Whenever I try to get people into the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas I always tell them to start with the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller because they are the closest thing to the revived show in terms of length, pacing and content. However, fond as I am of the Eighth Doctor Adventures line it really isn't as good as Paul McGann's previous work in the main range that preceded it. Before Lucie and Tamsin Drew and Molly O'Sullivan was Charley Pollard, the Edwardian adventuress played by India Fisher and she remains one of the absolute best ever.
So today I'm going to buck he trend and lay out the ten audio plays with Eight and Charley that you simply have to try at least once. Note: this list is in order of chronology, not least amazing to most amazing.
Storm Warning Truth be told the first story to feature Eight and Charley is not really all that great. The setting is awesome, with The Doctor landing on the doomed airship R101 and rescuing Charley, who had stowed away as a male crewmember to see the world. However Alan Barnes's writing is somewhat limp and the villain is rather forgettable. All that aside, the events of this story color everything The Doctor and Charley do together in the future and is therefore required listening.
The Chimes of Midnight In what could be considered the first Eighth Doctor Christmas special he and Charley land in a posh house on Christmas Eve and find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery. At first the play is a little ridiculous as the supporting cast does little but deliver very stock lines, but the reason for that becomes clear when the house turns out to be a far more terrifying place than it appears. Robert Shearman writes some great dialogue for The Doctor that will make you laugh out loud, but also masters some real horror that will have you cringing. You have to be patient with the story, but by the second episode I promise you will be hooked.
Solitaire Technically this story is part of the Companion Chronicles line and not the proper main range of stories but it's very different from the other Companion Chronicles in that it is happening in real time as opposed to a companion remembering an adventure with The Doctor long ago. In fact, The Doctor barely features in the story at all, having been turned into a ventriloquist dummy by the Celestial Toymaker. Charley is forced to outwit the Toymaker on her own in a magic shop that threatens to crush her if she doesn't solve the game in time. David Bailie is brilliant as the Toymaker, coming across as part Willy Wonka and part Jigsaw. It's probably the best "Doctor-lite" adventure outside of "Blink" and for a personal endorsement is the favorite story of my daughter after "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe".
The Time of the Daleks "Time" sort of a spiritual sequel to "Evil of the Daleks", what with the mirror theme, the appearance of the Dalek Emperor and the way it plays with the idea of mixing human and Dalek. The special seasoning in the story is the inclusion of a plot to save Shakespeare before he is erased from history. You have never heard anything as darkly radical as a Dalek quotingRichard III. The themes of many of the Bard's plays as well as a ton of subtle in-jokes makes the story both hilarious and fun as well as serving as a strong recurring motif throughout the story. The only downside is that it's a continuity nightmare regarding the many times The Doctor has messed around with Shakespeare's timeline, which is an article for another day.
Neverland Here follows a trilogy of connected stories that are in and of themselves the No. 1 reason to listen to Big Finish audio in the first place and stand as some of the best Doctor Who adventures in any medium. First is "Neverland", where The Doctor is arrested by the Time Lords for his meddling in the web of time by saving Charley on the R101. They plan to use Charley's existence as a paradox to open a portal to an anti-time universe where they believe may lay the body of the legendary Rassilon. Lalla Ward joins them as Romana as the Tardis crew delves into the cruel and bloody history of Gallifrey. The ending is a white-knuckle ride that will leave you screaming, "Oh no!"
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Zagreus For all intents and purposes "Zagreus" was Doctor Who's 40th anniversary special, and featured the voice talents of every single available actor that had worked with Big Finish at that point. The Doctor is infected with the anti-time gestalt entity Zagreus and seeks to hunt Charley through the wreckage of the Tardis. Meanwhile Rassilon plans to return to the universe and rule it through Zagreus as his puppet dictator. Alice in Wonderland is a major theme of the story, with both Charley and The Doctor having to wander through various illusions and worlds. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy appear as non-Doctor spirit guides to Charley, and more of the evil of Rassilon is revealed. Nicholas Courtney as joins Charley for much of the adventure as the Brigadier.
After the Big Finish Eighth Doctor stories were canonized in "The Night of The Doctor", "Zagreus" now becomes the most reliable source on the life of Rassilon and the founding of Gallifrey, so it's worth it just for the reference if nothing else. On top of that it is a truly great story full of love and sacrifice and the Eighth Doctor's trademark disregard for any rule in the name of saving his friends.
Scherzo The last of the trilogy takes place immediately after "Zagreus". The Doctor exiles himself to a pocket universe created by Rassilon where time does not exist because he fears that he may spread the Zagreus infection within our own. Against his wishes, Charley sneaks aboard the Tardis to join him despite knowing that it is a trip with no return. "Scherzo" is hands down my favorite audio play and in my top five Doctor Who adventures period. Eight and Charley arrive in the Divergent Universe, lose the Tardis as well as their sight, and struggle to deal with The Doctor's actions as Zagreus and his pain at being in a place where time doesn't exist to be a lord of. It's an intensely character-driven piece of work that explores the audio medium masterfully, and despite being incredibly painful and sad manages to also being excruciatingly beautiful.
After "Scherzo" The Doctor and Charley pick up C'rizz, a reptilian humanoid companion that left his home on Bortresoye after he was forced to mercy kill his fiancé, who was mutated by the insect-like Kromon to become a brood-queen. Conrad Westmaas isn't all that solid an addition to the cast as C'rizz, and it takes some time to warm up to him. That's why we skip to "Faith Stealer"
The trio arrives at the Multihaven, a religious bazaar where gods are traded like stocks. In addition to the novel setting of the story it is also bar-none the funniest adventure I have ever heard. It's too bad this is Graham Duff's sole contribution to Doctor Who as a writer because nearly every line is a quotable gem. At one point The Doctor visits the Church of Serendipity, which worships the Great Lord Whoops the Great Neglecter and embrace accidents as divine intervention. You'll literally have to pause the story to get your breath back from laughing at that scene, otherwise you'll miss all the rest of the great lines.
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The Next Life This is the last of the Divergent Universe arc and the final showdown between the Eighth Doctor and Rassilon. It also marks the return of Daphne Ashbrook to Doctor Who though not as the Eighth Doctor's only television companion Grace Holloway. If nothing else "The Next Life' shows us exactly how good McGann and Ashbrook would have been as a full-time Tardis teams because they have an easy chemistry that rivals even McGann's manner with Fisher. The saga that started way back in "Neverland" resolves in a truly epic manner, and The Doctor and Charley return to our universe at last.
Time Works Unfortunately the adventures of Eight and Charley and C'rizz lose a lot of steam once they leave the Divergent Universe. After a forgettable Dalek story the trio often stumble to find a foothold. The sole bright spot is "Time Works", a strange dystopian adventure about a city obsessed with productivity that resembles Harlan Ellison's famous short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman". It's the last great Eight and Charley story as the problems between them caused by their journeys become more and pronounced. The two part ways in "The Girl Who Never Was", only for Charley to end up at the side of the Sixth Doctor and then the star of her own spin-off. She continues to be an excellent part of the Doctor Who universe.
Doctor Who returns later this year with "The Magician's Apprentice".