Doctor Who: The Problem of Getting to Know the Eighth Doctor
If there was one clear winner from the hoopla surrounding the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who it was Paul McGann. In a surprise short episode, the Doctor often listed as one of the least favorite for his one-time appearance in a mediocre television movie, made a triumphant return to film his lost regeneration sequence and introduced a whole new audience to the Eighth Doctor.
"The Night of the Doctor" did more than fill a large hole in the show's history, though. It started a wave of interest in McGann's take on the part. There's a Tumblr dedicated to how amazing he still looks, a petition on Change.org to have him star in a new series that's reached over 17,000 signatures, and his face is hidden in the flames on the recently released promo pic for "The Time of the Doctor". Clearly, McGann has climbed from DW to near-center stage.
So what's a new fan or an old fan who wrote Eight off to do now? In one respect he's the cheapest and easiest Doctor to explore because he has just the one film. On the other hand, the vast majority of the Eighth Doctor's life and experiences exist outside of television. While the other ten Doctors also have libraries of off-screen adventures, they serve mostly as amusing supplements to the established television canon. With Eight, those off-screen supplements pretty much are the canon. There are three main paths to travel down if you're hoping to get to know Eight, and in all three paths there are some real headaches.
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1. The Audio Plays: The best place to start with Eight is definitely the Big Finish audio plays. First of all, you get McGann himself performing as The Doctor, and it doesn't take very many episodes before he can quickly become your favorite. He's more forceful in the plays than he was in his film, adding some real edge and power to offset his still romantic and dashing take on the character. There's also cracking good scripts from guys like Steve Lyons, Gary Russell, and Mark Gatiss.
Because McGann is technically the current Doctor as far as Big Finish audio stories are concerned, he has two series. The first is as a part of the regular monthly releases. These begin with "Storm Warning" and introduce companion Charley Pollard. The upside is that most of these are really cheap as downloads, as low as $2.99. The downside is that it does take McGann a little bit to grow into the part.
The better jumping off point is the Eighth Doctor Adventures line, which starts with "Blood of the Daleks" and has run four seasons so far. These are more expensive, around $10 per episode after tax, but McGann is an old pro by this point with his own unique and singular interpretation. Also, they are trimmed for radio broadcast, which makes the scripts tighter and more modern.
There are several downsides to the audio adventures. For one, they're only available from BigFinish.com. which means no downloading them right to your iTunes. Instead, you have to download them to a PC and synch with your account, which is a sort of archaic way to do business these days. It would be nice if they would at least come up with their own app.
More annoying is frankly the price. Though cheaper than DVDs, your typical Doctor Who television adventure usually provides a ton of extras that makes the cost to watch time ratio fairer. With the audio, it's considerably less, and Big Finish doesn't sell them as bundles except for the recent "Dark Eyes" release. A discount for a mass download would be nice.
2. The Comics The problem with the Eighth Doctor is that the three different media in which he appears outside the film rarely interact in any way, and it's never been established how much if any of it is fully accepted as canon by the show proper. In "The Night of the Doctor" he mentions companions from the audio stories, but not from the comics or the books. This leads most to consider the audio Eight's true adventures after leaving 1999 San Francisco and before ending up on a shipwreck on Tarn.
However, the comics that appeared in Doctor Who Magazine previously held the title of most-likely canon to the extent that Eight's regeneration was originally supposed to happen in their pages. Regardless, once you have McGann's voice in your head the comics are a great avenue to explore. Scott Gray has some really tremendous arcs, and without the budget of the show to hold it back the stories have absolutely fantastic visuals.
Though the Gary Russell Radio Times comics are sadly not collected anywhere (He confirmed with us via Twitter that he has offered them to IDW, who were not interested in republishing them), all the DWM strips were collected in four trade paperbacks by Panini Press. Three of them, The Glorious Dead, Oblivion, and The Flood are still in print and easily available. Most of the Eighth Doctor's comic output can be had for less than $50.
Unfortunately, Panini allowed the first trade, Endgame, to go out of print and has no plans to reprint it. That means the only way to fill this gap in the comics is to either track a copy down on eBay, where they fetch at least $100 if you can find one, or buy old copies of DWM individually. Issues usually don't cost more than $7 on Amazon, but you have to buy more than 40 to get the entire missing strips. There's nothing wrong with jumping in at The Glorious Dead. In fact the writing and art has tightened up considerably by then so the stories are much better, but it's frustrating that the whole set is almost unfillable.
The Books: In the time after the film the Eighth Doctor lived on in a series of more than 70 novels. As is often the case with spin-off models, they are of varying quality, but the ones that are good are absolutely magnificent. John Peel's Dalek stories are some of the best in the series, and Kate Orman turns in several entries like The Year of Intelligent Tigers that are more than worth the read.
The first book in the series, The Eight Doctors by longtime series novelization master Terrance Dicks, is essential reading for all Whovians. It's not very good, honestly, but the reconciliation between the various timelines as Eight seeks to cure his amnesia by observing his past selves makes it a vital tome in the overall mythology.
The books are also the most expensive way to experience the Eighth Doctor. Most of the early books run $20 to $30 used on Amazon, and few are available on Kindle. Those that are suffer from terrible formatting that makes the savings almost pointless. As the series progresses, the price drops off some, but there are enough spikes here and there to insure that you'll drop at least $1,000 collecting them all.
There is so much apocrypha in the world of Doctor Who... so many stories that probably no one has read, seen, or heard them all. With all the celebrating we just did of 50 years worth of the show's history, it might be nice if some of the folks at the BBC started giving some thought to preserving and making these edges of Doctor Who more easily available to a fandom hungry to find out more about their new favorite Doctor. Unless we get our wish of a new web series, it's almost all we've got of Eight.
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