After 10 years (or whatever), it's time for Charley Pollard to leave the Big Finish range. The premier eighth Doctor companion (and possibly best companion of all, depending on who you talk to), with The Condemned she became the premier audio sixth Doctor companion as well.
So, there was obviously some anticipation as to how the final stories of the Charley/Sixth Doctor arc would play out and how she'd be written out of the series again. With the Sixth Doctor not knowing she would travel with him in the future, what would the cunning denouement be, we all wondered? Would she go without the issue being addressed? Would there be some clever bit of temporal mechanics? Would there be soul-baring and a frantic attempt to save the day?
We were all agog, since the Sixth Doctor/Charley pairing was actually very good. Ah, Charley: how we'll miss you, you were more or less the one thing that kept me listening to these, although given the groundswell of support for these reviews – thanks guys – I won't be quitting after this one and will be sticking with the main Whο range at Big Finish for the foreseeable future at least.
But after Patient Zero by Nick Briggs proved to be such a dud, hopes weren't high that there would be a great conclusion to the arc, particularly when Paper Cuts proved essentially to be Charley-free. Twats.
Now we're here, and Charley's off. How did they write her out, I hear you ask?
Bollocks. The exact same way they did in The Girl Who Never Was except not as well. Spoilers ahoy.
'So, this is the blue planet you’ve forgotten about. But take another look. You helped us once. I know you can help us again.'
On Earth, civilization has ended and time is running out for the Doctor and Charlotte Pollard.
Will the mysterious Viyrans really help?
'Without you, the human race will die out. And Planet Earth will surely be our tomb.'
Is it any good?
Compared to Patient Zero, it's a masterwork. The script's a whole lot simpler and less convoluted (in a good way), there's a great cast. But it's still an overly long botch job.
The Doctor and 'Charley' land on an unidentified blue planet. Either by reading the plot synopsis or by following the very obvious queues in the script, you'll work out in about three seconds that the Doctor and co are on Earth.
All that's left on the Earth are some mental humans who like attacking things, and a film crew. The crew are working on behalf of those nobs, the Viyrans (played again by Michael Maloney, one of the highpoints of the play), ostensibly to document who's left, following a plague outbreak that the Viyrans tried their best to help cure.
As is tradition, the Doctor and 'Charley' get separated, except up in orbit are the Viyrans, who have cured the real Charley of her virus and have been putting her to work on secret missions for a few millennia while they've been hunting down viruses – and looking for the Doctor. Eventually, the two Charleys meet and …
I won't say more than that. Anyway, there's a lot of running around, very few surprises, and a load of mumbo jumbo timey-wimey stuff to save the day.
It's fair to say that the plot's not great, merely average. Everything's a bit obvious. It's very 'traditional' in its structuring and attitudes, which you may – or may not – like, but we're more in Underworld territory here than The Tomb of the Cybermen. The characters are pretty lifeless and underwritten, without any real depth. And the Doctor saves the day by doing whatever he feels like, which kind of messes up the entire Neverland, Zagreus, web of time stuff. Oops.
But it's not utterly offensive in the way of Patient Zero. It'll occupy you if you've had plenty of coffee, and the Viyrans are at least more than just the traditional evil-doers of some stories. The music's a bit rubbish, though.
It's instructive to compare and contrast The Girl Who Never Was and Blue Forgotten Planet since they basically give Charley the same conclusion. Now, on the CD extras Nick Briggs says that you shouldn't go for the smart, clever, intellectual idea, you should simply know your characters and write from that knowledge.
Which is nice, if you actually know your characters. But Briggs clearly doesn't. While he does know the history of the character – there is even, finally, a re-acknowledgement that the Eighth Doctor loved Charley, after the revelation was swept under the carpet for the Divergent Universe – he doesn't know the character herself. She might as well be future Ace from the New Adventures. Hints of the 'Edwardian Adventuress' of old are non-existent – no journal-writing for her this time, and her joie de vivre has all but disappeared in favour of mere fruity vowels.
The Girl Who Never Was felt like a tragic but appropriate send-off for the character, with Charley marooned on a planet in the far future, believing that her beloved Doctor was dead, the Doctor thinking she's left of her own volition so not looking for her. Blue Forgotten Planet was just a retread of this, only with a little more self-sacrifice from Charley. That final moment when Charley eventually tells the Doctor everything? Completely ruined, with no emotional import whatsoever, screwed up by plot mechanics. "No emotions here, we're British/aimed at the emotionally stunted" might as well be the motto of the play.
In balance then, the disappointing ending to the Sixth Doctor/Charley pairing we were all expecting, even if we were hoping for more thanks to The Girl Who Never Was. At Amazon prices, you can probably justify buying this to yourself, but Big Finish prices aren't worth it.
I should probably mention the utterly unabsorbing latest installment in the Three Companions here. Thomas Brewster pops up to book end things, but it's still focused on Polly and the Brig trying to work out what's happening with their two linked stories. It was, however, so boring that I can barely recall what actually happened. Rest assured, you won't need to buy this CD to be able to follow the The Three Companions.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Michael Maloney (Viyrans/Alien)
JJ Feild (David McCallister)
Andree Bernard (Ellen Green)
Alec Newman (Ed Driscoll)
Sam Clemens (Sergeant James Atherton)
Alex Mallinson (Soldier Clive)
Jess Robinson (Mila)
Writer: Nicholas Briggs
Director: Nicholas Briggs
- December 16, 2009: Review: Doctor Who - 127 - Castle of Fear
A review of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio play Castle of Fear, starring Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and John Sessions