REVIEW | Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard – The Further Adventuress

Everyone’s favourite Edwardian adventuress is back for Further Adventures(s) with the Eighth Doctor! India Fisher returns as Charlotte Pollard alongside Paul McGann in these four all-new audio stories from Big Finish Productions, which will take the TARDIS twosome all the way from 19th century Paris to the Garazone System in the far future. Read on for our review!

And if you’re interested in our complete (!!!) set of reviews for all of the Eighth Doctor and Charley’s other audio adventures, compiled by Kieran Brennan, check out the Eighth Doctor Revisited page here!


1. “The Mummy Speaks!” by Alan Barnes

The man who created Charley way back in 2001’s Storm Warning, Alan Barnes, returns to write the opening story of this boxset: The Mummy Speaks! The Doctor and Charley arrive at the Carnaval de Paris in 1841, and encounter the enigmatic Cagliostro, a performer who, somehow, has the ability to raise an Egyptian mummy back from the dead and make it speak. Soon, the Doctor and Charley find themselves in pursuit of Cagliostro and the mummy, Khaset, as they become involved in a spate of burglaries, and a terrifying plot from far beyond the stars.

What struck me about this story was just how fun it was. Right from the off, The Mummy Speaks! is enormously entertaining, partly because of Paul McGann and India Fisher‘s excellent chemistry, and partly because this is a script that never takes itself too seriously. It’s not an outright farce, but it’s almost there, throwing in some truly wacky elements (the Doctor and Charley are accompanied by a gorilla called Guy for much of the story, which is one of the best things I’ve ever heard) and taking the TARDIS twosome on a real romp of an adventure.

It’s almost a shame, then, when all the carnivals, chases and comedics give way to the more dramatic, sci-fi stuff. Of course, this is Doctor Who, so there’s bound to be an alien plot at the heart of things and, admittedly, it’s quite an original one, but this episode’s strengths really lie with its characters, atmosphere and rollicking, adventurous tone.

John Banks stars as Cagliostro, putting in a suitably villainous performance, while Cyril Nri is excellent as the sinister, reanimated mummy Khaset. Meanwhile, Mark Elstob excels as a variety of quirky Parisian citizens, such as comedy policeman Le Roi and an unfortunate baron.

Overall, The Mummy Speaks! is a fantastic opener to this boxset: fun, action-packed and, above all else, a welcome return for the glorious pairing of the Eighth Doctor and Charley.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

2. “Eclipse” by Lisa McMullin

The second story in the set, Eclipse, starts off right in the thick of the action, as the Doctor and Charley flee a horde of gigantic alien moths on the forest planet of Pteron. They soon encounter a human colonist by the name of Keelda, whose brother has mysteriously gone missing, and decide to help him out. Journeying deep into the woods, the Doctor and Charley discover that Pteron holds a terrible secret, which is about to be exploited by some very terrible people indeed… but before they can work out what it is, they’ll have to deal with the terrifying masses of the Hellstrung.

Eclipse is certainly a more by-the-numbers story than The Mummy Speaks!, at least in terms of plot; Earth colony besieged by aliens is a very traditional premise for a Doctor Who episode, but thankfully McMullin elevates it with some nice twists and turns. The Hellstrung, for example, are a great and novel concept for a villain- a whole eclipse of enormous moths brought to life by sound designer Joe Kraemer– while there’s some very pertinent and effective political commentary woven throughout the script the likes of which hasn’t really been seen in Doctor Who before.

The guest characters here feel a little underdeveloped, with Theo Solomon‘s Keelda never really getting much more characterisation than ‘worried younger brother’ and Chris Jarman‘s Pattos being little more than a brutish grunt, though Rhoda Ofori-Attah gets some good material as the villainous Tarper, who has a really interesting backstory. Meanwhile, Paul McGann and India Fisher are excellent as ever in their roles as the Doctor and Charley, with McMullin giving them some cracking dialogue throughout.

