Marnie is missing. But she hasn’t run away, as her dad fears – Marnie is still very much at home. But not quite as she was.
The Doctor joins forces with Missing Persons detective Jana Lee to help solve the mystery of a girl who’s gone to pieces.
Girl, Deconstructed recaptures the best aspects of the Ninth Doctor and the Russell T Davies run in general by bringing us a science fiction tale which has real human stakes here, with a small cast. It’s a really strong opening to the second boxset of the Ninth Doctor’s Big Finish adventures.
Lisa McMullin hits the jackpot here by giving the Ninth Doctor a standalone story, bringing the Doctor back to Earth, more specifically Dundee, in 2004, in response to an unexpected distress call from the Serapheem. We are told that 62 teenagers have suddenly disappeared in an hour, however, we only focus in one, the case of Marnie McDonald and her father Kurt, who is struggling to make ends meet after the departure of Marnie’s mother to live a seemingly better life in New York. The Detective investigating, Jana Lee, has experienced something similar in her childhood, which has sent her down the journey of becoming a Detective. It sounds like stating the obvious, but Big Finish produce some great sound design, whether this is Marnie moving around her room or the distortion on her voice, or just the noise of a busy police station.
The story really zones in on the difficult relationships between parents and their children when they become teenagers, particularly teenage girls and their fathers, and also on the theme of grief and loss. We get a particularly intimate view of the impact a child disappearing has on a parent through the fact that Marnie hasn’t actually gone anywhere but been molecularly deconstructed and is still in her bedroom, allowing us to see her father go through the stages of coming to terms with his daughter’s disappearance. I think if the story had focused instead on the Doctor trying to save all of the teenagers who disappeared, which he ultimately does anyway, we would have perhaps lost the impact of this story. This really made me think of a more effective Fear Her, which has the kids disappearing, but almost doesn’t take itself too seriously. This does take the time to establish the grief, but there are humorous moments here too, like the Doctor parking his TARDIS seconds too early, giving us a few seconds where there are two Doctors. This story is quite bleak though; it sees the Doctor essentially give a teenager the choice between her mind essentially collapsing, or being stuck as a disembodied voice for the rest of her life and essentially left alone after her father passes away. The story’s not afraid to leave us with a not entirely happy ending, especially when it comes to Jana’s friend Douglas, who unlike Marnie, cannot be saved due to the passage of time – the Doctor is only able to reassemble those who have been deconstructed in the last 24 hours. It does give him as a good an existence as he can hope for – he is able to reconnect with his friends and family for the foreseeable future, even if this is tinged with sadness as his father passed away before the Doctor was able to install the quantum resonator in the house.
The aliens responsible for the molecular disintegration are the Serapheem. These aliens travel by starlight as they migrate across the universe every decade, however, they are fleeing their home system, the Helios system, due to the expansion of the sun, which led to their original distress call at the start of the story. The Serapheem are not traditionally villainous, however, there is a degree of childlike naivety to their actions – almost comparable with the teenage desire to run away with home that feels so relatable. In disintegrating the humans’ molecules, they know that they cannot make them lighter than light, so are essentially dooming them to an insubstantial existence where no-one can hear you. Even by the end of the story, we don’t know how many people have been caught up in their attempts to be kind.
If we go back in time and save your friend, your whole future will be rewritten.
So will everyone’s. You won’t become a detective, you won’t find a six year old boy who goes missing in 2006, you won’t save the lives of two women abducted in 2008, you won’t lead the team that captures a serial killer in 2024. They’ll kill seven more times before they’re caught. If we go back in time and save your friend.The Ninth Doctor and DC Jana Lee
It’s a small cast, but it is perfectly formed, in part thanks to Lisa McMullin’s writing and Helen Goldwyn’s direction but a lot of the credit has to go to the cast. Pearl Appleby shines as the defacto companion for this story, going from being a doubting Thomas about the Doctor’s claims to travel in space and time to believing that this strange man wanders in time and space. Along with Mirren Mack’s Marnie, she acts as the emotional heart of the story, with Jana Lee knowing Douglas and obviously Marnie going through the process of being ‘deconstructed’. All of the performances feel very real and make this story land a punch.
Christopher Eccleston is in fine form here and I love how distracted he is here. It’s a very fast-paced story and the Doctor seems to enter in an equal rush, not really aware of what he’s investigating until after his first encounter with Kurt and Jana. In this standalone adventure, he certainly brings a sense of fun, energy and dynamism in his performances. Eccleston states in the behind-the-scenes documentary how much he is enjoying returning to the role and how much he would have liked to seen this story made for television. The fact that Eccleston is not only back, but seems to enjoy making Big Finish, makes me incredibly grateful that Big Finish got him to come back.
Verdict: Girl, Deconstructed is a wonderful piece of drama, which packs a real emotional punch. 9/10
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Pearl Appleby (DC Jana Lee), Mirren Mack (Marnie/The Serapheem), Forbes Masson (Kurt) & Benjamin Davies (Douglas).
Writer: Lisa McMullin
Director: Helen Goldwyn
- Forbes Masson voiced Kindred in the Jago & Litefoot story Picture This.
Houses aren’t haunted, people are.DC Jana Lee
Previous Ninth Doctor review: Food Fight
Girl Deconstructed is able to purchase as part of the Ninth Doctor boxset Respond to all Calls from the Big Finish website.