Neverland

Doctor, of all the countless billions of people in the whole of space and time; why did it have to be you?

Romana

Synopsis

The Web of Time is stretched to breaking. History is leaking like a sieve. In the Citadel of Gallifrey, the Time Lords fear the end of everything that is, everything that was…everything that will be.

The Doctor holds the Time Lords’ only hope – but exactly what lengths will the Celestial Intervention Agency go to in their efforts to retrieve something important from within his TARDIS? What has caused the Imperatrix Romanadvoratrelundar to declare war on all creation? And can an old nursery rhyme about a monster called Zagreus really be coming true?

The answers can only be found outside the bounds of the universe itself, in a place that history forgot. In the wastegrounds of eternity. In the Neverland.

Review

When I reviewed Ghost Light last week, I wrote about how that story had great ideas but felt as though it didn’t have enough time to realise them fully. Neverland is a story that has the best of both worlds – it has some fantastic ideas at its heart and has the running time to explore them to a satisfactory conclusion. This story brings to a head the issues that have been pursuing the Eighth Doctor and Charley in this series of Big Finish audio adventures following the Doctor changing history by saving her from the crash of the R-101 and its cliffhanger leads directly into Zagreus, the Big Finish audio play marking the show’s fortieth anniversary.

There are a lot of good story elements here – we have the threat of an Anti-Time universe taking over ‘our’ universe as Charley’s continued existence allows this universe to start bleeding through into the main universe. Obviously, this has alerted the Time Lords who are keen to rectify the damage to history, whilst also keen to eradicate the threat to their supremacy. Add to this central element the fact that the villains have been created by the Celestial Intervention Agency, the possible survival of Time Lord founder Rassilon and the culmination of the threat of Zagreus that has dogged the Eighth Doctor’s time on audio and it needs the extended run time. The writer Alan Barnes subsequently admitted that he thinks that this story is too long, but I struggle to see a scene that I would cut. There are some lovely and tragic ideas here, like the Neverpeople being those who have never had a chance of life, having been victims of the Oubliette of Eternity, erasing their timelines, and the fact that one of Vansell’s predecessors as head of the C.I.A., Sentris, sentenced himself to the same fate once he realised that it was still being used. This helps reinforce that things on Gallifrey aren’t always as rosy as the Doctor would like to portray, even before events such as the Time War that the revived series would bring into continuity at a later date. The Neverpeople’s plan to get their revenge on Gallifrey is quite good too. They spread rumours that Rassilon entered their universe to destroy the “Realm of Zagreus”, ensnaring Time Lords like Vansell, then trick them into taking a cabinet of Anti-Time back to Gallifrey in order to destroy history and create utter chaos. I also really liked the resolution of Charley’s paradox – because the Web of Time was saved by her existence, it cannot be imperiled by her survival – which is quite simple but really good.

The sound design in this story is fantastic throughout. The story begins with the Matrix reciting historical events, breaking down as a result of the paradox Charley surviving the crash of the R-101 set up the story really effectively. We also have some great distortion on the voices of the Neverpeople, especially on Sentris, distorting India Fisher’s voice to an eerie extent. This works well on Paul McGann and Anthony Keetch’s voices when they are infected with the Anti-Time during the course of the story, creating a great and creepy distinction between their usual and infected selves. There are some other more minor moments of great sound engineering, such as when Charley hits the fast return switch at the beginning of the story or when the Doctor, Romana and Vansell travel through to the Anti-Time reality.

I am not the Doctor! I have become he who sits inside your head, he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping. I am…Zagreus!

The Eighth Doctor/Zagreus

Lalla Ward returns here as Romana and she has got great chemistry with Paul McGann, to the point where it is utterly believable that McGann and Tom Baker are the same person, just with a different face. It probably helps that the Eighth and Fourth Doctors are quite similar in many respects, but they are wonderful in the scenes that they share together. Ward also manages to sell the harsher Imperatrix Romana really well and it is believable when the Doctor sees her in the alternative time line as someone whose top priority is to ensure Time Lord superiority over all races. When we come back to the ‘main timeline’ version of Romana, the audience can appreciate why power hungry figures such as Vansell may be frustrated with her to the point of treachery. Vansell is also played well by Anthony Keetch, fulfilling the turncoat role here, and Don Warrington completes a strong guest cast as Rassilon, bringing gravitas to his brief scenes in the story. I wish we had more of Warrington, but I know he plays a big part in the next story so that’s something to look forward to.

