Through the Wilderness
Paul McGann, 1996-2003
It's true that the eighth Doctor's tenure is an unusual one. Paul McGann's televisual tenure as the Doctor is extremely brief, no more than an hour - he doesn't debut as the Doctor until a third of the way into the TV movie. McGann described himself as the "George Lazenby of the Doctors," but to be honest, more people remember Lazenby's Bond than McGann's Doctor, in spite of the healthy nine million viewers the movie's initial broadcast got. On the other hand, the eighth Doctor has arguably the longest tenure of any incarnation. I've arbitrarily drawn the line at November 2003, when the new series was announced and the short-lived animated ninth Doctor made his debut, but the eighth Doctor era could be dragged right through to the end of the Eccleston series, when his ongoing novel line finally came to an end. The eighth Doctor was the current Doctor for a very long time, and a vast amount of supplementary material has Paul McGann's image attached, and much of it his direct involvement. The eighth Doctor is the Wilderness Doctor, the one version in the official line of Doctors who is defined less by his time on television than his time in the expanded universe of other media. Yet, he began with Paul McGann's hour of frantic material in the anomaly that is the television movie, which is also where it all began for me, after a fashion.
Some history, for those who are less immersed in the ins-and-outs of Doctor Who production lore. After the TV series was cancelled in 1989, various production teams, within the BBC and without, looked at returning Doctor Who to the screens, either as a series or a feature film. Rights battles negotiations and delaying tactics dragged this on for years, with all manner of names attached. A big budget movie seemed the inevitable result, and most of the treatments that gained traction involved rebooting the franchise with a more accessible quest narrative, meeting the Doctor on Gallifrey and taking him on a mission to find his lost father. It all sounds as though it would have been awful, and after much messing about and sudden rights changes, what we eventually got was a ninety-minute TV movie produced by Fox, Universal and the BBC. The idea was that this would introduce Doctor Who to the USA in a big way, and serve as a "backdoor pilot," hopefully convincing Fox to greenlight an ongoing series.
The TV movie is, indeed, a strange beast. The ghosts of earlier movie scripts are to be found in there, with peculiar references to the Doctor's early life that don't really match anything we've heard of before. And yet, it follows on from the original series' continuity, with Sylvester McCoy, explicitly playing the Doctor's "seventh life," coming to Earth only to get shot down, later regenerating into his new, McGann-shaped body. It's very much an Americanised version of Doctor Who, with an American companion (a real one, this time), charging around San Francisco. Except that, like almost all American telefantasy, it's filmed in Vancouver. It's quite a generic bit of TV sci-fi flummery, with lots of action, a dash of romance and because it was 1996, a strange obsession with the coming millennium celebrations. It's a lot of fun, if basically nonsense, and it falls apart in the last act, when any semblance of story logic goes out the window. I won't claim that it's great television, but I do enjoy it.
Most fans, of course, hated it, and still do. The hatred mainly seems to come from what it isn't, rather than what it is. It isn't Doctor Who as anyone remembered it from the sixties, seventies or eighties. It isn't what anyone who has come to Doctor Who watching the new series would expect, although it has its similarities. It's full of what its writer-producer, Phillip Sax, called "kisses to the past." Aside from the inclusion of the seventh Doctor, we've got the Master, Skaro, an off-screen cameo by the Daleks, references to Gallifrey, the Seal of Rassilon, jelly babies, the sonic screwdriver. It's the new stuff that bothers most of the fans, though. The Doctor is revealed to be half human, he kisses his companion, he gleefully predicts the future, all stuff that came out of nowhere and sat badly with the true believers. It's also a terrible pilot for a Doctor Who series, revolving entirely around the Doctor and the Master fighting over the Eye of Harmony (now relocated from Gallifrey to inside the TARDIS), rather than saving the Earth from invasion, visiting other worlds or exploring time. It all feels very enclosed, with now indication of the scope Doctor Who offers. And, despite its decent ratings in the UK, it crashed in the States, and the hoped for series never happened.
I was vaguely aware of it in 1996, and, already a Star Trek geek, a bit of American sci-fi should have enthused me. It kind of passed me by, though. Prior to that, my experience of Doctor Who had been the Peter Cushing movies, some Sylvester McCoy episodes when I was very, very young, and a parade of, admittedly brilliant looking, monsters on Blue Peter. It was 1999 when I saw it properly. It was officially "Doctor Who Night," and the BBC was showing a host of programmes about the series, all hosted by Tom Baker, who I was informed by Mum was Doctor Who. So was the old guy in the sole episode they broadcast, one of the installments of The Daleks. And so were the two other gents in the final element of the night, the latest film. "I'm called Paul McGann in this one," said Tom Baker. None of them were the chap with the moustache who I remembered being Doctor Who, although the little Scottish guy looked familiar. I sat down for ninety minutes of Americanised nonsense, which Mum had the foresight to tape, and I loved it. At the end, there was a trailer for more episodes, to be shown in the Star Trek slot on week nights, taken from the seventies. All this new information, a whole new world to discover. That was it; I was hooked.
