Doctor Who: The Eighth of March 3 – Strange Chemistry

❉ This is a really strong entry in Big Finish’s annual Eighth of March series, writes Bryn Mitchell.

“The biggest strength of Strange Chemistry’s opening story is the dynamic explored through the characters of Leela and Marie Curie, and the similarities and differences between them… Hearing Caitlin Blackwood reprise the role of Amy Pond for the character’s Big Finish debut is definitely the highlight of the second story of the set.”

Since 2018, Big Finish have regularly marked International Women’s Day with a special release. This year, the occasion is observed with the third in a series of boxsets featuring stories lead by women from the worlds of Doctor Who. These boxsets are also notable among Big Finish’s output for having exclusively female writers, directors, and producers, as well as overtly focusing on feminist themes.

While previous entries in the range have featured three or four stories, this one only has two (although with an extended runtime for the first). As with the earlier boxsets, there is no direct link between the stories themselves, although the subtitle of ‘Strange Chemistry’ just about manages to applies to both stories through a clever double-meaning: as not only does the first story feature one of the most famous chemists who ever lived; but both include unusual combinations of characters finding a surprising rapport. Due to the two halves of this releases’ standalone nature, I will mostly tackle them individually.

The opening entry, A Ghost of Alchemy, is structured like a four-part Classic Doctor Who serial, in a first for the range. It also notably makes more extensive use of the Doctor than any previous Eighth of March episode, with Tom Baker being the first male performer to appear or be credited on the cover of one of these releases. As a result it feels slightly out-of-place in this particular boxset, and yet it still boasts a range of very different female characters from both history and fiction, played by an impressive cast, making it a worthy inclusion.

The feminist themes here are primarily explored through the characters of Leela and Marie Curie, and the similarities and differences between them. Its biggest strengths come from this dynamic, and as they learn about each other there is a broader point being made about feminist solidarity: we all benefit from being on the same side against misogynistic villains, as we learn from each other’s experiences and knowledge.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson

However, despite this and strong dialogue, the narrative sometimes lets the piece’s feminist credentials down. While Leela’s trademark confidence remains throughout, she and Curie are still effectively positioned as damsels in distress, which the Doctor (accompanied by Curie’s American sponsor) is racing to come and save. The dialogue does lampshade this, with a very in-character Leela line, where she says “she prefers it being the other way around” (i.e. her being the one to save the Doctor), however the narrative still plays out in a way that doesn’t show us this.

The story definitely succeeds in telling a compelling celebrity historical, and is particularly interesting as one that focuses on a time in Curie’s life which is less known about in the general public consciousness. These details not only serve to make the listener more impressed with the character of Curie than they may already have been, but also consolidates the feminist themes by showing how she was supported financially in her research by the women of America, who were encouraged to donate by a female sponsor who had failed to secure funding from more conventional institutions.

Holly Jackson-Walters (Marie Curie)

There’s some excellent discussion of this real world context in both the accompanying behind the scenes and in the 5th March Big Finish podcast episode featuring an extended discussion between star and writer Louise Jameson and director Helen Goldwyn.

This feature both gives additional behind the scenes context for this story, but also serves as an insightful analysis of the British creative industries and the difficulties that women face in them, in particular as directors. It is excellent to have this duo of creative women working on the Eight of March range, and while their story here doesn’t necessarily live up to the level of intersectional feminism that Big Finish Original ATA Girl (also creatively authored by the duo) does, it is still an enjoyable entry with a clear message.

If it were to come outside of this boxset and as a standard Doctor Who release, I would probably find myself praising it more highly, but as I’ve said earlier the serialised format doesn’t really fit here. It particularly jarred when the Eighth of March theme music is used at the cliffhanger and openings, resulting in it playing twice every thirty minutes. Unlike the Doctor Who theme, which is great at punching up a cliffhanger, the Eight of March theme clearly wasn’t composed with this function in mind.

Caitlin Blackwood (Amy Pond)

In the second story of the set, Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden, new Big Finish writer Karissa Hamilton-Bannis brings together two prominent Doctor Who characters who have never appeared together before in any medium: Missy and Amy Pond. In another Big Finish debut, Amy Pond (here still going by Amelia) is portrayed in her younger incarnation by Caitilin Blackwood, who featured in the show as a recurring presence throughout the Matt Smith era.

Hearing Caitlin reprise the role for Amy Pond’s first Big Finish story is definitely the highlight of the episode, as the actor gets to give her take on a more mature version of Amelia than she previously played. Now a cynical teenager, Amelia is starting to disbelieve her previous fantastical experiences with The Doctor as seen in the opening of The Eleventh Hour. But the call backs to these events aren’t perfunctory, as in many ways this story serves as a dark parallel to The Eleventh Hour, with a mysterious alien force arriving in Amelia’s garden (the fairies), and her interactions with a charismatic but eccentric alien who offers to take her away (Missy).

Michelle Gomez (Missy).

Michelle Gomez’s Missy is notably kept at a distance from the opening half of the story, which really helps to centre Amelia as the protagonist, but once she is introduced in a fantastic extended scene with Missy posing as Amelia’s new therapist, we do get a flashback informing us of how Missy came to be in her current predicament. The specifics are filled with neatly drawn sci-fi details, but its significance for the characters and the story being told is that Missy wants to get off earth and back into time and space, and she needs Amelia to do it. This makes for a strong premise and the interactions between the two characters in the two therapy scenes featured are the story at its best. Gomez has been on fine form at Big Finish for years now, and still she brings a brilliant unnerving edge to seemingly innocuous lines, only she as Missy can say the words “this is a safe space” and make it seem like a threat.

Overall this is a really strong entry, and fits in well with the tried and tested Eighth of March format of crossing over existing characters. Hamilton-Bannis more than proves her skill as a writer here and also her fan credentials with dialogue playing on the difference between a cyborg and a robot, and the tone and plot elements of the story really effectively tying it into the ‘fairytale’ motif of the early Matt Smith years which she is riffing on. I look forward to hearing more from her in the future and hope she continues to work for Big Finish.

Elsewhere as part of Big Finish’s International Women’s Day coverage, several ‘in conversation’ interviews were uploaded to YouTube, featuring some of the women behind Big Finish’s writing, producing, acting, and even warehouse operations discussing their work. While there are naturally some tidbits about working on specific stories or ranges to be gleaned from here for Doctor Who fans, these interviews will most appeal to those curious about working in the industry. And if you are interested in working in any of these aspects of production you could do worse than to spend a little over an hour watching these special interviews.

While it may seem a shame to have only two stories make up the Eighth of March boxset this year, it is great to see Big Finish taking more than one approach to celebrating International Women’s Day, and I hope the success of this year’s interviews as well as boxset release will lead to further International Women’s Day releases along the lines, whatever creative or informative forms they might take.


Writers: Louise Jameson, Karissa Hamilton-Bannis
Script Editors: John Dorney, Matt Fitton 
Producer: Emma Haigh
Senior Producer: John Ainsworth
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery 

Duration: 204 minutes 
Released: 08 March 2023, exclusively from the Big Finish website. 

The Worlds of Doctor Who – The Eighth of March: Strange Chemistry is now available to own as a collector’s edition 3-disc CD box set (+ download for just £19.99) or as a digital download only (for just £16.99), exclusively from 

❉ Bryn Mitchell (@BMitchell_Twitr) has been a We Are Cult contributor since October 2020; you can find Bryn’s DW Time Lord Victorious reviews at: Time Lord Victorious Blogging Project

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