This story is Charley-centric as it resolves the ongoing storyline about her survival of the crash of the R-101, and India Fisher is on top form here. Whether she is letting the Doctor know that she is okay with him killing her to prevent the Neverpeople achieving their plans, or berating the Doctor for not telling the truth about why the Time Lords are so interested in them. There is certainly a maturity about this relationship now and I really think the two have great chemistry together. There is something disarmingly charming and childlike about the Doctor wanting to drop Charley off at an eternal party whilst he goes and sorts everything out with the Time Lords, and McGann is good here too, with him flipping between this childlike innocence and paternal protective figure of Charley. The Doctor tells Charley he loves her, taking this romantic version of the character to new levels, a couple of years before the revived show would explore this on television. This is probably the strongest outing for this TARDIS pairing and a great end to their second season together.

It’s alright, Doctor, I’m not afraid. It’s like I said on the TARDIS, my time is up. There is no alternative. Oh Doctor, you rescued me from the R-101. You gave me these last few wonderful months. The things that I’ve seen, the places I’ve been. I’ve lived more than I could ever have dreamed of and all thanks to you. And you’re the sweetest, the kindest, most wonderful man I’ve ever met and I’m sorry it’s come to this and I’m sorry that it has to end like this but if the Web of Time is destroyed all the time I’ve had, everywhere I’ve been, all those fabulous, fantastic things we’ve done they won’t ever have happened at all. I know it’s an awful, terrible thing but I want you to do it.

Charley Pollard

Verdict: A really great story, Neverland does some wonderful things and interesting things, and has great performances from the main and guest cast. 10/10

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Lalla Ward (Romana), Don Warrington (Rassilon), Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell), Peter Trapani (Kurst), Holly King (Levith), Lee Moone (Undercardinal), Mark McDonnell (Rorvan), Nicola Boyce (Taris), Jonathan Rigby, Dot Smith and Ian Hallard (Matrix Voices) and Alistair Lock (Dalek Emperor).

Writer: Alan Barnes

Director: Gary Russell

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • The conclusion of this story leads directly into Zagreus, however, there was a gap of 1 year and 5 months between the release of this story (July 2002) and Zagreus (November 2003).
  • Despite being billed as a traditional four part story, Neverland was released as two parts of 72 minutes each.

Cast Notes

  • Anthony Keetch reprises his role as Vansell from The Sirens of Time and The Apocalypse Element. He has appeared in different roles in various other stories, including The Fires of Vulcan and The Black Hole.
  • Peter Trapani also appears in The Shadow of the Scourge.
  • Holly King previously appeared in The Shadow of the Scourge, and would go on to appear in Kingdom of Silver and Last of the Titans.
  • Lee Moone, Mark McDonnell and Nicola Boyce had previously appeared in the two Eighth Doctor audio adventures directly preceding this one, Embrace the Darkness and The Time of the Daleks.
  • Jonathan Rigby previously appeared in Phantasmagoria and Invaders From Mars.
  • Dot Smith appeared in The Time of the Daleks and also Dalek Empire.
  • Ian Hallard went on to appear in Robot of Sherwood and An Adventure in Space and Time.
  • Alistair Lock provided music and sound design as well as appearing in numerous other Big Finish plays including Invaders from Mars, Minuet in Hell and Dust Breeding.

Best Quote

Happy Birthday Charley! Only it isn’t my birthday, is it? It isn’t my birthday because I’m not supposed to have any more birthdays. No more cake, no more candles, no more presents, not now, not ever, no more birthdays since I died! That’s right, isn’t it Doctor? No more birthdays because I’m supposed to be dead. Dead and burned in the wreck of an airship. Born on the day the Titanic sank, died in the R-101. Poor tragic little Charlotte Pollard, her life snuffed out before it had even begun.

Charley Pollard

Previous Eighth Doctor story: The Time of the Daleks

Neverland is able to stream on Spotify, or to purchase from the Big Finish website.

