"It's almost as if you're glad, glad that he's gone."
"You never really cared for him did you Doctor?"
"Oh it's because you liked it the way it used to be, before the Divergent universe...."
Audio Every now and then Doctor Who dangerously begins to review itself within the text and there it is again in Absolution, at the end, as Charley chides the Doctor for his attitude to the loss of C'rizz and it's almost as though she's addressing the fan reaction to that character and the turn of narrative events. At what's supposed to be an emotional moment and the catalyst for my favourite companion ever's departure from this eddy of the narrative flow, I caught myself answering, out loud, her rhetorical questions. Yep, yes, yes, yes I did. The whys and wherefores of my problems with with the Divergent universe were covered in (apparently) controversial detail last time, but just as in the novels the destruction of the Eighth Doctor's memory led to that range never quite gelling again (unless the author effectively ignored his amnesia) so even post-Divergent the continued inclusion of C'rizz with all of his psychological issues and unresolved tensions between the three of them mean that few of these adventures are as purely enjoyable as the range was pre-Divergent.
Series producer Gary Russell has subsequently revealed that two more series worth of Divergent stories were planned until the return of the series to television commercially necessitated the Eighth Doctor's return to Whoniverse proper which he lists as a season opener by Gary Hopkins (who would write Other Lives) instead, Scaredy Cat, Time Works and Something Inside. The extent to which they were rewritten is more obvious in some than others though as I admittedly rather scathingly point out in my reaction paragraph below, Scaredy Cat potentially bore the brunt of this creative switcheroo. The best scripts are those he doesn't mention developed somewhat in the more classical format though it's worth speculating on whether the other two would have improved the overall critical and audience consideration of that story arc and betray signs of the whole Divergent universe whateveritwasthingy gaining an upswing in momentum just as the novel series did just before that was cancelled.
Charley would have course go on to co-star in the Sixth Doctor range to brilliant effect (and to an extent have adventures better than some of these later Eighth Doctor examples) and have her own boxed set, which I haven't yet listened to so don't know if it finally resolves her rather maudlin impression of his fate. It's unusual that they haven't been reunited outside of stories set in the narrative past. Big Finish in general dislikes unfinished business even to the point of bringing back companions from the classic series and giving them the farewells they didn't properly receive on-screen (and very soon the Sixth Doctor). Is it right that Charley should be left thinking that her best friend is dead even though he clearly isn't?* But co-incidentally I'm writing this in the wake of today's news (I'm still trying to get the squee out of the carpet) and it's clear to an extent the Eighth Doctor range is about moving forward and that's exactly what I'm going to do too.
One of the greatest Dalek story ever produced, certainly in the top five and clearly in the top ten Eighth Doctor stories across any media, Terror Firma does that rare thing in Who of capably and convincingly rewriting what we already knew without destroying what went before. Despite having been created to explain away Eighth's mention of Sam in Minuet in Hell during a moment when Big Finish was attempting to divorce itself from the novel and comic continuities (in the time before the release of A Company of Friends), we're nonetheless entirely convinced that he must have travelled with Samson and Gemma before Charley (aided on this narrative based listen through all the plays by their retrospective mention in the Mary Shelley stories) (and notice that Davros doesn't remove his memory of their adventures). But Joseph Lidster's script offers rich characters and dialogue across the board and there's a sense of the series gettings its fifth or sixth wind.
And every The Caves of Androzani has its The Twin Dilemma. Scaredy Cat is a disaster. Curiously and probably mercifully short (each cd is only about forty-odd minutes long), there's not one story beat which hasn't been done better elsewhere in the franchise and a stack of moments which fundamentally misunderstand the regular characters. Oh look it's the scientific expedition from Kinda. Oh its "we must not change history, not one word" from a dozen other places. Say what you like about Charley Pollard but the moment when she picks up arms to defend the base from marauding wildlife is just wrong frankly. McGann sounds out of sorts in his performance, C'rizz is at his most annoying and there's a general sense that something went horrendously wrong in the production, potentially related to the script having originally been prepared for the Divergent Universe arc. Sections recorded before the change and then had to be patched over later?
Well look at you. A barnstorming homage to the 60s historicals (mainly of the Spooner and Whittaker variety) married with the complex, multi-stranded narrative of a Dickens, Gary Hopkins's script also looks backwards to the pre-Divergent universe Eighth Doctor stories which always flipped neatly between humour and horror (rather than grimly stick to the latter). The notion of having the regulars double up works well and there's a genuine sense with both them and the production of "We're back." Still don't like Cr'zz though and it's a real shame his whole story arc is polluting the final days of what was the classic Who team-up of Eighth & Charley. As a side note, some real world coincidences: I listened to this during the week when I was at Waterloo and Ron Moody died. His fruity appearance as Wellington is one of the best that Big Finish have ever hosted (he's one of the few Oscar-nominated actors to appear in the franchise across its various media).
