Wednesday, April 24, 2013
We learn that Charley not dying when she was supposed to, has created a breach between the normal universe and an anti-verse made up of beings of anti-time. The incursion of these beings of anti-time is not a friendly one and the universe and the entire web of time are at stake. The intro consists of voices in the matrix reciting various points in history from different times and places only to end with the voices getting confused and crying out that they can't remember. It's a chilling intro that makes it clear that things are very wrong. The Doctor and Charley are pursued and ultimately captured by Romana and the Time Lords. They end up using Charley to travel to this anti-verse, where they meet the Neverpeople of anti-time. They also seem to find a lost TARDIS of Rassilon himself along with his "remains" in a casket. Or is it all a sinister plot by the Neverpeople?
There are many highlights to this tale. When the Doctor is shown a possible future of Gallifrey due to all the havoc being played to the time line where Romana is a dark Imperatrix who coldly sentences the entire Dalek race (still trapped in the vortex after the events of "Time of the Daleks"), it is a truly chilling scene. The performance of India Fisher as Sentris - the chief Neverperson - who has adopted Charley's form is fantastic. She pitches her voice a bit lower and with a little added effects sounds like quite an evil bastard! The discovery of Rassilon and his recording imploring his people to return him home feels hugely momentous. Finding out that the Neverpeople are in fact Time Lords who were erased from history in barbaric (and often unjust) executions is a nice revelation. Perhaps the episode's best highlight is the brilliant scene where Sentris gives the Doctor the chance to save the entire universe, except he has to kill Charley to do it. It's a gut wrenching scene, where Charley begs him to do it, but of course the Doctor won't. It was also quite momentous to hear the Doctor tell Charley that she's his friend and he loves her. You just didn't get this kind of closeness on the classic series, and before the new series' return in 2005, this was really breaking new ground in the Doctor/companion dynamic. It's also lovely when the Doctor, just before sacrificing the TARDIS and himself to save the day, is scooped into the Matrix by Rassilon to discuss what's happened. Here it is revealed who the Doctor was talking to during the narration bits of "Seasons of Fear". It's interesting how benevolent the portrayal of Rassilon is here (and it should be said, Don Warrington's majestic voice gives Rassilon all the majesty you would expect), given how things would go in the future.
But perhaps all of that pales beside the story's thrilling ending and shocking cliffhanger. When the Doctor (corrupted by the explosion of anti-time trapped in the TARDIS) actually strikes Charley and then bellows, "I am Zagreus!" it still gives me goosebumps. Having come into Big Finish in 2004, I can only imagine what it would have been like to wait for months after this for the 30th anniversary followup "Zagreus" in 2003. (Much more on that story, later...) "Neverland" in many ways represents Big Finish at its story telling best. The wonderful references to Zagreus in multiple Doctor Who stories, the teasing that Charley's survival was going to cause problems - it all gets tied up beautifully here. It's also a delight when the Doctor and Romana briefly team up and plot against the Neverpeople. It really feels like old times, which never quite happened in their reunion in "The Apocalypse Element". Are there problems? Sure, there are way too many talky scenes that stretch on and on. We really could have done with some trimming and having the normal episode breaks. Still, this story is a triumph, and punctuates how effective a pairing the Doctor and Charley are. Sadly, things will never be the same after this...