Other Stories Mentioned:

Ghost Light

Ghost Light

Is this an asylum with the patients in charge?

Ace

Synopsis

The Doctor brings Ace to Gabriel Chase, a house in her hometown of Perivale which Ace attempted to burn down in her past. This is not the reason why the Doctor has come here though: a mysterious and highly mentally unstable being lurks below the house.

Review

Ghost Light has a reputation for being quite hard to follow. It is probably some of the most mature and advanced science fiction Doctor Who has ever attempted. This was my first time watching it and I think I broadly understood it, although it is probably in a minority of stories that would really benefit from having a fourth part to the story, as there is not a scene or a line wasted, making it very difficult to make notes on! This is a story with Ace at its core and certainly paves the way for the companion development in the revived era.

It’s true, isn’t it? This is the house I told you about.

You were thirteen. You climbed over the wall for a dare.

That’s your surprise, isn’t it? Bringing me back here.

Remind me what it was that you sensed when you entered this deserted house? An aura of intense evil?

Don’t you have things you hate?

I can’t stand burnt toast. I loath bus stations. Terrible places. Full of lost luggage and lost souls.

I told you I never wanted to come here again.

And then there’s unrequited love. And tyranny. And cruelty.

Too right.

We all have a universe of our own terrors to face.

I face mine on my own terms.

Ace and the Seventh Doctor

This story depicts an interesting take on the Doctor and companion dynamic here, something which has only been seen fleetingly in the relationship between Tom Baker and Leela. The Doctor certainly has had an impact on his companions’ through the course of their travels across each and every incarnation, however, before this point there was very little manipulation of the companion to the extent we see here. As a result, the Doctor comes across as quite scheming, whilst he is trying to ensure that Ace develops to face the fear of her own past, something that would certainly become an element of the remaining two stories of the original show’s run. It certainly makes the Doctor unlikeable when Ace realises that not only has the Doctor brought her to a haunted house, but the very haunted house that clearly had a profound effect on the young Ace. Whilst the Doctor’s behaviour here is morally ambiguous in bringing his young companion face to face with her fears, it does allow both him and the audience to understand her a bit more. Ace clearly had a traumatic time when she visited the house in her original years, evidenced by her horror at being back there, the flashing blue lights and her referring to the Doctor at one point as being her ‘probation officer’.

Who was it who said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner?

The Seventh Doctor

The story has a central theme of evolution. Light, the controller of the alien spacecraft, decides to destroy the Earth after realising that life has progressed on the planet since he originally catalogued it previously, at which time he picked up Nimrod, a Neanderthal who acts as a butler to the mutinous Josiah Samuel Smith. Josiah eventually evolves to the superior living being at the time – Victorian Man – and his ultimate plan to assassinate Queen Victoria. The visiting Reverend Ernest Matthews is a fine example of the members of the Church who stood up against Darwin after the publication of On the Origin of Species and looks the part too, with his mutton-chops evoking the cartoons of the key players of this period of history. Control evolves through the story into a more sophisticated lady of society, which eventually leads to the downfall of Josiah’s plan to commit regicide. Ace ‘evolves’ through the story, as she is seen to elevate herself to make herself acceptable to Victorian norms and values but she also manages to learn from her fear and she is certainly a different character from the one we see at the beginning of this story. The idea of evolution being reversed is also played around with too, especially when it comes to the fates of Matthews, trapped forever in a state between ape and man, and the kindly but ineffectual Inspector Mackenzie, who is reverted to primordial soup. These are quite big ideas being played around with for a show that is so easily dismissed as being a kids’ show.

This story is really well written by Marc Platt and is tightly plotted, although it possibly is a little bit confusing and could benefit from having the additional time and space a fourth part would have afforded it. It is to Platt and script editor Andrew Cartmel’s immense credit that this story makes any sense at all in it’s reduced form and I look forward to potentially understanding it more on future rewatches. An additional 25 minutes would perhaps have allowed some of the subplots, like Control evolving, the story around Mrs Pritchard and Gwendoline , and Josiah’s plot to use Fenn-Cooper to assassinate Queen Victoria some more time to breathe. This is quite a mature story for Doctor Who to tackle with quite a high concept villain and the husks included to provide a more traditional foe, something that John Nathan-Turner insisted on. It’s not surprising that Platt has been asked back to work on the Virgin New Adventures and subsequently Big Finish given that he clearly understands how to write for the show. Here, he takes the haunted house concept and introduces an alien spaceship under the house, which has returned to catalogue all life on the Earth after an original expedition to do so some time previously. This is quite a bleak story with some inventive deaths for the characters, such as those mentioned above for the Inspector and the Reverend, as well as the fates of Gwendoline and Mrs Pritchard after they are finally reunited as mother and daughter and the maid who Light pulls apart to understand how humanity has evolved.

