A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who: THE EIGHTH DOCTOR YEARS 1996-January 2nd, 2011 at 19:28
Summary: The Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann, is simultaneously the Doctor with the shortest and longest run at the character. He appeared only once, in a pilot TV movie in 1996 (called variously, The Movie, The TV Movie, Doctor Who, and The Enemy Within) which was attempting to repackage Doctor Who for a new TV generation. It failed, in many senses of the word, but the Eighth Doctor himself, as portrayed by McGann, was excellent.
So excellent, in fact that even when it was obvious the TV Movie would not go to series, BBC decided to run with the character, doing with him what Virgin had done so successfully with the Seventh Doctor, producing a series of interesting, original SF books with the Doctor and various companions at the centre of the franchise. Telos Publishing were also licensed to produce a series of “deluxe” Doctor Who novellas featuring various Doctors, including the Eighth. As well as utilising some of the same authors that had worked on the Virgin and BBC lines, Telos brought in some well known authors from other areas to write media tie ins for the first time, including Kim Newman, Louise Cooper and Tom Arden.
Later, when Big Finish launched, the Eighth Doctor got another new lease of life as the “current” Doctor, and Paul McGann was finally allowed to develop the character beyond the 90 minutes that had spawned so much secondary canon. Many of his audio plays were also broadcast on BBC7, including several seasons of stories with companion Lucie Miller. Big Finish also took on the ‘Short Trips’ anthology series begun by the BBC and continued it as an audio and print series, so that hundreds of new short stories have been published featuring all the Doctors and companions. After 2005, when Christopher Eccleston launched on to our screens and Doctor Who really came back, the Eighth Doctor was sort of ‘retired’ as the current Doctor and recategorised as a Past Doctor, but in practice this didn’t make a lot of difference. Interviewed recently, Paul McGann spoke about how chuffed he was to see his Doctor acknowledged in New Who, because he had assumed he would be considered “not canon”.
Many writer names turn up again and again, writing for one or more of these series – Russell T Davies himself had written Virgin New Adventures, and he deliberately picked writers for the 2005 launch season who had written for the Doctor during the “Wilderness Years,” for Big Finish or Virgin or BBC Books or the Short Trips series, if not many of the above.
The TV Movie occupies a strange space between New and Classic Who. In some ways it was beholden to the past – Paul McGann, for instance, was pushed into a gimmicky old fashioned costume and a long curly wig when he himself declared he wanted to see the Doctor played with a buzz cut and a leather jacket. (that’ll never work!) The plot was also stuffed full with quite incomprehensible backstory, which made it hard for new (or let’s face it, old) viewers to make sense of it. The Master, the Daleks, the Time Lords, the Eye of Harmony and all manner of random detail was packed in, along with a few things apparently designed to alienate and bewilder the core audience, such as the idea of the Doctor being half human. (wtf?)
At the same time, the production team were trying rather to present Doctor Who as something that fit in with modern TV, in an age of Star Trek DS9, Babylon 5, ER and the X-Files. They wanted an American audience, so they set the story in San Fransisco, added some motorcycle chases, guns and medical drama sequences. While they had the good sense to keep the Doctor British, the rest of the cast were American, including the Master (Eric Roberts). The design was gorgeous, especially the new TARDIS console room, which combined with the Doctor’s new costume gave the whole show a steampunk sensibility that the fans would have been all over, twelve years later…
Also, there was kissing. Between the Doctor and the companion. Many of you may be too young, or too New Who, to remember the screams of horror that echoed around the world when the Doctor kissed Grace Holloway. Twice. But believe me, for a few minutes there, the over-reaction eclipsed the sun. Personally I think that those kisses were vital in getting all the bile out of fans’ systems so they were ready to be tolerant in 2005… or maybe, you know, fandom just grew up, or something.
The Eighth Doctor was the first one allowed to be romantic, and an object of desire, something that carried into the books and audio plays too. For the most part, he remained aloof and above it all, preserving the illusion that the Doctor was asexual. But it’s fair to say that the Doctor-companion sexiness allowed in the current series was well and truly broken in as a concept long before Jack, Nine and Rose started to discuss the concept of dancing.
