Ahead of the release in March of series 2 of Big Finish’s ‘Charlotte Pollard’ we have taken a look back at 2014’s first series of adventures……
If characters like Sarah Jane, Leela or Romana have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t keep a good companion down for long. Which is why after years of consideration Big Finish favourite Charlotte ‘Charley’ Pollard is finally returning for her own spin-off series.
However, this isn’t quite the same Charley we heard travelling with the eighth and sixth Doctors. A millennium of travelling with the disease-obsessed Viyrans as their human representative has turned her into a more worldly, jaded Charley. But enough is enough, and these stories chart her escape from her captives and start an adventure that the Doctor himself would be proud of.
The Lamentation Cipher by Jonathan Barnes
Charley’s never-ending mission as the emissary of the Viyrans has brought her to the Ever-and-Ever-Prolixity, a space-time anomaly at the edge of Bouhaha Nine-Nine-Five. A routine mission leads to an encounter with wannabe adventurer Robert Buchan, and a chance to escape that she was beginning to think would never come.
The story sets the status quo nicely, getting listeners reacquainted with Charley and her situation since she left the Doctor in Blue Forgotten Planet. In terms of plot structure it’s fairly basic, but leaves plenty of mysteries to be answered over the course of the series.
The Shadow at the Edge of the World by Jonathan Barnes
Propelled through space and time by the Ever-and-Ever-Prolixity, Charley finds herself in 1936 Scotland – where a team of explorers are fighting for their survival in a forest infested by monstrous creatures known as the Slaverings. However all is not quite as it seems, and something else is also on the trail of Charley.
Spear-headed by an all-female cast including Doctor Who veteran Jacqueline King (best remember for her role as Sylvia Noble), The Shadow at the Edge of the World is the part that feels the most like a classic Who story. Sporting a suitably claustrophobic feel and an excellent cast, this tense tale gives way to a wonderful twist as well as fully establishing Charley as a character worthy of taking the lead in her own spin-off series.
The Fall of the House of Pollard by Matt Fitton
Choosing to risk her life over returning to Viyran captivity, Charley’s continuing travels through the Prolixity finally bring her home to parents she never thought she’d see again. However, the loss of their daughter changed Lord Richard and Lady Louisa Pollard, with her father especially becoming a shadow of his former self.
After the adrenaline rush of the previous story, ‘The Fall of the House’ of Pollard is a far more character-driven affair, as Anneke Wills reprises her role as Louisa Pollard. Although a much slower tale with no real twists or turns, it features plenty of callbacks to previous stories and some excellent performances from Fisher, Wills and Terrence Hardiman as Richard Pollard. Its conclusion is a particularly heartbreaking moment, but time lets listeners know that if all goes well there’s plenty of potential for far more Charley solo adventures in the future.
The Viyran Solution by Matt Fitton
Returning two years later to the place where this ordeal began, the truth about the Lamentation Cipher is revealed as the Viyrans reveal their grand plan to eradicate all viruses from the cosmos. However, Charley isn’t their only obstacle, as the mysterious beings have been under the watchful eye of greedy conglomerate head Burt Buchan for some time. And now he’s making his move to claim the Viyrans’ anti-virus technology as his own.
The plot threads woven through the previous three parts all come together here, wrapping up the Viyran chapter of Charley’s story nicely and launching her forward into a fresh set of adventures to be had. The Viyran Solution has the creatures at the very finest, with their misguided-but-not-entirely-evil objectives marking them as one of the most interesting and enduring Big Finish original creations. Nicholas Briggs is also on top form here, putting in an almost unrecognisable performance as the repulsive Burt.
The Viryans are a race that is just begging to get into incorporated into the tv show somehow, so getting a full series with them as the antagonists is a real treat. It’s a shame that this particular series effectively concludes that chapter of Charley’s life, but if this franchise has proved anything you can’t keep a good villain down forever and hopefully this won’t be the last time we hear from them.
However, the series isn’t without its problems. The generally standalone nature of the individual stories means there isn’t a whole lot in the way of character development for anyone other than Charley herself or Robert. That isn’t to say the characters aren’t enjoyable or memorable, but with the likelihood of any of them every showing up ever again it does mean that Charley feels like the only real anchor to keep things going. The spin-off’s theme song is also rather underwhelming, coming off more like a piece of 80s Doctor Who incidental music rather than something that should become immediately identifiable with the character.
All in all, it’s still a strong start for a series of Charlotte Pollard solo adventures and definitely proves the character has plenty of potential outside of the TARDIS. Both Barnes and Fitton have breathed new life into her ongoing story, while India Fisher is as wonderful as ever in the role. With Big Finish’s range of Doctor Who spin-offs ever expanding, it’s about time that one of their oldest creations got her time in the spotlight.
Blogtor Rating – 8/10
CHARLOTTE POLLARD SERIES 1 is available to buy now from Big Finish.
Series 1 Synopsis
Charlotte Pollard’s adventures are over. She escaped death aboard the R101 and travelled in time and space – but now in the service of the monolithic, unknowable Viyrans, their unending mission is stifling her. An encounter with would-be adventurer Robert Buchan, near the mysterious Ever-and-Ever-Prolixity, provides the opportunity Charley needs for escape…
So, the adventuress is abroad once more: meeting a lost expedition in uncharted forests, solving enigmas, and hoping beyond hope to see the people she misses most: her family. But Charley cannot run forever. The Viyrans know the power of the ‘Lamentation Cipher’ and they have a solution… for everything.
Written By: Jonathan Barnes and Matt Fitton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
India Fisher (Charlotte Pollard), Anneke Wills (Lady Louisa Pollard), Terrence Hardiman (Lord Richard Pollard), Michael Maloney (Viyrans), James Joyce (Robert Buchan), Nicholas Briggs (Bert Buchan/The Slaverings), Jacqueline King (Mrs Turnerman), Abigail McKern (Susan Broadstairs), Nicola Weeks (Charity Savage), Lucy May Barker (Emmeline Leigh), Charlie Norfolk (Violet Warren), David Dobson (Michael Dee), Louise Brealey (Millicent Belanger III), Nadia Kamil (Miss Griffin)
Producer and Script Editor Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
CHARLOTTE POLLARD SERIES 2 is now available to pre-order for release in March 2017.