Kieran Brennan tackles the penultimate adventure in the Eighth Doctor’s Divergent Universe arc: Caerdroia!
After a confrontation with the Kro’ka the Doctor finally believes he’s making some headway in his search for the TARDIS. Now, on a new world, he and his friends must unravel the mystery of this strange place before the increasingly grating personality of the Doctor drives them all mad.
Caerdroia is further proof that any Eighth Doctor story that attempts to advance the overarching plot tends to be legitimately great. Neverland, Zagreus, Scherzo (thinking back now, what a trilogy of stories!), Seasons of Fear, one could even argue The Chimes of Midnight was the first story to really touch on the Charley messing up time arc. When Big Finish knows a release is important, they really set the bar high quality wise.
I won’t drag this on any longer, I’ll just come out with it. I loved Caerdroia. With its cast being made up exclusively of our main players, it had me gripped right from the beginning. We open the story with the entire first episode being dedicated to a conversation between the Doctor and the Kro’ka, a wonderful confrontation that seems to deliver on the promises of this mysterious character that have been set up over several stories. Learning about him, and giving Stephen Perring some time to bite into the character, is incredibly interesting and has you absolutely hooked, especially when he’s talking to Paul McGann as he gives his best performance since Scherzo.
McGann is a delight for the entirety of this adventure, clearly in love with the script and playing with it in so many fun and intriguing ways that bring together all the different facets of his Doctor. A lot of this arc has been seeing the Doctor fall into a quite depressive state, slowly distancing himself emotionally from his companions as this new reality continues to affect him, but in Caerdroia we see him smile and laugh with excitement again. However, we also see him angry and scary. It’s brilliant character work that McGann clearly relishes in, taking an already clever script to the next level.
After this great interaction with the Kro’Ka we journey to the actual place of Caerdroia and well… spoilers. But rest assured, it’s worth listening to. As a setting it may not be quite as appealing on a surface level as some of the last few releases, but it allows our character to breath and gives both Charley and C’rizz a chance to shine, especially with each other as they’ve found themselves bonding over the last few weeks and really homing in on a fun dynamic that’s only been hinted at before. As a TARDIS team they’re rather odd, when all together it seems their team dynamic is just a little bit flat, but when split into any variation of pairs and they all become more interesting instantly. Hopefully it’s worked on later down the line, but for now Caerdroia is smart enough to know how to naturally split up our heroes and give us fun interactions between them all.
All of my favourite Eighth Doctor stories have been character pieces so far, and this continues the trend. In honesty the only thing that really drags this down a tiny bit is I felt the ending was just a little abrupt and underwhelming. Rather than build to a climax the story just ends, though I can’t say it affected my enjoyment too much.
With a classic killer premise and some absolutely dynamite performances from all involved, Caerdroia is a high point in the Divergent Universe arc, no scratch that, a high point in the Eighth Doctor’s Big Finish run. Caerdroia is an overlooked story that will hopefully some day get the recognition it so well deserves.
Caerdroia is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com