THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE BIG FINISH
AND PRIOR TO THE
TELOS NOVELLA "THE
CABINET OF LIGHT."
BIG FINISH CD#103
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
A ghost ship.
girl with no
could be CharlEY
or her last.
Set course for
A ghost ship.
A girl with no
An old enemy.
This could be CharlEY
Pollard's finest hour
- or her last.
Set course for
The Girl Who
And so at the end of October’s Absolution, Charlotte Pollard packed her bags.
She’d rather return to the flaming wreck of the airship R101 than spend another moment in the company of a man who apparently cares more about his TARDIS than he does about
his friends. And it’s here that Alan Barnes - the man responsible for introducing us all to the Edwardian Adventuress seven years ago in the first place – picks up the ball and runs with
The ensuing four episodes are remarkable in how they effectively combine all the elements intrinsic to both the archetypal classic serial and the more modern and emotionally mature new series episode. Whilst The Girl Who Never Was would surely have been an enchanting audio drama in its own right, laden as it is with the duty of saying goodbye to such a notable companion, this play is really catapulted into another league entirely.
The first ten minutes or so quite naturally dwell on the aftermath of Absolution, specifically dealing with Charley’s decision to leave the TARDIS and the breakdown of her relationship with the Doctor. However, one of the things that I find most refreshing about The Girl Who Never Was is that Barnes manages to deal with the bulk of the emotional baggage within these first ten minutes. By the time that we’re half way through the first episode, the Doctor and Charley are resigned to part ways – but not until they’ve put the world to rights for one last time! This allows Barnes to write a play that, for the most part, simply allows the Doctor and Charley do what they do best – revel in a rollicking good adventure. The result is like
a celebratory trip down memory lane. At times, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were listening to an adventure set during that wonderful 2002 season; the magic is certainly present in spates.
Now whilst a great deal of the
credit must of course go to
Paul McGann and India Fisher -
whom I will lavish considerable
praise upon shortly - I don’t
think that I can stress enough
how good the script for this
story is. More often than not,
Barnes’ name on the by line is
as close as one can get to a
seal of quality, and it’s good to
see here that the mind which
plotted epic, twisting tales like Neverland and Zagreus is still just as keen as ever. Indeed, The Girl Who Never Was is an enthralling tale replete with twists and turns that keep the listener guessing right until the closing theme has been played and, if the truth be known, considerably afterwards.
The intricate story revolves around an old 1930s sailing ship that exists in 1942, 2008, and 500002; two women by the name of Charlotte Pollard; two men by the name of just Byron; and one man by the name of just the Doctor. Oh yes - there’s a contingent of Invasion-era Cybermen too, Cyber Planner and all.
However, though Alex Mallinson’s sumptuous CD artwork may proudly announce the return of the Doctor’s old enemies, The Girl Who Never Was is not really a Cybermen story. The writer uses them magnificently and Nicholas Briggs has excelled himself in producing some really chilling, old school Cyber-voices, but in truth the Cybermen’s role in this story is akin to the Macra’s in Gridlock. They are here and they are awesome, but they are here to do a job rather than progress to their own story. If you want to listen to a play all about the Cybermen, then whack on Spare Parts. What makes The Girl Who Never Was so utterly compelling is not the silver giants, but rather the mystery surrounding the 85 year-old Miss Pollard.
Found adrift on the ocean at the tender age of twenty-one, the amnesiac Charlie lived out
her whole life wondering who she was, and where she’d come from. Anna Massey portrays the character with such poise, yet such gusto. At times she evokes the mental image of Charley’s austere mother, yet at others the listener can see in her those zealous, gung-ho qualities that so endeared Charley to the Doctor. Massey’s performance is so very good
and so very subtle that it is nigh on impossible for the listener to work out her true identity until the seeds are sown by the writer well into the second half of the play.
For me though, Danny Webb is the standout guest performer. Fans will of course remember Webb from last year’s Satan Pit two-parter on television, though here he plays a much larger role, giving voice to both Byron Senior and Byron Junior. The Byrons are both brash, bullish Australian rogues and Webb totally nails both parts. I particularly enjoyed his scenes with the Doctor – you couldn’t get two more disparate characters.
Ironically though, in true Doctor Who fashion the Doctor and Charley spend most of this story apart, each trapped in a different time zone. McGann’s performance is absolutely top-notch. His Doctor is clearly saddened by Charley’s decision to leave him, but at the same time he’s still that young man full of boundless energy that we first met in San Francisco all those years ago. In fact, despite his emotional distress, he still manages to fire off some mordant quips in this story; I recall a particularly interesting one about his age in which he refers to “human years”, which could explain the odd discrepancy or two.
At the end of the day though, it’s
India Fisher’s play. Barnes wrote
it for Charley and about Charley,
and it’s Charley that drives the
plot forward from start to finish.
Separated from the Doctor, in
The Girl Who Never Was the
Edwardian Adventuress proves that she can do it without him. At one point she even manages to repair an electro-magnetic pulse because she had “seen one like it before on Quaxon Four.” Just like Rose in Fear Her and Martha in Last of the Time Lords, before Charley says goodbye she shows us that she’s all the better for her experiences.
Now my comments about the emotional baggage being dealt with swiftly notwithstanding, Barnes inevitably injects a lot of heart into Charley’s final episode. In order to prevent her brain being eaten away by a sort of “time worm”, the Doctor has to erase her memory of everything that could possibly remind her of anything leading up to the infection, including every memory of him. And, bleeding cheese through the speakers, Charley’s brain simply won’t have it. Why? Because “some things are to good to be forgotten.” Unquestionably corny, but utterly appropriate.
“Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. Someone’s listening. Somewhere.”
In the CD Extras, Fisher points out that it was around two years that passed between the recording of Memory Lane and Absolution, and even for us fans it was more than a whole year between those two releases. But in both her final two outings, Fisher has done herself and the character proud. And come the end of this story, the girl who never was is still out there, hammering out morse code and blundering into what promises to be a perplexing
but riotous adventure. A perplexing but riotous adventure that just happens to begin with
the sixth Doctor’s version of the theme tune…
I strongly suspect that over time, The Girl Who Never Was will become one of my firm Big Finish favourites. Big Finish began and ended 2007 with peerless aplomb, and whilst on
the whole I don’t think that the year has quite matched up to the last in terms of the overall quality of the releases, I think that in the last few months Nicholas Briggs’ new regime has firmly found its feet and I can’t wait to see what 2008 has in store for us. And for Charley…
“I loved her, though. Charlotte Pollard. Of course I did.”
- Alan Barnes
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The Girl Who Never Was sees the Doctor confirm that three to four subjective years have passed since he met Charley aboard the airship R101 in Storm Warning, lending further weight to our contention that their adventures together take place between the novels The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science (in the three
year subjective years that pass for the Doctor whilst Sam waits for him at a Greenpeace rally).
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