Doctor Who has been on television for a very long time. As of the most recent New Years’ special, there’ve been 862 total episodes since 1963. That’s a lot of space and time to get through. But TV is not even the realm in which Doctor Who is its most prolific. Big Finish Productions have produced full-cast audio dramas since 1999 and to date have released 929 episodes and specials. They focus almost exclusively on adventures with past Doctors, which squeeze their continuities between televised seasons. Now, after 22 years, they’re setting their sights on the white whale of Doctor Who continuity holes: the infamous “Season 6B” dilemma.
Since ’99, Big Finish have had an ongoing monthly range that would be one story released per month featuring one of the past Doctors. For a while it would alternate between Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. (The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors, respectively.) They’d eventually add Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor and Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. In addition, each of those Doctors (and later additions: David Tennant, John Hurt, and Christopher Eccleston) would star in mini-arc release seasons. As of March 2021, Big Finish wrapped up its monthly releases to focus solely on individual Doctor adventures.
And this is what’s interesting. Their announcement, as the Radio Times explained, sees a box set through 2022 for each of the first eight Doctors.
Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures – Title TBC
Doctor Who: The Second Doctor Adventures – Beyond War Games
Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures – Title TBC Vol 1 & Vol 2
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures – Series 11 Vol 1 & Series 11 Vol 2
Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor Adventures – Forty Volume 1 & Forty Volume 2
Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor Adventures – Title TBC Vol 1 & Vol 2
Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor Adventures – Title TBC Vol 1 & Vol 2
Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures – Title TBC Vol 1 & Vol 2
We should note: the first three Doctors—William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee—are all no longer with us. Big Finish generally treats these adventures as stories relayed by other characters. But as you can see, most of the upcoming ranges don’t have titles yet. However, the Second Doctor Adventure does: “Beyond War Games.” This is supremely intriguing for those steeped in weird plot holes.
“The War Games” was the massive 10-part finale story for Troughton’s Second Doctor which ended Doctor Who‘s sixth season in 1969. At the end of that story, the Time Lords force him to regenerate and exile him to Earth. When the next story began in 1970, Troughton was Jon Pertwee, the show was in color, etc. But because the production hadn’t cast Pertwee at the time “The War Games” went out, that story ends with the Second Doctor floating away, his face unfinished.
Later on, the Second Doctor would make several return visits to the series. In the 10th anniversary story “The Three Doctors,” Troughton appeared alongside Pertwee (and an enfeebled Hartnell) to take on a rogue Time Lord. This one doesn’t impact continuity too much. However, Troughton’s next two appearances, 1983’s “The Five Doctors” and 1985’s “The Two Doctors,” make things a lot more difficult to make sense of.
See, back in the day, the in-universe time between adventures was almost nil. We effectively see every moment of the Second Doctor’s life with his companions. At the end of “The War Games,” the Time Lords wipe companions Jamie McCrimmon’s and Zoe Heriot’s memories of all their adventures with the Doctor, save their first. Meaning Jamie, a Scottish Highlander from the 18th century, never even remembers going in the TARDIS, much less friends like Zoe and Victoria Waterfield.
And yet! Because of various lines in those two ’80s stories, there became glaring holes in the Second Doctor’s life. On top of that, the actors clearly look 20 years older. This gave way to the “Season 6B” theory, first introduced in the 1995 book The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping. In it, they propose that the Doctor didn’t immediately go from Troughton to Pertwee but instead went on various missions for the Time Lords in between the end of “The War Games” and the beginning of the first Pertwee story, “Spearhead from Space.” A Season 6B, if you will.
Additionally, because the Doctor needs companions, this Second Doctor got to have Jamie and Victoria by his side. At the end of these missions, all their minds were wiped of these events, and the seventh season of televised stories began. It’s a long way to go to explain some badly researched lines of dialogue 20 years after the fact, but this idea has continued apace in fan circles.
And now there’s kind of official, canonical evidence to back it up. At the end of the most recent Doctor Who series, the Thirteenth Doctor finds out, among many other things, that the Time Lords had used her for missions and entire lives before her earliest memories as the First Doctor. This stemming from the reveal of Jo Martin’s Ruth Doctor, who predates Hartnell. So it’s not like the Time Lords wouldn’t use the Doctor and then wipe their memory just because.
The title “Beyond War Games” thus all but ensures the “Season 6B” theories will finally pay off. Naturally, as with all spinoff material, the Big Finish audios are only canon until the TV show decides they aren’t anymore. But if there’s one thing Doctor Who fans love, it’s nitpicking discrepancies and making them make sense.