Ah Charley. How we’ll miss you. Well, assuming we’ve not been listening to any of your stories since the Divergent Universe disaster.
When Big Finish was starting up and figured it could invent a few new companions of its own, Charley was the only one of the new companions who could be described as good or popular (sorry Evelyn and Erimem fans). Enthusiastic, actually wanting to travel with the Doctor for a change and with a good chemistry with the eighth Doctor, she made even the cruddier stories tolerable. We also were treated to a precursor to the Rose/Doctor romance that was tastefully done and with a near-adult depth that the onscreen equivalent would be sorely lacking.
Then C’rizz turned up, the writers forgot how to write for Charley, the romance wasn’t so much nipped in the bud as snapped off at the root without any real explanation and the best companion of the Big Finish range quickly became a next generation Tegan or Adric.
As people have been surmising since Sheridan Smith landed the BBC7 companion gig, Charley’s days have been numbered for quite some time. Following the departure of C’rubbish in Absolution, we now have Charley’s swansong in The Girl Who Never Was. Written by her creator, Alan Barnes, it gives us more than a few reminders of why she was once so good as well as few bemusing moments that I will now coin a new adjective to describe: Bigfinishian.
Plot (hazily remembered from the Big Finish web site)
‘Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. Someone’s listening. Somewhere.’
A ghost ship. A girl with no memory, adrift in time. An old enemy. This could be Charlotte Pollard’s finest hour – or her last.
Set course for Singapore, 1931. Journey’s end.
Is it any good?
Normally, listening to the Big Finish plays is a bit of a chore at first. This is pretty much the first time in a long while where I was looking forward to the next part at the end of episode one.
While it starts off badly, forced as it is to crowbar Charley into the “I hate you Doctor and I want to leave right now” frame of mind that Absolution left her in for no adequately explored reason, we do have something that sounds and feels like a big budget, ambitious story for a change as the Doctor and Charley wind up in Singapore. And in among the bickering, we do get something of the old interplay between the two characters that has long been missed, even if Charley does seem to be a little more James Bondian than she used to be and a lot more forward than the average 1930s posh girl would have been – maybe she has a weakness for Australians?
Unfortunately, for much of the play, the two are separated (or are they?) with the amnesiac antiquated Miss Pollard, played by Anna Massey, partnering with the Doctor and the younger Charley stuck exploring the plot of The Philadelphia Experiment. The Cybermen pop up in what would be a nice surprise if it weren’t for the cover art giving the game away. But generally they confuse what would have been a relatively straightforward and enjoyable piece, turning the later episodes into something more Bigfinishian.
The ending is even more confusing, but also heartbreaking for reasons I won’t go into here. Charley’s eventual fate is cleverly explained by a piece of theme music, although Alan Barnes does avoid a more adult and dare I say it, RTDian conclusion that would have been more emotionally satisfying. What happens to her next is open-ended enough that she could come back if the public demanded it. Get writing now, Charley fans.
India Fisher does a good job in her final play, although she plays Charley older than she is in the stories and needs to work on her cybervoice if she’s ever going to come back. Paul McGann, armed with some decent dialogue, remembers how to act for the occasion, which is very nice of him. Anna Massey is suitably convincing as “Miss Pollard”, while the rest of the cast, which includes Chinese Detective David Yip, are clearly taking a big bag marked “money” and running for the nearest hills.
A bit messy, longer than it should have been and minus marks for silly time travel messing around and the over-use of Big Finish’s second most popular piece of continuity, the HADS. But miles better than Absolution and enjoyable for the most part.
It’s Sheridan Smith from now on. Remember that. Treasure your Charley memories.
How much should you have to pay for it?
Actual price: £14.99
Actual worth: £8.99 or you could barter a scale model of an invisible, time-travelling US destroyer
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Danny Webb (Byron)
Anna Massey (Miss Pollard)
Amanda Root (Madeleine Fairweather)
David Yip (Curly)
Robert Duncan (Borthwick)
Natalie Mendoza (Receptionist)
Tim Sutton (Colville)
Jake McGann (Young Man)
Nicholas Briggs (Soldier)
Writer: Alan Barnes
Director: Barnaby Edwards