This guide contains spoilers to some stories from the Eighth Doctor era.
Not everyone is familiar with the Eighth Doctor. His era is almost unique in Doctor Who lore as it exists mainly in the world of audio adventures, comics and books. Knowing where to begin with this Doctor can be tricky, and getting your head around his myriad, multiverse adventures could leave you scrambling for the jelly babies.
For a time, it looked as if this boyish, whimsical Doctor would be consigned to just the one television adventure. Paul McGann was cast as the infamous Time Lord in the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie (or ‘The Enemy Within,’ if you prefer.) This was a co-production deal between the BBC, Universal and Fox, masterminded by TV producer and Doctor Who fan Philip Segal, and it was intended as a pilot for a full season of American-produced adventures.
However, this was not to be. The TV Movie performed well in the UK, but achieved considerably lower ratings in the States. Thus, the Eighth Doctor (having just taken over from his predecessor, the Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy) was left wandering alone through time and space, and in some ways the show’s future had never looked more uncertain.
And yet, in other ways, the late 90s was one of the richest times of creativity in the Whoniverse. The Eighth Doctor suddenly became the star of an all-new book series – an official collection of adventures, produced by the BBC, which told the ongoing story of the newly-regenerated Doctor.
And at the same time, the audio company Big Finish began its own officially-licensed productions (beginning with 2001’s ‘Storm Warning‘) and indeed continues to make them to this day, with Paul McGann still at the controls of the good ship TARDIS.
But if you’re lacking the time (or the money!) to experience all of the Eighth Doctor’s back catalogue, which are the most important stories from his era? And where on earth should you begin?
Well, the BBC books can be a little hard to come by these days, but should you stumble across a copy of ‘The Eight Doctors’ on eBay then you might want to pick it up. This is the first of the new novels, published in 1997 and written by Doctor Who veteran Terrance Dicks. It also introduces the companion of Sam Jones, who would later be followed by Fitz Kreiner, Compassion (a living TARDIS), Anji Kapoor and Beatrix ‘Trix’ MacMillan.
It’s important to note, however, that the Eighth Doctor novels are rather complex, owing to the vast (and sometimes mind-bending) plot arcs that span the series. One of these is the ‘War in Heaven’ storyline that begins with the ‘Alien Bodies’ book and concludes with ‘The Ancestor Cell.’
And what of this ‘War in Heaven’? Well, the Time Lords are at the centre of it, fighting a mysterious entity (or, more specifically, a process) known as the Enemy. Things come to a head in ‘The Ancestor Cell,’ and the Doctor is forced to destroy Gallifrey to prevent his future, paradoxical self from corrupting the entire universe. And at the story’s conclusion, he’s left alone on Earth, with a re-growing TARDIS and no memory of who he is.
And then there is the Council of Eight. These are mysterious creatures who live within the time vortex and are hell-bent on collapsing the multiverse itself, and the Eighth Doctor finally unmasks them in ‘Sometime Never’ – concluding a storyline that began in ‘The Adventures of Henrietta Street.’
‘Sometime Never’ is a key adventure for the Doctor, as it restores the possibility of the existence of multiverses – meaning that all Eighth Doctor continuity is valid. Sneaky.
You might also want to read ‘The Gallifrey Chronicles,’ as this is the final novel in the BBC Books series and ties up some of the plotlines first established in ‘The Ancestor Cell.’
Then we have the Big Finish adventures, which you can enjoy without any prior knowledge of the Eighth Doctor books. Across this range, you will encounter such companions as Charlotte (Charley) Pollard, C’rizz, Mary Shelly, Lucie Miller, Molly O’Sullivan, Liv Chenka, Helen Sinclair and Bliss. Are you keeping up?
Indeed, things get complicated for the first of these companions, Charley. To help make sense of it all, you might want to listen to ‘Neverland,’ ‘Zagreus,’ and ‘The Next Life‘ – a loose trilogy of stories that explore the legend of anti-time, and the paradoxical nature of Charley’s existence. We are also introduced to the Divergent Universe in these adventures – a place that has no concept of time. In fact, the Eighth Doctor is exiled here (by Romana, no less) after being possessed by Zagreus, a creature formed from a mass of anti-time.
And while your head is still reeling from that revelation, you might want to tune into ‘Terror Firma,’ as it features the Eighth Doctor’s first encounter with the demented Davros, creator of the Daleks. It’s the first time these characters have met since the events of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ – the classic Seventh Doctor story from 1988.
However, if you’re in the mood for more trilogies, Big Finish produced another loosely-linked collection of stories: ‘An Earthly Child,’ ‘Lucie Miller‘ and ‘To the Death,’ which actually conclude Big Finish’s main Eighth Doctor range (although his adventures would continue in further standalone box sets.) In these stories, the Doctor is reunited with his granddaughter Susan, and he also gets to meet his great grandson Alex, the Meddling Monk, and the eponymous Lucie Miller herself, played by Sheridan Smith. This is an emotional collection of adventures for the Eighth Doctor, and not everybody gets out alive.
Continuing the story in the form of boxsets, we have ‘Dark Eyes’ which introduces Molly O’Sullivan and Liv Chenka as the Doctor’s companions, facing such adversaries as the Dalek Time Controller, the terrifying Eminence and the Master.
Then there are the ‘Doom Coalition‘ box sets which span some 16 stories, and centre around a wicked plan by the Time Lords to bring about the destruction of time itself. They feature River Song, Weeping Angels, and the Voord.
After this come the ‘Ravenous’ box sets, which deal with a legend from the Dark Times (something even the Time Lords fear) and this culminates in a medley of Masters and a new recurring character known as the Eleven. This is a Time Lord who has retained the personalities of his past incarnations, and he later crops up in the ‘Time War‘ box sets.
And speaking of the ‘Time War,’ you might want to listen to these adventures as well, as they build up to the events that culminate in the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration in ‘The Night of the Doctor’ minisode, which first aired in 2013.
Phew! As you can tell, it’s not easy being the Eighth Doctor. No wonder he was prone to amnesia.
Has this put you in the mood to start listening to his adventures? Or if you’re already familiar with his era, do you have a favourite story? And are you one of the rare people who has read / listened to every Eighth Doctor adventure to date? Let me know in the comments below!
A massive thank you to my friend David Wall who helped me write this piece. His Eighth Doctor knowledge is unparalleled! (Check out the short story he wrote in the Lovarzi anthology Loose Threads.)
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