THE EIGHTH DOCTOR AUDIOS IN REVIEW
PREVIEW WILL BROOKS NICK MELLISH
Welcome to this preview of Memoirs of an Edwardian Adventurer. In the book, two dedicated Doctor Who fans listen to all of the Eighth Doctor audio dramas from Big Finish productions, from 2001’s Storm Warning right the way through to To The Death from 2011, via a short stint with the Sixth Doctor, to say goodbye to on-going companion Charlotte Pollard. Also including the 1996 TV Movie, this really is the definitive ‘Eighth Doctor Era’. The book will be released October 10th 2011, just before the Eighth Doctor returns to Big Finish for a new series of adventures. You can pre-order NOW from www.pageturnerpublishing.co.uk - and your order will go toward helping to publish the book. A Kindle edition will be available from October 10th.
Storm Warning: Episode One
Storm Warning: Episode One W: From the few McGann's I've heard on audio, you're right about his audition tape. It's a kind of muted excitement, a child like persona bubbling under the surface. And it spills into all aspects of his performance, here. When he meets Charley, he's spirited away with the fact that he's made a new friend (indeed, he proclaims them to be friends just moments after they collide with each other). He's excited (at first) by stepping out of the TARDIS into a new adventure, and watches with a child-like wonder at the time ship in the vortex. I mentioned during the TV Movie that McGann was the most human of Doctors - and in this episode we see him react in almost the way a companion would in the TARDIS for the first time. So many wonderful things to see, so much to do, that you're rather overwhelmed by it all. However, I must quote the Doctor to sum up my over-riding feeling about this episode; "Doctor, you know you really must stop talking to yourself...". I can barely sit through the lengthy scenes of McGann on his own, no matter how wonderful he may be. It all feels very forced (It is; it's a necessity that he talks to himself or I'd be listening to silence, and clicking buttons, wondering if my iTunes was broken...), and allows none of the really fantastic stuff we get once he's met Charley. Ah yes. Charley. Charlotte Pollard. When I took my first, feeble steps into Doctor Who fandom, in mid-2003ish, Charley Pollard was being held up by most as pretty much the absolute pinnacle of Doctor Who companionship. She was the perfect companion in every way. Of course, at that time Big Finish fans were in the excruciating wait between Neverland and Zagreus (Spoilers! I still don't know what the supposedly 'shocking' cliffhanger is, and I'll find out when we get there, thank you!)
And yet, here, in this opening installment of Charley's story... I completely get it. She's off to a flying start. She's an Edwardian Adventuress. She's run away and she's seeking adventure on board this new type of air ship. She's met a strange man in a frock coat and there's something attacking them. Brilliant. And then there's that imagery. A storm brewing while a vortisaur (Does it look like a dragon in your head? Slightly purple-pink in hue, or is that just how it looks to me?) attacks the R101. Stunning. I enjoyed imagining that scene. Though does Barnaby Edwards (as Rathbone) keep up that accent all the way through? He's giving me a headacheâ€Ś N: So, here we are: the start of something big. I listened to this episode with my headphones on, and I'm really glad I did: the sound design is fantastic, every bit as epic as the story deserves. The music is great, too, and I'm very happy that Big Finish were able to release it on CD before their line of soundtracks folded as it is well worth listening to in isolation. Onto the episode though. I think Alan Barnes plays a good trick by not having the Doctor engage with the rest of the cast. By isolating him, he gives McGann a chance to do his own thing, find his feet and establish his take on the character : a bit as he was on screen, a world away at the same time. You hit the nail square on the head when talking about his muted excitement: this is a Doctor for whom adventure is fun. No hidden agendas, no worry or fear, just fun. Whether he's alone in the TARDIS or casually namedropping, you get the impression of a man keen to explore all things. It's why he is perfectly matched with an Edwardian adventuress, especially one who takes him on face value. In other scripts, that would be a problem: she trusts him because the story needs her to and that's that. (For example, look at Planet of the Dead, an episode in which we are repeatedly told how amazing