Overall, this is certainly a more traditional kind of story than those before and after it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when McMullin makes so many interesting tweaks to the formula. Slightly less compelling guest characters stop this from reaching the heights of its predecessor, but it’s still one of the stronger stories in this set. Good stuff.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

3. “The Slaying of the Writhing Mass” by Eddie Robson

The Slaying of the Writhing Mass (what a title!) sees the TARDIS become caught in a temporal traffic jam, as a whole host of time-travelling spaceships line up to watch an important historical event. The Doctor and Charley, responding to a distress signal from the planet below, decide to hop from ship to ship in order to get to the front of the queue, but end up becoming caught in a timey-wimey plot to disrupt the course of history. Teaming up with an officious Time Agent, a troublesome student and a beleaguered schoolteacher, the TARDIS team must ensure the legendary slaying of the Writhing Mass goes ahead, or risk wiping an entire civilisation’s history from the face of the universe.

This is definitely a story of two halves. The first part is excellent, perfectly setting up the world in which this story takes place and the various characters involved. It’s somewhat surreal at times, with out-there concepts like a creature who moves through the time vortex selling concessions and souvenirs; a group of school children on a time-travelling field trip; and indeed the central concept of a temporal traffic jam itself.

Then, we have the second part where, sadly, I think things fall apart. A time-travel plot is introduced which, while mostly pretty easy to follow, complicates what had, until now, been a charmingly straightforward tale. The characters seem a little aimless, and the titular Writhing Mass barely even appears! It’s nothing actively bad, but it didn’t really hold my attention.

I think part of it is due to the guest characters who, while all well-performed, just didn’t catch my attention. Schoolteacher Alicantis (Rhoda Ofori-Attah) is pretty one-note, strict and brusque, while Time Agent Laorie (Yazmin Mwanza) is just a generic, timehopping police officer the likes of which we’ve seen countless times in Doctor Who. Shiloh Coke‘s rebellious schoolgirl Constella fares somewhat better, and shares some fun scenes with Paul McGann‘s Doctor which bring to mind the relationship between Peter Capaldi‘s Twelfth Doctor and Ellis George‘s Courtney Woods, but apart from that she’s quite one-dimensional too.

Overall, this is a fairly average story elevated by some nice worldbuilding in the first part, and a couple of intriguing twists.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

4. “Heart of Orion” by Nicholas Briggs

Heart of Orion takes us back to the world of 2001’s Sword of Orion, with the Doctor and Charley arriving once again in the Garazone system on the trail of a distress call. Becoming involved with police officer Dakota Bly, the team soon discover that an old friend who they believed to have died may just be alive… and with her return comes a major threat for the human race. How could Deeva Jansen possibly have survived? And what lengths will she go to to ensure she and her fellow androids win the Orion War?

This story is, in a way, the opposite of its predecessor. While I found the first part of this one perfectly fine, the second part is where things really step up a notch, with writer Nicholas Briggs introducing all kinds of really interesting elements. The whole android/human conflict was one of the most innovative and creative parts of Sword of Orion, and it gets picked up in a big way here, leading to some of the most thought-provoking and arresting parts of this boxset. As a philosophy student myself, anything that taps into the sorts of ideas discussed here is automatically right up my street, and I really enjoyed the moral and philosophical quandaries raised by Briggs’ script.

India Fisher excels here as Charley, with the character facing quite a lot of angst in the second half as some unsavoury truths are revealed. Fisher brings her fear and terror to life in a way that feels palpable and real, giving her best performance of the set. Paul McGann is on fire as usual, and has excellent chemistry with Rakie Ayola‘s devoted police officer Dakota Bly, and the mercurial Deeva Jansen, the role of whom is reprised by Michelle Livingstone.

The sound design here is also strong, with both the fan-pleasing return of sound effects and ambience from the original Sword of Orion (I’d recognise that catchy bazaar music anywhere!), and some exciting new soundscapes too.

Overall, while a slightly less interesting first half prevents Heart of Orion from reaching the heights of The Mummy Speaks!, this script is one of the highlights of this boxset, taking the world of a twenty year old story and spinning it in a gripping new direction. The hallmark of a good story for me is the desire to know what happens next once it’s done, and with such a strong and thought-provoking ending, that’s certainly the case here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall

A glorious return for the Eighth Doctor and Charley, and a wonderful dose of nostalgia for their early adventures together (not that I can remember, them- this reviewer wasn’t even born when they first came out!!!). While the opening and closing instalments of the set are the strongest, the middle stories are by no means bad, and all come together to form a boxset which is consistently enjoyable from start to finish. Paul McGann and India Fisher are an absolute joy to hear back together, and I hope we don’t have to wait as long for some more Further Adventuress in the future. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard – The Further Adventuress is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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