Review: Doctor Who: Big Finish Audio: 8th Doctor Adventures Season 2

The continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor and his initially reluctant travelling companion, Lucie Miller…

In Dead London, the eighth Doctor and Lucie find themselves in a very unusual version of London – where the 21st and 17th Centuries lie side by side…

Pat Mills’ first produced script for Doctor Who is a bit of an oddity, and as the CD extras make clear, a brave choice for Big Finish to use as a season opener. It separates the Doctor and his companion from the start, creating a pseudo-companion in Spring-Heeled Sophie, reuniting them for the final act, thereby depriving us for a long time of one of the strengths of this TARDIS team.

The concepts behind the story aren’t new to Who. There are definite thematic links to a seminal Patrick Troughton story, as well as to Marc Platt’s first contribution to the Doctor Who New Adventures and an earlier eighth Doctor audio. The resemblances can be a bit of a speed bump, taking the listener out of an intriguing tale.

Rupert Vansittart has fun as Sepulchure, and it’s quite surprising that Big Finish haven’t nabbed Clare Buckfield for a regular role on the Who audios. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith still have an energy in their relationship that became lacking between the eighth Doctor/Charley towards the end.

An enjoyable, if derivative, start.  7/10

In Max Warp, the Doctor and Lucie become embroiled in the investigation of the mysterious death of Timbo “The Ferret”, star of macho show Max Warp…

There was a weird dichotomy at Big Finish at the time this came out. While the main range was going through one of its weaker periods, the new eighth Doctor stories had everything that have made the audios successful.

There’s strong characterisation of Doctor and companion, a plot with a good throughline (albeit in Max Warp that there’s one moment where you wonder if there’s a missing scene), humour, action and tension. There’s also a horrible rearrangement of the main theme, but you can always fast forward through that.

Max Warp is Top Gear in space, and even if you don’t have a detailed knowledge of everything that writer Jonathan Morris is satirising about the show, the audio still works as a standalone tale. Graeme Garden is as much the star of this episode as Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith, and gives a great performance.

Audio comedy is still regularly compared to The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Morris almost encourages this with some neat HHGG references. For once they don’t serve to show how weak the surrounding script is. More like this please! 8/10

In Brave New Town, the Doctor and Lucie arrive in a seaside town – with no sea and no tomorrow…

There’s some great misdirection going on in this story, and although one of the big reveals is given away in the trailer, it’s not on the CD packaging itself, so this review won’t spoil the identity of the menace threatening the Doctor and Lucie. It’s a new take on an old enemy, which, as script editor Alan Barnes points out in the CD extras, allowed Big Finish to use monsters that might otherwise not have been particularly sensible on audio. Interestingly, although Big Finish’s licence allows them only to use concepts from the classic Doctors, there’s a nice link to the Eccleston Doctor in the way in which these creatures are portrayed.

As Barnes also says in the Extras, these Eighth Doctor tales are standalone adventures – all you need to know is the basic concept of the show. Although I’m a great admirer of many of the Big Finish miniseries that extrapolate from the show, it is nice to put in a disc and know that you’re going to get a beginning, a middle and an end. Jonathan Clements provides this admirably, and McGann, Sheridan and the guest stars including Deryck Guyler rise to the occasion.

Another hit.  8/10

The Doctor and Lucie become embroiled in an age-old family conflict in The Skull of Sobek.

Although it is the weakest of the entries so far in the second season of 8th Doctor/Lucie adventures, The Skull of Sobek still has a number of high points, including some unexpected banter between adversaries, and an opportunity for Sheridan Smith to stretch her vocal cords as Lucie is possessed.

However like Marc Platt’s previous audio, Valhalla, this story seems inconsequential and unmemorable, save in this instance for the image of huge crocodiles walking around. When Platt is answering questions about the Doctor Who universe (Where did the Doctor come from? What was the origin of the Cybermen? What would the Doctor be like if he never left Gallifrey?), he produces spellbinding multilayered tales which reward second or third visits. The Skull of Sobek unfortunately doesn’t hold the attention that way.

Guest stars Art Malik and Barbara Flynn give it all they’ve got without giving into the temptation to go too far over the top, and from the interviews on the documentary, clearly enjoyed their Who experience. The documentary also reveals the initial pitch that Platt presented, and it’s a shame that a perceived clash with the TV story Gridlock prevented it from happening.

