TV Lists

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor – The Best and Worst

The Eighth Doctor is perhaps one of the most mysterious incarnations of the Doctor, not just because of his character but because of how his existence works. Sadly, relegated to being an expanded media Doctor, with just three onscreen appearances, despite fan petitions for him to have his own series and Paul McGann’s own enthusiasm for the role. Any fan of Eight will tell you just how awful that is. Despite this, his longevity is immense through all the audio drama, comics and novels, and he stands out as the most long-lived incarnation of the character to date.

Littered with fan favourite companions from Charlotte Pollard and Lucie Miller to Liv Chenka and Fitz Kreiner, the true extent of the Eighth Doctor’s life is perhaps impossible to fully chart and consume. A life of trauma and sadness through Faction Paradox, Doctor Who’s most incomprehensible and terrifying entity to follow yet, to the Time War, this Doctor deserves so much more time on screen. It’s a shame the ‘TV Movie’ never led to a series, but in the long run that’s likely the best outcome for the show, relegated to the backburner for so many years. Only the most devoted Big Finish listeners truly appreciate him but someday perhaps even the most casual fans will be able to love this Doctor.

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Every time he returns to the screen, in ‘The Night of the Doctor’ (2013) and ‘The Power of the Doctor’ (2022), it just whets the appetite for his true return even more. And with such a long and varied life, it’s difficult to pick just five of his best and worst stories. There are some brilliant stories in the EDAs –  Eighth Doctor Adventures – such as Unnatural History, Vampire Science, The Year of Intelligent Tigers, Interference, Earthworld and the whole ‘100 years’ arc. But as I must, here are the five best stories for the Eighth Doctor (at least for now) in no particular order.

1) The Chimes of Midnight (2002)

What can we say about this story that hasn’t been said for 21 years? It’s Doctor Who at its peak.

Top tier performances from Paul McGann and India Fisher, one of the best Doctor/Companion pairings of the franchise, a truly compelling mystery, slices of dark comedy, an utterly terrifying villain, and a plot full of many twists and turns. Seeing (or in this case hearing) the Doctor actually scared always adds a layer of fear for the audience and this is perhaps one of the most well executed instances yet.

Rob Shearman manages to craft what is a perfect Doctor Who story and still holds up to this day.  One of the very few stories to genuinely scare me, this is essential Christmas listening. (Warning: May put you off plum pudding.)

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2) The Truth of Peladon (2022)

Jumping forward, this story is brilliant.

Tucked away at the end of last year’s Peladon set, this episode shows us a new angle to McGann’s Doctor and how he still has it all these years later. Embodying the manipulative background persona of his Seventh incarnation, the Doctor plays second fiddle to the main character of the piece, Arla Decanto, whose journey is the crux of the plot.

It’s a great – and may I say unexpected – pleasure and just one of countless Tim Foley scripts littered across Big Finish that deserves much more recognition. The set as a whole is great so it’s well worth buying but this is easily the gold offering. Plus it has Paul McGann singing the Venusian Lullaby not just to Aggedor but as the actual end credits. What’s not to love here?

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3) The Flood (2004-05)

Doctor Who Magazine took hold of the Eighth Doctor and ran with him once he was available, and some of the stories that were produced as a result are crowning jewels of Doctor Who comic stories. And it all ended for this Doctor with this story.

The Flood is everything you could want from a Doctor Who comic. Great plot, beautiful artwork, vibrancy, elements that could never work on screen (such as the sublime Cyberman design) and a super high-stakes conclusion that completely satisfies the reader. Split over eight parts it could come across as drawn out with a lesser plot but everything works so well here, and also creates one of the best Cyberman stories. The conclusion may not be the game changer that was originally intended (DWM having been offered the chance to produce the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration into Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor) but still leaves you on a beautiful ending that is the comic equivalent of Survival (1989).

It’s just a shame Destrii was so short lived as a companion but that doesn’t detract from the story at all. With a setting that feels reminiscent of where the revival would go, it really does feel like the finale of the midpoint, the Wilderness Years in some form, and opens the door for the best thing to happen on TV: the return of Doctor Who.

