Despite a bonus story featuring Susan and her son Alex, the Eighth Doctor was now companionless, which leads into Situation Vacant, or Doctor Who Meets The Apprentice (from the people who brought you Doctor Who Meets Top Gear and Doctor Who Meets The Office).
The genius is that the Doctor has been put in a situation where he has to choose a companion from four candidates who include:-
Hugh Bainbridge - an amiable public school type who, though perhaps not the brightest tool in the box, is happy to rush in where Time Lords fear to tread. James Bachman from That Mitchell and Webb Look and Bleak Expectations was cast.
Juliet Walsh - a tough cookie. A driven and highly successful career woman, there is nothing she won't do to close the deal. Juliet Walsh's is played by Niky Wardley who has appeared as Lauren's sidekick in The Catherine Tate Show; All the Small Things; Benidorm and Shameless.
Asha Qureshi - a no-nonsense, capable young woman with a tendency towards precociousness and a surprising ability to cope with the unexpected. Shelley Conn is Asha whose previous projects include the BBC's Party Animals.
Theo Lawson - Theo is King of the Geeks; an introverted and computer savvy teenager who knows more about gigabytes than he does about girls. Joe Thomas, who is Simon from The Inbetweeners plays him.
It's worth noting that each of the candidates is played by a 'celebrity' who you might have heard of. Just as Sheridan Smith (Lucie) had the cache of having been in Two Pints of Lager and other shows (including a stint with Paul McGann on Jonathan Creek) each of these potential companions has been in something you're likely to have heard from.
Lest Ye Be Spoiled
Hugh and Theo were sufficiently goofy that it was clear to me that they would never make it to companion status. At the end of the first part the Doctor dismisses Juliet for, quite fairly, a major cockup involving a bottle of orange juice. This of course made it clear she would redeem herself later.
However the episode keeps you guessing - at the end of the story the Doctor appears to offer Hugh a place in the TARDIS. Given James Bachman has a pretty cool voice (you'll recognise it if you listen in) this was a punch-the-air moment - until Juliet appears at the 11th hour.
It's hard to be tough on this story as it is quite cleverly written, explaining why the Doctor is in this situation. He's not actually the one who has organised the audition, but rather he's investigating the message that was sent to the candidates. He also learns that these 4 candidates were rejected for being evil or an actress. The thread of who was auditioning companions is left dangling for resolution elsewhere this season.
I'm not over the moon with the choice of companion. I was always going to discount both the lads as they were portrayed very bungly. Later we learn Theo and Hugh are both sadly evil (Theo is a megalomaniac who tries to take over every computer on Earth and Hugh is a vampire) and dispatched accordingly, Asha on the other hand is the wrong side of slightly nasty and Juliet turns out to be called Tamzin and is a slightly past her prime actress thinking she's appearing on a reality TV show.
Thinking about the companion it was pretty obvious. Sadly the Doctor never travels solely with a male companion these days. Poor Arthur Darville seems an afterthought in the 11th Doctor era, and I wonder if he'll last long during Matt Smith's 2nd season. Nicky Ward's status as Catherine Tate's sidekick makes her Doctor Who cache all the more obvious.
Part of me suspects we'll still see Lucie return this season. The Eighth Doctor adventures mirror the current TV series - which could include kitchen-sink finale. The Daleks will be back. Susan will be back. Presumably we'll find who the time traveller who was auditioning companions is.
There are 9 more episodes this season - which is the last Eighth Doctor Adventures season. Don't ask me why - the 8th Doctor will continue as his adventures are rolled into the regular releases again. Tom Baker is reportedly joining Big Finish, and perhaps they want to make monthly releases with him. It is also possible Big Finish's partnership with BBC7 is not paying off as much as they'd like - only half of Season 3 was aired with them to date.
However this year's special is going to be the Four Doctors - starring Doctors 5,6,7 and 8. Lots of McGann this year before the famine next year.