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.
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
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.
- 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.
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: