Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures – What Lies Inside? (Big Finish Review)

The Eighth Doctor Adventures occupies a unique position in Big Finish’s Doctor Who pantheon. Apart from the odd Time War release, the Eighth Doctor’s era is mostly unbeholden to pre-existing characters, plotlines or continuity, and there’s a freshness and vitality that is highly enjoyable.

The creative freedom to craft entire eras for the character is matched by the opportunity to reset everything every few years, just like the show does, to usher in a new arc or big bad, or to simply pare things back and issue a refreshed basis for storytelling.

What Lies Inside? is one such fresh start for the Doctor (Paul McGann), Liv (Nicola Walker) and Helen (Hattie Morahan). The two-part opener Paradox of the Daleks brings new life to an enemy featured across Doctor Who media more times than you could count, and the single-hour follow-up, The Dalby Spook, is an entirely self-contained tale with atmosphere and pathos aplenty. Each story is a showcase for three beloved characters.

Read what We Made This had to say about the previous Eighth Doctor release here.

Paradox of the Daleks

As with Lost Property, Their Finest Hour and The Eleven before it, Paradox of the Daleks is marketed as a jumping-on point for listeners – and with the extensive backlog of Eighth Doctor audios across decades, that’s handy. It’s a high-concept, time-turning, two-hour adventure to usher in the post-Stranded era.

Investigating a glitch in the vortex, the TARDIS crew finds Daleks, it seems, on a space station. These are Time War Daleks echoing back down the Doctor’s personal timeline, and appear to have hijacked the station, the origin of the glitch or “temporal helix”. It emerges that they are aiming to create a bridgehead for a pre-emptive strike on the Time Lords ‘before’ the Time War begins.

Writer John Dorney has a penchant for finding a new way to tell a story, a new crux on which to hang the drama and explore a different corner of the Doctor Who universe. Dalek stories in particular often need something new to keep the drama fresh. Here, Dorney layers in references during the first half of the story to something not being quite right; it’s when the Daleks begin to spout odd phrases – phrases you’d never expect to hear out of Briggs’s ring modulated mouth – that this becomes apparent.

It’s a lot of fun to hit play on an episode like this one, knowing that it’s a two-parter and expecting a twist at the halfway point, and to figure things out at the same pace of the Doctor. Although the first half is a little heavy on the exposition, the start of part two is when the ‘action’ kicks into gear and the execution of that setup begins to take effect – and the meaning of the set’s subtitle becomes clear.

Pairing Liv and Helen for much of the story away from the Doctor is a great opportunity to hear and learn more of them – the former coming to terms with meeting the Daleks again (she has history after all), and the latter grappling with meeting them for the first time. This darker resonance for the Daleks’ return is countered by some decidedly more light-hearted – indeed, genuinely laugh-out-loud – moments involving the two characters in part two.

In all, Paradox of the Daleks is an ambitious narrative effort; it also wraps up in a jiffy and is worth a second listen.

The Dalby Spook

McGann’s a delight in anything he lends his voice to, and he’s brought his A-game to these stories like all others. He’s just as good in The Dalby Spook, an offbeat and eccentric tale of a local legend, allegedly psychic individuals and a talking mongoose.

The Doctor, Liv and Helen make a visit to the parapsychologist and psychic activity investigator Harry Price. The Isle of Man in the 1933, Helen’s birth year, is the setting of this episode, which has a strong sense of place and atmosphere thanks to evocative writing from Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle – think claustrophobic farmhouse interiors, voices heard through wooden walls.

The set’s second story isn’t overly scare-inducing, but rather a fusion of flavours – a haunted house and “spirits”, seemingly impossible psychic guesses, some offbeat humour; a talking mongoose could never be less than a novelty. It also plays further on the notion of ‘what lies inside’, more figuratively than literally in this case, and allows Helen to be front and centre when she meets a girl so much like her own younger self – one who, like her, lives surrounded by “men who think they own you”.

The Dalby Spook is subdued yet astute. Together with Paradox of the Daleks, it’s a reintroduction to a charming trio. These are novel stories, carving out new space for old characters in the richly detailed Doctor Who world.

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures – What Lies Inside? was released in November 2022. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 December 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Extras

Behind the scenes, actors and Big Finish employees give insights into production. Here are some highlights:

  • John Dorney, Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle share glimpses into the writing process, the latter two explaining how years were spent wondering if the story of The Dalby Spook was best suited for a play or even a children’s book before they realised it was meant to a Doctor Who
  • “It’s good that it’s quite rare”, says Paul McGann of meeting the Daleks – “you wouldn’t want to work with the Daleks every second or third episode”. It’s a “privilege and a mad pleasure”.
  • Producer David Richardson explains the rationale for soft-rebooting this incarnation’s adventures – to bring an end to the ongoing boxset era and “allow Nicola [Walker] and Hattie [Morahan] to do the sorts of stories that they haven’t had that much chance to do at Big Finish”.
  • Director Ken Bentley explains, among other things, the challenge of placing Richard Earl in the right role given his high-profile role at Big Finish as John Watson.

Eighth Doctor stalwart Jamie Robertson provides the score, which is both frantic and pulsing, alternatively orchestral and electronic, sometimes high and sometime low on energy – and it all fits. The only criticism is that there is not nearly enough of his fantastic Eighth Doctor theme.

Synopsis

The Doctor, Liv and Helen are travelling once again in the universe of space and time…

They find some old enemies causing havoc on a temporal research station, before a trip to the Isle of Man in the 1930s, where they encounter a famous enigma.

Paradox of the Daleks by John Dorney

When the TARDIS is drawn to a space station running temporal experiments, the crew discover Daleks in control in the aftermath of an invasion. But these are no ordinary Daleks…

To stop his mortal enemies gaining control of the time technology, the Doctor must work out why these Daleks are here and where they came from.

A war fought through time has many fronts – and in this battle, the Doctor, Liv and Helen will face mortal danger in every time and place they find themselves.

The Dalby Spook by Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle

After encountering Harry Price, the Doctor decides to solve an infamous case before the paranormal debunker can.

But Liv and Helen are more concerned for the girl at the centre of events. What is really going on at the remote Isle of Man farmhouse? And who is Gef, the talking mongoose?

Cast

Paul McGann (The Doctor)
Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka)
Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair)
Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
Felicity Cant (Voirrey Irving)
Richard Earl (Jim Irving)
Philip Jackson (Harry Price)
Joseph Millson (Peetom)
Harry Myers (Mister Timms / Gef)
Amy Rockson (Jemash)

Production Credits

Cover Art by Rafe Wallbank
Director Ken Bentley
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music by Jamie Robertson
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Sound Design by Benji Clifford
Written by John Dorney, Stewart Pringle & Lauren Mooney

Suggested Listening

Doctor Who: Stranded
Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard – The Further Adventuress
Doctor Who: Time War 4

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