Big Finish's Eighth Doctor Adventures - Series One, The First Half (starring Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith)

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Summary: Big Finish continues the story of Paul McGann's ill-fated (as far as screen time goes) Eighth Doctor and his new companion: Lucie. This first season starts out with some old enemies and then adds a couple of new baddies to be confronted. I review the first three stories: "Blood of the Daleks", "Horror of Glam Rock", and "Immortal Beloved".

Wednesday, 06 January 2010

(13:21:56 CST)

Big Finish's Eighth Doctor Adventures - Series One, The First Half (starring Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith)

I have heard about The Eighth Doctor [Audio] Adventures for some time, first encountering them on a website talking about BBC7 radio. I knew nothing of Paul McGann's on-screen turn as the Doctor (nor anything between Colin Baker's 6th and Christopher Eccleston's 9th, which means I also missed out on Sylvester McCoy's 7th). I did not know his personality or style or anything of the sort. All I knew was his one shot at Doctordom had been a made-for-TV movie1. Reviews of McGann's performance have been mixed, but many seem more okay with him as the Doctor than with the script as a whole, and so it is good that he is given another chance.

He has shown up in other Big Finish productions: including "Storm Warning" and "Minuets of Hell". A remake and adaptation of the lost Douglas Adams' script "Shada" was done by Big Finish with McGann in the role (originally meant for Baker's 4th, I believe). These productions were modeled overall on the old Doctor Who format: 4 or so 25-minute parts with cliffhangers to act as a bridge. The Eighth Doctor Adventures are modeled on the current series' set up: hour longish (well, 50 minutes) with a couple of episodes per series being multi-parters. More (and less) room to play with and less need to create cliffhangers ever twenty minutes.

Series one starts with "Blood of the Daleks", a two-parter that introduces Lucie and takes place on the improbably named Red Rocket Rising (RRR), a dying colony planet whose sunlight is being blocked out by a gas cloud. At the episode's opening, Lucie just shows up in the Tardis with no pre-amble. The Doctor is flustered, obviously, and tries to get rid of her but finds himself unable to do anything of the sort. He cannot seem to leave her behind, nor take her back home, and he cannot fathom what she is about. The Time Lords are behind it, but that is all he knows. On the old RRR, he and Lucie get caught up in a mob chase of two women and hear mention of some now-dead scientist doing experiments on corpses.

As the story progresses, every one gets split up from everyone else and we find out that Daleks are coming to Red Rocket Rising, offering to help. Which makes no sense to the Doctor. The locals, though, have no knowledge of the tin-cans of death, and move to welcome them with open arms. Except there are Daleks already on RRR, and the two forces are destined to clash.

In the second adventure, "The Horror of Glam Rock" (the best named of them, being a chuckle worthy play on the Baker adventure "Horror of Fang Rock") we get a more off-beat one-off style adventure. The Doctor and Lucie come to a frozen 1974 where they find a glam rocker torn to pieces by some unknown but nasty creature and flee to a service station. Hijinks ensue, along with lots of glam rock jokes, as the creatures attack the station and something called "The Only Ones" try to use a stylophone (think tinsy little synthesizer) to break through into our world.

Rounding out the first half of the first series of audio adventures is "Immortal Beloved" which begins with a young couple on the brink of suicide right as the Doctor and Lucie materialize. The Doctor is quickly assumed to be a "god" (irony quotes needed for the storyline) and finds out about a society of something-like immortals calling various bits of technology but unnecessarily archaic names (helicopters become "chariots" for instance) and who have a horrible secret to explain their longevity.

Sheridan Smith, as Lucie, did not really grab me right away. Her big secret, undisclosed in the first half, made her interesting as a plot-point, but her characterization left something to be desired. She was just sort of a "chattery female who looked out for herself". Not enough meat to hang a radio cloak, so to speak. As the stories progress, first in "Glam Rock" and later in "Immortal Beloved", though, she gets more and more refined and by the end of the third episode is actually quite workable as a companion.

The Doctor's performance, however, is a little trickier. The first six Doctors had such unique characterizations that fans got used to each iteration being fairly flavorful. McGann's is sort of a more brooding version of Davidson's with a tendency to make light or sighingly accept his fate depending on the circumstances. He is kind of going for the Hartnell era haughtiness but with it turned down or at least unspoken. I like him as a Doctor, but it is hard for me to think of terms to describe him. Give me more time and I'm sure I'll think up something.

On the technical aspects, Big Finish generally knows what they are doing. Sound effects work nice and fit right in the background without being too glaring. Sometimes the old "fade the voice to show walking off" can be a little annoying, but that's part of the medium. If any complaints exist towards Big Finish's stylings, it is about a couple of action sequences (most present in "Immortal Beloved") where the pace just does not work out. They could have had a slightly more appropriate amount of pause to make it feel dramatic, but we get a bit of a strap-in and then some noise and we have cut through any build up for tension. Big Finish makes up for this by the inclusions of extras (similar to DVD extras, except extra audio tracks at the end). These provide interviews and commentary about why they did what and wear. Fascinating stuff if you are into behind-the-scenes-at-radio type things. "Horror of Glam Rock" even includes a couple of musical tracks. Everyone should hear the "Doctor Who Glam Theme".

The storylines are nice enough and get better as they go. "The Blood of the Daleks" is neat, but nothing new. Outside of Tom Cardwell (played by Kenneth Cranham) and the introduction of Lucie, not a whole lot to recommend it. The quasi-Dalek bit is curious, but they could have probably squeezed the whole thing into one hour with trimmings. "Horror of Glam Rock" has some definite funny moments, and reminds us the Doctor Who universe is not to be taken entirely seriously. It is plagued with some "geography" issues, though. It can be hard trying to figure out who is where and when. However, "Immortal Beloved" has all the good bits that make up a Doctor Who storyline: intrigue and danger mixed in with science-fiction conundrums. The Lucie and the Doctor have gelled better, and Paul McGann seems to have a slightly different voice from the stand-alone adventures (i.e. the "monthly Big Finish adventures").

"The Blood of the Daleks" is Fair. "Horror of Glam Rock" is Fair (I liked it better than "Blood", but it did not quite get up to good). "Immortal Beloved" is almost Great. Frankly, I would have made it the two-parter of the bunch, since there is a lot to think about with it and Ian McNiece (playing Zeus) is wonderful.

Si Vales, Valeo

1: Of course, there were a number of novels and comic strips dedicated to the character. In the latter, the physical appearance is obviously modeled on McGann (though not always 100% dead-on). However, McGann himself was not a major force in these adaptations and spin-offs, so I did not include them.


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