The guest cast here are really strong, and I feel that the regulars feel forced to join them. This is a strong and emotional episode for Aldred and she does a decent job – unlike in Battlefield, there were no moments where Ace acts out like a petulant child, which made a welcome change. John Nettleton is an actor for whom I have a tremendous fondness due to his recurring role in Yes, Minster and Yes, Prime Minister and I was overjoyed to see him here as the Reverend. John Hallam is great in his role as Light, seeming almost ethereal and dithering, but utterly ruthless, making the most of relatively little screen time. All the cast here are well served, despite a feeling that the story is bursting at the seams at times.

Verdict: I’m sure that my appreciation of Ghost Light will only increase with future visits, but I really enjoyed this story that doesn’t feed its audience all the answers. 10/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Ian Hogg (Josiah), Sylvia Syms (Mrs. Pritchard), Michael Cochrane (Redvers Fenn-Cooper), Sharon Duce (Control), Katharine Schlesinger (Gwendoline), John Nettleton (Reverend Ernest Matthews), Carl Forgione (Nimrod), Brenda Kempner (Mrs Grose), Frank Windsor (Inspector Mackenzie) & John Hallam (Light)

Writer: Marc Platt

Director: Alan Wareing

Parts: 3

Behind the Scenes

  • Working titles included The Bestiary and Life-Circle.
  • Ghost Light was the last serial of the original run to be produced, although The Curse of Fenric and Survival came after it in transmission order. It is therefore, the final story to include any significant footage filmed at BBC Television Centre.
  • Marc Platt is one of two writers in the show’s history to have a script accepted with no professional writing experience. The other is Andrew Smith, who wrote Full Circle.
  • Sylvester McCoy named this as his favourite serial and Andrew Cartmel refers to it as the “jewel in the crown”.
  • The story evolved out of a rejected script called Lungbarrow, which John Nathan-Turner rejected due to it revealing too much about the Doctor’s past. Marc Platt would go on to reuse the rejected ideas for the Virgin New Adventures novel of the same name.
  • John Nathan-Turner was concerned about the lack of a traditional monster, so Platt devised the husks, prior evolutionary forms of Josiah. THe initial idea was to have an army of these, which was cut down to firstly three, then ultimately two for budgetary reasons.

Cast Notes

  • Ian Hogg went on to appear in The Sandman and Protect and Survive.
  • Michael Cochrane had previously appeared in Black Orchid and would go on to appear in Big Finish productions, including No Man’s Land, Brotherhood of the Daleks, Trail of the White Worm/The Oseidon Adventure and The Fate of Krelos/Return to Telos.
  • Carl Forgione previously appeared in Planet of the Spiders.
  • Frank Windsor had previously appeared in The King’s Demons. He was cast in this story as he was well known TV Detective, having played John Watt on Z-Cars.

Best Moment

When Ace realises that the house is Gabriel Chase, the house that she burnt down as a child and that the Doctor has been lying to her.

Best Quote

Sir, I think Mr Matthews is confused.

Never mind. I’ll have him completely bewildered by the time I’m finished with him.

Gwendoline and the Seventh Doctor

Previous Seventh Doctor Story: Battlefield

Mission to Magnus

The despised creature who owns every last woolly jumper on the planet.