STORM WARNING and incredible Lady Christina is because... well, because that's what the script writers tell us; we wouldn't have guessed it from what unfolds on screen. It's lazy story telling which insults the viewers and sullies an already poor character.) Where was I? Oh yes, Charley. Her trust works here mostly because the Doctor is terribly nice to her: he knows she's a stowaway and he wants to join in her game. It's rather sweet, and their breathless performances compliment one another perfectly. Put simply, they have chemistry: they recognize that they are kindred spirits from the off, and better still they didn't need a shitty bus in a desert to fake that. It's not by accident that she is the only person the Doctor meets. It engineers the plot into being about Them versus Everyone Else, marks them as a separate team, and makes us comfortable with the idea of them as a duo-- and quite right, too, because Charley is great and the perfect match for this Doctor. Another virtue of splitting the Doctor from the others is that it gives the other characters ample time to breathe and develop. By the end of this episode, we feel we know Rathbone, Tamworth and Frayling pretty well, so when the Doctor inevitably starts chatting away with them, we're going to feel on solid ground. It's a good, smart move that gives the script greater depth. You mention the awkwardness of McGann jabbering away to himself at the start of the episode, and I certainly don't disagree as such as it feels rather awkward. Other characters are full of expositionladen dialogue, too, which is just as stilted. It bugged me slightly this time around, but I couldn't recall feeling this way before and I think I've worked out why: it feels just like a comic strip! Seriously, imagine this story rendered as a graphic novel, or the comic strip in DWM, with every tenth word uttered by McGann printed in deep black, bold letters, and bars at the top of panels saying "The R101,
1930" to establish the scene. I think it shows us where the character of the Eighth Doctor which Big Finish went for stems from: not from a ninety-minute-long escapade on screen, or a set of novels with no real grasp on just who this Doctor was, but from the comics: the comics which were, tellingly, penned at the start by none other than Alan Barnes! I wouldn't want it every story, and it is undoubtedly clumsy, but I can forgive the monologues, however awkward, because this feels so similar in tone to how things were in the magazine. To be honest with you though, Alan Barnes is the man who created Izzy S, the Eighth Doctor's companion in the comics and my favourite companion ever, so I'll forgive him for most things. It's interesting to note how Izzy and Charley are completely different characters, but how they both suit the Eighth Doctor to a tee: the comic book geek and the Edwardian Adventuress. Both of them want adventures, thrills, the fun of running away from experience to experience through time and space with a man you call your best friend, be it because he's an alien, because he's in a recognizable frock coat, or because he's just that little bit magical. Hell, if I had to travel with any Doctor, I'd choose him, every time. He has no baggage, no hang ups, no pretenses; he's child-like without being childish: he's an explorer wanting to explore. The most human of them all? Probably. The most fun? For sure. Roll on Part Two.
Storm Warning: Storm Warning: Episode TwoEpisode Two W: What was it like for you, Nick, as a fan of Doctor Who - and particularly the Eighth Doctor - when this audio was released? I’ve never really considered it before, but there’s a five year gap between the TV Movie and Storm Warning. A time in which the Doctor’s eighth incarnation flourished in both books and comic strips. You’ve already professed your love for the
SEASON 27 comic strip adventures (for which I can’t fault you - they certainly are some of the best Doctor Who stories ever told) and the hiring of Alan Barnes to write the Eighth Doctor’s introductory audio adventure points towards Big Finish themselves favouring the comic adventures over the books. Was it just because he looses his memory in every other book? But how did it feel to have new Doctor Who - and this was, I imagine, the closest thing to that in 2001 - with the current Doctor? With your Doctor? Were the differences to the TV Movie as obvious to you then as they are to us now having only watched it a matter of days back? Or had five years of McGann-based media diluted his character so that he was just another Doctor? Anyway, in the episode itself, It’s interesting how after the child-like wideeyed wonder of the first episode, within seconds of the cliffhanger reprise (which seems to go on for ever) McGann is right into action mode. It follows right on from his first meeting with Charley, his proclamation of them as friends and yet now, with loud crashes and screams from