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The Eighth Doctor and his companions return in Stranded 2: an all-new four story boxset from Big Finish. In our rankings of last year’s top ten releases (see here), Stranded 1 claimed the top spot, surpassing 2020’s other releases with its more laid-back, character-driven storytelling. But can Stranded 2 live up to its predecessor? Read on to find out!
1. “Dead Time” by Matt Fitton
Dead Time, the first story in the set, picks up right after the end of the previous set, with the residents of Baker Street having learnt the truth about the Doctor and his companions. Joined by Tania (Rebecca Root), Andy (Tom Price) and a stowaway Robin (Joel Davison), the Doctor, Liv and Helen take the newly-restored TARDIS on a test flight to the future, and split up to explore the strange wilderness they find themselves in, soon discovering something very strange indeed. As is par for the course in the Stranded series, character takes precedence in this script, though this doesn’t quite cover up for the fact that the plot is a little thin on the ground.
The Doctor (Paul McGann) is partnered with Tania for much of this episode, which makes up for the lack of time they spent together in the first boxset. Tania gives away a little more about her status as a Torchwood agent, though nothing to muck up continuity, while the Doctor explains his time-travelling lifestyle. The two make an interesting pair and have strong chemistry, further cementing Rebecca Root as a good choice for a new companion.
Meanwhile, Liv (Nicola Walker) and Andy are paired up again (after last set’s Must-See TV), and they discover a strange facility in amongst the wilderness. The two make a great pair, with Liv’s sarcasm and blasé attitude contrasting nicely with Andy’s more wide-eyed and chaotic curiosity. Similarly, Helen (Hattie Morahan) is paired off with Robin, and their student-teacher relationship gets nicely further developed.
Benji Clifford‘s sound design here is on point, and he brings to life scenes like the TARDIS test flight perfectly. Meanwhile, Jamie Robertson‘s music is sufficiently exciting, echoing both the more cinematic scores of the Murray Gold era, and the more pared-back, synthy scores we’ve heard of late from Segun Akinola. Great stuff all round!
Overall, this is a strong opening to the boxset. Even though it leaves London 2020 behind, taking us on a journey to the far future, it still maintains the series’ strong focus on character, though sadly the plot falls a little to the wayside, sort of fizzling out before anything really happens.
2. “UNIT Dating” by Roy Gill
First and foremost… what a fantastic title! Also: what a fantastic story! UNIT Dating, by Roy Gill, takes the Doctor and Andy back in time, where they discover some unexpected ties between UNIT HQ in the 1970s (or is it the 80s?) and Baker Street in 2020. Meanwhile, Helen and Liv learn that Ron and Tony have been keeping a pretty big secret: one that might be vital to the Doctor and Andy’s mission. While all of this might sound a bit timey-wimey and complex, this story really well done, presented in a nice and simple way so that, as usual in this series, character takes priority over any complicated plotting.
Jeremy Clyde and David Shaw-Parker put in strong performances as Tony and Ron respectively, their chemistry effortlessly selling the idea that these characters have been together since the 70s. Meanwhile, Ewan Goddard and Oscar Batterham do great jobs at portraying the younger versions of these characters, mimicking Clyde and Shaw-Parker enough so that they sound vaguely similar, but also putting their own spin on the characters.
Jon Culshaw stars here too, reprising his role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart with his excellent impression of the late, great Nicholas Courtney. Gill gives the character some great scenes with the Eighth Doctor as they team up to tackle an Ogron stuck in a time loop, but also takes time to strip things back and gives the two a heart to heart that will warm the cockles of any Pertwee-era fan.
Despite all the time-travel, UNIT and Ogron shenanigans, though, what this episode really hinges on are its themes of love and acceptance. Right from the start, Stranded has given Doctor Who some of the best LGBTQ+ representation it’s ever had, including queer and transgender characters in the main cast, and putting non-heteronormative relationships front and centre. This continues here, with Gill delving into the relationship between Ron and Tony and exploring how attitudes towards homosexuality have evolved over the years. While the story rightly celebrates how far we’ve come in terms of freedom of sexuality, it also takes some time to pause and reflect on those who suffered because they didn’t grow up in the more enlightened world we live in now, which makes for an emotional and thought-provoking listen.
One of the best episodes of Stranded so far, UNIT Dating thrives on the way it continuously puts its characters to the fore, and in the way it deals with its themes of sexuality and acceptance. Fantastic stuff.
3. “Baker Street Irregulars” by Lisa McMullin
For the third episode of the set, the focus shifts to Zakia and Aisha, as the Doctor takes them back in time to meet their grandmother, who used to work on Baker Street. This story, Baker Street Irregulars by Lisa McMullin, sees the sisters, along with Liv, Helen and Tania, become involved with Special Operations Executive
The sisters get some of their best development yet, with Avita Jay and Amina Zia handling the material in the script particularly well and clearly revelling in adding some more brushstrokes to their characters. There’s an eleventh-hour twist that comes a little out of left field, but it’s dramatic and punchy, and I have faith in the writers that they know what they’re doing, so I look forward to seeing how that plays out throughout the rest of the series.
Meanwhile, Liv, Helen and Tania also get some good development. Not only do we get some exploration of the war from Helen’s perspective, particularly pertinent given that she’s already lived through it once, we also delve a little deeper into Liv and Tania’s relationship, as they talk out the problems they’re facing while they diffuse a bomb from the future.
Anjli Mohindra and Homer Todiwala guest star as Aisha and Zakia’s grandparents, Nisha and Adi, both doing a great job at telling the little love story McMullin crafts for them in this script. Stewart Clarke rounds off the cast as menacing Nazi officer Pieter, putting in a suitably sinister performance. Together with the main TARDIS team, this strong guest cast further brings McMullin’s already-strong script to life.
Overall, this story is light on incident (perhaps a little too light), but gives a lot of weight to its fairly large ensemble cast, with McMullin making sure to give a little development to all of the characters, no matter how small their part in the plot. Very impressive indeed.
4. “The Long Way Round” by John Dorney
In the far future, the Doctor and his friends have been captured and are being repeatedly interrogated by the ruthless Houlbrooke (Annabelle Dowler), who seems to believe that the Time Lord is responsible for the terrifying fascist government currently ruling over Earth. Meanwhile, back in 2020, young Gemma (Venice Van Someren) encounters the enigmatic Curator (Tom Baker), a mysterious old man who seems to know all about her. But how are these two events connected? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out.
Suffice it to say, as the boxset finale there’s not very much I can say about this episode without spoiling it. Again, there’s some impressive character focus here, though that does mean that the story perhaps drags a little in the middle. Despite that, the central interrogation conceit is well done, and there’s a stonker of twist at the end which, while perhaps a little obvious, certainly sets a lot of things in motion for the next couple of sets.
Overall, a fine end to a very strong boxset!
Wow! I thought Stranded 1 was good (as I say, it was my favourite release of last year) but this one is just as good. The best release of 2021 so far, this boxset is a masterclass in storytelling, with some engaging plots, brilliant character moments and beautiful performances from all involved. Along with Benji Clifford‘s magnificent music and Jamie Robertson‘s strong sound design, this is a fantastic production all round. I’m excited to see how the story continues in Stranded 3, which releases later this year. Highly recommended.
Stranded 2 is available now on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com