
Battle Armour and Immense Firepower
In keeping with their philosophy of Extermination of all other life forms, the Dalek casing is built to be the ultimate death machine. The primary armament is a gunstick fitted into the left-hand ball-jointed socket on the front of the Dalek. This weapon fires an energy blast that can be tuned and modified to suit the needs of the Dalek in the current situation. Their first on-screen use was to stun humanoids by disabling their legs temporarily.
When used at full power, however, the Dalek’s death ray can instantly kill almost any life form in a single blast, which liquefies the internal organs of the victim causing intense agony followed by a sudden death. The blast can be altered in strength to quicken the death of the victim, disintegrate targets, cut through metal or cause intense explosions, or modified in delivery by either a projectile or beam-shaped blast.
Not only that, but the Dalek is also armed with a strong manipulator arm with a flexible gripper that can assume almost any shape, either to interface with complex mechanism or to crush the heads of humanoids in close-quarters combat. The Dalek is protected by an energy shield that absorbs energy-based projectiles and disintegrates incoming ballistic-based projectiles and vaporises living things that get too close when used at full power. Not only that, but the casing’s armour itself can withstand most projectiles. Needless to say, the Dalek’s casing is a catch-all tool for hunting down and exterminating prey on the ground. But the Daleks would never stop there.
Defeating the Flight of Stairs
The Dalek casing moves about using heavy lifters beneath the casing that can be intensified to allow the Dalek to fly. This allows Daleks to essentially become airborne fight craft, that can also double as bombers if their weapons are used at full power.
This feature also allows the Dalek to fly up stairs, navigate potentially difficult environments, and even function in space. When flying through space, Daleks are surprisingly fast, and are often deployed en masse from Dalek saucers and used in ship-to-ship combat.
Due to their enhanced mobility and ability to make their casings air-tight, Daleks can also function underwater if necessary. Certain models of Dalek are adapted specifically for underwater environments, as the Dalek Empire will conquer and destroy ocean worlds just as freely as any human colony or tropical paradise.
New to Big Finish Doctor Who Audios? If you want to get into the Eighth Doctor’s era but don’t know where to start, this guide to Big Finish 8th Doctor Audios can help!
One of Big Finish’s most popular and most successful ranges among their Doctor Who back-catalogue is their extensive selection of Eighth Doctor audio dramas, and for good reason.
As he has historically been the Doctor with the fewest on-screen appearances, it is great that the Eighth Doctor was picked up by Big Finish – Paul McGann continues to add to the role he never got to play on TV, the writers have free reign to tell whatever stories they want as they are not constrained by a preexisting narrative for the Eighth Doctor, and fans have been treated to some truly amazing stories within the Eighth Doctor range, all told through the medium of audio,
However, as Big Finish have been producing Eighth Doctor audios since 2001, it can be difficult at this point to know where to begin with his series. With literally hundreds of audio plays to his name, the Eighth Doctor can seem a daunting Doctor to tackle for fans, particularly those that are just getting into Big Finish and the audio drama format as a whole.
This guide is designed to assist those who want to listen to the Eighth Doctor’s Big Finish audio dramas but are unsure of how to approach them. To begin, let’s simplify the Eighth Doctor’s era by dividing it into the distinct ‘phases’ that are generally accepted by fans to be the main pillars of Eighth Doctor audio content.
Phase 1 -Charley Pollard and The Early Years
The Eighth Doctor’s early adventures are bold, nostalgic, and stand the test of time – not only do they draw a lot from the best of Classic Who and therefore don’t feel out of place among the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the Monthly Adventures, they do an excellent job of firmly establishing the character of the Eighth Doctor post-TV Movie, as well as introducing us to the marvellous Charley Pollard, the Eighth Doctor’s companion for the majority of his Monthly Range appearances.
Rather like the first few Fourth Doctor TV episodes, the early Eighth Doctor stories depict the Doctor exploring the universe seemingly without a care, but hinting at an overarching plot beneath. This means that you can listen to each episode individually without a problem, but it is beneficial to listen to them in order. The saga begins with 2001’s Storm Warning, which introduces Charley, and highlights of this era include Embrace the Darkness, Neverland, Zagreus, Scherzo, The Natural History of Fear, and The Girl Who Never Was.