the deck above, knee-deep in adventure, determined to find out what’s going on, with the Edwardian adventuress at his side, ready to investigate… And then they spilt them up! It’s a brave move to separate the Doctor and his new companion just moments after they’ve met, but I think it might just work. Sort of. Almost. It gives us a chance to appreciate them as two distinct, individual characters. India Fisher manages to become ‘Charley Pollard’ rather than just ‘The Doctor’s Companion’. Similarly, McGann gets a chance to build on his Doctor and bring us up to speed with the eighth incarnation. He’s more like his TV Movie self, here, dropping hints that he knows the futures of Tamworth and Frayling, dropping hints that their names will go down in history. And even aside from the characters (Rathbone’s voice is still bugging me,) I’m really liking the story. The idea that the
assorted VIP’s on the R101 are there to celebrate British ingenuity and achievement - but that they’re only doing so with ulterior motives. The alien held in a diving suit is a wonderful idea - but has been somewhat ruined by the years following this story. Brilliant sound design lead to a wonderful, sing-song voice, filled with innocence and fear. It’s first word; ‘Charley’. Which would all be great if this wasn’t the exact singsong voice later used in YouTube ‘sensation’ (I use the word loosely) Charlie the Unicorn. It’s a shame, because I wasn’t really able to take the alien seriously for the rest of the episode - and I desperately wanted to, because I’m enjoying the plot! I like that they’ve got a captured ET. And the cliffhanger - the R101 reaching it’s unscheduled rendezvous with a flying saucer high above France is a great image. Unlike the first cliffhanger, which comprised of much smashing of glass and a few confused screams, this one feels vast and epic, and I’m keen to get on to episode three. To Candy Mountain, Charlie! N: There's a thing called synesthesia, where someone associates things with colours. I'm pretty sure we all do it in life: this story feels a bit grey, this sound a tad orange. Storm Warning to me sounds like its fit to burst with bronze and gold, which makes the beautifully rusty cover of the CD just perfect. Even without it, I think the connection between colour and story would be there (something true for the rest of the 'season': oh, how I wish Big Finish had been able to stick with the bronze logo!) The story is full of adventure, your comment on the cliffhanger being vast and epic being true of the ambience all around. There are some great moments in this episode: the creepy and nasty scene where Rathbone sexually harasses Charley (especially sombre on International
STORM WARNING Women's Day as it is today) for one, the Doctor pretending to not speak English another. McGann's Doctor feels perfectly at home here surrounded by heroes and brave pioneers in their incredible airship, and I look forward to rediscovering how he'll fare with the more sci-fi-ish settings to come, perhaps in Part Three of this very story given the cliffhanger! You asked me how it felt to have the Doctor here, and my answer is... I don't know! I was late coming to the party truth be told. I only started listening to the McGann plays when I first started University. I think The Last was about to be released, or it was close. I simply had not been able to afford the CDs before. I cannot recall any jarring elements between the Eighth Doctor here and on screen barring those mentioned before; I think the temporal distance between the two things helped to make them less apparent. Given how the Eighth Doctor here is much like he was in the comics, I saw it as an extension of that and loved him at once accordingly. He was still my Doctor, I was just listening to him now rather than reading him. I do recall there was a sense in some pockets of fandom that this was true validation for the Eighth Doctor at last; that he was now 'proper' and 'counted' as he was being played by McGann. I must be honest, I accepted him long before this. He was on screen, and then he was in the comics: of course he counted! I thought he was great; I wasn't going to let anyone take that away from me. Heck, he'd met the other Doctors in his first novel from BBC Books: what more validation did we want?! (Even now, The Eight Doctors is a very guilty pleasure of mine.) How are you finding him? Do you feel you already know his Doctor well? I think he establishes himself pretty quickly, in a way some struggled to do on screen. Before I leave, may I see your Charley the Unicorn and raise you a "Chief Steward Weeks sounds just like Babs from The
League of Gentlemen'? P.S. Does the YouTube connection make the R101 a magical bridge of hope and wonder?
