With Stranded 4, the Eighth Doctor’s time trapped in London comes to an end in familiar territory and a story telling experiment comes to an end
When Big Finish released Stranded 1, a way to tell a different type of story by fixing the TARDIS in place, they picked London in 2020. Fact overtook fiction, and the Doctor’s 2020 managed to avoid the pandemic, lockdown and everything Covid related. It’s been an interesting if mixed listen. After Stranded 1, we felt the idea was strong, with excellent performances but perhaps could have been told in a different way. Stranded 2 left us feeling the overall idea was clearer and more polished, but Stranded 3 left us feeling experimentation got in the way of good drama and we chose not to review it. Where does this final boxset leave us?
First a big recap (and some spoilers if you’ve not heard them)
In the first boxset, the TARDIS became a non-working shell, stranded in London leaving the Doctor (Paul McGann, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) and Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) to find refuge in a house on Baker Street the Doctor happens to own, but since his last visit now has a set of eclectic tenants. Among these are Robin (a teenage boy played by Joel James Davison, son of fifth Doctor actor Peter) and his father, and Tania Bell (Rebecca Root). Tania is central to a lot of the plot, as a romantic interest for Liv as well as knowing one Sergeant Andy Davidson (Tom Price). There’s a lot more, but space is against us.
The Doctor doesn’t cope with being trapped in one place and time, while Liv and Helen get to know the tenants, while also meeting a mysterious Curator (Tom Baker).
In the second boxset, the TARDIS gains the ability to travel in time but not space, and lots of people get to travel, at least once. A new tenant, Mr Bird (Clive Wood), proves to have access to technology he shouldn’t, the future looks very bleak (and does not match history as it should be), and mysterious organisation Divine Intervention is up to something. Robin’s father changes job, forcing Robin away from his new found friends, and we get some back story for more tenants, including two of whom knew the third incarnation of the Doctor when they worked for UNIT.
The third boxset revealed one of the villains of the piece, and Sgt Andy dies in an exploding space station. The TARDIS is closer to her usual self, but still has some way to go.
And now to Stranded 4
Crossed Lines kicks off the set, and if you didn’t know it was a Matt Fitton tale, the interwoven twists of time with overlapping and criss-crossed versions of various characters is rather a clue. We get a lot of explanation and a reveal of just why reality is wrong, how to fix it and also learn just how Mr Bird is, and the role Robin has to play. We also get a new incarnation of the Curator, and it’s Colin Baker adding that sense of style only his Doctor can bring. The warping of time is almost too complex to follow, but not quite as Matt deftly joins together most of the dots from the boxset.
By way of contrast, Lisa McMullin’s Get Andy is welcome relief from plot complexity; the Doctor decides to finesse events and travel to a short window of time in which Andy could get rescued. We then get (in a good way) a classic farce as various people arrive on the doomed space station, do or don’t rescue Andy who does or doesn’t take the opportunity. At least one of them does or doesn’t die, and a villain seems to be a hero. It sounds confusing as written, but the story is a joy to listen to and cuts right to the core of several characters.
Best Year Ever?
Third story The Keys of Baker Street by Roy Gill wraps up the Stranded story as our erroneous version of history collapses in on itself, leaving the Doctor trapped in the vanishing remains of the attic to 107 Baker Street along with a future adversary. The only thing left is conversation. It’s a decent piece of drama, yet again the style is not typical Doctor Who, there’s no single moment of realisation / sacrifice / action but conversation, discussion, honesty and desire to do better.
John Dorney’s Best Year Ever is a what happened next coda. While this is something Doctor Who rarely does, it inevitably dwells on the pandemic and we suspect a lot of listeners don’t need reminding about recent history. It’s also told as a series of snapshots, bringing moment for the tenants, giving us a chance to say farewell. It also does bring questions — does Helen want to stay in London now she’s put down new roots? Does Liv want to stay with Tania? How much will non-TARDIS regulars remember when history finishes calming down? Listen to find out!
While Stranded has been an interesting exercise in narrative, we can’t help but feel it could have done more, and still suspect it won’t be to everybody’s taste. Even so, with talent of this quality across the cast, we’d almost be happy just listening to them reading the weather forecast, but perhaps not for 16 CDs worth of meteorology! We’d like to single out Sgt Andy Davidson as the character who (just) took the story in unusual directions and provided great contrast when it was needed most.