Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures – Connections (Big Finish Review)

Hot on the heels of November’s What Lies Inside? is Connections, another three-hour foray into a diverse and dangerous universe for the Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen. There’s a word to describe this release and the previous one – refreshing. Each hour is its own thing and offers something tonally different.

As the subtitle suggests, there are connections aplenty here: connections between family, between lovers and between Time Lords, with joy and heartbreak offered in equal quantity.

Read what We Made This had to say about Doctor Who: What Lies Inside? here.

Here Lies Drax

The kick-off story, scripted again by John Dorney (who with this release reaches the unprecedented milestone of 100 Doctor Who stories for Big Finish), brings back a well-known yet rarely seen character from the show’s lore: the con man Drax. The Doctor’s “only real friend at the Academy” is distinguished from other rogue Time Lords who are also old friends of the Doctor (there are a few…) by being very down-to-earth and everyday, a far cry from the high-flying prestige of those in the upper echelons of power on Gallifrey.

Attending Drax’s funeral only to find him acting as the celebrant, the Doctor and co embark on a mini adventure to determine Drax’s true motives and discover the meaning of a package sent to the TARDIS. Enemies, friends and former lovers are embroiled in the resulting action as a group of alien mercenaries hunt down Drax and the package under the direction of a ominously named Quantum Assassin.

“Time may be money, but so is betrayal.”

John Dorney intimately understands the characterisation of both the Doctor’s companions and the ways they are each protagonists in their own right; he also closely appreciates the characterisation of Drax, who, although appearing in just a single story onscreen, has made a distinct mark in the consciousness of Doctor Who fans. He’s cheeky and wry, described by actor Shane Richie as a “working man’s Han Solo”. He’s well placed within a tale full of rapid-fire witticisms and one liners.

Simplistically, Here Lies Drax is a cheeky run-around with explosions, but sometimes that’s all you need. Luckily, it’s also a fun and clever story with a fairly engaging central mystery. That mystery, alongside a late-stage twist is all very light-hearted and fun, which carries the story along with ease.

The Love Vampires

From comedy romp to emotional rollercoaster, and along come The Love Vampires. A gang of ethereal spirits haunts the corridors of an outer-space station orbiting a white dwarf star. The group of scientists onboard this station, alongside the newly arrived TARDIS team, are being picked off one by one – a common enough trope in science fiction, which is here made unique with the presentation of faces from each character’s past.

“Sometimes you don’t get to choose, because there’s nothing you can do.”

Helen’s face from the past is one she yearns for, whereas Liv is far from enthusiastic, initially, about the prospect of meeting a long-ago lover. As for the Doctor, his haunting is one who drops tantalising hints about the Doctor’s past, but is soon revealed as a fraud.

The Love Vampires has flavours of 42, with its space station in orbit around a sun and characters being possessed after exposure to its light, and many a classic vampire tale, with all the regular tropes coming into play here, from stakes to garlic and more. It’s also a quintessentially Eighth Doctor-era journey into the emotional lives of its core characters.

Albie’s Angels

Not so long after they left it at the end of Stranded, the Doctor, Liv and Helen return to London in the 2020s. Roy Gill’s first script for the Eighth Doctor since The Keys of Baker Street features a character he put into dialogue back in UNIT Dating – Albie Sinclair (Barnaby Jago), brother of Helen and someone who was thrown out of home and later imprisoned owing to his sexuality.

Albie’s Angels starts off simply enough: the TARDIS lands after identifying a temporal anomaly in 2025 – the same Soho explored in a few Big Finish audios over the years, such as Torchwood: Soho. Helen recognises an oddly familiar song at a record shop before being thumped back in time by the Weeping Angels to 1963, a setting for danger of more than just the alien kind. In addition to the threat posed by quantum-locked assassins, though, the episode also exposes the narrow-minded ignorance of humanity.

“You’re an irrelevance, Mrs Denny, a relic of a way of thinking that should have died out long ago.”

