The Eighth of March returns with Protectors of Time, a new collection celebrating the women of the worlds of Doctor Who
The Eighth of March, Big Finish’s unique strand of stories celebrating International Women’s Day is back. This second set, dubbed Protectors of Time, again brings together women from across the Doctor Who universe. And not just in front of the microphone, either. Because these stories come from some of the best and brightest female writers and directors in the Big Finish family. This time though, there’s a new twist with characters from different ranges joining forces for some entertaining crossovers.
Stolen Futures is a direct sequel to Warriors’ Gate, recapturing that story’s mysterious and surreal atmosphere
Opening story Stolen Futures keeps things simple, however, focusing solely on Lalla Ward’s Romana and her dogged companion K9 Mk II. Though ‘simple’ may be a relative concept for this direct sequel to Romana’s television exit Warriors’ Gate. Its greatest success is in superbly recapturing the ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere and logic of the original. Though whether that’s strictly a good or a bad thing will depend hugely on how you feel about Warriors’ Gate.
Season Eighteen was always about inexplicable magic playing dress up as science. That was never more true than in the lyrical and mythic Warriors’ Gate. And it’s an aesthetic within which the usual rules of Doctor Who need not apply. Stolen Futures side-steps the destruction of one side of a time window by simply going back in time to before it breaks, for instance. Time itself is a trap, and antique fountains literally flow with time. Meanwhile characters wield prophecy as a weapon in ways that make the witches in Macbeth seem like amateurs.
Lizbeth Myles weaves her story from one of the originals’ most tantalising loose threads
One way in which Stolen Futures improves on the original is by giving more thought to the cycle of violence that traps the Tharils and their human former captors. Warriors’ Gate doesn’t dwell on a vengeful humanity having chained the Tharils after rebelling against the Tharils’ own cruel rule. But much of this sequel pivots around Romana’s attempts to balance helping free the Tharils with avoiding bloodshed. The Tharils’ rage may be righteous, but Romana fears the blood feud being simply passing down to the next generation. It’s a story where being trapped by your own past can become all too literal. And the result will be thought provoking or bewildering depending on your view of symbolism and metaphor as plot.
Prism unites two of Big Finish’s most likely heroes in Lady Christina and Jenny
Even back in 1981, Romana felt like a spin-off waiting to happen. But The Eighth of March’s middle entry features a crossover between two of Big Finish’s most surprising series. Appropriately, each one features the ongoing adventures of one-off guest stars of 00s Doctor Who. Planet of the Dead left Michelle Ryan’s Lady Christina with a flying double decker London bus thanks to the Doctor. Since then she’s enjoyed two box sets of globe trotting pilfering and occasional world saving. Meanwhile, in the depths of space Georgia Tennant’s Time Lord(ish) hero Jenny, follows in her dear old Dad’s converse clad footsteps for a hell of a lot running across two box sets of her own.
Prism places Christina and Jenny on parallel paths, though the connection isn’t immediately obvious. What links the Outface corporation’s party where Christina hopes to steal the world’s largest diamond to the far flung interdimensional space station where the robot staff have mistaken Jenny for a shareholder? Why do users of new mobile phone brand Outface, with its revolutionary AI assistant Alethea keep vanishing? And where is Jenny’s companion Noah (Sean Biggerstaff), pulled through the space station walls into the world of the ‘In Between?’
With alien trojan horses and consumerism run amok, Prism provides an accurate slice of 00s nostalgia
While Prism’s script holds off bringing our two heroes face to face for as long as possible, it’s ultimately worth the wait. Their bonding over their similarities (“Oh, you steal stuff! I steal stuff too!” enthuses Jenny) and high kicking, back flipping, and villain vexing banter is undisputedly the highlight of the episode. The wait for that team-up, an the explanation of the connection between their two strands, is a little too long though. The result is a story that ends just when it’s really getting going.
Seventeen years on from the debut of Rose, it’s time to accept a rather traumatic fact. Homages of the original Davies era can now be crafted with as much nostalgia as ‘teatime in 1977’ or Season Eighteen. Prism succeeds admirably in doing just that. Outface’s manipulation of humanity’s own consumerism to spread an alien menace around the globe sitting comfortably among its predecessors like ATMOS and the Archangel network, despite it being a little heavy handed at points. Ultimately, though, Prism succeeds as a taster for the Lady Christina and Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter series. Even if making room for two such larger than life characters is at the expense of a more nuanced plot.
