I definitely have a fondness for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. The 1996 Doctor Who television movie may have been a flawed production, but I felt McGann himself was amazing in it. I also was a fan of McGann from the brilliant cult classic dark comedy Withnail and I. So I’ve always thought it was a shame that he had only that one outing as the Doctor on TV.
Of course, McGann has reprised the role of the Doctor in numerous Big Finish audio plays over the past 13 years. And then, to everyone’s great surprise, especially my own, he appeared in the mini episode “The Night of the Doctor,” which revealed how his incarnation came to an end, and he became the War Doctor. Watching “The Night of the Doctor,” I was reminded of just how much I enjoyed McGann as the Doctor, and I set out to listen to some more of his Big Finish adventures.
“Wirrn Dawn,” written by Nicholas Briggs, was released in 2009. It’s interesting to listen to it now, because in many ways it has similarities with “The Night of the Doctor.” In his script, Briggs plops the Doctor and his companion Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) right in the middle of a horrific war zone. The Doctor, especially at this point in his long life, does not want to be a warrior. He looks upon the carnage taking place, as the human race and the Wirrn come into conflict, shakes his head sadly, but does not want to become involved. He will not fight, and he believes the chances of bringing about a peaceful resolution are slim to none. Yes, he tries to help out a little bit where he can, but his primary goal is to get Lucie and himself safely back to the TARDIS.
Briggs’ story is extremely morally ambiguous. He takes the brief explanatory dialogue from the serials “The Ark in Space” and “The Sontaran Experiment” and effectively extrapolates from it a detailed account of humanity’s expansion across the galaxy, and their war with the insectoid Wirrn. From the Wirrin’s point of view, the Galsec settlers are not colonists but invaders of their ancestral worlds. To the xenophobic humans who are attempting to find a new home, the Wirrn are savage, hideous bugs whose practice of laying their eggs in living beings is horrific.
The Doctor takes on a role here much as he has in stories featuring another species involved in a morally complicated conflict with humanity, namely the Silurians. As a centuries-old alien, the Doctor has the wisdom and experience to recognize that both the Galsec settlers and the Wirrn have legitimate points of view. Human beings are very capable of monstrous acts. At the same time, he acknowledges that the idea of being used as living incubators for alien eggs that consume their hosts, both mind and body, is a repulsive concept.
“It isn’t a matter of right and wrong,” the Doctor tries to explain. “It’s to do with survival, nature’s way.” Reflecting on whether he is correct in his assessment of the situation, he goes on to add “The older I get, the less sure I am about anything.” McGann does an excellent job with the material.
This is the first story I’ve listened to featuring Sheridan Smith as Lucie. She reminds me somewhat of a cross between Tegan Jovanka and Rose Tyler. She definitely has an assertive attitude and won’t accept nonsense from the Doctor or anyone else. But she also possesses a genuine fondness for the Time Lord. Her empathy and caring plays a major part in the resolution of the story.
I quite enjoyed “Wirrn Dawn.” It was an interesting, thought-provoking story with strong performances from both McGann and Smith. It certainly caused me to have even more interest in picking up some more of the Eighth Doctor’s recent Big Finish adventures, time and budget willing. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity soon.