Sil

Synopsis

The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There’s the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor’s life hell during his time at the Academy. There’s also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors. Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor’s. And the future is looking decidedly colder…

Preamble

It would be remiss of me, I feel, not to mention the fact that the writer of this story, Philip Martin, sadly passed away on 13 December 2020. Martin wrote two televised stories for Doctor Who, Vengeance on Varos and Parts 5 – 8 of Trial of a Time Lord, also known as Mindwarp. He also wrote The Creed of the Kromon and Antidote to Oblivion for Big Finish Productions and created the character Sil, who also had a spin-off in the Reeltime Film Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, released in 2019. Vengeance on Varos is a high point of Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor during his television run, and whilst I haven’t seen Mindwarp, I know that some hold it in high regard.

Outside of Doctor Who, Martin created the tv series Gangsters, as well as writing for Z-Cars, Tandoori Nights and Star Cops.

He sadly lost his battle with leukemia and will be much missed.

Review

Mission to Magnus is a story that has a pretty poor reputation amongst fans, which is a massive shame considering this writer’s other work, largely due to the misogyny and general sexism in this story. There are some interesting ideas at play here, but unfortunately it feels as though everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at this story which allows none of these ideas to really develop. The sound design and music feel authentically as though they could have from the 1980s, though, and there are some good performances.

There are so many ideas at play here: we have two rival planets, Magnus and Salvak, each ruled by women and men respectively, climate change, two faces from the Doctor’s past and the Ice Warriors. I feel like I say this a lot with Doctor Who, especially in the original run and I suppose it applies to these Lost Stories too, but whilst some of the central ideas are sound, it falls down when it comes to execution. The central idea of the two warring planets inhabited only by one gender is not bad, but it is characterised so poorly and generally paper thin – men are presented as war-like, whilst women are presented as rather gentler. It feels as though this is a bit of an afterthought, and ultimately the plot of this story sees one planet wanting to obtain time travel technology to prevent a rival planet penetrating their defences is a good enough driving force for a story without the added battle of the sexes element we have here. The ending also feels really awkward, with men from the planet of Salvak deciding that they will unite with the women, who have no concept of marriage.

We then have the character of Anzor, a fellow Time Lord and classmate of the Doctor’s from his days at the Prydonian Academy. Unlike some notable contemporaries of the Doctor, Anzor seems to be completely incompetent and a bit of a borish oaf, who obviously made the Doctor’s school days hell. I feel that Malcolm Rennie does a decent enough job here, and the idea of the Doctor facing off with a bully from his past feels as though it is ultimately abandoned towards the end of the first part, with a coda at the end of the story seeing him off. It is interesting to see a Time Lord like this, as whilst we have seen various different Time Lords, they tend to be knowledgeable and the Doctor’s equal, whilst Anzor is, at his heart a coward.

Then when we get to the Ice Warriors, who ultimately flip the axis of the planet to change the climate of the warm Magnus. In association with Sil, who is looking to make a killing selling warm clothing and equipment, they are looking to make it a more hospitable environment for themselves. Again, this is an interesting idea that could have profited from more time, especially as we don’t have very many stories with the Ice Warriors, and even fewer with them acting as the primary antagonist. The whole climate change subplot seems to fall by the side through the first part, so when they come back to revisit it in Part 2 and it becoming a central plot element means that it doesn’t really work as well as the story seems to think it does.

There are some good performances here, though. Nabil Shaban is superb as Sil and he feels just as slimy and unpleasant as he was in the show, thanks to some great vocal ticks and production. Sil flips between the Magnusians and the Ice Warriors with ease and has some great lines, especially when he is concerned about his survival once the Ice Warriors reveal themselves. Sil’s laugh is just as creepy on audio as it is in Vengeance on Varos. Colin Baker is good as the Sixth Doctor and it is great to see him encounter a figure from his past that brings up such feelings of fear that he has to hide behind the console and in turn, stand up to his school bully at the end of the story. Nicola Bryant doesn’t have a lot to do here as Peri, and probably suffers from being partnered with the child Vion, whose actor William Anderson gives a very one dimensional performance. His performance does not vary, which is really frustrating when he is in peril, such as when Vion and the Doctor are being chased by the Ice Warriors or Peri is being carried off – which feels all the more glaring when he’s acting opposite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Verdict: Some interesting ideas are let down by some sexist characterisation, poor acting by some actors and too many ideas. I have high hopes for the next Lost Story! 2/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Nabil Shaban (Sil), Malcolm Rennie (Anzor), Maggie Steed (Madame Rana Zandusia), Susan Franklyn (Jarmaya/Tace), Tina Jones (Ulema/Soma), William Townsend (Vion), Callum Witney Mills (Asam), Nicholas Briggs (Brorg/Vedikael/Grand Marshall/Ishka) & James George (Skaarg/Jarga/Hussa).