So, yes, I came in with the terrible American thing with the Pertwee logo, that nobody likes. Fifteen years old, and making my first steps into the world of Doctor Who fandom. Now I'm twenty-nine, and I'm still here. Over the coming months I absorbed what I could find, reading the novels, watching the repeats and rewatching that movie. I found old videos. Friends fathers, happy to find a young person who understood their obsession, lent me their tapes, which I copies using two linked up VCRs. There were nine Doctors, although I came to understand that the moustachioed one from my youth was different, and didn't quite count in the same way as the other eight. It was the latest Doctor, the eighth Doctor, who mattered the most though, because his story was still going. It was all new to me, but the eighth Doctor stuff was newer. He was my Doctor.
"These shoes! They fit perfectly!"
The eighth Doctor is rather harder to define than his predecessors. He lacks a definitive portrait, built up over several years of episodes. There is, of course, so much to him beyond the television, but for the majority of people who know of him at all, that is all there is to him. Just his first story. How differently would we view the first Doctor based just on his first story? Or the third, or the fifth, or the seventh? Nonetheless, we can learn a lot about this Doctor and his unique place in the run of regenerations if we look at his short time on screen.
The most obvious thing to note is his youth. A thirty-six-year-old in the part may not seem unusual now, but Paul McGann was the second youngest Doctor at the time, after Peter Davison. He is fit, not quite athletic, but young, strong and healthy, quick on his feet and never quite still. He's also gorgeous, and I don't mind admitting that this was one of the reasons I latched onto the character; Paul McGann stirred feelings in me that a man hadn't previously stirred. For all the good looks and youth, though, there's something very old-fashioned about him. His hair - based on McGann's own, which he chopped off, necessitating a hasty wig fitting - along with his manner of dress, often gets him labelled as Byronic, and while the look is there, there's very little that is truly Byronic about the Doctor. He's a poet, and an adventurer, but hardly a man to run up vast debts due to his excessive lifestyle, or shag his sister. It's all look with the eighth Doctor; indeed, while his outfit harks back to the Victorian/Edwardian style of his first incarnation, it is very literally fancy dress, stolen from the locker of a hospital worker planning to dress as Wild Bill Hickock.
Everything is very urgent with this Doctor, but then, this is a very urgent situation he finds himself in, forced to stop the Master before midnight or face the end of the world. He is highly emotional, excitable, spontaneous and unpredictable. He's quite a contrast to the mature, somewhat stately figure the seventh Doctor had become. He's like a precocious child, acting as if everything is bright and new. His new regeneration, initially lacking his memories and identity, has given a new lease of life. Yet he's polite to a fault, softly spoken when he isn't bellowing with fear or anger. He displays an ingenious sleight of hand, picking people's pockets and, in one of his finest moments, removing a gun from a police officer. It looks like it will be a crushingly Americanised guntoting hero moment, until the Doctor points the gun on himself to persuade the cop to do as he wants.
"In the fight for survival, there are no rules."
So, onto the anomalies, or outrages, or however you like to see them. Firstly, lets look at that strange knack of the new Doctor's for predicting the future. He drops various hints and outright statements concerning the future lives of those he comes into contact with. He claims that time is too complex to meddle with, unless, like him, "you're a Time Lord." He laughs at humans seeing patterns that aren't there; is that because he can see the patterns that are? Or is this seeming precognition not another minor case of psychic power on the Doctor's part, but rather a careless use of his vast knowledge, dropping hints of a future he's already seen?
He certainly comes out with some unexpected information, at the unlikeliest of times. Unlike the previous Doctors, who were extremely cagey about their background, the eighth explodes with information. He can't help himself. While groping his damaged memory for data, he suddenly comes out with titbits about his childhood and his father. His revelation that he is, in fact, half human being the most astonishing. This is very difficult to reconcile with the rest of Doctor Who, not that others haven't tried. At first, when the Doctor blurts out to the Professor Wagg that he's "half human, on [his] mother's side," it sounds like a joke, a non sequitur to put the man off guard. Yet the Master examines his retinal pattern, and remarks that it is human. "The Doctor is half human," he murmurs, "no wonder..." It's all very strange. All other examinations in the film, by his new medical associate, Dr Grace Holloway, indicate that he is quite inhuman. He has two hearts, the fact of which is what leads to Grace's blunder on the operating table, killing the Doctor in the first place and necessitating the regeneration. His blood seems not to be blood at all. And yet his eyes are human. Much later on, the tenth Doctor will produce a duplicate tainted with human DNA, and is quite disgusted to realise that he is half human. It certainly doesn't seem to be that he ever was before.
So, a mystery? Yes, although there are possibilities. The TV movie sees the Doctor once again face off against the Master, now exterminated by the Daleks, his remains, quite inexplicably, living on as a sort of slimy goo creature. This then sabotages the TARDIS, attempting to take the Doctor's body, but having to settle, in the short term, for that of American ambulance driver Bruce - thus giving us the bizarrely wonderful casting of Eric Roberts as the Master. We've seen the Master do this sort of thing before; he absorbed the body of Tremas of Traken, and became hybridised further when he took on the nature of the Cheetah people. The Master is clearly capable of taking on the characteristics of other species in order to prolong his life. What's to stop the Doctor doing the same?
