THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO "THE
TIME OF THE DALEKS,"
AND DIRECTLY PRIOR
TO THE BIG FINISH
THE WEB OF TIME
BIG FINISH CD#33
RELEASED IN JUNE 2002.
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
THAT WILL BE.
THE DOCTOR HOLDS THE
TIME LORDS' ONLY HOPE
- BUT EXACTLY WHAT
LENGTHS WILL THE CIA
GO TO IN THEIR EFFORTS
TO RETRIEVE SOMETHING
IMPORTANT FROM INSIDE
WHAT HAS CAUSED
TO DECLARE WAR ON
THE REST OF CREATION?
AND CAN AN OLD
ABOUT A MONSTER
REALLY BE COMING
THE ANSWERS CAN BE
FOUND OUTSIDE THE
UNIVERSE ITSELF, IN A
PLACE THAT HISTORY
FORGOT; IN THE WASTE
GROUNDS OF ETERNITY.
IN THE NEVERLAND.
(2 70-MINUTE EPISODES)
Neverland is breathtaking; simply breathtaking. It has such intensity, and is laden with such a sense of inevitable doom, that it makes the likes of the funerary Logopolis feel cheerful in contrast. More than that though, it has tremendous heart. Indeed, Neverland has such arousing weight that by the end of the two feature-length episodes, I was half-surprised that the Doctor hadn’t regenerated. Though he has changed, and not for the better…
Alan Barnes’ story opens with the Matrix of the Time Lords recalling key events in history, Charley’s death on the R101 one of them. Now although such a lengthy monologue is only relevant to the story in that it shows the Matrix can’t remember certain things due to the web of time becoming unravelled (as has been gradually shown throughout this season), it is a wonderfully arresting way to begin this landmark story. It even rewards the most devoted of us with a flood of references to earlier stories, each of which is assigned to the “Humanian” era; the “Sumaran” era; or the “Rassilon” era; affording us a telling glimpse of how the Time Lords, with Gallifrey their chronological anchor, perceive time and the universe around them. To them, eras are like places.
Indeed, Neverland is more than just a love song for Charley Pollard, it’s a love song for the series. Barnes’ Gallifrey is drawn especially evocatively, the script heavily engendering the Robert Holmes’ “Deadly Assassin” interpretation of Time Lord society as opposed to the much more detailed but far less malodorous Marc Platt rendition. The Celestial Intervention Agency are depicted as being more underhand and treacherous than ever they have been, and Anthony Keetch’s Vansell is their perfect head.
Ever since The Sirens of Time, Vansell has cropped up in a number of Big Finish audio dramas, all building towards this explosive pinnacle. What I particularly like about Vansell here though is that he is gifted with some beautifully thought-provoking dialogue. For all the blood that can be seen on the CIA’s hands (upon which Barnes’ plot hangs), at times their passionate leader is almost persuasive. Vansell isn’t a caped villain with a cackle; he’s a loyalist, if not to Romana than to Rassilon and his legacy. His impassioned speech to the Doctor about how Gallifrey needs to take a more active role in the universe – a view that, despite everything, the Doctor disagrees with - stands out as being a particular highlight. Keetch’s performance is absolutely outstanding throughout.
Lalla Ward also impresses as President Romana. Her performance feels like an effortless recreation of her television character, yet she still manages to inject the part with a distinct sense of authority that even the Doctor seems to revere. Indeed, some of the production’s most fraught scenes see Romana wrestle with an impossible dilemma, Vansell whispering in one ear, calling for Charley’s death; her old friend, the “retrograde” pleading to her in the other. It is a real testament to both Barnes and Ward that the listener really can’t see which way Romana is going to fall. Whilst she was the Doctor’s companion, and would be loathe
to see one of his friends perish, she has a duty to Gallifrey. A duty to Time. And what is one life, when weighed against such responsibilities?
The story also sees Don Warrington’s
character return to have his identity all
but confirmed, and to open a Pandora’s
box of continuing intrigue. Both Romana
and the Doctor refer to this imposing
individual as “My Lord” whenever they
encounter him, heavily implying that he
could be some manifestation of Rassilon, though it is never stated outright. Was the planet
in the other universe the remains of Rassilon’s TARDIS? Was he alive in the zero cabinet? Story says no, and all we know for sure is that this observer is an “old man, infinitely old and eternally sad”, but I think that we can take it as read that Rassilon is out there somewhere, and taking a very keen interest in affairs…
Inevitably though, where Barnes’ story really triumphs is not in the epic science fiction events portrayed or even in the intrigue surrounding the return of Gallifrey’s founding father; it is in the “human” story of the relationship between the Doctor and Charley. In their – dare I say it – love story.
Both India Fisher and Paul McGann put in their best performances yet here – no small feat, particularly for Fisher, as she is required to play not only Charley but also the ghostly ‘never person’ Centris who wears the character’s “form as a badge.” What I find so poignant about the portrayal of their relationship here is that the characters are shown to be reflections of each other; one ancient and weary, the other youthful and exuberant, but both inexorably the same. Charley compares the Doctor to Peter Pan, the little boy who never grows up – an intriguing analogy that is effectively proven when the TARDIS comes under attack from the Time Lords and the Doctor elects to try and hide Charley away on an alien world rather than face up to the situation. But that’s not like the Doctor; he’s not usually one to run away. He’s behaving as he does because of how he feels for Charley; because of what she’s done to him. And as a result Charley has to step up to the plate and be the Doctor. She has to throw the TARDIS’ fast return switch and materialise it right in front of the battle TARDIS’ missiles. She has to beg the Doctor to shoot her and put paid to the anti-time threat.
Of course, many listeners will be critical of the play’s emotional dénouement, which sees the Doctor tell Charley that he loves her. For my part, I loved it. It isn’t overwrought or syrupy; it’s not even clear that he means “love” in the romantic sense. It’s just a stupidly sad scene that sees two best friends torn apart in the cruellest of ways. If India Fisher’s delivery of Barnes’ “extra days” speech doesn’t pull on your heart strings, then I don’t know what will. When she says that she would rather die, preserving the web of time so that her six months spent with the Doctor would still have happened, it really is time to crack open the tissues.
Against all the odds though, it isn’t all
the “I love you”s that steal the head-
lines, but the story’s cliffhanger. In an
eleventh hour twist, having saved the
web of time and with the narrative
apparently all sewn up rather neatly,
the Doctor berates Charley and then slaps her hard across the face, proclaiming himself to be “Zagreus” – the mythical Gallifreyan monster whose name has cropped up once or twice before... It’s a torturous way to leave us hanging, but a truly memorable climax to what is, in my view, the greatest of the Doctor Who audio dramas to date.
“I told you girl, I am not the Doctor! I am become he who sits inside your head,
he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed,
and eats you while you’re sleeping. I am become ZAGREUS!”
Presented as two seventy-minute episodes rather than the usual four half hours, Neverland has an epic, almost cinematic flavour. Everything is big, from the planetoid-sized TARDISes to the stakes to the cliffhanger from hell. But at the end of the day, what makes this play the masterpiece that it is is the story of two friends and their desperate attempts to save each other.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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