The year before Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor Who returned to our screens, there started a low-profile, Scottish – and rather entertaining – supernatural series called Sea of Souls. With clear influence from The X Files, it starred Bill Paterson (Victory of The Daleks) as Professor Douglas Monaghan who was the head of a parapsychology (thank you, Apple spell check) unit in the fictional Clyde University based in Glasgow.
Out of four series, the first two featured three two-part stories each, and ran through two sets of assistants; the first featuring Archie Punjabi and Peter McDonald and the second Dawn Steele (recently of Holby City) and Iain Robertson. Series 3 featured single episode stories, stayed with Steele and Robertson and was honoured with a Saturday night slot, rather than its previous Sunday; albeit a late night one. The fourth “season” was simply a single story over two episodes as part of a further anthology series and Monaghan didn’t have any of his assistants along for the ride. At this point, Sea of Souls was confined to the bin.
A few names to grace the episodes were Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Siobhan Redmond (the Big Finish Rani); Hugh Ross (Counter Measures), James Fleet (Max Warp); and some unknown called Peter Capaldi.
Most notably, in the third series, Paul McGann appeared as a mysterious and highly intelligent figure called Christopher Chambers.
The plot of this particular episode, titled Rebound, starts with a young woman, Leah Goodhall, who has become highly electrically charged; blowing-out electrical objects and delivering large shocks to anyone she touches. Indeed, Monaghan gets carted off in an ambulance after their first meeting just by shaking hands.
Chambers comes into the story quite late on. He runs a publishing company where Leah worked for him and they were in a relationship which Chambers ended. Not being able to get over this, and being someone who dabbles in the occult, Leah carries out a magic ritual to get Chamber’s love back, but this also causes her condition.
After continual noise and power cuts in the area Leah and her parents live, the issue is brought to Monaghan’s team’s attention and they start their scientific investigation. During one such test, Justine and Craig (Monaghan’s assistants) witness a ‘spirit’ above Leah’s head and a warning appears, on a PC screen on their monitoring equipment, that someone wants Leah dead.
Who could this be? All eyes turn to Chambers.
Obviously, this is all based on wishes and circumstantial evidence but, just for a bit of fun, do the events of this episode point to Chambers possibly being the Eighth Doctor?
The Case for the Prosecution
Exhibit A: Chambers appears to have psychic powers and knows that Justine is a qualified nurse despite only having just met. This was rather akin to the Eighth Doctor’s knowledge of people’s future events in Doctor Who: The Movie. Chambers also senses that Justine too is psychic.
Exhibit B: In Chambers’ house… Roundels.
Exhibit C: At one point, Monaghan confronts Chambers asking who he really is and after offering some suggestions – Lord Lucan and Jack the Ripper – Monaghan settles on Falcanelli, a 19th Century Alchemist and who allegedly found the secret of eternal life. Chambers’ publications often quoted from Falcanelli’s book about sacred architecture in which held a prophecy tied into unfolding current events. “Nobody knows when he died!”
When Monaghan asks directly if Chambers is Falcanelli, Chambers merely states that Monaghan deserves his reputation. “Are you expecting me to believe… that you are centuries old?” asks Monaghan. This is not confirmed, but nevertheless, this is approaching Time Lord lifespan.
Exhibit D: Chambers and Leah’s relationship was described by Leah as a “fantastic nine months”. Could this be a Doctor/companion relationship? Even so, Chambers says that Leah was the love of his life and that he had to sacrifice his own happiness for the battle at “mankind’s spiritual watershed”. Protecting his companion from what sounds like a fixed moment in time?
Exhibit E: At the same time Chambers is talking to Monaghan in his house, Craig and Justine’s monitoring equipment record Chambers carrying Leah away from out of her bedroom. To be able to carry Leah out of the house, he would have passed others on the stairs, which he didn’t. To be in two places at once and enter and exit a room from nowhere… Time travel and a TARDIS straight to Leah’s room, perchance?
Even so, Chambers’ encounter with Monaghan turns out to be a manifestation; or could that be a holographic representation such has been used in the TARDIS (remember those roundels).
Exhibit F: Monsters! Or rather a momentary appearance of a demon. The only episode of Sea of Souls to feature such.
Exhibit G: It is Chambers who sends the demon, that Leah had summoned by her ritual, back to its own dimension. It is described that he has used magic to do so. Could that magic be future or alien technology?
Here, I rest my case for the prosecution and you, the jury, can decide.
What Could Have Been
Sadly, this episode – in fact all of the last two series – never got a release on DVD and (at the time of writing) Sea of Souls isn’t available on any streaming services. Series 1 and 2, however, were released by Sony and not BBC/2 Entertain!
This was particularly annoying as, back in the Noughties, it would be about a year before the DVD of a programme was released (rather than almost immediately, as today). With this in mind, I digitally recorded off-air captures and encoded them on my PC at a low resolution (VideoCD style) so that the whole series would fit on one DVD-R, in preparation for its proper release a year later… but Series 3 never appeared. This is the reason why my screenshots look like VHS captures.
Lesson learned. I never made that mistake again.
Although what I’ve got is okay to watch in the corner of a computer screen or on a mobile phone, I’d still love a proper ‘watchable’ copy of Rebound for a full size telly. Particularly as I can always pretend that it’s the second television appearance of my favourite Doctor Who incarnation… if I squint a bit.
But let’s be realistic. I’m not just some fan-boy trying to copy and paste a similar character onto what I want this to be. If I had to present a defence, it would largely be that Chambers is a little less friendly than McGann’s Eighth Doctor. But, as I said previously, this was just a bit of fun. However, it is an interesting point to make that at the end of the episode, Monaghan says that they expect to run into Chambers again. Sadly, as Sea of Souls’ fairly decent run was coming to an end – only one more story was ever made after this – that wasn’t to be. The mystical Christopher Chambers, like the Eighth Doctor, only gets limited screen time. But what could have been?
We are probably never going to get an Eighth Doctor television series, or at least another episode (as much as we cross our fingers), but here was a very good opportunity for McGann to get another stab at a semi-regular fantasy role; a British Doctor Strange as it were. Big Finish, are you listening?
Now… while I’ve got your attention there’s a third that got away: try searching for a charming little film, again starring McGann, called Fables of Forgotten Things, which was a pilot of a series that was never, sadly, taken up. It’s on Vimeo, but registration is required.