"You see, I can, but only when I die," says the Doctor, in reply to Grace's question as to why he can't change species. Is this the necessary clue? After all, the Doctor's regeneration is quite different this time. In the past, with the possible exception of his third regeneration, the Doctor, as a whole, doesn't die. Rather, his death is prevented by the regeneration; indeed, we shall later see instances that suggest that the Doctor can be killed before regeneration sets in. In this case, however, the Doctor is killed on the operating table, the heavy dose of anaesthetic required to sedate him apparently subduing the regenerative process. (It's a shame, really; imagine getting to see him regenerate on the operating table.) The Doctor later regenerates in the morgue, his dead body coming back to life; we see him begin to breathe again. Clearly, there's enough living energy in his cells to trigger the process. Unlike any other regeneration, though, he is neither in the TARDIS nor in the presence of another Time Lord (even his fourth change had his future avatar, the Watcher, present to assist). Insted, he is surrounded by human corpses. Perhaps, in extremis, his body picked up some local DNA?
Skipping ahead a little, there is little reference to the Doctor's being half human in the further eighth Doctor adventures. It's only really the BBC books series that ever makes reference to it, with little hints of his being a product of a "mixed marriage," and occasional, brief flashbacks to his newborn life with his parents. The novel Unnatural History, by Kate Orman and Jon Blum, is the only out and out sequel to the movie the books ever attempted. In this story, the authors put forward the suggestion that, with the Eye of Harmony exposed while the Doctor was vulnerable at the moment of regeneration, his biodata - his temporal essence, if you will - was exposed, and altered. He was subtly rewritten, creating a new background leading to the same present. The Doctor has always been half human, with a human mother - but only since his regeneration into his eighth life. Confused? The Doctor certainly was. Whether you accept this explanation or not, it certainly seems to be the case that only the eighth Doctor is half human, and not any of his predecessors or successors.
"I'm the guy with two hearts, remember?"
Finally, and most contentiously, is the eighth Doctor's newfound romantic streak. He's always been a romantic, of course, in the classical sense, but now he displays sexuality. It's hard to credit, now, how much furore this incited amongst the hardcore. The Doctor kissed a lady! Three times! The Doctor wasn't meant to do that sort of thing, you see, with fans having happily ignored the occasional flirtatious moments in the past, not to mention the fact that he has a granddaughter, and painting him as an asexual being (literally so, in the New Adventures novels). Nowadays, of course, we've gotten used to the Doctor snogging his companions, and it's really no big deal. The romance of the TV movie is clearly included because all such films must feature such a plotline, and it's very underdeveloped. It's easy to see why the Doctor would be attracted to Grace - an intelligent woman, a gifted surgeon, she's quite remarkable, and being played by the beautiful Daphne Ashbrook doesn't hurt. Equally, it's easy to see why she's swept off her feet by this dashing young Doctor. Even as she struggles to quite take his proclamations seriously, until she can finally no longer doubt the evidence of her own eyes, he's charming her with wild promises. "I can't make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today." For the first time in a long while, the Doctor is paired with a woman, not a girl, and they are very much portrayed on an equal footing throughout the film, swept up in each other, witht the Doctor following Grace's lead as often as she follows his.
That first kiss, in the midst of the Doctor's sudden flood of memory as his identity returns to him, is a spur-of-the-moment, rush-of-adreneline thing. It's followed up by another at Grace's request, although it could just as much be down to the Doctor's curiosity at a rarely experienced sensation as any real attraction. Only when they part company and share a kiss goodbye is there a hint of true feeling on his part. She's "finally found the right guy," but he's in it for the adventure. Sure, he asks her to come with him in the TARDIS, but he's taken numerous people travelling with him before. Is Grace an different? She asks him to come with her, and he replies that it's tempting, but look at him: he's staring at the New Year celebrations in the city. It's all about the immediate adventure with him. The Doctor and Grace bid their farewells, and he returns to the TARDIS, settles down and picks up his book, without a hint of regret. Is this the real eighth Doctor, once the immediate excitement is over?
Paul McGann brought a breathless charisma to his portrayal of the Doctor, a joie de vivre that had been lacking from the role in the latter years of the series. However, a new Doctor Who production was an opportunity for something more interesting, and while we could have got something far worse (if the unmade movie treatments are anything to go by, far, far worse), it's clear we could have got something better. The TV movie is dumb fun, and the eighth Doctor is part of that simple excitement. McGann however, being an extremely talented actor, could have brought something deeper to the role, had he been given the chance. Part of the issue, I feel, is that the eighth Doctor is clearly scripted as a reaction against the seventh - an older, mysterious Doctor regenerating into a younger, more obvious one. Something that always makes me chuckle is the publicity photos of McGann next to McCoy, with the new Doctor towering over the old. The fact that they are, in fact, almost exactly the same height passes people by - the photographer tilted the camera and put MGann on a step to make him look taller.
Paul McGann is capable of portraying vastly different characters, from Withnail and I's Marwood to Percy Topliss, The Monocled Mutineer, but one thing he excels at is quiet, unassuming, slightly sinister characters. It's easy enough to see him playing the Doctor like the New Adventures' seventh, all quiet threat and careful deliberation. Instead, the producers cast him as a dashing Doctor, a young adventurer, and while he pulled this off with aplomb, he's probably better suited to being a small, weird Doctor. This definitely seems more in line with McGann's own view of the character; in interviews, he regarded the Doctor as something of "a vampire," or a Dracula-like figure, seemingly young but in reality ancient, part of the same world as the monsters. He also hated the costume and the wig, preferring to play him short-haired and in normal clothes. McGann wanted to play him how Eccleston eventually would, nine years later. In time, he'd get a chance to sink his teeth into the role a little more, but for now, his time as the Doctor was over.
