‘Doctor Who’ spin-off review: ‘Graceless’ returns for an engaging fourth box set

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Eight years since they first appeared with the Fifth Doctor in the main range story The Judgement of Isskar, and three and a half years since the characters of Abby and Zara bid farewell in the third season of Graceless, writer Simon Guerrier has brought back his semi-divine characters for one more outing.

For the uninitiated, Abby and Zara (who were Amy and Zara), look like two young human women (Ciara Janson and Laura Doddington) but are creations of the all-powerful Grace, sent to get the Doctor’s help in finding the Key to Time. That task achieved they got their own series of tales in which they learn how to be human, and the downsides of having amazing powers. By the end they had given up their powers, and taken the names of Amy and Joy. It’s now several (hundred) years later…

Amy and Joy are now old, and death is not far away. Producer Mark Wright takes the challenge and runs with it, recasting two older actors Annie Firbank and Sîan Philips as the older sisters, keeping a low profile when disaster approaches, heralded by the mysterious Pool (Adam Newington). This leads them on one last adventure, and one final sacrifice.

Of course, this is just the opening episodes, and the sisters are soon doing what they do best – trying to avert tragedy, in this case a war between two deeply entrenched nations. This second story, explores not only what happens when the sisters try to interfere in history, but also tells the whole story with female characters, including the proprietor of a greasy spoon serving the best breakfast this side of the apocalypse.

The third story is subtler, and is set in a hospital at Space Dock, where wicked sisters will insist in bringing the dead back to life and interfering in the love life of one of the nurses. It’s a well-told tale and a striking way to contrast with the slightly gung ho approach they normally take to their good deeds. Of course, they are hundreds of years older than in previous boxsets, so this nuanced maturity is only to be expected.

It all ends in a surreal story called The Dance, and it puts Pool back at the centre of the story, along with the mysterious Triangle and Oblong. The story explores the meaning and purpose of the sisters, and is also (though not heavily so) an essay on the rights and wrongs of interference.

It ends well, and there’s a strong pointer to the future of Amy/Abby and Zara/Joy, and every hope this isn’t the end of their story. While Graceless may not be as immediate a listen as the core Doctor Who ranges, it is a nice change of pace and highly engaging.

Released in January 2017 by Big Finish Productions Ltd.

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