Although it is not necessary to listen to every single audio in this era, there are very few that could be considered downright bad. As this was an early era for Big Finish, a lot of experimentation was taking place, so this era of Doctor Who audio dramas can be forgiven for its occasional slip-ups as for every dud audio play Big Finish produced, there were three more that were truly excellent. The only audio that should probably be avoided is Minuet in Hell, although it has to be said that Zagreus is not for the faint-hearted.
Phase 2 – Lucie Bleedin’ Miller and the New Beginning
Since the first set of Eighth Doctor audios were part of the Monthly Adventures, they use the Classic Who format of 4 25-30 minute parts that make up a roughly 2 hour story. However, when the Eighth Doctor was given his own standalone series in 2007, Big Finish changed the format of his stories to single 45 minute episodes, some of which having two parts, to match the format that the televised Doctor Who used post-2005. This change makes the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Lucie Miller far more accessible to newer fans.
Not only that, but this series contains a huge amount of excellent content. Although not as experimental as the previous phase of Eighth Doctor audios, the Eighth Doctor Adventures are far more consistent in terms of overall quality. The tone and plots of the audios in this phase feel very much aligned to the New Series, specifically the Tenth Doctor era. Lucie Miller makes an excellent companion – almost like a cross between Rose and Donna, with just a dash of Ace thrown in for luck. Her strong personality and excellent portrayal by Sheridan Smith make Lucie an instantly memorable companion.
The villains of this era are also equally memorable. The notorious Headhunter is an excellent counter to the Doctor and Lucie’s positive outlook on their adventures, and as her character develops she becomes a fascinating anti-hero of sorts as well as recurring villain. There are also strong appearances for both the Daleks and the Cybermen in this era, and there are many returning Classic villains that make this phase feel like a love letter to fans of Classic and New Who alike. Highlights from this era include Blood of the Daleks, Human Resources, Brave New Town, The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, Hothouse, Wirrn Dawn and To The Death, although there are very few stories in this phase that fail to be either enjoyable romps or excellent sci-fi stories.
Phase 3 – Molly O’Sullivan, the Girl with the Dark Eyes
This phase of Eighth Doctor audios marks a significant transition into the format of 4 episode to a box set and 4 box sets to a series. The episodes are usually self-contained stories that connect together to form a 16-part story – think The Trial of a Time Lord but with less Brian Blessed and even more technobabble. This era sees a far more reserved and brooding Doctor team up with new companion Molly O’Sullivan – a World War I Medical Volunteer who possesses the ‘Dark Eyes’ that give the series its name.
Overall, this phase of the Eighth Doctor’s tenure is perhaps the least accessible to most fans, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has its own distinct identity, almost its own universe, and it creates its own galactic conflict to use as the stage for its space-opera-style story structure. Dark Eyes is certainly an immersive experience, though arguably its greatest weakness is that it relies too heavily on the combined story structure, meaning there are few episodes that stand out as individual stories in their own right.
One of the greatest strengths of Dark Eyes, however, is the Master – played excellently by the delightfully charismatic Alex Macqueen. This version of the Master is a treat, and his appearance in this series helps make it truly memorable. Highlights from this phase include The Great War, The Traitor, Eyes of the Master, A Life in the Day and Master of the Daleks.
Phase 4 – Battling Doom Coalition and Ravenous with Liv and Helen
After the intense and plot-heavy Dark Eyes, the Eighth Doctor’s life takes a sudden turn with the Doom Coalition and Ravenous storylines. The format relaxes the overarching plot meaning that the individual stories feel more unique and distinct from each other, meaning that it would theoretically be possible for a newcomer to listen to a random story from this series and enjoy it. However, as previously mentioned, at this point in the Eighth Doctor’s life there is a lot of internal lore and backstory within his stories, meaning characters, events and plot threads from previous phases play more of a part in these stories. There are even some elements of the New Series that are brought into play here, such as Missy, River Song, and the Weeping Angels.
And yet, arguably the best thing about this era is that the Doctor has a wonderful pair of companions in this phase – Liv and Helen, who come from completely different time zones, one from the 1960s, one from the far-future, and yet have perfect chemistry. Although not as dynamic as Charley or distinctive as Lucie, Liv and Helen fit the companion role excellently for this era of the Eighth Doctor’s life. Highlights from this era include The Red Lady, Scenes from Her Life, Absent Friends, The Side of the Angels, Their Finest Hour Seizure and Companion Piece.