"...One of the things you'll learn is that it's all real. Every word of every novel is real,
every frame of every movie, every panel of every comic strip."
The TV movie failed to convince Fox to commission an ongoing series, and this could easily have been the end for the eighth Doctor. However, Doctor Who was going strong on the printed page, and a new Doctor provided a fresh surge of material. The earliest supplementary material featuring the eighth Doctor was a comic strip in The Radio Times, by Lee Sullivan and Gary Russell. Beginning the week after the movie aired and running for 42 weekly issues, the strips were short installments well suited to the "dashing Doctor" mold. They paired the Doctor with Stacy, a very generic companion, and Ssard, a very unusual one - he was an Ice Warrior. After these strips, other lines began to feature the eighth Doctor. Doctor Who Magazine secured the rights to use McGann's image in its own, long-running comic strip, which finally made the jump to full colour during the eighth Doctor's tenure. The very last Doctor Who New Adventure published by Virgin, Lance Parkin's The Dying Days, featured the eighth incarnation, pairing him up with seventh Doctor companion Benny Summerfield in a battle with the Ice Warriors. After this, the BBC snatched back the rights to publish Doctor Who novels, spitting them into two series: Past Doctor Adventures featuring the first seven Doctors, and an ongoing series of Eighth Doctor Adventures featuring the new incarnation.
With so little to go on, authors had a fairly free hand when it came to characterising the eighth Doctor. To begin with, it was all about the dashing, handsome young adventurer, a persona well-suited to Boys Own-style adventures but less to the complex introspective storylines the novels had become famous for under Virgin. That's not to say deeper versions of the eighth Doctor didn't exist, but all were, to some extent, a reaction against the mysterious, manipulative seventh Doctor of the later comics and novels. Authors who had written for the New Adventures had a new Doctor to play with, while the BBC hired several up-and-coming writers new to the series. The risk, with minimal source material, was either a caricature of the excitable adolescent Doctor of the movie, or a very generic one with no particular style of his own. Both appeared during the early years of the eighth Doctor. Perhaps the worst offender was the first Eighth Doctor Adventure, or EDA, in print, Terrance Dicks's The Eight Doctors. Written rather like a best-of collection of previous Doctors, it wholly failed to capture anything new about this Doctor, and had him lose his memory again, just after he regained it in the movie; indeed, amnesia came to be a defining feature of the eighth Doctor, as he fell victim to it again and again across the media.
One thing that most of the authors seemed keen to distance themselves from was the TV movie itself. The EDA novel line and the DWM comic strip had one direct sequel to the movie each. While Blum and Orman's Unnatural History took the opportunity to wrestle the movie's torturous continuity into shape, while furthering the eighth Doctor's story, Scott Gray's comic run gave us 'The Fallen,' which reunited the Doctor and Grace, and set up the reintroduction of the Master (whose continuity had become even more confusing than the Doctor's). For the most part though, save for the odd reference, this Doctor was distanced from the more controversial elements of his movie personality: he didn't predict the future, he didn't go on missions for the Time Lords, he wasn't half human and he didn't kiss girls. Except in The Dying Days, in which Benny throws herself at him, and we're left with the two of them landing in bed together. What happens next is up to the reader.
Mostly, though, the Doctor was oblivious or bemused by the attention his handsome new form received. While having the Doctor lust after his companions was still a no-no, he was the object of such lust quite often. Most notably in the early days was Samantha Jones, his off-the-peg companion in the EDAs. Sam was introduced almost as an aside in The Eight Doctors, becoming a very generic companion in the early novels before being fleshed out as the line went on. Terribly nineties, she was consciously created as a perfect companion for the Doctor; indeed, it later turned out that the Doctor had, unconsciously, shaped her timeline to create his own ideal assistant. As a hormonal young woman, Sam fell completely in love with the Doctor, leading to her desperate fleeing from him when she smooched his barely sensible form. This led to a three book arc in which the Doctor spent years searching for her, while she had the chance to grow up and become a more rounded character.
The DWM comics avoided the obvious romantic plotline by giving the Doctor a lesbian companion. Izzy's sexuality was part of her character from the beginning, but was barely touched upon; she just happened to be gay, and nothing was made of it. It was only towards the very end, when she and occasional fellow adventurer Fey, expressed their feelings for each other, that a moment of controversy hit the magazine. I believe one irate reader wrote in to complain, and cancelled his subscription. Izzy's was characterised primarily as a sci-fi geek, a bit of a Mary-Sue for the readership, and again, an ideal companion for the Doctor. She went through hell in his company though, undergoing a bodyswap with piscine alien Destrii (who really fancied the Doctor, and wouldn't let him forget it), and later abducted by Destrii's guardians. In a parallel to the EDAs, the Doctor had to search the universe for his young companion. However, while the EDAs' approach left him more vulnerable than ever, the comics showed a harder, steelier side to this Doctor.
