It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for. The Stranded series comes to an earth-shattering conclusion in Stranded 4: a collection of four all-new audio adventures from Big Finish! While the first boxset in the series was Who Review‘s favourite release of 2020 (see the full rankings here), volumes two and three didn’t quite recapture those dizzying heights. Will this final instalment in the series manage a return to the brilliance of Stranded 1? Read on to find out!
WARNING: While there will be no major spoilers for Stranded 4 in this review (though your mileage may vary), we will be discussing Stranded 1-3 with no holds barred! Read on at your own risk!
1. “Crossed Lines” by Matt Fitton
After the tragic events of What Just Happened?, the Doctor decides to travel back in time and change history. Accompanying him on this dangerous mission is Helen… what truths will they learn in the past? Meanwhile, Liv and Tanya pay a visit to an old friend with a new face. What has happened to the Curator?
Written by Matt Fitton, Crossed Lines marks the beginning of the end of the Stranded series, and what a way to do it! Fitton juggles character drama, huge revelations and timey-wimeyness with aplomb, telling what could potentially have been quite a complicated story set over multiple time periods with simplicity, clarity and lots of gorgeous dialogue, particularly for the Doctor and the Curator.
Speaking of whom, yes, that most mysterious Time Lord returns here, played by none other than Colin Baker! I know many people, including myself, were skeptical when it was announced that the character would be played by a different Baker than usual in this boxset, but, right from his very first scene, the new Curator absolutely puts all those worries to rest. Fitton once again proves a dab hand at crafting the character’s suitably enigmatic dialogue, while Baker has a ball playing this sort-of Doctor, echoing both his predecessor’s performance and his own performance as the Sixth Doctor, while putting a fresh spin on things.
Also returning here is Clive Wood as Mr. Bird. One of the most interesting and yet underexplored parts of the Stranded series, Mr. Bird finally gets some more substantial airtime, as we find out just who he is and how he’s connected to the greater narrative. His identity isn’t exactly a mind-boggling surprise (there have been quite a few clues throughout the series), but the implications are well-explored throughout this story, and indeed the rest of the boxset.
Crossed Lines is an excellent story from start to finish, jam-packed with beautiful dialogue, evocative imagery, game-changing reveals and brought to life by some wonderful performances from the main cast. With this script, Stranded 4 gets off to a stellar start indeed.
2. “Get Andy” by Lisa McMullin
The Doctor’s popping out for a bit. To get milk? Bread? A takeaway? No, to get Andy of course! Travelling back to the moment of Andy’s death, the Doctor is hell-bent on saving his friend and averting the damage done to the timeline. But, when he arrives, he finds that someone else has got there first! What does Mr. Bird want with Andy?
This is an odd story, in all honesty, taking an hour to do what could really have been accomplished in ten minutes. The overall plot doesn’t advance as much as elsewhere in the boxset, and the title basically gives away what little does happen. We get some really nice scenes between Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan, but they don’t really go anywhere, and just feel like wheel spinning until we reach the finale. Furthermore, Mr. Bird is woefully underused, which is a shame given that what’s here is great.
All in all, Get Andy is the weakest story in this set, with not much in the way of plot. Nevertheless, it’s still an entertaining way to spend an hour, and writer Lisa McMullin writes some lovely character interactions between the Doctor, Liv, Helen and Andy.
3. “The Keys of Baker Street” by Roy Gill
Time is falling apart, and 107 Baker Street is the only thing left of reality. The Doctor, Liv, Helen and Andy must reach the attic before it’s too late. But what ghosts lurk behind the doors of the house? To what end has the Curator been manipulating things behind the scenes? And what is the secret power of the six keys to Baker Street?
As you might expect from its proximity to Stranded‘s grand finale, The Keys of Baker Street is a hard story to talk about without spoiling anything. Needless to say, there are some shocking revelations as all the disparate seeds sown over the past fourteen episodes finally begin to connect. The entire cast is on top form throughout, perfectly matching the urgency of the script, and expertly bringing to life the powerful and thought-provoking scenes written by Roy Gill.
Paul McGann and Joel James Davison give particularly strong performances as the Doctor and Robin, though the rest of the cast are all blindingly good as ever. Colin Baker makes a stellar final impression as the Curator, too, as the reason for his character’s presence in the narrative finally becomes clear.
And what an ending. The final lines of this story sent shivers of dread up and down my spine; Doctor Who has never been as real or as hard-hitting as this. As the last scene comes to a close, and the theme music crashes in for the penultimate time in this boxset, you just know that you’re in for a rollercoaster with the next and final episode…
4. “Best Year Ever” by John Dorney
So, here we have it; after two years, four boxsets and sixteen episodes, Stranded comes to a close. And what a finale this is! There’s very little I can say about it without spoiling this episode or the end of the previous one, but it’s very similar in tone and style to John Dorney‘s first script for the series, Wild Animals, in that it’s rooted far more in real life than in science fiction.
Like in that episode, there are some very sensitive and pertinent topics discussed throughout this story, but these are, of course, handled with the utmost care. The way Dorney ties the overall Stranded story arc into events a little closer to home is admirable, and makes for a thought-provoking listen.
This is a very emotional story, seeing the TARDIS team contemplate their futures and the prospect of leaving their Baker Street family behind. I’ll give no spoilers here, but every character, from the Doctor, Liv and Helen, to Tanya, Andy and the rest of the Baker Street gang, gets a satisfying ending. I did feel some of the script’s bigger moments were somewhat underplayed, which meant they didn’t hold quite as much weight as was probably intended, but there’s no denying that Dorney tugs at the listener’s heartstrings throughout this finale.
Overall, while Best Year Ever certainly isn’t Stranded‘s best story, it’s by far one of its most original: an hour of strong, affecting character drama, the likes of which we’ve never seen before in the world of Doctor Who. As for where the Eighth Doctor goes next, who knows? But after this boxset, I’m excited to see what the team at Big Finish comes up with next.
Stranded 4 is a success from start to finish, beautifully wrapping up the various storylines explored in the previous three boxsets, before delving into poignant new territory for Doctor Who with John Dorney‘s groundbreaking finale. While the first and third stories of the set are the clear standouts, each of the scripts here is a success, packed with emotion, character drama and the gorgeously simple sci-fi which has defined the Stranded series throughout its run. As it stands, Stranded 4 is the best release of the year so far.
Taking Doctor Who away from time and space and setting it on an ordinary street; introducing the show’s first transgender companion in Rebecca Root‘s Tania Bell; putting an LGBT+ relationship front and centre and letting it unfold over sixteen hours; and telling new and often very emotionally impactful stories about different ways of being stranded, this series has been groundbreaking from start to finish, and a true highlight of Big Finish‘s output over the last few years. Here’s to more of this kind of daring storytelling in the future.
Doctor Who: Stranded 4 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com