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4) Palindrome (2020)

Thanks to 2013’s ‘The Night of the Doctor’ establishing Paul McGann’s incarnation as having existed within the Time War, Big Finish took the chance and ran with it, giving us countless stories and box sets for the Eighth Doctor within the conflict, to examine how he existed within before actively choosing to become part of the war.

The first four boxsets are a mixed bag, with volume two being a bit lacklustre and each set having a dud, but volume four got off to a fantastic start. In the aftermath of set three’s conclusion (no spoilers but it’s a doozy!) we get this confusing, tragic and superbly made two-part story that gives centre stage to Terry Molloy’s Davros and it’s some of the best two hours released that year.

With an unusual structure, and background presences of the Doctor and Bliss, this story has huge multi-versal stakes while also being very contained and personal which is no mean feat. Molloy gives perhaps his best performance (vying with 2003’s ‘Davros’ for top spot there) and makes you truly feel for the man who created the biggest atrocity in the universe (or did he…?). While setting up the set’s finale, it manages to be its own story and is well worth a listen. It’s hard to talk about this story without spoilers but rest assured it’ll make you cry, make you gasp and make you praise John Dorney all over again.

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5) The Four Doctors (2010)

This one is perhaps a bit of a cheat.

Not only is it not available anymore without resorting to dubious means (please rectify this Big Finish!) but also the Eighth Doctor isn’t strictly in it much (though to be fair no Doctor is in the whole thing). It’s a unique take on a multi-Doctor story, following a new character as he meets a bunch of different Doctors and it’s somehow super engaging. There are only two scenes of Doctor meetups, only one of which is all of them, but that’s not a problem when the story is this good.

It almost doesn’t feel like it’s multi-Doctor because of the format and structure and by the end you almost forget the Doctors hadn’t all met up yet. It’s both a simple story and also slightly confusing at times and it all works so well. It really is a shame it can’t be bought these days as I’m sure it would otherwise have more love. It really deserves it, and proves that multi-Doctor stories can be done in different ways that go against established style and still be a great story in its own right. Take notes from this people.

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There are so many great stories for this Doctor that it’s almost impossible to restrict it to just five, and as such there are some notable stories that haven’t been included and deserve honourable mentions:

Zagreus (2003), the complete bonkers entity. It needs all that prerequisite and loses all semblance of coherency immediately but is still a great time.

The Last (2002) is a bleak and depressing time but a great story with genuine twists and turns that make you wonder what the hell will happen next. The standout of the controversial Divergent Universe arc.

Embrace the Darkness (2002) is a rare script from Nick Briggs that is truly great. Creepy and dark, it’s a hidden gem in the Eight/Charley arc with some great moments, and the part one cliff-hanger is genuinely one of the most unsettling of all Big Finish.

Scherzo (2003) is one of the most unique Doctor Who stories ever made, a two-hander that truly tests the very idea of the Doctor/Companion dynamic as a whole, with sinister cliff-hangers, jump scares, and a soundscape that will make you lose your mind. Also, Paul McGann story-time begins every episode, which is lovely.

Lucie Miller/To the Death (2010) is again a great script from Briggs, starting off Doctor-lite before becoming the best sequel to 1964’s ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, with countless fan favourites, tragedy, horrific moments and some stunning performances, ending the Lucie Miller run on a true high.

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The Curious Tale of Spring-Heeled Jack (2003) is another one of those brilliant comic stories. Featuring the Doctor on his own, it adds the first explanation of the eponymous Jack to the Whoniverse in a fun little three-part story with a great location, lovely artwork and an excellent twist leading to a slightly sombre ending.

The Light at the End (2013) was actually my first Big Finish, and the proper 50th anniversary release combining every living Doctor on roster, Four to Eight, plus cameos from archive footage and impressions of the first three (with Tim Treloar’s debut as the Third Doctor) in an excellent story that while perhaps lacking substance is just a super fun time with some lovely pair ups and some iconic scenes.