The DWM comics matured until Scott Gray's authorship, becoming, to my mind, some of the best Doctor Who material in any format. The eighth Doctor became someone who was often swept up in events, but who brought the best out in people, and who was as sensitive in the face of his friends' suffering as he was resolved against his enemies. The ongoing plotlines were, sadly, cut short, by the advent of the new TV series and the introduction of the ninth Doctor and Rose to the strip. Such was the esteem the comic was held in, though, that Russell T. Davies offered DWM the eighth Doctor's regneration. In the event, the editors chose not to do it, and the eighth Doctor's final comic strip adventure, "The Flood," was left open-ended. The Doctor and his new companion - the redeemed Destrii, learning a better way under the Doctor's guidance - walking off into the sunset, a la Survival.
"I skim so fast, sometimes I don't even know what I'm reading."
The EDAs, meanwhile, rolled on, with the best authors taking new approaches to the source material. Paul Magrs introduced his own creation, Iris Wildthyme, to the Doctor's world in The Scarlet Empress and The Blue Angel, playing with narrative form and the nature of fiction, making the Doctor more consciously a story than before. Some authors created direct sequels to the New Adventures, while others deliberately moved away from, even suggesting that they were part of a wholly separate universe. The most influential author was Lawrence Miles, who introduced new concepts that steered the EDA line in new directions. The excellent Alien Bodies has the Doctor face his own future in a storyline mined for the latest TV series, as his own dead body is discovered and put up for auction. Miles created an insidious nemesis for the Doctor, Faction Paradox, a cult intent of causing as much damage to history as possible, and introduced a future war between the Time Lords and their unnamed Enemy. These new ideas were then developed by other authors as the line progressed.
One aspect that the authors of the EDAs ran with was a reversal of the NA Doctor's mission and ethics. While the seventh Doctor had risked people's lives in the process if protecting history, the Doctor put their lives first. He was no longer Time's Champion. Time could go hang - he was Life's Champion. While some of this came off as cutesy - he had a butterfly collection in the TARDIS, for example, that was a huge room containing a field full of butterflies - there was a grimmer side to it. He recognised the right to life of the vampires of Vampire Science, for example, and sided with alien beings against humans in The Year of Intelligent Tigers (both by Kate Orman, the former with Blum). The eighth Doctor's manipulation was of time, not of people. This picks up on the nonsensical ending of the TV movie, in which he rolls back time to save Grace's life. It's all temporal orbits and timeline contradictions with the eighth Doctor. The Doctor was even said to have left Sam at a Greenpeace rally between the first and second books, collecting her an hour later from her point of view while he went off and had three years of adventures (allowing some of the other lines to find a place to fit). Indeed, the eighth Doctor's various lines in different media are tricky to fit together, even with the benefit of side trips. Each line supposedly picks up after the movie, and takes the Doctor on separate, if often similar, journeys. It's arguable as to whether the EDA novels, the DWM strips, the Radio Times strips, the Big Finish audios, the Telos novellas and the short stories can actually be reconciled, or whether they all take place in saperate, parallel strands. Not that any of that really matters, but with some works cross-referencing the lines, and others going out of their way to contradict them, it's hard to come down on one side of the argument. Personally, I'm a "throw it all in together" man, but I can't begin to tell you how they all fit.
"Oh, don't worry - I know a victory when I see one."
This Doctor's continuing messing about with time brings him to the attention of Faction Paradox, who see him as a kindred spirit, an temporal anarchist. They catch up with him in Unnatural History, in which we learn that his timeline has seventeen conflicting streams, with more to come. The Faction begin the process of absorbing him into their ranks, and as a sign of this, he loses his shadow. Later events only make this worse, with the Doctor forced to fight against the Time Lords as they gear up for war, strikes from the future hitting the present, with the Faction playing in the rubble. It all comes to a head in Interference, Lawrence Miles's two-part blockbuster, in which the author radically changes the Doctor's past and brings him totally under the Faction's thrall, albeit without his direct knowledge.
The eighth Doctor saw himself as the flipside to his predecessor; indeed, several early short stories saw him trying to come to terms with his former self's actions. However, his mission to protect life wherever he found it often backfired. A defining characteristic of this Doctor, by accident or design, is that he is frequently swept up in events and forced to desperately improvise a positive outcome. Frequently, he fails. His attempts to peacefully neutralise the Zygons in Bodysnatchers leads to their death due to his own lack of knowledge; his is forced to allow a whole timeline to die to save human history in Genocide, and he chooses to kill a man in cold blood rather than let him end the world in Revolution Man. This Doctor tries to be a man of peace, but in a violent universe he is often unable to do so. Events following Interference leave him with two companions, Sam having left to build her own life. One is Fitz, the eighth Doctor's perennial best mate, who I shall come back to; the other is Compassion, an outcast from the Remote, a Faction offshoot. In one of the odder story developments, Compassion is transformed into a living TARDIS, with the Doctor forced to travel in her when his own ship is seemingly destroyed, on the run from the Time Lords who, in a very unpleasant plotline, want to capture her and force her to breed a new line of War TARDISes. Time Lord rape camps aren't something I ever expected, or wanted, the line to produce, but it provides a strong example of the corruption of the Time Lords that the War has invited. The Doctor can only rebel against them.