This phase also features a character that is arguably the best villain in the Eighth Doctor’s entire era, and is perhaps one of the greatest villains in Doctor Who history – The Eleven. This insane Time Lord suffers from a condition called Regenerative Dissonance, meaning that his previous incarnations live on as multiple personalities inside his head. This leads to terrifying situations in which multiple psychopathic consciousnesses fight to control a single body and argue over the best way to murder their victim, with the primary Eleven personality vying for control.
Phase 5 – Bliss and the Time War
It was inevitable that the Eighth Doctor would have to face the Time War eventually, and Big Finish began producing the Eighth Doctor Time War stories before Doom Coalition had even finished – this represents a fresh start for the Doctor, and he has a new companion and even a new theme (borrowed from the late John Hurt’s War Doctor audios). These stories are often a lot bleaker than many of the previous Eighth Doctor audios, although this is to be expected with the Time War raging.
There are some interesting surprises in this era, as several aspects of the Doctor’s life come back to haunt him during the horrors of the Time War. This series also serves a secondary purpose – setting up the War Doctor audios which chronologically take place after this era from the point of view of the Doctor.
New companion Bliss makes an excellent impression in this series, establishing herself as a character who is just as affected by the Time War as the Doctor is, meaning she understands the nature of the conflict and aligns with the Doctor’s view of wanting to help but not actively fight. Highlights of this phase include The Starship of Theseus, One Life, Planet of the Ogrons, In the Garden of Death and The War Valeyard. Although the last phase in the Eighth Doctor’s tenure is quite disconnected from its predecessors, one must take into account the fact that Big Finish has not finished filling in the gaps as of yet. Still, those who enjoyed the legendary War Doctor audios will also enjoy the Eighth Doctor: Time War stories.
Extra Eighth Doctor Content
But wait, there’s more! The five phases might be the main eras of the Eighth Doctor’s audio tenure, but there are other stories that feature him that do not fit into any of these categories. Overall, the Eighth Doctor’s era is vast and daunting to the uninitiated, but hopefully this guide has helped to break down this enigmatic and elusive Doctor’s era into more manageable phases for those who want to take the plunge and experience the excellent audio adventures of the Eighth Doctor.
Travels with Mary Shelley
There are some audios that were released as part of the Monthly Adventures in 2009 and 2010 that depicted the Eighth Doctor at an earlier point in his life, before he even met Charley, in which he had several travels with Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. This era takes on a distinctly Gothic feel, and every one is worth a listen. The Silver Turk is arguably the best, and features the Mondasian Cybermen in 19th-century Vienna.
The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller
Acting as a pseudo-spinoff series for Lucie that is set between the first and second series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, this box set tells various stories that primarily involve Lucie, although the Eighth Doctor is obviously present. So far only the first box set of this series has been released, but already the Further Adventures of Lucie Miller have given us a hilarious Dalek story in the debut story, The Dalek Trap.
Rage of the Master
The Eighth Doctor also appears in the third box set in the War Master series, which depicts the antics of Derek Jacobi’s incarnation of the Master during the Time War. The Eighth Doctor and the War Master bounce off each other well in their scenes together, and overall the story is highly enjoyable – but to say any more would give away some fantastic plot twists.
The Cybermen are one of the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies, and since their introduction in The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who’s first regeneration story, the Cybermen have menaced almost every incarnation of the Doctor. As they are due to appear in Series 12 in 2020, fan interest in the Cybermen has peaked recently. However, a question that often comes up when discussing them is, how were they first created?
Unlike the Daleks, who get their own origin story in Genesis of the Daleks, the Cybermen were strangely neglected when it came to their origins in the Classic Series. The closest we came to an getting an explanation of their origins is the brief summary of how they came to be that we get in their first episode, as the Cybermen explain that their world, Mondas, was dying and that they needed to adapt in order to survive.
The Many Cyber-Origin Stories
Interestingly, although Classic Who didn’t divulge much about the origins of the Cybermen, the 21st century incarnations of Doctor Who have attempted to explain more about their origins.
