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The 8th Doctor and his 'Company of Friends'
To make up for having to miss out on going to meet the man himself at Chicago TARDIS, I settled instead for the pleasure of listening to the recent Big Finish 8th Doctor audio – “The Company of Friends”. And a real delight it was too (more details on that below!). While listening to it, I marveled at the breadth of “friends” (or companions) that the 8th Doctor has accumulated, across a wide range of mediums. In fact, all told, it is possible that the 8th Doctor may have had more companions (15, by my rough count) than any other incarnation! This is all the more astonishing given the brevity of his television appearances – about 50-55 minutes of a 90-minute TV movie.
Any discussion of the friends of the 8th Doctor has to start with Grace, of course. The lovely doctor from San Francisco, who causes his regeneration, and then becomes his first kiss, and makes a wonderful foil to this enthusiastic Doctor who is full of all of the simple joys of life! It would be a delight to have her meet up with the Doctor again, and to see what happened to her after she decided not to travel in the TARDIS. Unfortunately, due to a minefield of rights issues, Grace, unlike Rose and Donna, doesn’t seem likely to get a second chance to rethink her decision.
BBC Books has provided 8th Doctor with a plethora of companions, during their 80-odd book run – starting with Sam – who gets a bad rap from many fans. Sure, she wasn’t the greatest companion ever but she was the first to fancy him rotten – which seems commonplace nowadays! Her characterization is all over the place in the early books, but overall she does her job – which is to be an archetypal companion. And then Fitz shows up.
And what a joy Mr. Kreiner is – really demonstrating the potential of a male companion in the TARDIS. He is funny, lazy, always ogling any woman that he comes into contact with, sometimes cowardly, but in the end he usually ends up doing the right thing. And his story arc, along with that of the next companion – the fascinating Compassion – take him all over the place as the climactic events of "Interference", "The Shadows of Avalon", and "The Ancestor Cell" come to pass.
The final BBC Books companions for the 8th Doctor, Anji and Trix, also try something new. Anji could be a bit of a wet blanket from time to time, but under authors who figured her out, she ended up pretty effective, and Trix, despite her rather bizarre introduction (i.e. she didn’t really have a proper one, she was just sort of there in TARDIS one day), was a fascinating character, in some ways slightly similar to how Lady Christina could have turned out as a companion, but with even more tricks up her sleeve. Its too bad we had such a short time to get to explore her potential in the books, after they went to every other month, and then ended when the series returned to BBC1 in 2005.
It is from Big Finish, however that comes probably the most iconic 8th Doctor companion - Charley Pollard, the Edwardian adventuress, that many of us have come to love over the last 10 years. India Fisher has been a huge part of that, and has really fleshed out a character as fully as any companion that has appeared on our television screens, even going so far as to have been cited by Russell T Davies as being a character without which Rose Tyler could never have existed! That owes as much to India’s performance as to the writing, and it’s to her credit that, especially in the first two seasons featuring Charley and Paul McGann, that this partnership sparkled and dazzled and left me excited for the next adventure.
C’rizz then showed up in the 8th Doctor range, and was an interesting experiment – a reptilian companion from the divergent universe. Never my favourite companion, he nonetheless had a couple of good stories – including the wonderful “Other Lives” where he ended in a Victorian freakshow – something no human companion could ever have experienced, and a scenario that shows what can be done with a non-human-looking character.
And then the 8th Doctor audios moved on again to Lucie, played by the fabulous Sheridan Smith! This no-nonsense Northerner was a breath of fresh air, much as Donna was TV show after Rose and Martha. She doesn’t have baggage, or any romantic intentions towards the Doctor, she’s just adventuring with him, and what adventures many of them are – featuring Daleks, Cybermen, Krynoids, Zygons and many many more! And Lucie has had her own ongoing story as well – most notably her relationship with the Headhunter, who appears to be the reason these 2 became friends in the first place! But despite the slightly dodgy circumstances of their meeting, there’s no doubt that these two are the best of friends – and isn’t that usually the basis for the best Doctor and Companion relationships? It certainly is for me!
Outside of the BBC Books and Big Finish there’s also the plethora of friends that the 8th Doctor has met in other mediums – Benny (although she is primarily a friend of the 7th Doctor), Izzy, Fey and Destrii in the DWM comic strip, and I can’t forget Stacey and Ssard the Ice Warrior in Gary Russell’s Radio Times comic strip! All of them having their own distinct identities and relationships with the 8th Doctor. He really does pick a lot of people up, doesn’t he?
“The Company of Friends” audio play does a lovely job of reflecting all of these very different types of companions that the 8th Doctor picks up during the course of his travels (which last for several hundred years, if you include the various times during the BBC books especially, that he goes a lies in a coffin, or stays in the same location for a century or more at a time!). Each 25 minute story is narrated by one of his companions, and it completely appropriate to the genre that it comes from!
The Benny play that starts things off, is a wonderful mix of the Benny audio adventures, and the 8th Doctor adventures in just about every format. The 2 characters spark off each other beautifully – even though they have only met a couple of times before – most notably in Lance Parkin’s Virgin New Adventures swansong “The Dying Days” (now there’s a fabulous book, but that’s a blog for another day!) – there is a real chemistry between the 2 of them. Lisa Bowerman just is Benny – having played her for 10 years now, and works very well with Paul McGann, once again showing what a fabulous companion Benny is!
And then we get to the Fitz story! Our first experience of Fitz in the audio format – and it doesn’t disappoint at all. Matt Di Angelo, with whom I was not previously familiar, but who was in “Eastenders” for a few years, and also appeared in “Hustle”, does a wonderful job of bringing Fitz to life, and completely embodies the character. The story is perfect for this East End wide boy, as he has to bluff his way through the situation and inhabit a variety of roles. As Fitz tries to convince that he is the real brains behind the Doctor’s operation, and fails quite spectacularly! It’s absolutely typical Fitz, and I loved it!
Izzy’s story was loads of fun. I am least familiar with Izzy as a companion, not having followed all of the DWM comic strips during the 8th Doctor’s era, but I knew the basics of her character, and this story fits her perfectly, and is a lot of fun for those of us who are all too familiar with the British comic strips of the 1980s! I can’t really say whether Jemima Rooper captured the voice of Izzy, due to my lack of familiarity, but she certainly has a good chemistry and was fun to listen to. It’s an inconsequential little tale, but I certainly enjoyed it!
The final story is probably the strongest of the bunch, but also one which, on the surface, appears to be the odd one out. When did Mary Shelley travel with the Doctor? There was a throwaway line in the first Big Finish 8th Doctor story, “Storm Warning” about him travelling with her. But we never found out more. Until now! In a wonderful twist on the Frankenstein legend, we get to meet not only Mary Shelley, but her husband Percy, along with Lord Byron and the other inhabitants of the house by Lake Geneva from that infamous and terribly creative weekend. And it’s a very clever, and atmospheric, timey-wimey tale, with some lovely inter-Time Lord bickering, that manages to mention several of the 8th Doctor’s other companions along the way (including Big Finish’s own Gemma and Samson from “Terror Firma”. I suspect that Mary Shelley proved herself to be quite a handful on their travels!
So, all in all, this was great fun, and a welcome diversion for the 8th Doctor audio range! And I, for one, would sign up for more right now (especially more stories with Fitz – and can we have Anji Kapoor next time too?)