Instantly forgettable.  5/10

Grand Theft Cosmos sees a holiday in Sweden interrupted by the return of the Headhunter and her accomplice Karen…

After a slight blip, the 8th Doctor and Lucie range gets back on track with this fast-paced release which seems to go by very swiftly. It’s a good blend of historical drama and science fiction. There’s an artist whose works the Doctor is determined to destroy because they have a malignant influence on those who view them. There’s sparkling repartee between the Doctor and Lucie, and also between the Headhunter and Karen, who make a nice counterpoint to the regular TARDIS team.

While the CD extras sometimes come across as space filler, they’re well worth listening to on this occasion. Writer Eddie Robson nails the reason why this part of the Big Finish range was working so much better than the main stories were at the moment. There’s more overall control over story content on this “season” than on the individual releases, and Big Finish supreme Nick Briggs outlines some of the changes already made to streamline the flow. The Extras also reveal a surprising titbit about the recording process, which does come as a shock after you’ve heard the story. A good romp – more like this, please.  8/10

Meeting up with Lucie’s Aunty Pat once more, the Doctor stumbles on a secret invasion. The episode title, The Zygon Who Fell to Earth, gives a bit of a clue as to who it’s by!

Paul Magrs’ writing is an acquired taste, sometimes coming across as too clever for its own good. That’s not the case with this story, which is surprisingly linear and straightforward for Magrs, albeit containing a moral ambiguity at the end. While maintaining continuity with the Zygons’ previous appearances (including their Victorian encounter with the 8th Doctor in the novel The Bodysnatchers), a few extra powers are given to the creatures, one of which allows for a bending of the Web of Time.

The only problem with the Zygons is that, to all intents and purposes, they possess people, and we’ve already heard Lucie possessed this season. Sheridan Smith tries to give a different performance, but it’s hard to find yet another angle to the character.

The audio guest stars Blake’s 7‘s Steven Pacey in an unrecognisable role as Trevor, the eponymous creature, with Malcolm Stoddard and Tim Brooke-Taylor as the other Zygons. Brooke-Taylor occasionally comes across as the prissy Tim from The Goodies, although his character Mimms might feasibly have modelled his human self on Timbo, given the 1984 setting.

A good standard 8th Doctor and Lucie adventure.  7/10

In Sisters of the Flame, the Doctor and Lucie are separated as the Time Lords take an interest in their affairs once more…

It’s an odd coincidence that the DVD of the classic Fourth Doctor story The Brain of Morbius hit the shops at the same time as this sequel. Although the story is consciously designed so that it can stand alone for newcomers, those who know the earlier story get a clue much sooner in the proceedings as to what’s going on.

Alexander Siddig plays against type as a policeman with a difference, making a good foil for Sheridan Smith, who’s given the lion’s share of the dramatic development in this episode.

Like the concurrent fourth season of the parent programme, the “Doctor-lite” episode focuses on the companion, with Smith rising well to the challenge. The CD extras explain some of the reasoning behind the way she plays Lucie, and it’s good to see the gobby Northerner of her earliest stories making a reappearance.

This is most definitely the first part of a two-parter, rather than two linked stories, with far more questions posed than answered. 7/10

The Vengeance of Morbius brings this season to an end with an epic story that sees the galaxy bend beneath the might of the returning mad Time Lord Morbius. It has the same scope and scale as the new series’ Last of the Time Lords, but unfortunately suffers from that story’s central fault. Somehow it’s never believable that the Doctor Who universe is going to be rewritten to such an extent, which is odd given that Big Finish are the sole company charting the history of Gallifrey and the Time Lords in the period leading up to the Great Time War.

Everyone involves gives their all, and Sheridan Smith gets a number of chances to shine, not least in her final scenes, and the decaying Morbius has hints of the weariness at the heart of the Master in the Tom Baker story The Deadly Assassin.

Don’t switch off the disc when you hear the closing theme: there’s a sting in the tale that bodes well for the third season.

A slightly flawed end to an enjoyable season.  7/10

Paul Simpson

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Click on the titles to go to the relevant order pages, or click here to order the whole season from Big Finish.

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