The Late Charley era continues with the next set of audios that seem more of a deviation from the Divergent Universe in terms of setting, but are still somewhat reminiscent of the audios of the previous era in terms of tone. Although one could argue that the overall tone of the audios is dictated by the presence of C’rizz, as he was a native of the Divergent Universe, it is unfortunate that because almost every audio featuring the character is a bizarre dreamscape-like world that leaves the listener constantly second-guessing everything, we never get the opportunity to fully get to know the character in a regular setting before he departs.
#83 – Something Inside
From the get-go Something Inside seems completely derivative, featuring the fractured-narrative presentation that has become a regular trope in this series of audios at this point as well as the time-honoured tradition of having the Eighth Doctor suffer from memory loss. As with all Big Finish audios, the sound design is excellent, but unfortunately there is little substance to back up the great sound effects, voice acting and musical score. The plot follows a base-under-siege format that is common enough for Doctor Who but at this point there is expected to be a spin on the concept, yet here there is a particularly bland aspect to the delivery that makes this audio somewhat forgettable.
As a general rule the post-Divergent Universe audios do tend to blend into one, and Something Inside only adds to the fatigue of a sequence of particularly bizarre and dreamscape-like audios that really should have just been included in the Divergent Universe arc. At this point it probably sounds like a stuck record as these reviews keep swinging back to the old ‘Divergent Universe’ point, but at this point it’s important to emphasise that the decision to prematurely end the Divergent Universe arc and hastily rewrite the remaining audios to accommodate this fact was a decision that seems very questionable in hindsight. The reasoning that newer listeners would feel alienated by the Divergent Universe arc seems somewhat flimsy, considering the fact that Big Finish had three other ranges running with the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors at the same time, and that their entire back-catalogue was still available online.
If you’re a fan of stories that use the base-under-siege format, then it is recommended that you listen to this one in isolation – there is nothing wrong with the story when taken as a single entity, it just isn’t particularly stunning – what really brings this audio down is that it sits at the end of a long line of generic non-linear stories. Clearly the audios in the post-Divergent Universe run of stories are meant for a very particular kind of fan, and nothing showcases this more than Something Inside. The best thing about the audio is its frightening horror-elements, which it communicates fairly well, but it is definitely not the best or scariest story in the Eighth Doctor’s audio selection.
#88 – Memory Lane
A bizarre audio that delves into the nature of memory and childhood, this one benefits from a small cast, a concise story and a beautiful soundtrack – in fact, the soundtrack to this one is reminiscent of the ambient music from the Kashyyyk level on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The premise is simple – the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz arrive in an area that is seemingly constructed around the memories of a single person, a man who has regressed to a child-like state and spends his time building Lego spaceships whilst a seemingly benevolent yet inhuman construct resembling his long-dead grandmother continuously supplies him with fish fingers, chips, peas and other refreshments, whilst the street a hundreds of identical houses outside is patrolled by a deranged ice-cream man wearing an astronaut suit.
Of all the dreamscape-like audios in the post-Divergent Universe arc, this is the most memorable. Memory Lane stands out as a breath of fresh air – there’s some funny moments that lighten the mood, the imagery is stark and impactful, and there is perhaps the best use of C’rizz in his era. Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas are exceptional as always, and this audio delivers a lot of great scenes that illustrate how close the trio have become during their travels together. Another thing worth mentioning is how interesting the villains of this story are, there is an element of mystery surrounding their intentions – as the events unfold, it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.
We also get to learn more about Charley, who has received little in the way of character development since her and the Doctor confessed their feelings for each other in Scherzo. As she is slowly drawn into the bizarre dreamland that surrounds them, the Doctor learns more about her childhood as false representations of her mother, as well as a version of Charley as a child, give us an insight into her upbringing. We also get a brief insight into the Doctor’s ‘perfect moment’, the ideal that he strives for, and we discover that it is the moment after defeating a menacing foe when his companions are safely back in the TARDIS. A small detail perhaps, but a heart-warming notion nonetheless.
#101 – Absolution
This audio kicks off to a great start with some bizarre imagery and horrific concepts, as the TARDIS is wrenched apart in a forbidden sector of space that the Doctor theorises is the Hell that so many species across the Galaxy believe in. The sound design is exceptional, with a nightmarish score that emphasises the horrendous nature of the setting. The heart of the TARDIS scene is truly horrifying, with the central column filling with blood easily being one of the most disturbing and visceral images in the series so far. As usual Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas are excellent, and they are given some great scenes as this audio deals with some interesting concepts.
