Have the Doctor and Lucie reached the parting of the ways?
NB Although these reviews appeared alongside the original releases, they have been edited to remove spoilers.
Death in Blackpool may be the start of the Eighth Doctor’s fourth season, but thematically, anyway, it’s really the last story of the third. It’s one of those tales that is easily spoilt with too much discussion, but suffice it to say that some of the Doctor’s past misdemeanours catch up with him, leading to a powerful scene between McGann and Sheridan Smith at the end. Alan Barnes apologises for spoiling listeners’ Christmas cheer on the CD extras – and so he should! 7/10
It’s worth getting hold of the Big Finish subscriber bonus at this point, as it effectively forms part of the season. An Earthly Child, by Marc Platt, reunites McGann’s Doctor with Carole Ann Ford’s Susan, and finally overwrites the appalling Legacy of the Daleks novel from 10 or so years back with an intriguing tale of alien contact and family reunion. 7/10
Those of us who subscribed to this range as it was first coming out had to wait months for the next release, Situation Vacant, which sees the now companionless Time Lord apparently taking an unusual route to find a new assistant. The Apprentice-type shenanigans luckily are revealed to be something far more than they initially appear, and there are a large number of twists and turns within the story (in fact, perhaps a few too many) which means that even if Big Finish had proclaimed the name of the new companion from the rooftops, you wouldn’t actually be any the wiser for some considerable time! Paul McGann seems to be having a great time, and hopefully will end up with a new co-star with whom he has as much chemistry as he had with both India Fisher and Sheridan Smith. 7/10
The Doctor’s first journey with his new companion Tamsin, Nevermore, is a tautly plotted tale; however it relies a little too heavily on knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. There are some good twists within the story and the electronic effects for the ravens are done well, but McGann doesn’t seem to have the same energy as he showed in his stories with India Fisher and Sheridan Smith. 6/10
Travels with Tamsin continue with Barnaby Edwards’ The Book of Kells, a story that initially grates for its overuse of colloquial contemporary dialogue – until you realise that Edwards is actually pastiching the original adventure in which the eventual villain of the piece first appeared. Graeme Garden headlines a strong cast – and make sure you continue listening after the closing credits! 7/10
The season picks up considerably with Deimos, the first of a two-part story featuring the return of the Ice Warriors. A good blend of action, comedy and characterisation from writer Jonathan Morris, it gives Nikki Wardley’s Tamsin some strong material against a powerful guest cast including Tracy-Ann Oberman. 8/10
It concludes with The Resurrection of Mars. The end of part one is one of the most shocking in Who history, and there’s a fantastic scene between the Doctor and an old friend as this more peaceful incarnation explains why he’s no longer the player on a thousand chessboards. Highly recommended. 8/10
The Doctor reunites with Susan, and his great-grandson Alex in Relative Dimensions, written by Marc Platt. Loosely tied into that month’s Companion Chronicle, Quinnis, this sees a very different relationship between Susan and her grandfather, particularly when things start to go seriously wrong aboard the TARDIS. A much more Christmassy tale than Death in Blackpool, it even features the Doctor recounting a trip to a certain stable in Bethlehem just over 2,000 years ago… 7/10
Prisoner of the Sun is an oddity in the run, with McGann’s Doctor accompanied by an android companion who he’s programmed to sound like Lucie, thereby allowing Sheridan Smith to take part. It’s a slight tale but, one suspects, a necessary chance to take a breather before the epic Dalek finale that’s coming shortly. 7/10
Lucie Miller, the Eighth Doctor’s on again/off again companion, is the narrator of the majority of the story named after her. It almost, but not quite, tries to deliver more than audio is capable of – there’s a good TV movie length story being told here in 50 minutes, with great swathes summed up in one sentence. A larger scale version of the Hartnell story The Dalek Invasion of Earth, it’s a character piece told on a huge backdrop that brings the Eighth Doctor stories full circle. A good first part but much depends on the resolution. 7/10
The Eighth Doctor’s final adventure in this series, To the Death, is, quite simply, a stunning piece of Doctor Who. To say anything about the resolutions given to the various plot strands that have threaded through the entire four seasons would be to spoil it for the listener, but everyone involved gives their all.
Hopefully, given some time elapsing, writer and director Nick Briggs will go back and deal with the repercussions of this story. For those who wonder how the happy-go-lucky Eighth Doctor became the man who ended the Time War, take a listen to this. Highly recommended. 9/10