“All things must die.”
Washed up on the sandy shores of a paradise island, a wild-eyed shipwreck survivor is rescued by the wife of Daqar Keep, the richest man in the galaxy.
Her name’s Perfection. He’s the Doctor. Together, they face a journey into the dark heart of this mysterious island, to discover the deepest secrets of this timeless cosmos. That’s if the giant crabs, killer crocodiles and murderous natives don’t get them first.
Meanwhile, fellow travellers Charley and C’rizz have their own ordeal to endure, in the grip of the Doctor’s most dangerous rival. And in a universe that’s facing extinction, even the best of friends may soon become enemies.
This life is almost over. And not everyone will make it to the next…
The Next Life brings the Divergent Universe arc to a close, and marks the return of the Eighth Doctor to the main Universe. In my opinion, this arc has fluctuated in quality majorly, from some great stories like The Natural History of Fear and Caerdroia to some really poor and actually quite nasty stories like The Creed of the Kromon.
It is, therefore, probably not a surprise that The Next Life is a bit of a mess. Writers Alan Barnes and Gary Russell have to try to tie together all the loose ends that have been part of this Divergent Universe arc since Zagreus, but it feels like they want to introduce new ideas at the same time, which makes it feel like this arc could have possibly have had a third run of stories. In fact, given that this story has the Spider-Man 3 problem of having too many villains, more time and breathing space could have been given to the story, rather than it feeling like too many significant characters and plot elements were thrown at this story in the fervent hope that they stick. There are elements, like for instance, Zagreus, that feel Ultimately, The Next Life starts with a strong concept, with Charley and C’rizz being put into dream weavers and reliving the moments before fateful incidents leading to them meeting the Doctor, but becomes a bit more generic when it comes to the Doctor and Perfection exploring the planet, trying to find the door out of the Divergent Universe. It’s almost as though there was a decent four-part story and a decent two-part story and they were stretched to almost breaking point and then smashed together. For instance, I’m not sure whether Charley and her mother’s dealings with Simon Murchford really achieve anything substantial, other than showing that the person whose place Charley took on the R101 went on to become the vicar of Cardington.
I’d be intrigued to know whether someone who was new to the show entirely, or at least had not encountered Rassilon before, believed that Rassilon ever had the best interests of C’rizz or Charley at heart. The way the character is written certainly doesn’t give any room to interpret the character in any other way, despite Don Warrington’s best efforts to make him seem charming and silky. I really like Warrington’s incarnation of one of the founding fathers of Time Lord society and would like to hear more from him, although the end of this story for him makes it difficult. The Kro’ka has become a rather sniveling lackey to Rassilon, although the way he is writing all the dialogue for L’da and Charley’s mother is rather superb. Zagreus’ inclusion feels really rather perfunctory and almost as though Russell and Barnes had forgotten to seed this through the arc, and the distortion on the voice remains painful to listen to. I really thought we were done with that nonsense. Meanwhile, Daqar Keep is an interesting character, played well by Stephane Cornicard, who is the evolution of the sound creature encountered in Scherzo. I think that the reveal that Charley’s French uncle, Jacques, who taught her French has led to Keep speaking in a French accent works quite well and he is possibly the most interesting villain of the lot. It’s a shame that the Divergents get written out off-script, and only speaks to the fact that this is a bit of a rushed job.
Of course, an honourable mention to Paul Darrow, playing Guidance, a role that feels a world away from his previous role in Timelash. He absolutely sells the role of the zealot, who also happens to be C’rizz’s father and Darrow is really rather sinister.
Hello? This is Robinson Crusoe paging Man Friday, shipwrecked sailor seeks similar to share paradise island. Non-smoker, good sense of humour essential.The Eighth Doctor
Paul McGann is on fine form here, and much more cheerful now that he has recovered his TARDIS. His chemistry with Daphne Ashbrook as Perfection – even if the line about there being no grace here made me cringe. McGann sparkles through this story, being almost everything he hasn’t been for most of the Divergent Universe arc, buoyed by the possibility of escaping this Universe without time. McGann really feels as though he’s relishing the chance to get back to N-Space, or whatever we should be calling our universe, albeit he is clearly hoping for some respite rather than coming face-to-face with the Daleks and their creator at the end of the story.
Meanwhile, the companions are manipulated by Rassilon and both India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas into not trusting the Doctor. Both are spun different narratives, Charley is told that the Doctor has been cured of the anti-time infection known as Zagreus since his arrival in the Divergent Universe and that the Doctor doesn’t really want her and C’rizz is told that the death of L’da is all the Doctor’s fault. Both do a good job and get a great deal of character development through this extended story, but I’m still not entirely sold on C’rizz, who also comes face-to-face with his abusive father, Guidance. Fisher is probably the better of the two, even though she spends a lot of time being jealous of Perfection and just being jealous in general, but Fisher manages to characterise this really well so that it doesn’t become irritating. I particularly liked her farewell with Anneke Wills’ Lady Pollard, even though that moment is completely manufactured by the Kro’ka.
Yes Charley…we’re home.The Eighth Doctor
Verdict: A rushed ending to the Divergent Universe features some interesting ideas, but really struggles to balance four villains even in an extended format. If it weren’t for strong performances for all involved, this would be a lot worse. As it is, it ends up being rather middling, fittingly a rather suitable metaphor for the entire arc. 5/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Conrad Westmaas (C’rizz), Daphne Ashbrook (Perfection), Stephane Cornicard (Daqar Keep), Paul Darrow (Guidance), Jane Hills (L’da), Stephen Perring (The Kro’ka), Rassilon (Don Warrington), Anneke Wills (Louisa Pollard), Stephen Mansfield (Simon Murchford) & Jane Goddard (Mother of Jembere-Bud).
Writer: Alan Barnes & Gary Russell
Director: Gary Russell
Producer: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell
Composer: Andy Hardwick and Russell Stone
Release Date: December 2004
Monthly Range Release Number: 64
Behind the Scenes
- This is the final story released which featured Paul McGann as the incumbent Doctor. By the time of the next Eighth Doctor story, Terror Firma, both the Ninth and Tenth Doctors had debuted on television.
- This story concluded the Divergent Universe arc.
- Daphne Ashbrook played Grace Holloway in The TV Movie. Ashbrook also appeared in The Screaming Skull. The character of Grace is prohibited from appearing in Big Finish productions to due to Fox Studios’ involvement in the TV Movie.
- Paul Darrow had previously appeared in Doctor Who and the Silurians, playing Captain Hawkins, and Tekker in Timelash.
- Jane Hills reprises her role of L’da here. She played Broadcast Lodge Receptionist/Nurse 2 in The Natural History of Fear and Nurse in The Last.
- Stephen Perring had previously appeared in The Eye of the Scorpion, Seasons of Fear and Zagreus.
- Don Warrington played the President in Rose of the Cybermen.
- Anneke Wills played Polly Wright, companion to the First and Second Doctors. She played the role of Lady Louisa Pollard in Zagreus and Memory Lane.
- Stephen Mansfield has also appeared in The Axis of Insanity, Weapon of Choice and The Veiled Leopard.
- Jane Goddard also appeared in Dust Breeding, Bloodtide and Jubilee, along with other Big Finish plays.
You’ve got villain stamped right through you like a stick of Blackpool Rock.
Better a honest villain than a counterfeit hero.Charley Pollard and Rassilon
Previous Eighth Doctor review: Caerdroia
The Next Life is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.
The Divergent Universe Arc