THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
DIRECTLY PRIOR TO
ALAN BARNES &
BIG FINISH CD#64
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
Washed up on the
sandy shores of a
paradise island, a
survivor is rescued
by the wife of Daqar
Keep, the richest man
in the galaxy. HER
He's the Doctor.
Together, they face a
journey into the dark
heart of this island,
SO THAT THEY MAY BE
ABLE TO discover the
deepest secrets of
this timeless cosmos.
and C'rizz have their
own PRIVATE ordealS
to endure, in the grip
of the Doctor's most
And in a universe
even the best of
friends may soon
This life is almost
over. not everyone
will make it to the
The Next Life
I can think of few audios in the Big Finish catalogue that are as deliciously grand as this one is. At times I have loved this long-running Divergence angle, and at others I have loathed it, but - dodgy “Grace” puns aside - The Next Life does little besides astound the listener. Not only does Alan Barnes and Gary Russell’s story wrap up this ambitious story arc in explosive style, but it also boasts one of the most stupendous supporting casts that Big Finish have assembled to date (Don Warrington, Paul Darrow, Daphne Ashbrook...) and some exceedingly evocative sound design.
Six part stories were phased out in the 1980s because the production team found it hard
to carry a plot over six episodes. This is far from the case here though, thankfully. In fact, although I’m not usually a fan of such lengthy stories, I’d argue that The Next Life actually benefits from its extended length as it allows for some gentle, but nonetheless necessary, character moments. The first two episodes might well be slow, but the tension building is excruciating.
Following the TARDIS’ crash landing on a blue planet that it simply refused to materialise on, the first episode sees Charley and C’rizz awake inside their respective virtual realities controlled by Kro’ka, the Doctor nowhere to be seen. Many fans have poured their derision all over these scenes, yet I enjoyed them immensely. Even Charley, who’s had quite a raw deal of late, and whom we all know inside-out by now, has some stunning scenes that see her twice confront the boy whose place she stole on the R101 airship (both shortly before
its departure, and in the boy’s future) and an outstanding scene where she talks about the futility of mortality, violent death and how she’s become desensitised to it all of late.
Meanwhile, in his own personal dream, C’rizz finds himself with L’da shortly prior to their wedding. Like Charley, he reasons that this can’t be real and, true enough, Kro’ka soon rears his ugly head. Especially since Faith Stealer, C’rizz has really grown on me as a character, and although his mercy killing of L’da and Kro’ka’s warning to the Doctor in
The Creed of the Kromon have always lent him an edge, I was in no way prepared for
what was to come. Here C’rizz reveals to Kro’ka exactly just how “dangerous” he is as
the voices of all the victims that he murdered in service to the Church of the Foundation surround them both inside the dreamscape!
Emerging from the ‘Dreamweaver’, Rassilon greets the Doctor’s two friends and sets about planting suggestions in their heads that the Doctor has left them behind, and that they mean nothing to him. Whilst Charley seems troubled by these ideas, it’s nonetheless clear that she would never betray the Doctor and that she still believes in him - perhaps even loves him - wholeheartedly. C’rizz, however, seems much more swayed by Rassilon’s eloquent pleas, and although he goes out onto the surface of the blue planet with Charley ostensibly to look for the Doctor, Rassilon seems supremely confident that at least one of the Doctor’s friends will betray him.
Meanwhile, on the blue planet, the Doctor encounters Perfection (Daphne Ashbrook) and her husband Keep, who - quite peculiarly for someone who lives in a universe completely isolated from our own - speaks fluent French. Keep is the new leader of the Church of the Foundation, which believes that “all things must perish” in order to bring about the next life. Separated from Charley, C’rizz encounters his father, Guidance (Paul Darrow), who is second only to Keep in the Church’s hierarchy. Guidance helps C’rizz to re-discover his faith, and suddenly all the pieces of this very complicated puzzle start coming together…
The Next Life seems to work so very well because the immense amount of explanation that such a story requires is cleverly unravelled by the characters a little piece at a time over the six episodes, the intrigue eked out for all it is worth (as opposed to being spoiled through some last-minute, contrived exposition). Indeed, Barnes and Russell’s script ties up the arc very neatly – we learn that this universe lives and dies in a linear fashion, and then the cycle begins again. This is how despite A leading to B leading to C, the indigenous population have no concept of time. After all, here A leads to B leads to C leads to A. “There is no time vortex for the TARDIS to anchor itself to,” explains the Doctor. It seems my condemnation of The Last’s dénouement was a little hasty, to say the least…
Indeed, The Next Life explains that Bortrasoye - the crucible world containing all the zones that the Doctor and his companions were forced to wade through in the run-up to Caredroia - is a Noah’s Ark of sorts. During each cycle, life in the nine galaxies of this universe begins and then ends with the passing of this blue planet. Bortrasoye was created by one particular civilisation in an attempt to preserve a certain amount of each world – they launched it into space hoping that it could ‘outrun’ the blue planet and the death that follows in its wake.
