It’s time for the start of a brand-new Eighth Doctor saga! Following on from the dramatic conclusion of Ravenous, which saw the TARDIS put out of action, Stranded sees the Doctor, Helen and Liv stuck in London, 2020, balancing everyday life with alien encounters! It’s a great concept for a new series, but is it any good? Read on to find out!
This review contains minor spoilers, so read at your own risk.
1. “Lost Property” by Matt Fitton
Picking up a few weeks after the end of Day of the Master, the opening story of Stranded 1, Lost Property, sees the Doctor, Helen and Liv struggling to adjust to their new lives, stuck in present-day London without a TARDIS. It’s a great way to set up the tone for the rest of the set, focussing mainly on the characters, while putting the sci-fi plot on the back burner.
I think that, perhaps, Lost Property could have given a little more focus to the alien elements of the story, as they feel somewhat underdeveloped, but this episode has a lot to do setting up a new series, so this isn’t really a big deal.
Of the main trio, it’s Paul McGann‘s Doctor who has the most trouble settling into life on Earth. As you can imagine, it’s difficult for the time-traveller to get used to staying in one place, and this leads to some great exploration of the character. Oftentimes, this Doctor can seem like one of the most human incarnations of the character, lacking any of the wild idiosyncrasies of his other selves, so it’s great to see Paul McGann give life to some of the more alien aspects of the character here.
Liv (Nicola Walker) and Helen (Hattie Morahan) are far more willing to get to grips with life on Earth, and get some great scenes throughout the episode. We witness Liv making friends with one of the residents of Baker Street, where our heroes are living, while Helen encounters the beguiling Curator, played by Tom Baker, who alerts her to something wicked coming their way…
I must admit that, when this piece of casting was announced, I was incredibly sceptical as to whether it would work. Surely it would be best to leave such a mysterious character alone? Luckily, my worries were unfounded; Matt Fitton makes the Curator just as intriguing as he was in The Day of the Doctor, giving him lots of truly brilliant lines and keeping him in the background so as not to ruin the mystique.
This story also introduces several recurring characters for Stranded, namely the seven other people that the Doctor and co. are living with in Baker Street. None of them are given too much development here, but they’re all established well, particularly Rebecca Root‘s Tania Bell (more on her later!) by the end of the episode.
Overall, Lost Property is a great opener to the series, setting up the ongoing plot and characters with flair. My only gripe would be that the sci-fi element of the story is introduced and dealt with a little too quickly for my liking, but, when the rest of the episode is so good, that’s hardly a big deal.
2. “Wild Animals” by John Dorney
As writer John Dorney discusses on the behind the scenes track, Wild Animals is Doctor Who’s first story set in the modern day without any sci-fi elements. This makes for a delightfully unique tale seeped in the mundane, following the characters as they further adjust to life in London.
This story sees Liv and Tania begin to become closer, culminating in a beautifully written-and-performed scene where Tania reveals that she’s transgender. Rebecca Root and Nicola Walker put in such heartfelt and honest performances that this is definitely the standout scene of this entire boxset. It’s so important to have LGBTQ+ representation in media, so it’s lovely to see this non-heteronormative relationship put front-and-centre by the writers.
With Liv busy with Tania, the Doctor and Helen are paired off with one another for most of the story, coming together to deal with a terrible crime. Through this, we get some further examination of the Doctor’s character, with Dorney exploring how his travels have changed him into someone who thrives on thrill and danger, and touching on how this affects those he travels with.
As discussed in the extras attached to this story, the enormous regular cast of Stranded (with twelve recurring characters by the end of the last episode!) meant that it was impossible to have everybody record at once. Thanks to Ken Bentley‘s brilliant direction, this is completely undetectable, and the story flows perfectly.
Overall, Wild Animals is the strongest story in the set: character-driven and introspective, while still remaining exciting and full of adventure.
3. “Must-See TV” by Lisa McMullin
The third story in the set, Must-See TV, sees two new arrivals to Baker Street, and mysterious goings-on with the residents’ televisions. This is a great concept for a story, but I feel that the runtime, at just 40 minutes, really wasn’t long enough to properly explore it. Pretty much none of the things that happen in this episode are explained, either here or in the next episode, which means that Must-See TV is bascially just an extended teaser for things to come.
Tom Price joins the Stranded team in this story as Andy Davison, returning to the role he played in Torchwood (both on TV and for Big Finish). His character is a great addition to the main cast, but he doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this story. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing where the series takes Andy in the stories to come.
Clive Wood rounds of the cast as the mysterious Mr. Bird, a new resident at Baker Street. He only appears in a few short scenes, but he makes an immediate impression and, judging by the ending of this story, we’ll definitely be seeing him again in the future.
Overall, Must-See TV is an odd story. What’s there is great: there’s an intriguing plot and compelling character development. However, there’s too much left unanswered. Who is Mr. Bird? Why did the building explode? I’m sure we’ll find out as the series continues to unfold, but, while relatively strong, Must-See TV just seems like a story that goes nowhere for now…
4. “Divine Intervention” by David K. Barnes
Stranded 1 rounds off with Divine Intervention, written by David K. Barnes. The main bulk of the story revolves around a group of alien assassins invading the Doctor’s dinner party, though there is a small subplot involving Helen, Robin (one of the residents of Baker Street, played by Joel James Davison) and a mysterious company called Divine Intervention.
Both of these plots serve to really get Stranded up and running, starting story arcs which I’m sure we’ll see continued in the next set. Not only do we get hints that the Doctor is about to do something that will destroy the future, but the scenes involving Divine Intervention also seem to be setting something up involving Robin.
Given his involvement in the previous episode, plus one seemingly-throwaway line spoken by Helen in this story, I have a theory as to where the character of Robin might be headed, but I’m sure the writers will find a way to subvert my expectations as they usually do!
The other residents of Baker Street get some more development here, becoming involved in the Doctor’s lifestyle when the assassins crash their dinner party. In particular, there’s a little more exploration of Jeremy Clyde and David Shaw-Parker‘s Tony and Ron, an older married couple, as well as Avita Jay and Amina Zia‘s Zakia and Aisha, two sisters. One of the things I love about Stranded is the huge cast, so I’m interested to see where these characters go in the next set now that they’re all in on the Doctor’s secret.
All in all, Divine Intervention is another strong story, setting up storylines for the future of Stranded while being an arresting piece in its own right.
Overall, Stranded 1 is a very strong start to a new era for the Eighth Doctor. With a more laid-back tone, created by the combination of some great writing and the stellar sound-design and music from Benji Clifford and Jamie Robertson, this set is a welcome palate cleanser after the frenetically-paced, high-concept Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition and Ravenous. There are a few too many loose ends for my liking, meaning that a lot of the stories here don’t really get resolved, but that’s not a huge issue, keeping me excited for the follow-up next year. Roll on Stranded 2!
Stranded 1 is available now from http://www.bigfinish.com on CD or as a download
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