Spare Parts, Big Finish Main Range, 2002
Spare Parts, a Fifth Doctor Big Finish Audio from the Main Range, depicts the Doctor and Nyssa arriving on Mondas just as the Cybermen are starting to take over, and although Nyssa is determined to try and save the planet, the Doctor is torn between helping the innocent and keeping history on track. Things are further complicated by the fact that this story is set not long after the death of Adric at the hands of the Cybermen.
This story shows that the Cybermen were created on Mondas as a means of allowing the citizens to survive in the increasingly hostile environment of a frozen, dead world. The Mondasian surgeons believe that they are saving the population, but the monstrous Committee, a unification of minds that acts as a precursor to the Cyber-Planner, sees the population as little more than resources to be harvested.
Rise of the Cybermen, Series 2, 2006
Another alternate race of Cybermen were created on a parallel version of Earth, as seen in 2005’s Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel. Like Spare Parts, this story depicts a scientist attempting to prolong human life by inventing the Cybermen. In this case, Doctor John Lumic created the Cybermen as a means of achieving immortality, due to the fact that he was suffering from a debilitating, incurable disease. Ultimately, he manages to convert a sizeable population of parallel London into Cybermen, and is eventually converted into a Cyber-Controller.
Although the Doctor eventually stops Lumic and destroys his Cybermen, the parallel Earth would continue to see Cyber-incursions for many years afterwards, and some Cybermen from that universe would eventually find their way into our universe and assimilate into the ranks of the Mondasian Cybermen, according to some sources.
World Enough and Time, Series 10, 2017
Another origin story for a race of Cybermen is seen in 2017’s World Enough and Time. This episode shows that, at some point, a colony ship had departed from Mondas with a crew of 50, only to be trapped in the event horizon of a black hole. Due to the time dilation effect of the black hole, the crew lived out their entire lives on the ship and bred, eventually leading to a sprawling city being built on one of the habitation decks. Eventually, however, this city would be corrupted by the interference of the Master.
As the city became more polluted, eventually the Mondasians on board began to convert themselves into primitive Cybermen that would slowly evolve over time into the modern Cybermen. After infesting most of the ship, many of these Cybermen were destroyed by the Doctor, though it is likely that many more survived.
Other Potential Cyber-Origins
These are not the only potential origin stories for the Cybermen. We know that they have sprung up on many planets due to parallel evolution, including Telos, Marinus and Planet 14 as well as Mondas and Earth. Over time the many Cyber-races would coalesce into one, known as the Cyberiad, which would fight many centuries-long wars, known collectively as the Cyber-Wars, against Humanity and their allies. These included, among others, the Orion War and the Tiberian Galaxy War.
So, unlike the Daleks, the Cybermen were not created by one specific person, nor indeed do they have one comprehensive backstory. Although the finer details of how the Cybermen as a ‘race’ came to be are hazy in Doctor Who lore, we can assume that many different versions of Cybermen came together and combined technology as a form of adapting, which explains why in the show there are some Cybermen that look very primitive and others that are highly advanced, and also why some seem to possess physiological differences.
The Real-World Origin of the Cybermen
Interestingly, the real-world Cyberman origin story shares several distinct similarities to their fictional origins. The idea for the Cybermen first came about in the 1960s when Dr. Christopher ‘Kit’ Pedler, the unofficial scientific advisor for Doctor Who, became fascinated with the idea of ‘spare part’ surgery that was becoming increasingly more sophisticated in the 1960s.
Dr. Pedler foresaw a time in which all human beings incorporated cybernetic implants and adaptations into their bodies, and this inspired him to create the ‘Cyber-Men’. Working alongside writer Gerry Davis, Dr. Pedler contributed to the writing of The Tenth Planet, the 1966 debut of the Cybermen, and this explains why in that story the Cybermen look a lot more recognisably humanoid than they would in later stories.
Whilst Dr. Pedler’s predictions about the future have (so far) proved to be incorrect, his vision of the future has lost none of its potency. In fact, with the leaps and bounds that medical science has undertaken since the 1960s, we are closer than ever to having real-life Cybermen, though it will be a long time before we have the capability to create them.