Storm Warning: Episode Three Storm Warning: Episode Three W: It’s Episode Three of Doctor Who, which surely means that we’re subjected to around 25-minutes of running about with the odd capture and escape in between. Except we’re not. Here, Episode Three is when everything kicks into gear. We’ve spent two episodes in the company of a small cast of characters occupying a tiny 1930’s airship. Now, suddenly, the action shifts to a huge space ship, ‘two miles across’ and we’re introduced to a whole host of aliens in the Uncreator Prime and the Law Giver. But - is it bad that I have to admit this? I’m not completely sure what’s going on. Oh, I think I have a vague idea. I have a rough notion of what’s happening, and why they’ve taken the humans (and the Doctor) that they have, but I’m not entirely sure I’m right. I hope that changes after Episode Four… Really, this is the episode where all the tables are turned, for every character. Charley is the first to experience it, in the wonderful scene - played beautifully by Fisher - at the start, where her mind widens to the idea that there are other worlds out there. A whole universe of adventure. She tells the Doctor that the farthest place she’s ever imagined in the ‘terrace of the Singapore Hilton’, and he replies that there are worlds out there, under a billion stars shining light with ‘colours human eyes have never seen’. Absolutely gorgeous. And then there’s the fate of the R101 VIP’s. It’s typically British that Tamworth is intending to greet the Triscili race with a very overblown welcoming committee. I imagine that they were planning to offer them Jam Tarts (do they still make jam tarts? I hope so) and a cup of tea. But
SEASON 27 here, now, at 5,000 feet, all those plans have to be cast aside as he’s instructed that only three are to be taken aboard the ship. We learn very quickly that England has plans to capture the alien vessel - and for somewhat noble means, too. Ending wars and the like. Of course, it would ultimately end in the enslavement of the world, but that’s not for debate here. Off the ground, though, every human character is at the mercy of the aliens. They can’t risk upsetting them, and even when the military solution becomes an option, they know that they’ve lost already. But I can’t help thinking that this is another unusual ‘first’ story for the Eighth Doctor. Disregarding the fact that it’s been five years since the last, we’re asked to just accept that Paul McGann is the Doctor and this is it. The story isn’t even about Charley entering this life of TARDIS travel. It has all the beats of a new companion’s first story - their first meeting, hurried and under pressure. The wonder of the universe. Actively enjoying this new adventure - but they all seem a bit rushed and just tacked in wherever there’s a slight pause in the action. It’s a shame, really, because McGann and Fisher are already sparkling together (you mentioned earlier that this was the third story recorded, so I’m guessing that’s why), but they feel too much like a Doctor and Companion that have been together for a long time. They trust each other completely already, and I feel almost robbed of the chance to see them grow to like each other in the way we’ve come to expect from stories like those in the new series. Again, though; maybe all of that’s yet to come…? N: It's an interesting set of points you raise here about Charley and the Doctor, because I think you're right but I think it's only here, in Part Three, that it's apparent. Before now, Charley's still been learning to trust the Doctor, now she does so because... well, because the script needs
her to. The fact we've had just under an hour to set up their relationship helps this not be a completely implausible jump but it does feel like the pace has been knocked off course somewhat. The same goes for the story: I like Part Three, it has some great moments (your aforementioned citing of Charley having her horizons expanded being one, her coy admission that she's travelling across the world to go on a date with a cute boy being another: it's brilliantly romantic and completely ties in with the sweeping romance of the story's epic mood), but it's a step down in quality all the same, being a little muddled, going for a science fiction feel that counterbalances the epic jingoism of Parts One and Two but is not quite as fun, and a tad too talky and expositionladen: you need only listen to the reprise of Part Two to hear the same "talk and describe stuff because you are on radio and we need an idea of visuals" that plagued the Doctor in the TARDIS back in Part One. It's a shame, because it's good but just not quite as good. I respectfully disagree with McGann needing to prove himself though. Part of this stems from the fact he has already been there on screen, but mostly it's because he just feels intrinsically Doctorish from the off. The writing's good enough to not have to prove anything, and unlike, say, Rose or The Eleventh Hour, the audience the series is going for is not a new one, but one well versed in Doctor Who already, one who do not need to be told to accept this man as the Doctor. Having said all this, I do recognize that some fans wanted to to be convinced still, their tiny world of canon shaking at the thought of the guy off that American movie being proper and counted and all. Well, sod them. If they don't want him, that's fine: we have him, and he's great. It's their loss.