The Companions: I’m not as fluent with the Eighth Doctor as all the others, as there is simply more material associated with his Doctor than any other, and I haven’t read all the books or listened to all the plays. I don’t even have a handle on all the companions, but here are some of the highlights:
Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) – the companion of the TV Movie. Though she never travelled in the TARDIS, she is very much the POV character for much of the story, and the person who most connects with the Doctor. Her story is actually a clever and rather shocking one, never before dealt with in Classic Who, though one which grows organically from the Doctor’s backstory: the Seventh Doctor, now rather aged, steps out of the TARDIS in the middle of a gang war and is accidentally shot. Grace, an ER doctor, then manages to kill him while attempting to save his life, because Time Lord physiology is so different to human. It’s a rather marvellous idea, even though the narrative suffers from spending such a long chunk of time on the previous Doctor, instead of getting on with things. Grace then bonds with the strange new Doctor, romping with him in the park and later helping him save the Earth from the Master, who has managed to steal himself a new body…
Apart from being an older female companion, always something I enjoy, and a doctor in her own right, Grace has one very important thing going for her: given the opportunity to travel with the Doctor in the TARDIS, she chooses not to. There’s a power in that that I respect very much, and it was reflected in Donna’s choice in The Runaway Bride. I wonder if, had the series been picked up, it would have been Grace solving mysteries in the hopes of crossing paths with the Doctor again, and miming her pleasure at seeing him again through a glass door…
Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso) – given that this character spends most of the movie working for the Master, and very little time on the Doctor’s side, it’s much harder to justify him being called a companion alongside Grace. But the production team cast and referred to him as being a companion, and considering that this is the first time that a non-white actor has been cast in the role as companion on screen (Roz Forrester was the first non-white companion in the Virgin New Adventures) it seems unfair to rob him of the title. I still can’t think of anything interesting to say about him, except that he very much launched the tradition of a male companion being treated as secondary, less interesting & less important than the female companion (both in scripts and in publicity), as seen quite regularly in New Who.
Sam Jones (BBC Books) was the first companion devised for the Eighth Doctor series of original novels. A teenager from Coal Hill School (the same school Susan once attended and Barbara and Ian once taught at), she was a lefty vegetarian with high moral principles, and they had plenty of jolly adventures together, though the BBC books, like the Virgin New Adventures had previously, soon started taking on darker and darker themes. Emotionally, Sam’s arc was very similar to that used for Martha Jones in New Who – she developed a mighty crush on the Doctor and at one point left him for three years in order to get over it, and herself. There’s also a very complicated plot involving paradoxes and Sam not really being the real version of herself, but I barely remember it now.
Fitz Kreiner (BBC Books) joined Sam and the Eighth Doctor for some time and later continued on as a sole companion and paired with Compassion and then Anji Kapoor and Trix, companions I know almost nothing about because I’d stopped reading the books by then. Fitz was a boho, guitar-loving young chap from the 1960’s, and he and the Doctor had a great brotherly almost-equals vibe which was very enjoyable to read. I believe Fitz is technically the longest serving companion ever, if you count it in years…
Iris Wildthyme (BBC Books, created by Paul Magrs, and Big Finish Audio) is a rather batty Time Lady who became his nemesis in a whole new way, by stealing his backstory and stalking him within an inch of his life. I rather adore her, the crazy bag lady of space with her many glamorous past incarnations, and she has been brought to glorious life in Big Finish Audio by Katy Manning, AKA Jo Grant from the Third Doctor Years.
Charley Pollard (India Fisher, Big Finish Audio) – I’m on more familiar ground here! Charley, introduced in Storm Warning, is an “Edwardian adventuress” whose first appearance causes a temporal paradox when the Doctor saves her life instead of letting her die, as she was supposed to, in an airship crash. Charley has developed through her series of audio plays into one of the most iconic and enjoyable companions, and while she also went and fell in love with the Doctor (he’s hot, it happens), she didn’t brood overly about it, and managed to actually tell him about her feelings without either of them letting it ruin their friendship. When she finally left the Eighth Doctor, believing he had been killed, she was unexpectedly rescued by the Sixth Doctor and travelled with him for quite a while, in the odd situation of knowing more about the Doctor’s future than he did. Charley was a lovely match for the Eighth Doctor, bright and jolly and brave but also capable of feeling things quite deeply.
C’rizz (pronounced Keh-riz, Conrad Westmaas, Big Finish Audios) was a chameleonic alien companion from a universe without time. Shortly after meeting the Doctor in The Kreed of the Cromon, his attempts to rescue the woman he loved go horribly wrong, and he ends up killing her rather than see her live out a life in the monstrous form she had taken on… only, ten minutes later, to watch the Doctor completely save Charley from that same condition. C’rizz travelled with them both for some time, and thanks to the medium of audio, the listeners had the benefit of being aware of the much darker undercurrent going on in his own head, including hearing voices of the people he has killed, beneath the jolly adventures they were all having together. I haven’t got to the end of his storyline yet (don’t spoil me!) but I don’t see this one having a happy ending. It’s an interesting attempt to take the Turlough theme of a companion who isn’t that nice, and actually DO it – Turlough, when it came down to it, just didn’t have the heart of a villain. C’rizz is far more complex.
Romana II (Lalla Ward, Big Finish Audio), who has been having adventures of her own in the Big Finish universe as the President of Gallifrey, has appeared in several Eighth Doctor stories. Most notably, she and Paul McGann performed in a new version of Shada, the Fourth Doctor story which was never finished thanks to strike action. The script, penned by Douglas Adams, required only minimal changes to explain why the Eighth Doctor was with Romana instead, and in fact her status as President added extra resonance to some of the scenes.