The Faction Paradox/Future War storyline came to a head in The Ancestor Cell, a novel that took Miles's concepts and too them in a direction he vocally lambasted. Whatever your views on the novel, it is certainly climactic, with the Enemy heading to a Gallifrey that is so corrupted by the Faction's influence that the Time Lords have become a worse threat than the monsters they are fighting. Faced with the choice between twisted Time Lords capable of ruining the universe, or the victory of their Enemy, the Doctor makes the desperate decision to destroy Gallifrey. This may all sound familiar to viewers of the new TV series. Russell T. Davies happily compared the two destructions of Gallifrey to the two World Wars fought in quick succession; this is a fair analogy, but I think it's safe to say that if the Earth had been destroyed in WWI, then WWII wouldn't have happened.
Nonetheless, the War storyline ends with the Doctor fighting Grandfather Paradox - his own twisted future self, a reflection of his darker side and the personification of the Faction's corrupting influence. Faced with this terrible choice, the Doctor seemingly enters a fugue state, his memories lost (again), and he is left on Earth in the 19th century by Compassion, his recovered TARDIS healing slowly in his pocket. It would be a century before the Doctor was reunited with his friends and his own way of life, the next run of books exploring the amnesiac Doctor's life on Earth. This wiping clean of the slate was a strong new hook for the EDAs, although removing Gallifrey from the equation wasn't really necessary; the Doctor could have just not gone there. Still, the Doctor's life on Earth gave us a fascinating new insight into his character, as we were forced to question how much of the Doctor's strong moral stance was innate, and what he would compromise in his more desperate situation. Over the course of these novels, he saved lives, betrayed friends, went through desperation at his lost identity to eventual acceptance of his circumstances, and even raised a family (although his daughter, Miranda, was adopted, and it could only be hinted at that she was possibly his real child from his potential future). To their credit, the EDA authors and line-runners stuck with the amnesia - although supposedly lost memories would creep in on occasion - throughout the remainder of the line.
What we needed to see though was the Doctor forced to face his actions. The man of peace had made the decision to exterminate his entire people. Surely he had to face up to this someday? Was his amnesia not simply cowardice, an unwillingness to face what he had done? Given the state of affairs, Fitz was perhaps his ideal companion. Introduced many books earlier as a counterpoint to Sam, Fitz was a scruffy, hopeless sixties dropout, whose relationship with the Doctor was a standard blokey friendship. They were best mates, sharing crap jokes and enjoying a very platonic kind of love (although there were hints at latent sexual attraction on the resolutely hetero Fitz's part). Travelling with the Doctor brought out the best in Fitz, allowing him to become a better, braver man. The choice to reunite him with the Doctor in the regenerated TARDIS was an odd one for a line that seemed to be burning its bridges, but allowed some link to the Doctor's former life, and former actions. Fitz's knowledge of Gallifrey and its fate gave him a little power over the Doctor, and also a reason to look after him; the Doctor became, in part, Fitz's responsibility.
It's telling that Fitz stuck with the Doctor right to the end of the EDA line. When he and the Doctor reunited, they were joined by Anji Kapoor, a companion in the mold of Barbara or Tegan, someone who just wanted to get back to her ordinary life. She was phased out to be replaced by Trix, a very different, secretive and untrustworthy character who hid aboard the TARDIS. Neither character really took off in the way they deserved, never quite being developed sufficiently. The Doctor continued adventuring through the universe, unaware of his former life and seemingly happier because of it. Lawrence Miles came back one more time to introduce a new element to the mythos, an anti-Doctor character called Sabbath. Created by Miles for the unique historical novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, one of the best books of the line, Sabbath was a human agent who saw himself as the new champion of Time. His own mission to keep order in history contrasted with the Doctor's anarchic "choose life" approach, their methods and ethics directly opposed. Sabbath, who went so far as to remove the Doctor's second heart and implant in himself for greater mastery over Time, was a truly great original character when written well, but descended into a Master pastiche in many of the books. In the final novel of the line, Lance Parkin's The Gallifrey Chronicles, plot points reaching back to The Ancestor Cell, the TV movie, and even the New Adventures came to a head, in a reward to the fans who had followed the line all those years. Faced with a surviving Time Lord, the Doctor finally had to answer for what he'd done - and we discovered that he knew what he'd been doing all along, in the greatest sleight of hand in his long life.
"It's that man again!"
The third and final main line of the eighth Doctor's stories premiered in January 2001, at the same time the Doctor acquired a daughter in the novel Father Time. Having acquired the rights to produce Doctor Who audioplays in 1999, Big Finish has already become something of a phenomenon, and their stories starring Davison, Baker and McCoy as the fifth to seventh Doctors had been a huge success with fans. This was, after all, real, performed Doctor Who, something that had been missing since 1996, and not a regular feature since 1989. It provided something that the books and comics couldn't, and was, in many ways, a replacement for the TV series. What it couldn't do was provide an ongoing story for the new Doctor - until 2001, when Paul McGann signed up.
This was something of a surprise to fans, since McGann had been quite reluctant to associate himself with the part of the Doctor. It was certainly a coup for Big Finish, allowing them to not only add a major star to their increasingly impressive cast list, but also provide a new line of adventures for the current Doctor - proper, new Doctor Who. Unlike the rest of the line, which alternated between releases for the other three Doctors, McGann's releases were organised into short seasons, and while they were discrete adventures, they told an ongoing story. The first release, Alan Barnes's Storm Warning, had the Doctor meet self-styled "Edwardian Adventuress" Charley Pollard, played with infectious enthusiasm by India Fisher. Saving her from certain death in the crash of the airship R-101, the Doctor had, once again, stuck his fingers up at history. Time wasn't going to let Charley go without a fight, leading to impossible events (check out the wonderful Christmas story The Chimes of Midnight) and the Doctor once again found himself at odds with the Time Lords, since Charley's impossible survival had damaged the Web of Time and allowed dangerous elements to creep in.