Storm Warning: Episode Four
Storm Warning: Episode Four
W: This episode is two things. Very British, and Very Doctor Who. For me, McGann becomes the Doctor in this part, when he urges the humans to roar at the Uncreators, rather than to fire guns at them. Loved the idea that they’ve been bound for so long, they’ve never before encountered conflict - thus these creatures of war are terrified. The Doctor waltzes amongst the roaring humans like a drama teacher assessing his classes attempts at improv. His short exchanges with each character during this scene are a delight to listen to, and I think I’m finally comfortable with him in the role. It’s almost a shame that the final blow the thing that finishes off the enemy is a bullet through the head. It’s very British by the time we’re back aboard the R101. I love the idea that Rathbone, as the Doctor says, has started the first space war, but they can’t announce that upon the ship’s return to England. It would be a terrible scandal. The Doctor’s later decision that it doesn’t even matter the ship will be spread across the hillside before long, after all - is fantastic. As is his quiet musing over the web of time. The last couple of episodes have made much of this concept, and here we find out why. From what little I know of the audios to come, the web of time is going to be a constant presence, and I’m looking forward to it. This Vortisaur, though. Just how big is the thing? In episode one I imagined it as a huge, dragon-like creature, swooping around the R101, its wings aloft, peering through the portholes. We know from Episode Two that it’s small enough to fit its head through one of these aforementioned windows, and to later be dragged aboard through a slightly larger one. By Part Four, however, Wicks is considering that it might be a bird, and is small enough to take home as a pet for his
son, but by the climax it’s big enough again for the Doctor and Charley to ride it through the skies over France toward the TARDIS (Does it grow and shrink as the story demands it?). And considering the uproar of the flying bus in Planet of the Dead (which seems to crop up a lot between us in this story), I’m not sure how people reacted to this. I’m a little uneasy about it on the one hand feels like a bit of a cop out, to me - but on the other, I quite like it. Though as I’ve mentioned, the Doctor already knows that Charley is a danger to the Web of Time, but her wide-eyed enthusiasm (much like the Doctor we’ve been introduced to over the last two hours) is enough to cast those worries aside for now and take her aboard. Into time and space! I can’t wait to see where we go from here… N: After the blip in Part Three, this is much more like it: back to a rip-roaring adventure with bravado, cheers and high spirits galore. The possession of Rathbone falls a tad short of great, largely as badman-made-badder-still-through-alien-tech is a bit of a cliché, but we have some lovely moments such as Tamworth proving that, beneath all the bluster, he's a decent and peaceful man, and Frayling telling the Doctor to stop being patronizing when being coaxed into roaring. I've just realized that I never answered your question on what I thought the Vortisaurs looked like. I imagined them to be akin to pterodactyls, and was pleasantly surprised when the similarities are mentioned in Part Two of the play itself. (A part of me wishes that the Reapers in Father's Day had been named Vortisaurs instead for some pleasing fan-ish continuity, but never mind.) I don't think the escape on its back feels especially copout-ish given it's been there in the background the whole time, but I am amused by the fact Charley gets to keep it as a pet mere minutes after it's gobbled
SEASON 27 poor Weeks. (This of course being the same Weeks who earlier compared it to a pterodactyl and now, in Part Four, to a pigeon... strange man indeed!) The ending is slightly strange. The R101 crashes and everyone on board dies: we know this is going to happen, that there is no changing it; it's all very Fires of Pompeii. What's a shock here is that it gets almost no reaction whatsoever bar a few sad synthesized horns in the soundtrack. In the CD sleeve notes for this story, Alan Barnes asks us to, 'spare the real crew [of the R101] a quiet moment in your thoughts', but in the script itself, we're more concerned with time's web. It's a weird thing to have a real-life tragedy marginalized for plot arcs, and it's one I'm not entirely sure about; it's certainly not something you could ever imagine happening on screen nowadays (though I suppose the crew of the Marie Celeste was treated in much the same way back in The Chase, so the show has previous to some extent). We end the story with a musical punch reminiscent of the ending of the theme tune arrangement for Doctor Who (the TV Movie) and then the 'Big Finish theme' kicks in. There was a bit of controversy at the time over Big Finish's new theme tune for the Eighth Doctor, a lot of it centered around people thinking it sounded a bit crap. Certainly, the slightly tweaked arrangement used in later releases sounds more polished and less discordant, but I like it. It was a grower when I first listened to it-- I didn't hate it, but it didn't grab me either-- but with familiarity has come a real liking of it. It sounds very mechanical, as if some great piece of clockwork is churning out the notes, the bass especially throbbing along like the belly of an engine, and in the midst of all the chaos are the synths of the main theme melody, sounding incongruous amid the clockwork. It gives the ar rangement a bizar re, borderline Steampunk feel, perfectly suiting the mix
of modernity and traditionalism in the Eighth Doctor's persona, TARDIS and adventures. In much the same way as we're used to from the Sixties and Seventies, the theme ends on a sort of wind bubble effect, and that's it: Storm Warning is over and done with, McGann is back (pah and pish: as if he ever left) and further adventures await us all. Exciting times indeed. Sword of Orion: Episode One