Doctor Who
The Girl Who Never Was

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 287 6
Available 30 December 2007

“Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. Someone’s listening. Somewhere...” Set course for Singapore, 1931. Journey’s end... Despite the Doctor’s protestations, Charley insists on leaving him, bringing to an end the Edwardian adventuress’s travels on board the TARDIS. But in Singapore (in the wrong year, naturally) they discover a ghost ship, a temporal conundrum, a girl with no memory, and an old and deadly enemy. This could be Charlotte Elspeth Pollard’s finest hour - or her last...

The previous Eighth Doctor audio drama, Absolution, saw the demise of C’rizz; this one sees the departure of Charley Pollard (India Fisher). The ending of Absolution quite neatly set up the circumstances for Charley’s decision to leave the Doctor (Paul McGann). Which is good, because otherwise the writing out of two companions in quick succession might have seemed contrived, like the departure of Turlough in Planet of Fire straight after Tegan’s exit in Resurrection of the Daleks (though Big Finish has helped to remedy that situation by inserting some additional Turlough adventures in between!).

Despite Charley’s tiff, she soon regains her spirit of adventure, as events distract her from her dismissive mood, rather like the Tenth Doctor’s amusing abortive departure from Martha Jones at the start of The Lazarus Experiment. Which is good, because it would have been a rather dreary story if Charley had spent the whole four episodes in a strop.

The script is by Alan Barnes, the writer who created Charley and introduced her in Storm Warning, way back in 2001 (recorded in 2000). There are a number of thematic connections with that debut tale, including the Doctor’s botched attempts to get his companion to 1930s Singapore, a shipping disaster, a young woman (Amanda Root) disguised as a cabin boy (not very convincingly, it has to be said), and a mention of storm warnings themselves by Anna Massey as the mysterious “Miss Pollard”. Most importantly, like Storm Warning, this story is fun. The Eighth Doctor and Charley are obviously made for each other, as evidenced by the way they unconsciously repeat each other’s phrases, even when they’re not in the same room - or even the same time zone - which makes this parting of the ways all the more tragic. Barnes keeps you guessing as to Charley’s ultimate fate throughout the story, and particularly during the final episode.

The writer also pays homage to the alleged US naval experiment known as the Philadelphia Experiment and the time-travel aspects of the movie of the same name.

The plot’s use of multiple time periods is potentially confusing and does require close attention on the part of the listener. In fact, I felt the need to listen to the story again before I reviewed it - which is no great chore, especially with such an appealing cast.

Anna Massey is wonderful, as is Danny Webb (The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit) in a dual role as shipwreck-hunter Byron and his own grandfather. And you might not even recognise David Yip (The Chinese Detective) and Robert Duncan (Drop the Dead Donkey, Old Harry’s Game) in some of their dual roles.

But what is it with the Cybermen and Eighth Doctor finales? They appeared in The Flood, the final Eighth Doctor comic strip, and in Human Resources, the closing storyline of the first BBC 7 series featuring Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller (the companion who has now replaced Charley). Here, again voiced by Nicholas Briggs, the Cybermen sound very similar to the way they did in Human Resources, though they are apparently from a later period in Cyber-history (they don’t query the Doctor’s reference to the planet Telos, as they did in Human Resources). Barnes and director Barnaby Edwards make interesting use of the cybernetic foes - though I doubt that a piano lid would do a Cyberman much harm, as it seems to do here.

During the interviews at the end of each disc, McGann and Webb discuss their previous co-starring roles in Alien 3 and Nicholas Briggs talks Cyber-voices.

There never was a departure story quite like The Girl Who Never Was.

Richard McGinlay

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