Writer: Philip Martin

Director: Lisa Bowerman

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was adapted from a Target novelisation of a story intended for the original Season 23. If it had been produced, it would have been the first appearance of the Ice Warriors since The Monster of Peladon in 1974.

Cast Notes

  • Susan Franklyn also appeared in the Companion Chronicle The Library of Alexandria.
  • James George has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays, including The Condemned and The Guardians of Prophecy with Colin Baker.

Best Quote

Doctor? You have thwarted our plans before, have you not?

Once or twice. I’d rather like to do it again!

Grand Marshall and the Sixth Doctor

Previous Sixth Doctor Story: The Ultimate Evil

Revolution of the Daleks

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Revolution of the Daleks. If you have not seen it yet, come back after watching it.

Being with the Doctor, you don’t get to choose when it stops, whether you leave her or…she leaves you.

Captain Jack Harkness

Synopsis

The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Graham, Ryan and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?

Review

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been 10 months since we last saw the Doctor and her three companions. At times, I struggled to remember having a series of Doctor Who in 2020. It feels good to have her and the “fam” back, even if it is only for a special.

Why were you in prison in the first place?

Evading the Judoon. Twice at once. Then once I was in, they took 7,000 other offences into consideration.

They stopped at seven?

Captain Jack Harkness and the Thirteenth Doctor

The story pays homage to some other Dalek stories but ultimately feels as though it puts some flesh on the bones of some of the ideas that came up in Resolution, their last appearance on New Year’s Day 2019. It starts off fairly slowly, getting players into the places they need to be, but builds up to a frenetic confrontation and a nice call back at the end. Whilst inspiration seems to have come from earlier stories, most specifically Victory of the Daleks, there were differences which made this story more enjoyable for me. I liked the fact that it was human interference and curiosity that led to the rise of the Daleks here, rather than it being a wider Dalek plot. As soon as it was mentioned that the new ‘defence drones’ were going to be unveiled by the new Prime Minister, Jo Patterson, before beta testing was completed, alarm bells started ringing that something was going to go wrong. One thing that was slightly mishandled was the escape, as it felt all too easy for Jack and the Doctor to escape, making it feel as though the Doctor hasn’t been really working to escape. I was sceptical about the return of Chris Noth as Jack Robertson here, but I think he works well here as someone who cannot be trusted, although, again he comes away with his reputation seemingly repaired, with talks of a potential knighthood and second stab at the US Presidency, whilst his fellow human conspirators fall by the wayside.

Resolution showed that the Dalek mutant was almost as much of a threat as the travel machine, and this is an idea that this story picks up and runs with here. The scenes in the Robertson owned facility in Osaka, where the Dalek mutants are being grown, are some of the creepiest in the episode, and when Leo is being controlled by the Dalek mutant he is suitably creepy. Like he did in Resolution, Nick Briggs is possibly at his scariest when he is voicing the mutant possessing Leo. I quite liked the new design of the Daleks and the simple transition between blue and red to signify their transition from the AI to being Daleks. The story returns to that old thorny issue of Dalek purity, and whilst I was perhaps disappointed at how quickly the potential civil war was dealt with, it did perhaps reinforce what poor imitations Robertson’s Daleks were. The shot of the ‘pure’ Daleks encircling the TARDIS in the sky above the Earth is beautiful too, and whilst the eventual defeat is a bit underwhelming, the visuals of the TARDIS being destroyed by the forces of the void are equally stunning.

Thanks? Is that it?

Are you feeling insecure? Cos you seem to need a lot of praise.

