Doctor Who: The Girl Who Never Was Review
The Eighth Doctor and Charlotte Pollard's adventures are about to come to an end... But first, they must fight the Cybermen one last time!
In 2007, the Eighth Doctor was given a new lease of life when Big Finish combined with BBC Radio 7 to bring us the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Partnering him with Sheridan Smith's Lucie Miller, the series was a hit success, and paved the way for a whole new format for Paul McGann's Time Lord. However, there still remained the thorny issue of McGann's previous companions: Edwardian adventuress Charlotte Pollard and Eutermesan C'rizz. And so, towards the end of 2007, Big Finish released two stories to conclude the character's journey's: "Absolution", which brought C'rizz travels to an end, and "The Girl Who Never Was", which would write out Charley. And this is as fitting a finale as you can get, with high stakes, some dramatic cliff-hangers, and, of course, the return of the Cybermen. This all makes for a fine send off for the Edwardian adventuress.
Opening shortly after the events of "Absolution", the Doctor is taking Charley back to 1930, after the crash of the R101 airship. However, the TARDIS is thrown off course, and they actually end up in 2008, where they soon become embroiled in a mystery involving a boat that disappeared in 1942. Separated across time, it soon becomes clear that something far more dangerous is going on... and then the Cybermen turn up. There are so many twists and turns in this story that it is really hard to talk about without spoilers, but I'll give it a go. Starting out with a relatively simple mystery, writer Alan Barnes builds the story up layer by layer, as we barrel towards the inevitable conclusion at the end, and really goes to town with the finale 'feel' of this story. While the stakes may be relatively small-scale (in comparison to most modern-day companion departure stories), there's still a sense of escalating events, as things run rapidly out of the Doctor and Charley's control. What starts out as a mild maritime mystery quickly becomes something else when the Cybermen stomp their way into the story at the end of the second episode, and the stakes are raised considerably for the Doctor and Charley. There's also a number of smaller mysteries that feed into each other across the various time periods the story takes place in, and it gives the story a time-twisting narrative that fits with the final story for the Edwardian Adventuress who should have died on the R101. For one character in particular (I can't say who for fear of spoilers), we get to see two different sides to them in the two time zones, and we get older and younger versions that pose a mystery for the Doctor alongside battling the Cybermen. While this may seem complicated, Barnes skilfully makes it easy to follow, so long as you are paying attention to what is going on. As such, it sits in quite an interesting niche, and works for both those who like their Doctor Who complex and those who prefer a simpler narrative. It also helps that the Cybermen are at their best here: they may not be the centre of the story, but Barnes isn't afraid to push the horror element to remarkable success. They are so desperate to survive, they will do anything to achieve it, and that comes across really clearly in the script. While they may not have a hugely convoluted plan, they don't really need one, and the story works without them being this hugely powerful, destructive force.
Because the Cybermen are not the main focus, Alan Barnes focuses more on the Doctor and Charley, and their relationship. Of course, with this being Charley's last story, it is an important aspect to focus upon, but some Doctor Who stories prefer to feature a companion departure as an almost secondary concern. (Throughout a lot of the Classic Series, this was practically expected.) "The Girl Who Never Was", however, makes this the key focus of the story, and, while the Doctor and Charley do spend a lot of the story separated, we still get to see how their relationship shapes the choices they make. It's clear Barnes has a love for these characters, and it makes the ending even more heart-breaking as a result. Barnes also recognises that Charley can lead the story just as effectively as the Doctor, and, as such, we get a fair amount of her in the role usually reserved for the Time Lord. In many ways, it is this story that sets up the idea of her being able to front her own spin-off, I feel... The guest cast do perhaps suffer as a result: there's little in the way of development for the two Byron's, for example, but the character of Madeline provides a nice contrast with where Charley started out in "Storm Warning". While the characters may be fairly thin, they fill their roles in the story, and it helps that director Barnaby Edwards has assembled an absolutely top quality cast. Anna Massey, Danny Webb, Amanda Root and David Yip all bring the guest characters to life with a realism that works in the context of the script. Massey, in particular, is wonderful in the role of 'Miss Pollard' (and I shall not elaborate further for fear of spoilers), and she shares great chemistry with Paul McGann, which helps to make this role utterly believable, something that you need to make the part work. Of course, the stars are, without doubt, Paul McGann and India Fisher, who, across the course of two hours, remind you why they are one of the definitive TARDIS teams in the show's history. The pair bounce off each other wonderfully, and, while it it a shame that it had to end, at least it ends in such style... On the direction front, Barnaby Edwards has done some superb work here. The cast are spot on, and everything is brought together with style. Post-production wise, Gareth Jenkins and Andy Hardwick bring the story to life with sweeping sound design and a hugely cinematic score. In particular, it is wonderful to hear Hardwick resurrect his theme for Charley first heard in "Zagreus" for this final adventure, and it just helps to bring everything full circle. In production terms, this is a hugely polished adventure.
Overall, then, "The Girl Who Never Was" is, without doubt, an exemplary adventure to draw a curtain on the Eighth Doctor and Charlotte Pollard's time together. While one could argue the script takes a few illogical leaps in order to reach its ending, that would be dismissive of just how exciting and well-constructed this is. Focusing on the Doctor and Charley's relationship, this story reminds the listener of all the glorious times we've had with the pair, while, at the same time, telling a fun story with a great central mystery. Of course, this wasn't the end for either the Eighth Doctor or Charley: for the Doctor, his adventures with Lucie Miller had already begun, and would continue, while Charley was about to find herself partnered with possibly the most unlikely candidate one could ever imagine - but that's, as they say, another story...
You can purchase "The Girl Who Never Was" as a digital download from the Big Finish website (see below). Just type "Never" into the search bar at the top of the page.
All pictures copyright to Big Finish Productions/the BBC. Thank you very much for reading.
About the Creator
Joseph A. Morrison
25. Fan of Doctor Who, Blake's 7, The Prisoner and more old-fashioned TV. Reviewer, wannabe writer and general twit.
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