It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for. It’s time to say goodbye to Baker Street in the final volume of Stranded. But will it, or the world, be left standing?
One of Doctor Who’s most sprawling epics draws to a close with the fourth and final volume of Stranded. But more than that, it seems that this represents an end to a wider era of the Eighth Doctor travels. Since 2012’s Dark Eyes, the forward thrust of his Big Finish adventures has been a series of sixteen episode sagas. But with word that when he next meet him again, it will be a return to more episodic, stand alone storytelling, Stranded 4 really does feel like a goodbye to the Eighth Doctor range as we know it.
Appropriately, it many ways these four stories feel less like a climax, and more like a coda. When last we left the residents of the Doctor’s Baker Street abode, they had finally uncovered the identity and motive of the mysterious ‘Other Doctor’ behind Divine Intervention and the merciless Earth Empire. They’d also comprehensively failed to prevent the extinction of the human race in the far future. And they’d also lost Andy into the bargain, left to die on an exploding spaceship.
The first half of Stranded 4 brings resolution to those plot points, but in a relatively low key way. When it was first announced, the very premise of Stranded felt distinctly un-Doctor Who. The Doctor and his friends trapped in a single time and place, simply navigating the banalities of life in 2020. A series about nothing happening. It’s a notion to which this ultimate volume re-examines in various ways.
Crossed Lines makes one of Stranded’s themes literal, as a woman shaped void of Nothing Ever Happens threatens reality
The first episode in the set, Crossed Lines, brings everything to a head as the Doctor determines to fix the future once and for all. The Time Lord and Helen go back in time to their own past. The Doctor’s on a reckless mission to alter the fate of one of the Baker Street housemates. But things quickly get out of control, as they, and the past-version of Tania all wind up on a train hurtling towards Scotland in the company of the mysterious Mr. Bird, while in the present day, Liv and her Tania visit the National Gallery looking for answers.
Matt Fitton’s script successfully turns the Doctor’s greatest strength into a weakness, as his desperate extemporizing continues to make everything worse and worse. In fact, having criss crossed events once too often, time and space itself have begun to collapse. The Void is coming, consuming everything in its path, and only the Curator knows why…
Colin Baker steps into the Curator’s shoes as a more diffident, manipulative incarnation that finally answers big questions about the character
In a series where the central themes have been loneliness, self-doubt and confusion, it’s fitting that this vast high stakes battle to prevent galactic genocide ends not with the blowing up of a massive space fleet, or some smooth bit of tricking the monsters into their own traps. Instead it’s a little bit of perspective that allows both the Doctor and his nemesis understand events and themselves better. Nothing Happening becomes literally the enemy as the Void eats away at their lives. It even assuming a physical form to grapple with our heroes as they battle to outpace it down the length of the last train in reality, destination nowhere.
It makes Crossed Lines the best entry in this volume, and a highlight of Stranded overall. Though with some of the Curator’s appeal lying in his ambiguous nature, some fans may not be fond of finally getting very definite answers to exactly who he is. His presence, however, does give us the best line in the whole of Stranded as Paul McGann’s Doctor sums him up. “Meddlesome and cryptic. I’m surprised you’re not Scottish too.”
With hints of The Big Bang, the Doctor takes advantage of a collapsing reality to break all the normal rules and Get Andy
Get Andy by Lisa McMullin begins a Stranded farewell tour worthy of The Lord of the Rings. The Doctor heads back to the future to use a thirty second window to save Andy from death. However, multiple time travellers are attempting the same rescue makes things dangerously complicated. The very nature of the setup makes creating any sense of jeopardy difficult. So smartly the focus is very much on the emotional turmoil of the characters. The depiction of Andy essentially walking home across multiple storylines amid a sea of temporal refugees is a poetic depiction of the idea, though Mr. Bird’s exit, after all that’s happened, of essentially just wandering off doesn’t quite satisfy.
The Keys of Baker Street provides Stranded host its own wake, as we’re taken on a ghostly tour of the characters and events within the walls of No. 107
The Keys of Baker Street begins the wind down of the format in earnest. Old realities are falling away to make space for new ones the Doctor’s efforts have created, with Baker Street as they know it fading away. The result is a series of vignettes of this found family’s time together in Baker Street. They wander the slowly disappearing rooms, seeing visions of the past, as they retreat steadily towards the attic. But the new world isn’t yet set, and the Doctor, alone in the attic with our villain, makes one last attempt to nudge it on a better course. It’s an episode which functions as a goodbye to these characters we’ve gotten to know. However, the almost total lack of a plot will be hard work for some.
The redemptive arc of the Doctor’s adversary never rings entirely true, either. They’ve been responsible campaign of blood and horror spread across millennia and trillions of murders. But all that is reversed by the kind of ‘I believe in you’ speeches normally found inspiring a teenager in a Disney TV Movie to try out for the school musical. Indeed, it almost borders on the distasteful that the narrative shows such sympathy to our villain. Here’s a case of someone going on effectively the biggest mass shooting spree in universal history because nobody understands him. It toes a little close to real world headlines where, all too often, similar people literally get away with murder.
Series finale Best Year Ever continues Stranded’s long goodbye with an irresistible premise that doesn’t quite sustain a full episode
Final story Best Year Ever hangs on one of the most irresistible and perfect hooks for a story ever. The universe has healed and formed a new 2020. One that looks distinctly like our own, with lockdowns, and pandemics, zoom quizzes and banana bread recipes. Famously, Stranded 1 was written and recorded for release in 2020 before anyone could have known what that year would actually bring. So it’s genuinely genius of Big Finish to address that in this unique way.
It also returns again to that initial Stranded premise as it spends its hour charting 365 days in which really, nothing much happens at all. Instead we get a round up of where our characters are at and what they’re doing in this new world. However, the cumulative result of both this and The Keys of Baker Street is a very long and drawn out farewell, and it might have been wiser to chose one script or the other. It’s also a curiously cosy version of the pandemic, and has an air of misplaced nostalgia for one of the most traumatic periods of recent years. Even the deaths of some of our characters is so understated you’d be forgiven for only catching that they died of Covid-19 on a second listen.
For all that, when the end comes it’s almost abrupt, with the Doctor simply declaring it’s time to move on. But who will be with him as he hopes in his TARDIS and vworps away?
With the end of Stranded, and the four boxset series format for the Eighth Doctor, it’s the end for one of the central planks of the Big Finish schedule. Next stop: who knows?
Across its sixteen episodes, Stranded has been full of some of Big Finish’s boldest narrative experiments. Understandably, the result has been a mix of some of the very best and innovative stories has to offer, with the occasional misfire. With this final volume, the central arc may run out of steam before the end. But it’s been a journey to nowhere well worth the taking all the same.
Doctor Who: Stranded 4
After crashing in 2020 London, the TARDIS crew has found the future of the universe altered and the human race doomed.
As the Doctor tries desperately to unravel the paradox, all roads lead back to Baker Street, and the greatest test of all…
Doctor Who – The Eighth Doctor Adventures: Stranded 4 is now available from Big Finish as a collector’s edition CD box set (+ download, for just £24.99) or download only (for just £19.99) exclusively at the Big Finish website.