But it is the Church of the Foundation that sits at the heart of everything. The moonstone that C’rizz wears around is neck is one half of the key to the door to our universe, and Guidance has the other half. The most intriguing revelation yet comes as Rassilon reveals that the Eut-ermesans are as chameleonic on the inside as the outside, hence his confidence in C’rizz’ betrayal of the Doctor. It seems that in the grand scheme of this universe, the Eutermesans were designed to have malleable personalities as well as skin tones. In each life cycle, this allowed them to be manipulated into forming their Church of the Foundation and delivering the two halves of the key to the blue planet, allowing the trans-universal gateway to open.
The impact of this on how we look at C’rizz is profound. We thought that we knew him – a former monk, traumatised by the mercy killing of his lover. In The Next Life, we learn that he has committed mass-murder due to his religious beliefs and then, as if this weren’t enough, we learn that he isn’t really anybody at all; his personality simply adjusts itself to suit those around him. Due to his friendship with the Doctor, he’s become a good person, despite his head being full of “tiddlywinks and Liverpool-Everton derbies”. And looking at the last few stories with hindsight, this malleability is quite obvious – just look how easily he was brain-washed in Faith Stealer, for instance, or how easily Requiem’s counsel pushed him towards trying to end his own life in The Last. It therefore comes as no surprise when C’rizz makes
a pact with Rassilon, betraying the Doctor.
Now ever since Scherzo the name “Zagreus” has been quietly forgotten. As such, I was completely taken aback when Perfection, who was obviously hiding something and trying
to manipulate the Doctor, turned out to be the embodiment of the Zagreus energy! And the writers don’t stop there. Her husband has a similar secret. Master Keep is revealed to be the creature that the Doctor and Charley were evolving into in Scherzo – in effect, he’s the embodiment of the Divergence. Two inimical forces, each hidden within half of a loveless marriage.
It’s a bold, brazen reveal, but it does give rise to my only two real complaints about The
Next Life. Firstly, the amalgamation of the Divergence into one being takes away much of its might. And whilst I can see why, particularly in an audio drama, it is in many ways more effective to have one individual representing the Divergence, the terror of an epic swarm desperately trying to break into our universe is totally lost. Furthermore, with Zagreus now conveniently wrapped up in Perfection, all it takes is a throwaway line from Rassilon to explain that the Doctor became free of the Zagreus energies after just a day or two in this universe, and that as such he can return home without risk of infecting anyone. Surely it couldn’t have been as simple as that? All that suffering, all that sacrifice, and the energies
just chuffed off after a few days?
Nevertheless, it makes for one hell of an explosive finale. The final episode seemed to pass in a handful of heartbeats, edge-of-the-seat stuff throughout as all the players – the Doctor, Rassilon, Zagreus, the Divergence, C’rizz, and Charley – conspire to wedge open the door to our universe and be first through the crack.
The tried and tested formula
of the bad guys eliminating
each other is pulled off with
real style here - Keep sends
Rassilon back to the start of
his life cycle in this universe
for the eighty-fifth time, only
this time he is allowed to
keep the memories of his
failure. That’ll learn him!
Perfection then apparently immobilises Keep with one of Rassilon’s anti-time weapons, though when she enters what she thinks is the TARDIS in order to cross into our universe, she has in reality stepped into Keep’s shape-shifting body. And so with the gateway open, and their window of opportunity to escape into our universe diminishing by the second, the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz…
Their final scene is this universe puts everything into perspective, and, though foolhardy
in the extreme, the Doctor’s stubborn refusal to go through the gateway until they had all mended their ways is a touching testament to just how highly he values the friendship of
a man who doesn’t even know who he is and a girl who still lusts after him. This scene re-affirms their friendship, whilst wiping the slate clean at the same time. There’ll be no more
“I love you’s”, no more lies. In the most stirring of possible endings, the three friends pass through the gateway united, the TARDIS materialising in our universe for the first time in what feels like forever. The travellers then walk out of the TARDIS doors, and stroll into Davros and his Imperial Daleks, who it seems have been “waiting” for them all along…
At the same time, in the Divergent universe, Kro’ka takes great relish in telling Rassilon how long it has been since they last spoke, and how long they have been walking – they’re in the same experiment that the Doctor and Charley were in Scherzo! Pain in the arse as he was, I always liked Kro’ka, and to see him delighting in Rassilon’s downfall is a bit of an illicit treat. Meanwhile, Zagreus and the Divergence renew their wedding vows as Perfection and Keep and the cycle begins again – this time without the Doctor’s presence, and this time with both Rassilon’s and Kro’ka’s memories in tact. Will any of them escape into our universe? Time will tell.
And so Paul McGann must now take his place as a ‘past Doctor’ in the Big Finish stable alongside Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy, as Christopher Eccleston will be the new man of the moment in the forthcoming television series. McGann’s four audio ‘seasons’ have each been thoroughly enjoyable, and though some will have been frustrated that this story didn’t end with a regeneration (“Next Life” indeed; talk about suckering us in!), I for one am glad that there is still some distance left to run for Doctor number eight.
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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