Izzy & Destrii (Doctor Who Magazine comic strips) are probably the 8th Doctor companions I’m most familiar with! Izzy was a very cute geek girl packed full of SF and pop culture references who travelled in the comic strip with the Eighth Doctor for many years. I particularly enjoyed her references to Pratchett and the Discworld. Destrii was a renegade fish woman on the run, who swapped her body with Izzy’s, and after her apparent death, left Izzy stuck as Fishgirl.
Much later, Destrii turned up again in Izzy’s body and they swapped back. A little while after Izzy returned home to her family, Destrii herself became the Doctor’s companion. Something I only discovered while researching for this post (the one one I’ve had to research!) is that there were originally plans for DWM to cover the regeneration from Eight into Nine, with Destrii serving as the transition companion in the comics and sticking with the Ninth Doctor for a ‘year one’ arc. When RTD vetoed the ‘year one’ idea, not wanting the Ninth Doctor to be shown travelling with anyone but Rose, DWM decided not to depict the regeneration at all.
More recently, the Eighth Doctor has been travelling with Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) and Tamsin Drew (Niki Wardley) in adventures which have been broadcast on radio as well as available from Big Finish, and has also appeared in several with Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and his great-grandson, Alex Campbell (Jake McGann).
Feminist Heroes: Charley Pollard, President Romana, Izzy & Destrii and what the hell, I’m adding Grace Holloway in there because I think she has been unfairly kicked for being soppy about the Doctor, when (have I mentioned he’s really hot?) there was far more to her character in the little time she had to establish herself.
Best Stories To Watch, Read or Listen To:
Well, the TV Movie, obviously. It’s bizarre and faily in places but the Doctor himself is awfully lovable, and really… it’s one of those things to figure out for yourself. If you’ve never seen it, it’s remarkably not like any other Doctor Who ever, and yet a little bit like all of it. If you *have* seen it before, and want to revisit it apparently the Revisitations Box set version includes a commentary by Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann and is pretty candid, if that sort of thing appeals to you.
As must be obvious by now, I don’t have the same grasp or breadth of this Doctor than the others, because so much of his material was off-TV and I just haven’t consumed enough of it. But here are some of the bits and pieces I have really enjoyed over the years.
The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin (Virgin New Adventures novel, 1997)
Benny and the Brigadier come face to face with a strange new Doctor
Seeing I, by Jonathan Blum & Kate Orman (BBC Books 1998)
This is the reinvention of Sam Jones book, a powerful character piece for Sam and the Doctor as well as being hard-boiled political science fiction.
The Scarlet Empress, by Paul Magrs (BBC Books 1998)
Sam and the Doctor are introduced to Iris Wildthyme, a woman who claims to have lived all of the Doctor’s own adventures.
Storm Warning (Big Finish Audio, 2001)
The Eighth Doctor meets Charley Pollard in the middle of an air disaster… and a lifelong friendship is formed
Shada (Big Finish Audio, 2003)
Somehow, the Doctor and Romana forgot to go to Cambridge and have this adventure the first time around. But it’s never too late!
Fallen Gods, by Jon Blum and Kate Orman (Telos novella, 2003)
A really beautiful story blending the Eighth Doctor with Greek Myth.
Terror Firma (Big Finish Audio, 2005)
The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz return to our universe in the middle of a Dalek invasion, and the Doctor learns from Davros about two companions he never knew he had…
Other Lives (Big Finish Audio, 2005)
The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz visit the Crystal Palace of the Victorian era and all three find themselves caught up in other’s people’s stories, a tangle of disguises and mistaken identities.
and one I haven’t listened to yet but am about to any day now and supremely excited about:
An Earthly Child (Big Finish Audio, 2009)
The Eighth Doctor FINALLY pops back to visit Susan in 22nd century Earth, and get a chance to meet his rebellious grandson Alex.
THE FIRST DOCTOR YEARS: 1963-1966
THE SECOND DOCTOR YEARS: 1966-1969
THE THIRD DOCTOR YEARS: 1970-1974
THE FOURTH DOCTOR YEARS: 1975-1981
THE FIFTH DOCTOR YEARS (1982-1984)
THE SIXTH DOCTOR YEARS: 1984-86
THE SEVENTH DOCTOR YEARS: 1987-1989
That’s the last of the Classic Who posts – thanks everyone, I wasn’t expecting them to be quite so popular! That filled in the Christmas-New Year period nicely, didn’t it? If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to check out the Twelve Doctors of Christmas over at Tor.com. I love that Doctor Who is becoming such a Christmas tradition. Sigh, if only we hadn’t already eaten all the shortbread Daleks this year…