Captain Jack Harkness and Yasmin Khan

It’s great to see John Barrowman back again, coming face to face with the Doctor for the first time in over a decade. As mentioned in my review of Fugitive of the Judoon, Barrowman brings a lot of charisma and screen presence and the role seems to come back to him really easily – not surprising, considering that he has been playing the role for Big Finish for the last couple of years. Jack here serves a similar role to Sarah Jane in School Reunion, gently reminding the audience that companions don’t stick around forever. It’s worth remembering that these three companions still don’t know the Doctor terribly well – they only learnt where the Doctor came from and that she can regenerate relatively recently – and so Jack does have an important role to play, especially for Yaz. Jack understands how it feels to be abandoned by the Doctor, for considerably more than ten months. Whilst his departure from this story feels overlooked, I think it is open for him to come back at some point – and it is nice to have a name drop for Gwen, Rose and appearances for various foes in the prison.

The relationship between the Doctor and her companions has changed, largely due to the fact that the Doctor was unable to get her TARDIS back to them in a timely fashion. It has enabled Ryan to think about what he wants to do with his future, and the discussion between the Doctor and Ryan is one of the high points of the episode, in part because again, he is the only one that she completely opens up to about events on Gallifrey. Whilst I haven’t been the biggest fan of Ryan during the show, his and Graham’s departure did make me quite emotional. Their arc felt as though it reached it’s logical conclusion at the end of their first season, and despite their departures being left quite open, I don’t think we’ll be seeing them again. Yaz seems to have taken the ten month gap hardest of the three, and keen to jump into danger when given the option once she was back. It’s no surprise that she wants to stick around, and personally, I’m interested to see what happens with her and the Doctor as we go into Series 13.

As for the Doctor herself, the events of Series 12 and her time in prison. Whittaker gives some hints of what might be to come and I liked the eventual defeat of the Daleks, which ties up the loose thread of the other TARDIS left on Earth. Her scheme to get rid of the Robertson Daleks by getting the bronze Daleks involved and her ultimate scheme to get rid of the death squad Daleks feels like a scheme out of Troughton or McCoy’s playbook. Her reaction to the departure of Graham and Ryan is fantastic, especially when she thinks about crossing her own timeline to visit her companions sooner. We know that there’s a new companion coming in the Doctor’s future, as well as a shortened series coming later this year, so there are certainly interesting times ahead.

Verdict: The return of the Daleks is a bit of a barnstormer, wrapping up some loose ends. It has a good departure for two of the Doctor’s companions, but has some issues with pacing towards the beginning and the Doctor’s escape from prison. 8/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Chris Noth (Jack Robertson), Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea (Armen), Helen Anderson (Rachel), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator 1), Nicholas Pegg (Dalek Operator 2), Emily Maitlis (Herself), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien) & Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks).

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Lee Haven Jones

Behind the Scenes

  • The story was mostly filmed with the rest of Series 12 in 2019, however, Chris Chibnall confirmed that one additional scene was filmed in 2020.

Best Moment

The moment that the Doctor and Jack land back in the TARDIS after escaping the prison.

Best Quote

No weapons. No time to think. All that time in that cell, wondering who I am. I’m the Doctor. I’m the one who stops the Daleks.

The Thirteenth Doctor

Previous Thirteenth Doctor story: The Timeless Children

Other Stories mentioned:

School Reunion

Victory of the Daleks

Resolution

Arachnids in the UK

Hexagora

Do you know what they reminded me of? Termite mounds on Earth. On a far greater scale, of course.

The Fifth Doctor

Synopsis

When a newspaper reporter goes missing, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa uncover a case of alien abduction. The trail leads to the planet Luparis, and a city that appears to be a replica of Tudor-era London.

What are the monsters that lurk in the shadows? And what is the terrible secret at the heart of Luparis? To save a world, the Doctor must try and defeat the evil plans of Queen Zafira.

And one of her plans is to marry him…

Review

Part of the problems with Big Finish and their Lost Stories is that, in returning to the television eras of the respective Doctors, they undo the good work they have done with characterisation of Doctors and companions which did not really happen in the classic run. Here, the TARDIS crew get involved due to the disappearance of the boyfriend of Tegan, who is very much in her under-developed state.