McGann's performance is variable in the audio line. I think it's safe to say that a listener can tell which scripts he prefers. A strong script galvanises him, and he gives a stronger performance to match it, while the weaker, or at least less interesting, scripts lead to a more vanilla performance. The eighth Doctor of the audios was, to begin with, very much the enthusiastic, boisterous character of the TV movie, but, as with the novels, increasingly traumatic events and great sacrifices led the Doctor to become a more withdrawn, serious character. One thing that is evident throughout is McGann's chemistry with Fisher, which made it easy to believe the Doctor's decision to protect Charley at the cost of universal stability. "You're my best friend," he tells Charley, and you believe it's true, and when it comes to the crunch in the climactic Neverland, the Doctor is unable to sacrifice his best friend to stop terrible forces from entering our continuum. For the first time, the Doctor says "I love you," to his companion, and you believe it.
Neverland ended with the Doctor exposed to a flood of "anti-time," which drove him out of his mind and transformed him into the monstrous Zagreus. He overcame this, of course, but was exiled into another, timeless universe by the Time Lords, to prevent any residual anti-time from threatening the mainstream universe. Having thrown himself to the wolves to save Charley, the Doctor was incensed that she had stowed away aboard his TARDIS and accompanied him into the Divergent Universe. In the truly astonishing Scherzo, the Doctor and Charley are forced to confront the Doctor's actions and his proclamation of love. In an empty world, with nothing but each other, Charley tells the Doctor she loves him, and gets nothing but a barrage of anger in reply. The Doctor proves himself to be just as spitefully hurtful as any man when cornered. One thing the Doctor is not good at is facing his feelings - he runs from his responsibilities, and even ran from the universe, rather than confront them.
Whether the Doctor is actually capable of love, in the human sense, is a big question. How much of his love for Charley is romantic, and how much is purely a strong, yet platonic friendship isn't clear. It's certainly presented in the most chaste way imaginable, and they only kiss to stop and alien force from using their mouths. The Doctor has been sown to have attraction to human women in the novels - primarily in the works of Parkin and Miles, who don't shy away from such aspects, but don't revel in them. For that matter, there's the possiblity of homosexual romance in Kate Orman's books. Yet, for the most part, it remains incredibly chaste, with the Doctor often a subject of lust but not subject to it. The only definite sexual encounter the Doctor has in the novel line is with I. M. Foreman, a powerful Gallifreyan in Miles's Interference, and precisely what goes on between two alien beings, one of whom is the personification of a planet, is anyone's guess. The other instance in Miles's work is the Doctor's marriage to Scarlette, which is performed out of necessity, although the symbolic nature of the event presumes that it must surely be consummated.
The Divergent Universe arc was something of a failure for Big Finish, a misstep after their fine run of eighth Doctor plays of the first two seasons. When it should have been focusing on the Doctor's relationship with Charley, it brought in another companion, the alien C'rizz (Conrad Westmaas), who never really succeeded. The timeless nature of the other universe was also pretty much impossible to portray successfully. An interesting failed experiment, then, it was called short by the announcement of the new series, whereupon it was curtailed in the knowledge that the Doctor had to be back in his own universe before the start of the ninth Doctor's adventures. Eventually, the Doctor was left alone again, Charley having finally grown sick of his lifestyle, their friendship ending under a cloud (although things weren't over for Charley, either).
The eighth Doctor could have been subsumed into generic adventures in the main line, but by now, Big Finish had become confidant and experimental, and were always looking to try new things. The success of the new TV series led to choice McGann audio serials being broadcast on BBC Radio 7 (now Radio 4 Xtra), and this led to a whole new series of audios being produced for the radio at the tail end of 2006. With two-part stories and single episode installments, the New Eighth Doctor Adventures were consciously closer in style to the revived TV series, with an older, more cynical eighth Doctor forced to travel with a brash northern lass for her own protection. Lucie Miller, played joyously by Sheridan Smith, is one of the best things to happen to Doctor Who audio, and the new radio series was a big success. Later series premiered in BF's audio releases, only later being broadcast on radio, but they provided a parallel series of Doctor Who adventures that continued up to 2012. Partway between the original series and the new, they gave listeners a more modern Doctor in a world still populated by Time Lords and classic monsters. Surprising events ensued, with Lucie leaving the Doctor after discovering that he had been lying to her about the death of a family member, only for her to join up with the Meddling Monk - the first Doctor's old enemy, now played by Graeme Garden. The Doctor auditioned for a new companion, and got Tamsin, played by Niki Wardley, whose view of right and wrong wasn't always on a par with the Doctor's. He even reunited with Susan, having to face up to his abandoning of her on Earth, and the discovered he had a great grandson (played by Paul McGann's own son, Jake).