How To Make a Killing in Time Travel (2018) is tucked away at the start of Ravenous 1 before the main arc kicks in, and is a lovely little filler episode for the Eighth Doctor and Liv. It’s a plot that’s been done before in many other media forms across the years but is a rollicking time that makes you feel for the ‘villain’ of the piece. Might not stick in the mind afterwards, but while listening it’s a great hour.

Day of the Master (2019) ends the Ravenous saga on a high, a suitably high stakes finale that encompasses the fear of the titular monsters, the conclusion of the Eleven, and three different Masters all wrapped up in events in a climactic two-part extravaganza, with one of the most shocking cliff-hangers in recent years, leads into Stranded and allows us to finally hear Paul McGann and Eric Roberts face off once more.

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It can’t all be positives though, and so it’s time to mention some of the worst stories for the Eighth Doctor. With a life this long, there’s bound to be some stinkers.

1) Absolution (2007)

The problem with this story is that it’s both too much and nothing at the same time.

There’s a semblance of an intriguing set up, them arriving in Hell while C’rizz hears voices, but it’s all just a boring jumble that leads to one of the weirdest and perhaps most fumbled companion exits of Doctor Who.

There’s not much to say on this one because nothing sticks in the mind long enough to be discussed, it’s just not good and that’s a shame when it’s one story off the conclusion to an arc that began six years beforehand. Credit where it’s due, the final scene between the Doctor and Charley is sublime and a really disturbing look at the Doctor’s mindset, but that’s all that’s good, alas.

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2) Nevermore (2010)

This is again a story where all the content just drains away from your brain upon completing.

It’s been a good many years since I heard this one and usually something sticks but I genuinely struggle to recall anything. It’s a shame, as again there’s a good set up with an Edgar Allan Poe planet and the first proper adventure for new, short-lived companion, Tamsin.

It’s probably an acquired taste, and fans of Poe would probably find enjoyment, but in general it’s just a very forgettable story as are a lot of the worst Eighth Doctor stories (which is ironic with how many times he loses his memory himself).

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3) Doctor Who and the Nightmare Game (2003)

There seems to be some miscommunication that there’s a sizeable correlation between Doctor Who fans and football fans, as it often crops up (never being the most loved stories or even well-liked at times), but this is probably the worst and most harmless all at once.

It’s a really simple plot, perhaps too simple, with a hugely unlikeable companion-of-the-week and yet tries to go grand scale at the same time.

There are a couple of decent moments littered within and, again, the artwork is nice, but it’s just not a story that holds any merit, and even teases the reader that an immature teen might become a companion, which strikes fear into the heart. Once again, just a forgettable story.

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4) In the Garden of Death (2018)

The worst of the Time War bunch for McGann, this story is yet another amnesia story for the Eighth Doctor, a trend which has become tired.

Sometimes there’s merit to it, and it can be done in a somewhat interesting way, and this one does try but alas is just quite dull.

The Doctor, his companion, and the Twelve held prisoner without their memories really stretches itself over the course of about an hour, and really represents not just a filler point in the box set but in the overall batch of Time War Eighth Doctor stories, and doesn’t really justify its existence. The whole second box set in this range is a quite lacklustre honestly, but this really just hits a low point.

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5) The Time of the Daleks (2002)

The first story where Paul McGann gets to perform as the Doctor against the Daleks and we get this.

There are some great ideas in here, plus it’s also Charley’s first Dalek story, but somehow the actual execution is so drawn out and boring that from part two onwards you just want it to be over.

To give credit, the first episode is decent and the Daleks quoting Shakespeare provides some lovely little moments, but then the twists at the end come out of nowhere and leave us with a four part story that feels like it was more like eight (and not in a good way like 1968’s ‘The Invasion’). It’s an honest shame as this could have been so much more. But they can’t all be good, and if the bar for ‘Bad Eighth Doctor Story’ is essentially ‘Boring’ then something has gone very right with this incarnation indeed.

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