The Stranded series hurtles towards its close with Stranded 3, out now from Big Finish Productions! Read on for our thoughts on each instalment of the Eighth Doctor’s latest collection of audio adventures!
1. “Patience” by Tim Foley
The TARDIS team find themselves split up across the universe, with no memory of how they got there or why. Oh, and the Judoon are on their trail, for reasons they can’t quite remember. Where is the Doctor? Why has the team split up? And what is the Paradoxica?
First things first, this is a very confusing story. For pretty much three quarters of the runtime, neither the listener, nor the characters knows what’s going on. We spend most of our time with Liv, Helen, Andy and Tania going about their day to day lives while split up over two separate planets, with brief interjections from the Doctor, who is reciting a Gallifreyan legend. Apart from that, there’s not all that much substance to this story. Honestly, I’m writing this review a week after listening to it and… I really can’t remember what happened in it.
There are some nice character moments throughout, especially for Nicola Walker‘s Liv and Rebecca Root‘s Tania, but everyone spends so much time in this being dazed and confused that there’s not much room for characterisation apart from questioning and bemusement. Even when everything is explained at the end, the listener sort of feels like making this an hour-long story wasn’t worth it. Patience advances the story so little, both in terms of its characters and the overarching Stranded plot, that I almost don’t think it justifies its own existence. As for the Judoon, who are brought to life as usual by the inimitable Nicholas Briggs, they’re used well here, but aren’t really in it all that much.
Overall, this is the first major misfire in the Stranded series, which is a shame, because Tim Foley is one of my favourite Big Finish writers. It’s well-performed, and I loved the New Adventures vibe and references, but I just came away from this one feeling a bit… meh. Oh well, onwards and upwards!
2. “Twisted Folklore” by Lizzie Hopley
Much like the previous story, Twisted Folklore starts in media res, with the Doctor and friends already in the midst of a mission to uncover the truth about the aberrant timeline they’ve found themselves in. This time, however, they’re all in the same place: the planet Rarkelia, which we first heard about way back in Stranded 1‘s finale, Divine Intervention. Undercover and attempting to learn the truth about Divine Intervention, the team must try and remain surreptitious in their investigations… but with traitors around every corner, it seems that won’t be as easy as they’d hoped.
Starting a second story in a row like this, in the thick of the action on a faraway alien planet, is certainly a bold move from the team behind Stranded, however it’s one that I don’t really think pays off. While this story is certainly less confusing than its predecessor, it does feel a bit samey, and is at odds with the kind of lowkey storytelling that made the first two boxsets in this series such a success. I can’t fault the writers for their innovation, and breaking away from the formula is always a good thing, but this felt like a bit too much.
The main cast are on top form as usual, and Hattie Morahan is particularly impressive here, going up against Anjella MacKintosh‘s sinister Professor Wilks, but there aren’t really any other standouts. I did wonder why Tom Price‘s Andy Davidson wasn’t in this one, considering he’s in the rest of the set. Considering this is a series with such a focus on its characters, not giving an explanation for his absence was a bit of a misstep in my opinion.
Overall, this story is by no means bad, but it definitely suffers from coming right after quite a similar one. Nevertheless, it’s a solid dystopian tale with a few nice moments peppered throughout.
3. “Snow” by James Kettle
The Doctor, Liv, Helen and Andy arrive on Baker Street in 2035, halfway between the present day and the coming cataclysm, in an effort to work out where things began to go wrong. As the Doctor and Helen visit their house, they reunite with Ron Winters and discover that Baker Street is the only place on Earth where snow ever falls anymore. Meanwhile, Liv and Andy encounter an familiar face in an unfamiliar situation, and witness the beginnings of Divine Intervention…
Now this is more like it! Snow is a triumphant return to the kind of stories from the first two Stranded boxsets, with a clear, simple plot and lots of focus on characters. It’s probably one of the strongest stories in the series so far, actually; James Kettle really gets the kind of story that the Stranded setup allows, and delivers a corker, packed with lots of lovely emotional moments.
Much of this emotion comes from David Shaw-Parker‘s Ron; set after his husband Tony has passed away, Snow is a touching exploration of grief and loneliness, with moments of cutting pathos on the level of John Dorney‘s superlative Wild Animals from the first set. It’s also a very shrewd, pertinent exploration of fascism, giving an unflinching look at a society that has fallen to the influence of the far-right. Rebecca Root and Avita Jay (returning as Zakia Akhtar) handle this side of the episode, and do a fantastic job at showing both sides of the coin in this tale of oppressor VS oppressed.
Returning to the intimate, emotional storytelling of the first two Stranded series, Snow is the strongest installment in this boxset. While a slightly fudged ending stops it getting full marks, this is nevertheless a very good script indeed. Fantastic stuff.
4. “What Just Happened?” by John Dorney
What Just Happened? That’s what you’ll be asking after the first minute of listening to this one. Told in reverse order, starting with the cast credits and closing theme, before continuing with the final scene and heading backwards to the start, this story is difficult, at first, to wrap your head around. It’s surprisingly easy to follow, however, even if putting the ending at the beginning spoils most of the story’s surprises before they’ve even happened.
Honestly, as good as this story is, I’m not quite sure why it needed to be told backwards. There are a couple of nice moments that are given a bit of extra oomph by being out of order, but otherwise… no idea. It’s not really a problem, given the strength of the plot, but just a bit of a head-scratcher.
Anyway, this story sees the Doctor, Liv, Helen and Andy once again visit the alternate future from the previous stories in the series, but this time right before whatever happens to planet Earth. Infiltrating Divine Intervention, they uncover the truth behind who the mysterious alternate Doctor is, and what he’s planning for the human race.
Of course, we as the listener already know that the other Doctor is really Joel Davison‘s Robin, so it’s not much of a surprise that he’s back in this episode. This is Davison’s best crack at the character yet; he gets across his petulance and arrogance, without ever seeming unreasonable. Heres hoping we see him back again in the next and final boxset.
All in all, this is another strong story which, while dodging the standard Stranded trappings, doesn’t completely do away with them as in the first two stories. A great conclusion to the set.
The Stranded series thus far has undeniably been very experimental, completely eschewing all of the usual tropes that make a Doctor Who what it is. Stranded 3, however, is the most experimental of the lot, with three out of the four episodes being told either non-chronologically or in media res. In such an eclectic collection of stories, however, it’s the most traditional, Snow, that truly shines, leading me to wonder how much better this set would have been if more of its stories had stuck to the tried-and-true Stranded formula. Nevertheless, this is still a strong release, whose highs definitely make all the chaos worth it. Recommended.
Stranded 3 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com