Pitting the eighth Doctor against the Monk was a masterstroke (or a monkstroke, if you prefer). The Monk's attitude to time and humanity perfectly counterpoints the Doctor's. While the Doctor would sacrifice the integrity of time if it meant saving a life, the Monk would sacrifice lives to maintain his preferred view of history. The Doctor explicitly compares the Monk's attitude - which, inevitably, comes back to bite him - to his former self's. He vows that he will never again travel alone, lest he lose sight of the value of individual lives. With the Doctor and Lucie finally back on friendly terms, and the Doctor even beginning to enjoy the family life, it was inevitable something would go wrong. The New Eighth Doctor Adventures ended with To the Death, a devastating event episode that saw the Daleks return and many of the Doctor's closest friends lose their lives.
The eighth Doctor's story continues at Big Finish, however. As well as releasing escapades from earlier in his life - a trilogy of stories pairing him with none other than Mary Shelley, in fact - BF produced a special boxset of adventures entitled Dark Eyes. This epic story saw the Doctor, damaged and depressed following his losses, find some hope on a Time Lord mission that introduced him to a new friend, Molly O'Sullivan, played by Ruth Bradley. Once again pitting him against the Daleks, Dark Eyes finally gave Big Finish the impetus to take some new publicity shots of McGann in costume, after a decade of using the handful of images from the TV Movie. Dressed now in a new costume made by fans, with McGann's seal of approval, the Doctor is older, more mature and less frivolous than in this incarnation's youth. The outfit, with it's smart leather jacket and casual jeans and top, is very much a step towards the ninth Doctor's clothes - and far more in line with how McGann sees the Doctor.
"Change is what makes us real. At the end of the day, it's what it's all about."
One thing seems clear. While Big Finish may be barred from explicitly referencing the Time War - their licence only covers the original series elements and the eighth Doctor - events between the Time Lords and the Daleks are building to something big. The Time War is on the horizon (the Gallifrey audio series, which runs parallel to the eighth Doctor line, has also recently brought the Daleks in). We still don't know quite which version of the Doctor fought in the War, and the upcoming 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, looks set to change what we thought we knew. As well as the latest audio adventures, several short stories, and the IDW comics, have hinted at the eighth Doctor's involvement in the events of the War. At the very least, I think we can presume that he was involved in its beginnings. All we know for sure is that, at some point between The Gallifrey Chronicles and Rose, the Doctor restores Gallifrey, only to be forced to destroy it again. At some point between those two stories, he regenerates, although we don't (yet?) know why or how, or precisely into which incarnation.
So, with all this behind him, why do some fans still insist, like Vince in Queer as Folk, that "Paul McGann doesn't count?" The new series has referenced him, along with all the classic series Doctors. Now, while Russell T. Davies might not have been the greatest fan of the TV movie, his creation has never tried to push the eighth Doctor out of existence. We've had brief flashbacks of McGann's Doctor, along with all his predecessors, from the pictures in John Smith's journal in Human Nature to the rundown of Doctors' faces in The Eleventh Hour. And, while there's no actual footage of the movie in The Name of the Doctor (I doubt the rights situation is very amenable), there's some random extra dashing past in an eighth Doctor-style frock coat. While the current TV series has never acknowledged the events of the TV movie, it clearly acknowledges the eighth Doctor. In fact, the same can be said of Big Finish, which also, as I understand it, lacks the rights to the non-Doctor elements from the movie. Perhaps it's easiest to say that, yes, Paul McGann is the eighth Doctor, but that maybe the TV movie doesn't count?
Decide as you will. From his beginnings in the 1996 feature, through hundreds of adventures in print, comic strip and audio formats, along numerous separate lines, sometimes linked, sometimes at loggerheads, the eighth Doctor has become one of the most prolific, and arguably the longest-running Doctor of the lot. Paul McGann was the face of the Doctor for years, and while his adventures are less well known than the other incarnations', the eighth Doctor kept Doctor Who running in the long years before its true return to television. He was with us through the Wilderness, and he's still going strong - my Doctor, number eight.
Except, now we know. I can't believe I'm writing it, but that bastard Moffat, he's only gone and done it. Finally, after eight years of waiting, we have finally seen the eighth Doctor's final moments. Naturally, we can see the character again, without McGann's ageing being a problem. We haven't actually seen the eighth Doctor since the 1996 movie, just heard him - although, with a cheeky little reference to past companions, the Big Finish audios are now, undeniably, canonical. What we finally see in The Night of the Doctor is still only a tiny part of it, but we finally have some idea what happens in the eighth Doctor's final years. And it has been years - the Doctor is older, worn out, and the Time War is clearly raging in full force. Yet the Doctor is keeping out of it. He faces hatred for being one of the Time Lords, even though he claims that he's "one of the nice ones."
Astonishingly, he is actually killed in this little story, dead on impact when the spacecraft he has stowed on crashes on Karn. For once, the Doctor sacrifices himself completely pointlessly, dying due to his sheer pigheadedness when he refuses to leave a woman who refuses to be saved. It's a twisted, hate-fuelled version of his finest moments. Yet the Sisterhood of Karn revive him, granting him life long enough to allow a regeneration with the aid of their elixir. Faced with a universe at war, and perhaps nobly, perhaps selfishly, choosing it instead of death, the Doctor forsakes his own identity. The Doctor no longer, he becomes a Warrior. A Time Warrior. The most shameful period in his long life is about to start.
Illustrations are by Lee Sullivan (1), Martin Geraghty (2&4), and June Hudson (3).
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