As 2013 approached its end, Doctor Who fans prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the series. Everyone knew they would see then-current Doctor Matt Smith and his predecessor, David Tennant, team-up for an adventure, but no one expected an Internet short that would see Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, briefly return to the role. After witnessing how the character’s journey ended and finding out the short canonized the Big Finish Audio series he’d been a part of, I set out to learn more about this lost incarnation of the Doctor. To my surprise, I discovered one of my favorite versions of the character.
In 1996, almost 10 years before the rebooted Doctor Who series premiered on the BBC, there was an attempt to reestablish the franchise with a TV movie, produced by the BBC and the U.S.’s Fox Television. Sadly, the movie, which McGann starred in, did not perform well in America thanks to a poorly written script and disdain from existing Doctor Who fans. As such, the movie did not result in the new series it aspired to launch.
While his TV movie version was energetic and heroic, the audio dramas made for a slightly more subdued version of the Eighth Doctor—one that fell more in-line with the type of character many had known and loved before. Big Finish created a version of the Doctor that was equal parts eccentric and romantic, and perfectly happy venturing off into the unknown for the thrill of discovery. In his first audio adventure, “Storm Warning,” he flipped a coin to decide if he should explore a dangerous area or leave, knowing full well the coin was double headed and the toss would force him to explore the area no matter what.
In tandem with the TV movie’s establishment of his love for classical music and literature, the audio adventures saw the Eighth Doctor travel with Mary Shelley as a companion for several stories. While the Doctor has always loved to brag about the famous people he has met, the Eighth incarnation seemed to do it more often than most. Upon meeting his companion Charlotte “Charley” Pollard in “Storm Warning,” he mentioned how he played tiddlywinks with Lenin, as if it was a normal thing to casually slip into a conversation.
The Eighth Doctor was fiercely loyal, and held a deep love for each of his companions as well. He tended to become very attached to them, and would do anything to protect his friends. He even went so far as to save Charley from her fated death in “Storm Warning.” This caused a devastating paradox throughout time, and led to a later story, “Zagreus,” wherein the Doctor attempted to sacrifice himself to save both the universe and Charley, whom he had fallen in love with.
Finally, the Eighth Doctor had an unwavering sense of hope in the universe. No matter what happened, no matter what sort of evils he faced, he refused to believe there wasn’t a chance to make things better and save who he wished. At the beginning of the Dark Eyes series, with the Doctor at one of his lowest moments, he was still willing to pilot the TARDIS to the end of existence, motivated by the hope that it would prove things might just turn out all right in the end.
[Image: Big Finish Audio]
All of these things would mean nothing, though, if not for the amazing work done by Paul McGann. Even with the TV movie’s terrible script, McGann always gave 100% to the character and made some of the more convoluted and strange audio stories more than worth sitting through. He created an engaging and lovable character that I could not help but want to know more about.
While I would initially recommend someone listen to all of the Eighth Doctor stories Big Finish has to offer, I will boil it down to some essentials. I mentioned “Storm Warning” several times, and with good reason. Not only is it the Eight Doctor’s first audio story, but also a solid introduction for him and his journey. I would also recommend “Time Works,” and a Christmas mystery called “The Chimes at Midnight.” Fans of the rebooted series of Doctor Who would also enjoy the Eighth Doctor Adventures and should check out the story “Blood of the Daleks,” which includes the feisty Lucie Miller as his companion. My personal favorite of all, though, is Dark Eyes, which features some of the best writing and acting that Big Finish and McGann have to offer.
The Eighth Doctor’s story is a beautifully tragic one. Despite some dark times after devastating losses, the Eighth Doctor refused to let the world change who he was or take away his hope for a better tomorrow. Instead, he sacrificed himself to achieve that better tomorrow.