However, the essence of Dr. Pedler’s prediction endures to this day – Humankind must always be wary of the potential for excessive cybernetic enhancements, as whilst so far they are used for purely medical purposes, there is always potential for the good nature of these technologies to be corrupted. Human vanity, greed and lust for power mean that the Cybermen will always endure as villains – as a constant reminder of what we, the human race, could so easily become.
If recent information from the Daily Mirror is to be believed, there will be Cybermen in Series 12 of Doctor Who. This doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, after all, the Cybermen are among the show’s most popular villains, and fans are always happy to see them back – but given that rumours and ‘leaked’ information about upcoming series has often been misleading or downright incorrect in the past, many fans are wisely taking this news with a pinch of salt.
Similarly, there is another issue that has some fans worried – according to the same story that declared the Cybermen’s return, Mary Shelley will also be featured in this story, with her encounter with the Cybermen allegedly becoming the basis for her novel Frankenstein. If that sounds familiar to you, then chances are you’ve listened to (or at the very least heard of) the Big Finish Audio The Silver Turk, as this story has almost the exact same storyline.
So what does this mean for Big Finish? Hopefully, if these rumours are true, the writers will acknowledge the discrepency, as the worlds of New Who and Big Finish have been gradually drawing closer of late, coming to a head with the huge crossover The Legacy of Time that was released to celebrate Big Finish’s 20th anniversary of producing Doctor Who audios. However, many fans have already accepted that this will not be the case.
Where Doctor Who is concerned, it is always better to live in hope – even if it means accepting certain compromises. On the bright side, the premise to this story sounds delightfully spooky and borderling horror-inspired, so Chris Chibnall and the other writers of Series 12 might attempt to steer the Cybermen closer towards their original status as horrifying nightmare-fuel rather than heavily-armoured soldiers. The fact that The Silver Turk featured the Mondasian Cybermen made it a particularly effective horror story, but if the same idea was attempted with the modern Cybus or Cyberiad Cybermen then the end result would be far weaker.
However, what if the rumours of Mary Shelley are false, but the rumours about the Cybermen are true? What other ways could Chibnall and the writers use to bring the Cybermen into this new era of the show? Given how they took a back-to-basics approach with the Dalek in Resolution, could this same logic apply to a potential Cyberman story? Will the Mondasian Cybermen return, or will it be the modern incarnation? Perhaps, like World Enough and Time, we will get an alternate origin for a new sub-race of Cybermen. Or maybe Chibnall will throw in an unexpected curveball, and bring back the 1980s Cybermen that have been tragically neglected in New Who?
Endless speculation is fun, but ultimately unproductive. One thing that is clear, however, is that the Cybermen may be seen in a new light during Whittaker’s era. After all, the Cybermen were responsible for the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration, and although the Doctor isn’t known to hold grudges, it would make for an interesting dynamic that could elevate the Cybermen to a new threat level, perhaps even surpassing the Daleks. One of the things we have been promised from this new series is a darker storyline for the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan – could the Cybermen end up responsible for the death – or worse – conversion of one of the Thirteenth Doctor’s beloved companions? Time will tell…
The Moffat era was somewhat sparse when it came to quality Dalek stories – which is surprising, considering Steven Moffat himself was such a fan of them. Throughout this era, particularly Matt Smith’s era, Moffat almost took the Daleks for granted, as when they did appear, the episodes were rarely about them specifically in the way that an episode like 2005’s Dalek was. As such, Into the Dalek, the second episode of the divisive Series 8, comes as somewhat of a refreshing change compared to earlier Moffat-era Dalek stories, as this episode is all about one very specific Dalek, and gives us a closer look at the inner workings of a Dalek than we have ever seen before. But how does this episode stand up, nearly five years later?
It makes sense to start at the start, and one of the most eye-catching things about Into the Dalek is the opening scene, which immediately grabs your attention in a manner similar to that of Star Wars: A New Hope, as we are shown the tiny human ship desperately trying to outrun a massive Dalek Saucer in an asteroid field. The low angled shots of the Dalek ship effortlessly ploughing through the asteroids as the human ship dodges and weaves around them depict the near-unstoppable power of the Dalek Empire, and how ill-equipped the humans are to deal with the threat. The rapid cuts to the cockpit of the ship, showing pilot Journey Blue trying to radio her command ship, attend to her dying brother and fly the ship all at once furthers the idea that the Humans are vastly outgunned when compared to the cuts to the clean, efficient Dalek bridge.
