This month sees the release of Doom Coalition 4, the conclusion of an epic audio saga featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. It’s an exciting moment for Big Finish fans, as McGann’s one of the franchise’s most popular Doctors, despite his on-screen tenure having lasted not much more than 85 minutes.
And let’s be honest, the TV Movie wasn’t even that great. The plot is painfully unaware of its own silliness, the Master is turned into a pantomime villain, and – shock, horror – it makes the Doctor half-human, prompting many years of tenuous retcons.
But the one thing it got very right was the lead casting, with the Withnail and I star giving us a Byron-esque romantic visage of a Doctor, retaining the lightness of touch and optimism of the British source material that the American production otherwise struggled with.
Though the planned series spinning off from the movie never materialised, the Eighth was the ‘incumbent’ Doctor for a while and became the star of novels and comic strips. But it wasn’t until 2001 that McGann joined the line-up of Doctors appearing in Big Finish’s main Doctor Who range, which had previously alternated between Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctors.
In his first Big Finish story, Storm Warning, the Eighth Doctor saved Charley Pollard from her destined death, gaining his first audio-only companion and setting off a new and exciting story arc. Eight and Charley would appear regularly in the main range until 2007, after which McGann’s Doctor was used more sporadically in this range.
This was because the BBC, who had been impressed with Big Finish’s work, had commissioned a new series of audio adventures, to be broadcast on Radio 7 (now known as Radio 4 Extra). Over four series of the acclaimed Eighth Doctor Adventures, from 2006 to 2011, McGann’s Doctor and Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller faced Zygon imposters, the resurrection of Morbius, a cult led by the Metebelis spiders, and much more.
But by the end of this series, things were beginning to turn to the darker for poor old Eight. Hostilities between races were increasing, and not all endings had been happy. In 2012, Big Finish released Dark Eyes, a four-part box set which saw the Doctor and Ruth Bradley’s Molly O’Sullivan chased across time by the Daleks, while uncovering deceptions within the ranks of the Time Lords.
This was accompanied by a ‘rebranding’ of the Eighth Doctor, with the Victorian-esque suit and long hair replaced on cover images by a much more practical leather jacket and short trim. Three more Dark Eyes sets followed, telling an epic story against the backdrop of increasing Dalek-Time Lord hostilities. As we by now knew from the TV series, the Eighth Doctor’s life was on a path towards the Time War...
Big Finish followed up Dark Eyes with Doom Coalition, another four-by-four epic that has continued the path of the Eighth Doctor’s later life by putting him in conflict with a sinister Time Lord conspiracy. The success of the three instalments so far shows how Big Finish has perfected this new format; Doom Coalition feels like a season of a TV show and will be very rewarding to listen back to in full, while each episode has its own setting and identity, and each stands up as a great Doctor Who story.
The next thing in which we’ll hear McGann will be The Eighth Doctor: The Time War, billed as a prequel box set to Big Finish’s War Doctor series. Out in November, this is set to bring the Eighth Doctor right up to the end of his life – we just hope that doesn’t mean we won’t hear any more from the old romantic!
DOCTOR WHO - DOOM COALITION 4 is available from the Big Finish now.