The Turn of the Tides features the first appearance of a Sarah Jane Adventures alumna in Big Finish in a tale of very different women learning to work together
Protectors of Time’s final story The Turn of the Tides goes one better. It unites not two, but three generations of the Doctor Who universe. From the classic era of the 1970s, comes Katy Manning’s Jo Jones (neé Grant), now living halfway up a tree in the Amazon rainforest with her young protegee Rio (Sheena Bhattessa.) Soon Anjli Mohindra joins them as The Sarah Jane Adventures’ Rani Chandra, now an investigative journalist in her own right. Rani’s come seeking advice on recent extreme weather events even climate change can’t explain. As it happens, Jac, the ultimately doomed UNIT science officer played by Jae Griffiths in The Power of Three and The Zygon Invasion, has also sought Jo out for a team she’s assembling.
Amusingly, as a team leader Jac turns out to be a classic example of middle management at its worst. She chuckles away at her own jokes, and is initially very territorial about involving an “amateur” like Rani. It also gives a rare opportunity for Jo to flex the soft power of her iconic status as she takes charge. Yet, in no small part to Katy Manning’s typically well judged performance, it’s subtly done with a gentleness and kindness. It’s an approach that sidesteps the posturing and raised voices that, say, a certain velvet clad Doctor might have employed in the same situation. And it illustrates one of Eighth of March’s main themes of the difference in how these female characters approach conflict.
Some rather loose plotting and muddied themes undermine an otherwise character driven tale of family and the environment
Unfortunately, as we move from the rainforests of South America to the grey vistas of the Moon, the rather loose plot struggles to maintain its shape. Jac has also recruited Melissa (Indigo Griffiths), an alien living in the Amazon to come with them to the Moon. And it’s on the Moon they uncover the scheme of Melissa’s twin brother Matasar (Sam Stafford) to wipe out the human race. Yet that seems to be completely coincidental, with no reason to suspect Matasar’s involvement until after Melissa joins. And while Jac’s moon shot being her own personal mission is convenient for assembling this particular crossover, it stretch disbelief that she can’t convince UNIT that a vast moonquake visible from Earth is worth investigating.
The underlying themes of environmentalism and family are also quite muddied by the end. Schemes to wipe out the human race in order to save the environment are nothing new in science fiction. But the one here to wipe out all plant and animal life on Earth seems like literal overkill. The family conflict between Melissa and Matasar doesn’t quite gel either. Though full marks to sound designer Naomi Clarke for giving Matasar the exact same vocal treatment as Star Wars’ Kylo Ren, as if to echo how his motivation is founded in petulance. And there’s a definite sense that Jo’s young protege Rio was actually her granddaughter in earlier drafts. Not only is there a granddaughter of that name mentioned in Farewell, Sarah Jane but The Turn of the Tides would have all the stronger for establishing that connection between the two.
Protectors of Time is a sometimes uneven listen, but still succeeds in showcasing some of Doctor Who’s most formidable females
The pick and mix nature of The Eighth of March means the set will have something for everyone. And the very fact that it brings together stars from so many of Big Finish’s ranges, from Gallifrey and Jenny, to Lady Christina and The Third Doctor Adventures underscores the important role that female characters of strength, independence, and wit, have always played in this universe. These may not always be the strongest plots Big Finish have ever assembled. But as showcases for these characters they remind us again just how well they stand alone, without the Doctor. Or, in fact, how well they stand together.
With the original Eighth of March having been released in 2019, and Protectors of Time three years later, it’s not clear when we should expect a third volume. But a new television era presents a tantalizing prospect for next time – an appearance by the Doctor herself…
The Eighth of March: Protectors of Time
Scattered through time and space, many women have crossed paths with the Doctor. Some were fellow TARDIS travellers, some were allies defending the Earth, and one was the Doctor’s daughter…
Crossing the bounds of E-Space, from a mysterious space-station to a London bus, and from the Amazon to the Moon, this 8th of March, three very different adventures unfold.
The Eighth of March: Protectors of Time is available to own as a 3CD collector’s edition box set, including download, for just £19.99. You can also opt for digital download only (for just £16.99) exclusively from the Big Finish website.