We see a Dalek move towards a control panel, it shrieks its familiar cry, and Journey’s ship is finally destroyed. But the flash of her exploding ship morphs into the familiar spinning lights of the TARDIS, as she wakes up on the floor with the Twelfth Doctor stood at the controls, holding coffee. This image is one of the enduring impressions that this episode leaves, as it is a truly memorable opening sequence that is sadly underappreciated. Peter Capaldi gives a stern rebuke to Journey’s attempts to order him around at gunpoint, which serves as the introduction to the theme of this episode, the idea of the folly of the military and soldiers in general, and as if to ram this point home, following the title sequence, we immediately cut to Danny Pink in the playground of Coal Hill School, ordering children about like a drill sergeant.
Opinions on Danny Pink and his relationship with Clara seem to vary among fans. On the one hand, he was an honest attempt at developing a character that was unaware of the space-and-time antics and had to be kept in the dark as a series arc, something that had not really been done since Series 4 as Moffat seemed to sway away from the Earth-based parental angle of the Russel T. Davies era and instead kept the majority of his domestics in the TARDIS. But on the other hand, although it is a refreshing change to introduce this kind of character, many have argued that his characterisation was painfully flimsy and that he was underdeveloped – which is hard to argue with. It has to be noted that the Earth-based scenes in this episode were written by Steven Moffat, and these few short minutes focusing on Danny are packed with Moffat tropes from conversational faux-pas to the classic cutting ahead and flashing back routine, so these scenes can be skipped if this sort of thing isn’t for you.
Clara and the Doctor
Another controversial thing about this era is Clara, as opinions on her are widely divided. The best way to think of Clara is as New Who’s Peri – her character is who she is, and is unapologetic about it, whether you like it or not. Ironically, she was first introduced as the most basic, generic, cardboard-cutout companion you could imagine, but during the Capaldi era she is given a chance to actually establish her own character, and Moffat takes the opportunity that any of us would as showrunner, and wrote a companion with serious personality flaws to play out how they clash with the Doctor. He did this knowing that kind of Doctor-Companion relationship doesn’t appeal to all fans, but took the chance, which is commendable. The result is a strange mix of genuinely heartfelt acts of kindness displayed by the Doctor and Clara to each other, to them arguing or falling out or manipulating each other.
As such, they are perhaps the closest thing that we will get to a Sixth Doctor and Peri homage in the New Series, and Into the Dalek shows this down to a tee – the Doctor is melancholy and brooding in the TARDIS, and the companion is attempting emotional support with little success. For those who have seen it, this scene mirrors a similar one in Vengeance on Varos, arguably the best Sixth Doctor TV story, although the topic in question is markedly different. In Varos, the Doctor is facing the idea that the TARDIS has died mid-flight and stranded them in the Vortex, whilst in Into the Dalek, the Doctor is confounded at the possibility of a ‘Good’ Dalek that has made him begin to doubt his own morality. In a way, it is a good problem to throw at a new Doctor, particularly a more grumpy incarnation who is unsure of himself. After all, if a more mean and standoffish version of the Doctor met a ‘Good’ Dalek, who would be the better person of the two? Speaking of the ‘Good’ Dalek:
Rusty the Dalek
Rusty is a rare example of a depiction of an ‘individual’ Dalek, arguably the best way a Dalek can be depicted in the series, as it is by far the most interesting way to portray them. All the best Dalek introspectives have focused on the morality or decisions of a single Dalek, be it the Dalek from Jubilee, the Metaltron, Dalek Sec, and in this case, Rusty. The title Into the Dalek is fitting for more reasons than just the obvious.
The Dalek philosophy is fundamentally challenged in this episode, and it is hard to decide whether Rusty’s sudden change of heart is madness or morality. There have been a few instances of the ‘single captured Dalek’ plot in past Dalek stories, such as Jubilee, The Dalek Transaction and Dalek. But Into the Dalek puts a unique spin on the idea, making Rusty a memorable Dalek in his own right. The effort that went into painstakingly constructing the Dalek prop for this story is impressive, and can be read about in detail in Dalek 63 88’s excellent segment on how Rusty was built using materials to hand.