Unfortunately, there are some pacing issues with this one, and there are stretches that are quite boring, with the hellish setting becoming dull and repetitive after a while. Naturally, the most notable thing about this audio is that it is the final story for C’rizz, and his departure is perhaps one of the most decisive in Doctor Who history, as his fate has been foreshadowed from as far back as Terror Firma. We finally learn what the various pieces of the puzzle mean and how they fit together, with a few last-minute pieces being conjured up to fill in the gaps.
C’rizz’s departure scene is particularly heartfelt, and although the sequence has been criticised in the past, there are some genuine moments and India Fisher in particular is exceptional. In the end, C’rizz’s fate was predetermined, and although some have said that the Doctor’s reaction is out of character, the idea of the Doctor being emotionally detached has been explored a lot in New Who, and Charley’s reaction to this is understandable – in many ways the scene between the Doctor and Charley is similar to the Doctor and Clara in Kill the Moon, the only redeemable thing about that atrocious episode.
#103 – The Girl Who Never Was
Still reeling from the loss of C’rizz in the previous audio, Charley decides to leave the TARDIS. The writers handled the Eighth Doctor’s first companion departure story well, and we see a hint of the New Series angle of throwing a crisis at the Doctor that forces his companion to separate from him. The Cyberman on the cover spoils that they appear here, though it is clear before they even show up that the Doctor and Charley’s relationship has been irreparably damaged. Ironically, Charley would later go on to travel with the Sixth Doctor in a later series of audios, which will probably be reviewed here once the Eighth Doctor audios are finished. Charley gets some great character development in this story, and we get a sense of how she could hold her own as the main character in her own spinoff, which she would eventually get in the Charlotte Pollard: Edwardian Adventuress spinoff series. As a conclusion to the Charley Era as a whole, The Girl Who Never Was is a great send-off for the Eighth Doctor and Charley as a pair and their departure scene is truly heart-breaking. Charley is probably the closest that Big Finish got to creating a character like Clara from the New Series, in that she eventually gained the ability to adapt the Doctor’s mannerisms and character traits to the point that they are just as capable of problem-solving as the Doctor themselves – and Charley is easily one of the most independent and capable of the Doctor’s companions, from any medium, and there is no better showcase of this than The Girl Who Never Was.
As far as the Cybermen go in this story, they aren’t actually introduced until the third part – but their presence is still menacing, and the idea of a gang of rusty Cybermen with rotting brains skulking around a Ghost Ship is a horrifying concept, and this audio brings it to life with a fantastic story involving two separate Cyberman invasions taking place at two points in time. This is one of the instances in which the use of a fractured narrative is warranted, as we see both the Doctor and Charley reach the same conclusions as they repel their subsequent Cyberman invasions as they are separated, though there is a bizarre twist or two in here that make it a memorable story to say the least. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the sound design, as the Cyberman voices are exceptional in this story and it is clear that Nicholas Briggs has nailed a wide variety of different Cyber-voices, from the bizarre sing-song voice of the Mondasian Cybermen, to the robotic-sounding voices used here that are similar (but not identical) to the voices used for the Cybus Cybermen in the New Series.
Overall, The Girl Who Never Was is a great conclusion to the Charley Era. As companion send-offs go it is definitely one of the best, there are some great scenes with the Cybermen, and Charley gets some incredible character growth before her departure from the Eighth Doctor is concluded. Despite a run of lacklustre stories in the run-up to this one, The Girl Who Never Was feels like a return to form and it is a great conclusion to the first era of the Eighth Doctor. Following this audio, the Eighth Doctor received a few more audios in the Main Range, set before he met Charley, in which he briefly travels with Mary Shelley, and after that he received his own series in the Eighth Doctor Adventures starring Sheridan Smith as new companion Lucie Miller. Having listened to the entirety of Charley’s run with the Eighth Doctor, it is easy to pick out the best of the run. There were some great Dalek and Cyberman stories, some surprising reappearances of classic villains, and more than a few fantastic original audios. It is difficult saying goodbye to Charley, even after half a dozen listens of these stories, though her further travels with the Sixth Doctor are definitely worth a listen, and eventually we will get round to reviewing them. But before then, we must continue with the Eighth Doctor odyssey.