Stranded 1.

Audio   "Oh hello Earth Arc II!" was my first reaction on hearing that the next big mid-era Eighth Doctor series would see him stuck on Earth with a broken TARDIS.  The details differ, of course.  We're presumably not going to see him experience a deep expanse of time, he doesn't have amnesia yet and he's trying to keep a relative low profile (although appearing on a game show should catch the attention of a few old friends).  Not to mention that this is very much the London 2020 of the revival series, drawing together elements from all the eras Big Finish currently have rights to and the proles not being especially surprised by the appearance of aliens.

The most notable difference with his other exile in the 70s (or was it the 80s?) is that Stranded is intensely interested in his living arrangements.  This is Doctor Who does domestic, forcing him once again to interact with real human beings in close proximity having ended up being a landlord after his bolt hole on Baker Street has been turned into shared accommodation.  In keeping with the Eighth Doctor he's not very good at it, but unlike some of his later incarnations he's not cruel just neglectful with Liv and Helen acting as an interface.  But it works and the cast sound like they're having a wail of a time dealing with material which doesn't involve Time Lords or Daleks or both.

Lost Property

The set is right out of the gate with introducing the Doctor, just not the one we were expecting.  You might expect them to hold Tom Baker's participation back for some reveal halfway through, but he's almost in the opening scene.  If The Day of the Doctor was purposefully ambiguous about the identity of The Curator, Matt Fitton's script is entirely explicit.  He is the Doctor, a future incarnation with the older Baker's face, in retirement protecting the Under Gallery and its treasures.  After the events of The Timeless Children, we know the Doctor has an infinite number of potential incarnations - how far in the future is he from?  His memory is still sharp, he recognises Liv and Helen, and has a view as what he thinks of the Eighth Doctor.  Frankly this is all worth it just to hear Tom namedrop River Song.

Wild Animals

Considering Stranded was recorded last December, this insight into the Doctor's psyche feels incredibly timely.  He feels trapped, walled off from the universe, a similar business to the Third Doctor, but his enunciation of his fears cuts to the core.  He talks about the animals at the Zoo and how they have illusion of freedom because they're in large cages but its still captivity and how they fall into patterns of behaviour, routines.  We all know that feeling, especially now.  John Dorney also wrote the award winning Absent Friends and this shares its low-key emotional through line and investigation of needless tragedy.  This is a rare occasion when for all of his god-like genius, the Doctor is essentially useless and knows it and but has to work hard for acceptance.

Must-See TV

If you'd told me when watching Torchwood's Everything Changes at the Filmwork in Manchester in 2006 that fifteen years later PC Andy would be the special guest star in an Eighth Doctor audio which also references that bloomin' organisation, I would have also asked you whether my liberal arts degree had been of any use and which companies to buy shares in.  But there he is, Tom Price, all present and correct, interacting with the gang and trying to hide his knowledge of spooky-doos.  Not having kept up with the Torchwood audios, I don't know whether he's still in the police or a full member or both, but it's rather brilliant how consistent his character is with what we've heard before.  The rest of the episode is mainly set up for future entertainments - who is the mysterious Mr Bird and will he turn out to be the Master?  Again?

Divine Intervention

One of my mistakes over the years has been to treat these boxed sets as complete entities and being quite cross when they bleed into one another or aren't simply a series of self contained stories.  But on reflection, they're actually sixteen episode seasons structured like any modern bingeable series, with story arcs running throughout reaching a conclusion or explanation in the finale.  So although this offers a few tantalising story elements for the future, this is really just episode four and shouldn't be given any more weight than that.  A few mysteries have been established, the premise of the season has been set up and on this occasion without the need to dash off to another timeframe, characters are receiving far deeper development than usual.  Thrilling stuff.

Placement: The usual.

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