Another aspect to this story that makes it important in the chronology of Dalek episodes in Moffat’s era is the fact that it features the extermination effect, a staple of successful Dalek stories in early NuWho but sadly neglected during the tenure of the Eleventh Doctor. In fact, the extermination effect had not been used since Series 5. Rusty’s rampage through the Human ship, followed by the climactic battle between the Daleks and the Human soldiers, marks the first time the Daleks are seen doing what they are supposed to do on-screen in a long time.
Not only that, but the exceptional use of model shots during these action scenes is inspirational. The team used 12-inch RC Daleks for the bridge scene and again in the boarding corridor scene, and the results are really good. Practical effects are used for when Rusty turns on the Daleks and destroys them all, and the special effects team made excellent use of a stunt Dalek blown up in several different ways to depict the Dalek Assault Squad being destroyed one by one.
The result of this hard work is something truly special – a Dalek action sequence made in the spirit of Classic Who, but one that is exciting enough to be engaging for modern audiences. And overall, this same praise can be extended to Into the Dalek as a whole, as the episode does a great job of bridging the familiar with the unusual and its creative ideas are executed brilliantly thanks to the inspired work of Doctor Who’s behind-the-scenes team.
This Seventh Doctor story serves as a fitting thematic sequel to the TV story Silver Nemesis, as not only is it a three-part story featuring the Cybermen, but it also mirrors that stories’ focus on war and peace. Kingdom of Silver is an interesting story that plays on several recurring motifs in Big Finish Cyberman stories, and is unapologetic in its presentation of the Cybermen as ruthless and manipulative. The Seventh Doctor, companionless in this story, meets a mercenary on a primitive planet, both of them having detected a strange signal emanating from the planet’s capital. During a peace conference between the planet’s main ruling parties, the Cybermen make a resurgence. This is a great audio that is a rare example of Terry Molloy playing a role that isn’t Davros, and he gets a chance to play a very different role in this story. Sylvester McCoy is enigmatic and devious as always, and there are some great twists and turns in this story that keep you guessing.
The Wrong Doctors
A Sixth Doctor audio steeped in lore, The Wrong Doctors is a rare example of a multi-Doctor story featuring two versions of the same incarnation of the Doctor from completely different points in their timeline. This story features a version of the Sixth Doctor from fairly early in his timeline, and another that is far more mature and level-headed, meaning it is essentially a clash of the TV and Audio depictions of the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker does a fantastic job in this story, and Mel actually works really well as a companion, as this story serves as the first chronological story for Mel after the somewhat odd way in which she was inserted into the TV series during Trial of a Time Lord. At least, that’s the idea, although as the story progresses we see that things are more complicated than they first appear – hence the two versions of the Doctor. To sum up this story, it is a treat for Colin Baker fans.
Terror of the Sontarans
A unique and interesting Seventh Doctor audio, Terror of the Sontarans delves into the psychology of the Sontaran race, something that is not often done on Doctor Who. Whilst Sontarans are known for their discipline and reluctance to show fear, this audio shows what happens when Sontarans are confronted with something that makes them go truly insane. What is fascinating to consider with this audio is that Sontarans are all clones, so when one Sontaran berates another it is essentially just shouting at another version of itself. The idea of a group of Sontarans breaking the norm for their race and deciding to show creativity or fear has some interesting consequences, both for them and all others who get caught in the crossfire
Time in Office
This audio is one of a kind. Each part is an individual story that feeds into the overarching plotline that the Fifth Doctor has finally been recruited by the Time Lords to serve his time in office as Lord President of Gallifrey, hence the title. As one might imagine, the meek and affable Fifth Doctor goes on to cause chaos on Gallifrey, not least due to Tegan’s antics as Human-Time Lord ‘Ambassador’. Speaking of which, there is a fair amount of comedy in this story, and it isn’t supposed to be taken all too seriously. The audio plays heavily on the blustering and stagnant representation of Time Lord society that we got in the Fourth Doctor episode The Deadly Assassin, and it is clear why the Doctor was so eager to leave the planet. This audio also pays excellent homage to stories such as The Invasion of Time and The Five Doctors from the Classic Series that were set on or heavily related to Gallifrey, so its a real treat for fans of Time Lord lore.