It’s the end of the Divergent Universe arc, as Kieran Brennan takes on The Next Life!
In the far reaches of space, a single blue planet may hold the ability to leave the Divergent Universe. But of course, nothing is ever simple for the Doctor. Unseen forces are moving in, Rassilon lurks in the shadows the Doctor’s friends are beginning to lose trust in him. Can the Doctor find a way out of this universe or will he have to try again in the next life?
Following the announcement of the 2005 revival series, Big Finish made the decision to cut the Divergent Universe arc short by two seasons. Some of the leftover stories were axed, some would be reworked to fit later storylines, but it’s very evident from The Next Life that this was not the finale that had been intended for the storyline. With enough major reveals to fill up those two seasons and keep this storyline going, The Next Life feels over packed with ideas and plot development to the point where it feels like character has been lost slightly.
For me this is most apparent in the relationships between Charley, C’rizz and the Doctor. The two companions beginning to lose faith in the Doctor could have been a genuinely riveting storyline going forward, but instead it’s a plot thread introduced and ended far too soon. The same goes for C’rizz, who gets some much needed backstory but it all feels very sudden, and then suddenly doesn’t feel very important.
As a companion he hasn’t been given the best storylines to deal with so far, so seeing him be handed another weak plot is frustrating. Though like a lot of my problems with The Next Life, it’s not so much the idea that’s poor, but it being squished into an already 3 hour story. Yes, that’s right this is a whopping 3 hours long, but doesn’t really justify its length at the same time. As odd as it may sound from my previous complaints, The Next Life spends too much time focusing on an odd plot involving wandering around a jungle for half an hour.
The Next Life desperately wants to be like Zagreus, it’s made by the same team and clearly wants to reach that scale in terms of feeling like a finale, but ultimately it’s too scared of being Zagreus. It’s clear the complaints made about that release have made the creative team a little more hesitant to go too crazy, so this just ends up feeling like Zagreus-lite. The most frustrating thing of all is that this isn’t even a bad story. It’s a solid, entertaining and surprisingly well paced finale. I was for the most part satisfied with this as a finale, even if I thought it was quite rushed.
The Next Life is especially good when it comes to performances, though one could make the argument that this TARDIS team have merely been going through the motions over the last few stories, all three of them have stepped up their game to match the occasion. The highlight for me was Paul McGann in what was his final appearance as the current Doctor, as his next release came out after the 2005 revival. Alongside him is Daphne Ashbrook– or as you may know her Grace Holloway from the 1996 TV Movie. She isn’t playing Grace here, rather a new character called Perfection, but as someone who really enjoys the TV Movie I really got a kick hearing her interact with McGann again, especially considering her character plays with the reactions of her character in the TV Movie.
The Next Life is a satisfying conclusion to a quite controversial era of Eighth Doctor adventures. Its length may be off putting and there’s no doubt many of it’s plot threads should have been continued on in future releases, but for now and the foreseeable future The Next Life is the last we’ll see of the Divergent Universe.
The Next Life is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com