Doctor Who
The Next Life

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 105 X
Available 07 January 2005

When the TARDIS apparently collides with a planet and disintegrates, Charley and C'rizz find themselves reunited with departed loved ones. In reality, they are in the grip of the Doctor's most dangerous rival. Meanwhile, washed up on a beach, the Time Lord is rescued by a woman called Perfection...

This, the final Paul McGann Doctor Who audio adventure to be released as part of a "season" (because the launch of the new television series starring Christopher Eccleston means that McGann is no longer the current Doctor), is very much a companion piece to the earlier Zagreus. Like Zagreus, The Next Life is a three-disc release with a running time in excess of three hours (though still very reasonably priced). Whereas Zagreus kicked off the "divergent universe" story arc, this tale rounds it off.

Anneke Wills makes a welcome return to the role she played in Zagreus, that of Charley's (India Fisher) mother, Lady Louisa Pollard. Likewise, Don (Rising Damp) Warrington returns as a decidedly shifty Rassilon.

Joining the cast is Paul (Blake's 7, Kaldor City) Darrow as a Eutermesan spiritual leader, Guidance, and Daphne Ashbrook as Perfection. I didn't recognise Darrow at first, as he initially adopts a more mystical tone of voice than usual, but before long he has slipped back into the cynical, conniving type of role that we know and love.

Ashbrook, of course, played Dr Grace Holloway in the Doctor Who TV movie. Writers Alan Barnes and Gary Russell cannot resist the occasional in-joke about her former character's name. However, since both Charley and C'rizz (Conrad Westmaas) are visited by illusory people from their pasts, one wonders why the production team didn't go the whole hog and cast Ashbrook as Grace, a woman from the Doctor's past. It's possible this idea was ruled out because Grace has already made a return appearance in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip.

I don't think I'm giving anything away if I reveal that the Doctor makes it back to "our" universe by the end of the story. After all, we already know the status of his next life - that is, Chris Eccleston's incarnation. However, the writers keep us guessing as to what will become of Charley and C'rizz who, after all, play no part whatsoever in the new television series.

The resolution of the "alternate universe" arc is a little convoluted, to say the least. Pay close attention, and be prepared to skip back a few seconds to listen to certain bits again in order to fully grasp what is said.

A decent enough release, but I have higher hopes for the next one.

Richard McGinlay

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