Albie’s Angels is Helen’s story as much as Albie’s: her relationship with her brother is squarely in focus, and there are some glorious scenes between the pair as they laugh while throwing snowballs in the park – and attempt to drown a Weeping Angel in an icy pond. Although Albie stay oblivious as to Helen’s identity for a little too long to be entirely realistic, it’s not too much of a stretch, and Gill’s script folds in some fantastic ideas to match the emotional heft – an Angel clinging to the TARDIS’s exterior mid-flight in the vortex is a fantastic mental image.This second release is where this new era for the Eighth Doctor really starts to find its rhythm. Returning monsters might bookend the run of stories, but What Lies Inside? and Connections embody a refreshed start for a long-running yet much-adored TARDIS team.

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures – Connections was released in December 2022. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 January 2023, and on general sale after this date.

Extras

In addition to a short suite of Jamie Robertson’s pulsing and electrical score – listen out for a reprise of his Gallifrey and Jago and Litefoot themes – there are behind-the-scenes interviews, highlights of which include:

  • A brief history of the character Drax from John Dorney, from his debut in The Armageddon Factor to limited appearances in extended media, and how Dorney came to write a sequel to the Fourth Doctor audio The Trouble with Drax.
  • A reflection on the archetypes in comedy from director Ken Bentley, and the casting decisions that stem from that: “I have never had a quicker or more enthusiastic reply to a casting inquiry when I pinged an offer to Shane’s agent.”
  • The description of The Love Vampires by James Kettle as an extension upon Stranded, and specifically his script Snow, with its lens on the emotional lives of the characters.
  • Producer David Richardson’s explanation of Albie’s background, which draws on an anecdote previously told to him by Trevor Baxter about a friend of Baxter’s who was imprisoned for a decade for writing letters to another man.
  • The general enthusiasm of the entire cast for the scripts, and an appreciation for the actors’ commitment to their roles.

Synopsis

The Doctor, Liv and Helen are out in the universe, picking up missing pieces, and finding lost connections.

After a package entangles them with shifty Time Lord Drax, the TARDIS crew are haunted by past loves on a space station, before Helen encounters somebody she believed long gone…

Here Lies Drax by John Dorney

The Doctor, Liv and Helen are surprised to get a letter delivered to the TARDIS from the Doctor’s old school friend, Drax.

They’re even more surprised when it’s followed by a parcel also sent by the intergalactic con-man, asking them to keep its contents safe. Contents that seem to be a lot of worthless junk.

And their surprise gets even bigger when this parcel is itself followed by an invitation… to Drax’s funeral.

And that’s just where the surprises start.

The Love Vampires by James Kettle

Regret can follow people everywhere – even out into deep space, in the shadow of a dying star.

When the Doctor, Liv and Helen meet the terrified crew of a space station, all are haunted by faces from the past. But these lost loves are more than mere memories – and they want to feed…

Albie’s Angels by Roy Gill

When the Doctor and friends hunt down time anomalies in 2020s Soho, Helen steps into the past and meets the brother she thought she’d lost forever.

But there are Weeping Angels in London – and one of the stone assassins wants something from the Doctor and Liv…

Cast

Paul McGann (The Doctor)
Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka)
Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair)
Shane Richie (Drax)
Nina Wadia (Mimi)
Daon Broni (Twenty-One / State)
Holly Jackson Walters (Fifteen / Jean)
Barnaby Jago (Albie Sinclair)
Anjella MacKintosh (Denny)
Alex Mugnaioni (Bailey / Sergeant)
Jeff Rawle (Captain Miles Rozann)
Hugh Ross (Stern)
Paksie Vernon (The Realist / Rica)
Robert Whitelock (Jack Harper / Jase Harper)
Jamie Zubairi (Three / Petko) 

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 & Tim Foley
Sound Design by Benji Clifford
Written by John Dorney, James Kettle & Roy Gill
Senior Producer David Richardson & John Ainsworth

Suggested Listening

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures – What Lies Inside?
Doctor Who: Doom Coalition 4
Doctor Who: The Trouble with Drax

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