Paul McGann is the Doctor… Again [WHO-50—2001]August 6th, 2013 at 14:41
After the TV Movie (1996) disappeared without spinning off into the series that so many had hoped for, the Eighth Doctor as portrayed as Paul McGann continued in various tie-in media, featuring in 74 novels (73 of which were published by BBC Books) and nearly a decade of comic strips in Doctor Who Magazine.
But in 2001 (when only 40 or so of those novels had been published), the Eighth Doctor got another new lease of life, this time actually involving the original actor.
Big Finish had first acquired the license to make original Doctor Who plays back in 2000 and kicked off their Main Range of adventures with The Sirens of Time, which featured the 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors as played by Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Tom Baker had thus far declined to take part, and so the Main Range alternated between the three “Big Finish Doctors”, accompanied by original companions Peri, Mel, Nyssa, Turlough, Ace, Romana, Frobisher and Benny (the latter two characters coming from the comic strips and books respectively), as well as original companion Evelyn Smythe.
Filling in the gaps was fun for creators and listeners alike, and allowed Big Finish to use contemporary story techniques to make very satisfying Doctor Who that filled in the ‘gaps’ between TV stories. Still, the plan had always been to do as the books had done, and tell a ‘moving forward’ story with a new Doctor if they possibly could. To their delight, Paul McGann agreed to reprise his previous role and 2001 brought the first ‘season’ of 4 original Eighth Doctor Adventures, starting at No. 16 of the Main Range.
In Storm Warning, we were re-introduced to McGann’s Doctor as he flew through the Time Vortex, talking to himself and fiddling with signed first editions of famous novels in his TARDIS library. This was a far more confident and experienced version of the Eighth Doctor than we had seen the TV movie, which allowed you to imagine that he might well have been in this body for decades already (possibly having had all his adventures with BBC Books companions Sam, Fitz, etc.). Indeed we were later to be treated to a variety of Big Finish plays which themselves were set before Storm Warning.
This Doctor continued the TV Movie tradition of excessive namedropping of historical characters from Earth, including a throwaway line about Mary Shelley which was later developed into a whole new series. This habit was even commented upon by his new friend Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, played by India Fisher, who was to prove a smash hit as his first ongoing audio companion.
Charley self-identified as an Edwardian Adventuress – and to that end, had escaped her boarding school and dressed herself as a boy in order to sneak aboard the British airship R101 on its maiden voyage. Unfortunately for her, it was going to crash. Luckily for her, things would get rather interesting before that crash came.
The plummy, enthusiastic tones of India Fisher make Charley very likeable and her jolly hockey sticks mentality just goes to show that those blokes back in 1966 who thought historical companions (AKA Katarina) were a stupid idea had rocks in their head. Charley’s partnership with the Eighth Doctor clicks swiftly, to the point that she feels like his best friend almost immediately. They’re terribly good for each other.
Was Charley the first of the true modern companions? I think that while that argument could be made for Ace and Grace as well as the book companions and Izzy in the comics, there is definitely something about Charley that feels like a bridge between the companions of New and Classic Who. Like Grace Holloway, Sam Jones and even (to some extent) Benny Summerfield before her, she developed something of a crush on the Eighth Doctor. Yes, this happened to him a lot.
Unlike the Doctors that were to follow him, and despite his demonstrated kissing skills back in the TV Movie, the Eighth Doctor remained (apparently) asexual, with a strong implication that he simply wasn’t able to requite romantic feelings, though he was capable of deep platonic love for his friends.
As well as being seriously hot for her Doctor RTD style, Charley also represented the Moffat school of companions in that there was a significant mystery about her which unfolded over the first two seasons of her stories: the paradox created when the Doctor saved her in that first adventure together was to rear its head over and over again before finally being resolved once and for all in Neverland and Zagreus.
More importantly, like Amy Pond, Charley was able to resolve her romantic feelings for the Doctor and move past them so as to preserve the friendship.
The Eighth Doctor travelled with Charley for 7 years, Big Finish time (featuring in 2-7 plays per year), and she went on to have another two years travelling with the Sixth Doctor (it’s a long story). While Eight had many other audio companions including the deeply troubled chameleonic alien C’rizz, the sarcastic and wonderful Lucie Miller, the solemn and troubled novelist-to-be Mary Shelley, and more recently the pragmatic World War I nurse Molly O’Sullivan (as well as adventures with Samson and Gemma, Fitz, Izzy, Susan, Alex, Tamsin and Bernice), there’s something iconic about his relationship with Charley Pollard.
I’m delighted beyond all words that they are paired together again in the upcoming The Light At The End, the 50th anniversary audio which will bring all manner of classic Doctors and companions back together (available for pre-order now in Standard and Limited Collectors edition). More Eight and Charley is indeed something to celebrate.
ELSEWHERE ON 2001:
The City of the Dead, by Lloyd Rose [The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast]
Escape Velocity, by Colin Brake [Nicholas Whyte]