The Eighth Doctor and Charley are back together for a sparkling set of adventures that make it feel like they’ve never been away
It was 2001 when Paul McGann’s first Big Finish episode Storm Warning arrived with fans, golden logo and all. Almost instantly, he swiftly formed with India Fisher’s Charley Pollard one of fandom’s favourite Doctor Who partnerships. Twenty one years on The Further Adventuress reunites McGann and Fisher to celebrate the milestone. And celebration is exactly the word to describe these four stories. Wisely they avoid untangling the messy results of their final adventure to bring them back together again. Instead The Further Adventuress makes its home in the gap between series one and two of The Eighth Doctor Adventures.
In doing so it reminds us just how breezy and, well, fun Paul McGann’s incarnation was. The pattern of his time at Big Finish has been a spiral, as he’s drawn ever deeper towards the darkness of the Time War. But before the Time War, and Baker Street; before the Ravenous and the Doom Coalition; even before To the Death, there was Charley Pollard. Charley and her best friend the Doctor, a Tigger in green velvet, curls, and perfectly fitting shoes. A duo giddily running into danger with a bon mot for every occasion. It’s an era that this boxset effortless recreates.
The Mummy Speaks! returns to la ville de le mort for a fun sprint, laughing its way through death and danger
The Mummy Speaks! proclaims The Further Adventuress’ mandate from its very first scene. The script is from Charley’s creator, Alan Barnes, himself and brims with wit and vigour. Arriving in 1840s Paris (“it has a bouquet…”/”It honks!”) the pair almost immediately accidentally insult the memory of ‘the little corporal’ Napoleon and find themselves on the run from an angry mob (“When I say courir…”) From there they encounter the mysterious showman Cagliostro (John Banks) and his ancient Egyptian mummy (Cyril Nri). An ancient Egyptian mummy who talks… Doctor Who has riffed on the Mummy movie series several times before. Most notably the likes of Tomb of the Cybermen and Pyramids of Mars put their own spins of the subgenre. But The Mummy Speaks! might be the most delightful homage yet, with 1959’s Hammer version a particular touchstone.
But of course, this is Doctor Who, so there’s no supernatural curse in operation. The script skillfully teases out the real reason Khaset is walking and talking five millennia. And those ancient secrets, when they come, are satisfyingly creepy and intelligent. Along the way there’s a trip to the guillotine, a gorilla in a cravat, and a battle atop Notre Dame. It all romps along with such style and joie de vivre that you’ll be hard pressed not to have a goofy smile on your face from start to finish.
Eclipse sees more endearing interplay between the Doctor and his best friend as they find themselves on a colony beset by giant moths
The fun continues in Lisa McMullin’s Eclipse. It goes one better; starting with our heroes already running for their lives from an eclipse of giant moths. (That’s the collective noun for moths, fact fans). Charley finds shelter in a nearby house, getting separated from the Doctor in the confusion (or pushing him to the ground in her eagerness to be first in the door as he remembers it) and learns this human colony world is visited nightly by vast numbers of the furry, fluttering beasts. As often the case in Doctor Who stories of human colonisation, the Doctor isn’t automatically on the humans’ side. He quickly sets out to discover if the moths are truly hostile. Or if, perhaps, they’re reacting to something the humans have done, accidentally or otherwise.
Once more, despite the dark nature of some of the concepts at play, it’s Eclipse’s lightness of touch and sense of adventure that shines through. This is an Eighth Doctor who has a genuine belief that things generally all come right in the end. And scenes of the Doctor and Charley, having gotten into various hijnks separately, finding each other again for some gentle teasing about the improbability of it all is a highlight of the set.
The Slaying of the Writhing Mass evokes the golden age of 2000ad, on a school trip to the vortex
Third story The Slaying of the Writhing Mass riffs on classic science fiction tale Let’s Go to Golgotha! Along the way it perfectly hits Eddie Robson’s intended target of giving homage to Pat Mills’ classic 2000ad strips and their juxtapositions of the uncanny with the everyday. The Doctor and Charley find themselves unexpectedly stuck in a traffic jam in the space time vortex; one long enough to come complete with a little man going up and down the line on a time travelling bicycle, hawking mementos and ice creams. The slowly moving queue of time machines are all on course to observe the same pivotal moment in history. There as tourists to see their civilization’s quasi-messianic figure slew the Writhing Mass and saved their primitive ancestors. If audio dramas encourage drawing your own mental pictures, this time for many they’ll come courtesy of 2000ad’s Kev O’Neill.
In a fine bit of metatextual whimsy the Doctor immediately determines that he must be their mysterious messiah, and that the queue delaying him from arriving may destroy history, on no real evidence than, well, that’s how Doctor Who stories go, isn’t it? Understandably, neither time traffic police officer Laorie (Yasmin Mwanza) or the gaggle of school kids on a day out whose time-minibus he encounters are particularly convinced by this line of reasoning. But before long the Doctor has teamed up with Constella (Shiloh Coke), the most delightfully bolshy teenager this side of Series Eight’s Courtney Woods. While they try and discover the truth behind the myth, Charley and Laorie are kept busy dealing with a hijack.
There are plenty of twists and turns (and an access road) before we reach the pivotal destination. But this isn’t a story pivoting on its reveals or surprises. Rather, it’s a nicely comic romp where perhaps the real Writing Mass is the friends and laughs we had along the way.
Eye of Orion is the most thoughtful of The Further Adventuress’ stories, dwelling on the type of moral questions the Doctor typically sidesteps
Final entry Heart of Orion stands slightly aside from the tone of the others in the set. The banter between the Doctor and Charley is as sparkling as ever, but the story itself finds writer Nicholas Briggs in unusually reflective mood. The only direct sequel in The Further Adventuress, it sees the the Doctor and Charley respond to a distress call. But this time’s it’s one that could only have been sent by Eye of Orion’s morally ambiguous android Deeva Jansen (Michelle Livingstone). Arriving once more in the Garazone system, they become embroiled in detective Dakota Bly’s (Rakie Ayola) missing persons case. But what, if anything, does Deeva have to do with it? And is she now friend or foe?
Like much of the best science fiction, sneaks in some big questions amid the tableaux of airship fleets and high powered speeder chases. Repeatedly circling back to Eye of Orion’s closing question, “What’s the difference?” its characters are challenged to weigh up the morality of killing to prevent murder, versus standing by and watching murder happen. And whether making the enemy “the Other” can ever really make their lives less valuable than those on your side. Most powerfully, however, Heart of Orion is reluctant to provide easy answers, even for the Doctor. The result is one of Briggs’ strongest stories in years, and a suitable end point for The Further Adventuress, pointing in the direction of the more sombre Eighth Doctor that was to come.
The Further Adventuress is a timely reminder of the charm and wit of one of Doctor Who’s greatest eras
The Further Adventuress is a minor revelation in showcasing just how perfectly Paul McGann plays the Doctor’s charming, whimsical side. With the Eighth Doctor pushed into increasingly dark places over the course of recent years, it’s a timely reminder. As a bit of time travel down Big Finish’s personal timeline, the boxset is a smashing success. Hopefully it’s a trip we won’t have to wait another twenty-one years to make again.
Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard – The Further Adventuress
Doctor Who –The Eighth Doctor Adventures: Charlotte Pollard –The Further Adventuress is now available to own as a collector’s edition four-disc CD box set (for just £24.99) or digital download (for just £19.99), exclusively from the Big Finish website.