As this story is based on a brief outline by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair, it must have been challenging to adapt into a full story for Paul Finch. There are some interesting ideas in her, like the faux-Tudor appearance of the town on Luparis and how the majority of the cast are dressed, which is an interesting idea and also gives the listener a visual reference of what the planet and people look like. However, to a certain extent, it feels as though Finch has overcomplicated this story which leads to Parts 3 and 4 feeling like they are exposition dumps and this becomes rapidly wearing, especially as a lot of these scenes are between Astorius and the Fifth Doctor. The central plot, that the Hexagorans are possessing humans in order to ensure their survival of an impeding Ice Age, is a good one, but when it is extended out to a potential invasion of Gallifrey and the involvement of the Time Lords feels like throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Having the Doctor getting engaged by accident put me in mind of The Aztecs, where William Hartnell unwittingly does the same, but it feels as though the ending is a bit of a damp squib. The cliffhangers here aren’t very good either and none of them feel suitably impactful and fall flat once united with their resolutions. By the show’s very nature, cliffhangers are always going to have a handy ‘get out of jail free’ card, but here they don’t really feel very much like cliffhangers at all.

The story feels so brimming with ideas, but it seems to abandon its best one in favour of the Tegan-centric one. Nyssa here is given a potential great side-story, which ties into her origins as a noble from the planet Traken. Her noble standing is detected almost immediately after the TARDIS lands on Luparis and she is ear-marked by Lord Jezzavar as a potential Queen to overthrow Zafira, which is something that feels very in keeping for Tudor-era England. In keeping with the original run, of course, this plot line ends with a bit of a whimper when it gets to the Doctor’s wedding to Zafira and despite this sub-plot making it all the way to the fourth part, it does feel as though it is forgotten for a long period of the runtime. Instead, the focus is on Tegan, and her relationship with journalist Mike Bretherton, which is really unremarkable. This is partially due to the fact that Tegan is very much in her unlikeable and complaining mode from the television era and perhaps to Toby Hadoke’s weird Australian accent. Ultimately, I didn’t care about their relationship, which seems to be what the whole story seems to gear me towards and I think that Nyssa’s plot warranted more attention.

Despite this, there are highlights, namely the performances of both Peter Davison and Jacqueline Pearce. Davison manages to recapture the same energy in his voice from his original run, which makes it believable that this is happening in between televised adventures. Davison is a really good actor, but even he cannot save scenes of exposition that we see in the latter two parts, but he and Jacqueline Pearce really sparkle together. Pearce is probably the saving grace of this story, as she makes Queen Zafira feel both menacing and kindly. When the story relies on characters such as Jezzavar and Zellinger as the villains, who feel rather one-dimensional, Pearce takes that central role and plays it to perfection.

Verdict: I feel I say this a lot, but this story has an interesting central premise, but feels like it tries to do too much more. Peter Davison and Jacqueline Pearce do put in good performances. 3/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Jacqueline Pearce (Queen Zafira/Bev), Toby Hadoke (Mike Bretherton), Richard Mark (Lord Jezzavar), Dan Starkey (Lord Zellinger/Bill) & Sean Brosnan (Astorius).

Writer: Peter Ling & Hazel Adair, adapted by Paul Finch

Director: Ken Bentley

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story would have originally been intended to appear in Season 21, with the Fifth Doctor and Peri.
  • The story was originally to have been entitled Hex, however, this was changed due to the Big Finish companion, Hex.
  • After The Foe From The Future and The Valley of Death, this is the third story in the Lost Stories range to partially take place in 1977.

Cast Notes

  • Jacqueline Pearce appeared as Chessene in The Two Doctors. She also appeared opposite the War Doctor and the Eighth Doctor as Cardinal Ollistra.
  • Toby Hadoke is possibly best known amongst Doctor Who fans as the moderator on a number of Classic Series commentaries. He has also appeared in An Adventure in Space and Time, as well as numerous appearances in Big Finish audios.
  • Dan Starkey has played Sontarans in the revived series, most notably Strax. He has also appeared in a number of Big Finish audio plays and has also co-written Terror of the Sontarans with John Dorney and written Interlude.
  • Sean Brosnan marks his second appearance – he previously appeared in The Angel of Scutari and would go on to appear in Masquerade.

Best Quote

I’m surprised, Doctor. For a man of wisdom, I’d thought you’d recognise the benefits of being married to a queen.”

For a man of wisdom, I’d have thought you’d recognise the drawbacks.

Astorius and the Fifth Doctor

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