Self-exiled to a new universe, separated from his TARDIS, opposed and manipulated by the Divergence and their agent the Kro’ka, the Doctor has been struggling to work out the nature of the cosmic game in which he’s an unwilling pawn. Now, at last, he has a chance to find the answer and regain the TARDIS!
Threatened and desperate, the Kro’ka abandons his behind-the-scenes machinations to confront the Doctor directly. But will both of them lose their way in the maze of the strange world in which they find themselves? A world in which a clock may have a cuckoo but no hands, a labyrinth imprisoning a paradox, and a Garden of Curiosities reveals something the Doctor has never seen before.
As the Doctor faces these challenges, Charley and C’rizz provide valuable help. But with the TARDIS itself at stake, the Doctor reaches deep inside himself to find some surprising new allies.
I think it’s no secret that I haven’t enjoyed a lot of the stories in this Divergent Universe arc. There have been high points, but I have certainly been counting down the stories until the Doctor is able to escape. Fortunately, Caerdroia is a solid story, well acted and feels more like traditional Doctor Who.
I really like the story in Caerdroia, which is based on a fairly simple idea of a planet that is an ever-changing maze. Lloyd Rose, in what is sadly her only credit for Doctor Who stories at Big Finish. Her writing seems like a breath of fresh air. It may be because this story allows the listener a reason for optimism. Even this late on in the run, we get introduced to some new ideas, like the fact that the Kro’ka can’t move our central trio through the Interzone into new zones whilst the Doctor is asleep, which is something that feels as though it should have come up sooner. As a quest to find the TARDIS, it is a pretty simple narrative, but Rose adds enough flesh on the bones to this story that it makes it feels distinct from the Eighth Doctor stories following Zagreus. You get the feeling that Rose actually likes writing for the central trio, something which hasn’t been abundantly clear in some of the stories in the Divergent Universe.
The story is really well structured, with even innocuous sound effects like the cowbells, disparate church bells and babbling brook in the Garden of Curiosities being a message for the Doctor from his TARDIS, using the audio format of the story to full effect. From a production standpoint, I really liked how the three areas that the “Eeyore”, “Tigger” and regular Doctor explore when separated sound very distinct.
If I have any misgivings about Caerdroia, it is more to do with how it feels rushed towards a conclusion rather than having built gradually towards a climax and the Doctor’s eventual return to our universe. Too often when writing reviews of this Divergent Universe arc, I’ve said that the stories seem to be nihilistic and unpleasant purely for the sake of being so and they don’t really do very much to progress the storyline through this arc. There are scenes of torture in Caerdroia, but Rose has balanced these with moments of charm and wonder in a way that some of the earlier stories in this run have struggled to or not even attempted to do. In terms of progressing the plot, the same cannot be said of this story, which almost has to tie all the loose ends together as coherently as possible, falling as the penultimate story set in this universe. Perhaps it is unfair to lay the blame too much at the door of Big Finish as well, as the Divergent Universe seems to have been a way to clear the decks ahead of the upcoming return of Doctor Who to television and an attempt to not to tread on Russell T Davies’ toes, only for the BBC Wales production team not to be too bothered about the Eighth Doctor having ongoing adventures in audio. I can’t help but have a sense of what might have been for this arc, for instance, if the Doctor had recovered his TARDIS at the end of The Twilight Kingdom.
This is a story that focuses a lot more on the Kro’ka than the previous stories, and Stephen Perring does a great job in this expanded role. The Kro’ka is a nasty piece of work and wants to enter the Doctor’s mind to get the secrets on the TARDIS for his masters, mindful of the fact that he has failed them in his quest to break the Doctor so far. This is an adversary on the run, using equipment he doesn’t have permission to use on the Doctor in the hope of accessing valuable information. Perring is really good in this role, especially once it’s revealed that his initial foray into the Doctor’s mind at the beginning of the story is actually a trap set for the Doctor in an attempt for the Time Lord to question the Kro’ka. It is really hammered home here that the Kro’ka is just a middleman and certainly comes across more clearly here than it does in the earlier stories. Of course, it is revealed at the end that he is working for Rassilon, who appears in a brief cameo. It is a delight to hear Don Warrington’s voice – he certainly has a voice made for audio drama – albeit briefly.
“In my power?!?” Spare me. Can you get some fresh dialogue?The “Eeyore” Doctor
The central trio of the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz are on good form here and it is clear that each actor is relishing a chance to do something that isn’t dour and down. It is evident from the beginning of the story as Charley and C’rizz mock the Kro’ka for not being able to do anything to them until the Doctor wakes up, and McGann is on the top of his game here – considering he has to play three different versions of the Doctor, perhaps that’s for the best. Each one of them feels distinct from the others, but not to extent that the Zagreus Doctor is divorced from the Eighth Doctor. Even the “Eeyore” Doctor, made up of the more undesirable parts of the Doctor’s personality, continues to care for his companions, as shown in the sequence where Charley nearly gets stuck in the mechanism of the cuckoo clock. That scene works really well, in no small part due to the performances of McGann and Fisher. Meanwhile, it’s nice to have a story where C’rizz sees different aspects of the Doctor including seeing him happy for a change, as he’s only experienced him mopey since he met the Doctor and Charley. Whilst the “Tigger” Doctor shows what a perpetually curious and cheerful Doctor would be like, McGann is in particular a delight when he is reunited with his TARDIS.
Verdict: I enjoyed Caerdroia a lot more than the majority of the stories in the Divergent Universe run, as even the high points have not been quite as inventive and humorous as this story is at its best. 9/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Conrad Westmaas (C’rizz), Stephen Perring (The Kro’ka/Evans/Wayland) & Don Warrington (Rassilon).
Writer: Lloyd Rose
Director: Gary Russell
Producers: Gary Russell and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Composer: Steve Foxon
Behind the Scenes
- Caerdroia is the only full length performed Doctor Who story to be written by an American woman.
- The first Eighth Doctor story to feature the TARDIS since The Twilight Kingdom.
- Don Warrington also played the President in Rise of the Cybermen. He reprises his role as Rassilon here, a role he played in Zagreus.
You’re underestimating him, me, Kro’ka. Some of my goofiest incarnations have been my slyest.The Eighth Doctor
Previous Eighth Doctor review: The Last