Like clockwork (sorry) the Doctor overthrows a repressive regime just to show he's still entirely capable of it and this being a Steve Lyons script, he's entirely aware of his utility and almost carries out the process like a plumber attending to replace a stopcock. The story would presumably have had even greater resonance with the Divergent universe arc in that it's about a society run on the tick-tock and that was a reality in which time apparently had no meaning. A top draw cast which includes Adrian Schiller who'd later played Uncle in The Doctor's Wife and Ronald Pickup as the leader the Doctor has to negotiate with and their scenes are a clear highlight, a lot of the running around in the frozen time zones less so. One of those stories which feels traditional but would be entirely impossible to create on television without an infinite budget and time - in other words the perfect Big Finish.
"... so strong, I know that I can make it, though you're doing me wrong so wrong..." Another refugee from the Divergent universe arc (and showing it more than most), did Trevor Baxendale actually have Labi Siffre in mind whilst writing? The song's lyrics could be grimly referencing the life of the "brain worm", the sneaky antagonist that eats its way through the cast to such an extent even the Doctor agrees he's not having the best of days. A clever riff on films like Cube and The Thing, it's necessarily difficult to follow in places and would probably require a couple of listens. But onward and upward. Most notable element is the Doctor's motivation speech comes in the form of a talk through the 2005 European cup final, with name check for Steven Gerrard. "I was at the match" he says, and you can hear the delight in the actor's voice as though he was even there himself (which he might well have been).
Eddie Robson's one of my favourite audio writers and it's hard to credit that this superb entertainment was his first commission so expert is it in characterisation, pacing and exploration of its thoroughly good idea (an idea which would arguably be considered less successfully later in Amy's Choice). It's all in the mastering of structure. In the first episode, establish the intriguing premise of losing the TARDIS in the street with identical houses inhabited by an older man who acts like a ten year old and his mother, then in each subsequent episode introduce new characters and complications before winding up to a satisfying conclusion which logically develops from character. So many superb moments and lines, notably the Charley grimly noticing that she only ever seems to meet a hallucination of her mother now. Robson also scores some Tipping Point counters for reminding us that C'rizz absorbs the personalities around him explaining his sometimes inconsistent behaviour.
Bye then C’rizz. As companion exits go this is pretty epic, but as Joe Ford notes on his blog, it's in an oddly structured way because he's absent for most of the second and third episode while writer Scott Alan Woodard goes about the business of reminding us why we liked the Eighth Doctor and Charley in the first place as he sets up the final few beats of the story (see above) and The Girl Who Never Was (though there are odd occasions when it's almost as though she's forgotten the events of Zagreus and the TARDIS it's almost as though the ship is entirely new to her, perhaps for the benefit of potential new listeners). Plus it's one of those stories which introduces some potentially interesting stuff, like the TARDIS's chameleon circuit coming back online and introduction of a new console room but doesn't do much with them as a relatively uninvolving sub-Season 18 story with characters called things like Overseer Cacothis thrums along in the background. Nice to hear my favourite Shakespeare play quoted though. No, the other one.
The Girl Who Never Was
And by then Charley. As with Absolution, The Girl Who Never Was is slightly oddly structured for a final story (notionally) of a major companion in that (also notionally) it separates the Doctor and Charley for much of its duration which means we have to cherish their moments together, sparky and sometimes unpleasant as they are. Just about as good as an Alan Barnes Eighth Doctor audio can be with perfectly chosen kisses to previous adventures in this range (even another Mary Shelley reference) and also still earlier and even a memory related moment which must surely have been an influence on Journey's End, another story with a painful companion exit. Well reader, even knowing what's to come, I sobbed a little bit just as I did back when this was originally released then giggled and giggled thanks to a post-credits sequence which structurally pre-figures the MARVEL universe somewhat. Part of me really wants to see what happens to Charley next (again) but ...
* except in a subsequent Sixth and Evelyn story, The 100 Days of the Doctor, he and she observe 8th, Charley and C'rizz attending a card game in the American Fronter with an older 8th & Lucie which should have the effect of indicating to Charley that he couldn't have died at the end of The Girl Who Never Was. Unless the time differential shorted everything out or some such ala The Day of the Doctor and she doesn't remember. Or some such.