When the first Stranded came out, I was a little nervous at the pitch. The Doctor, Liv and Helen stuck in a house share situation in 2020 London sounded fun, and it was certainly a change in direction, but I had really enjoyed the last decade of 8th Doctor adventures, and the huge finale that was Day of the Master was sublime. I could absolutely see why the 8th Doctor might need a change in direction (as each box set had been bigger and bolder than the last), but I had no desire for my Doctor to be relegated to some quiet sitcom-retirement home.
Needless to say, my nervousness was unfounded and Stranded was BRILLIANT. It gave both writers and actors a perfect opportunity to explore some deeply moving a personal storylines, including the heartbreaking adventure of the Doctor’s restless, powerless frustration which is Wild Animals. Stranded was also a full blown, almost pitch perfect work of inclusive Science Fiction. For all the BBC is trying to improve its diversity, Big Finish is embracing it with everything it’s got, and Stranded is where it pulls out all the stops.
A year later, and Stranded 2 has arrived, and, if anything, it’s even better than the first box set. If I had any complaint with the first one, it was that it did feel a trifle too domestic. It was fascinating to see the Doctor and Liv stuck with all those advanced time-traveller instincts and nowhere to direct it, but I don’t think that would have been sustainable for long. At least the Third Doctor has UNIT. And, considering the year we’ve had, I think the last thing any of us needed is our time travelling hero who is the definition of freedom, being forced to share our confinement any longer than necessary.
So, following on from the conclusion to Stranded 1, the Doctor now has a limited ability to travel in Time (but not in SPACE), and this unlocked four beautifully told, carefully interwoven stories with a now much larger family of companions. Tania, Liv’s girlfriend, is now firmly established as part of the crew, but so too is Tania’s Torchwood friend and colleague, Andy. Far from making it seem like a crowded TARDIS, this dynamic creates an amazing opportunity for serious character development as, over the course of the series, each of our characters is given ample time to grow and interact with everyone else.
Matt Fitton’s Dead Time sets the scene for the box set well. Something is wrong in the far flung future, and that something originates in 2020. It was fascinating how, this story, the one set at the most remote setting of this series so far, was also the most domestic – sure, there’s killer robots and a big threat of planet wide destruction, but it’s heart it was a story of people trying to survive and a teenage boy desperate to be given some attention and let have fun for a change.
I suspect UNIT Dating, by Roy Gill, is going to become a firm fan favourite, and for good reason. It was heartbreakingly good! The fan service of the welcome return of Lethbridge Stewart, that beautiful confession of gratitude the Doctor gave him (which, dare I say it, felt even more profound that the one given by Capaldi), and even the tongue in cheek pun in the title were all lovely, but that wasn’t even the half of it. This was a beautiful love story about two men who adored each other and had formed their relationship against all stigma so soon after homosexuality was decriminalised. It was lovely. And the added dimension from Helen’s backstory only added to the power of it.
And then, out of nowhere, we get what is almost a pure historical from Lisa McMullin in the Baker Street Irregulars. A warming tale of family, of heroism and wartime romance in the Second World War. If perhaps credulity was stretched a little (and potentially even the extent of the danger and daring of operatives during the Second World War might be slightly undermined by the ease the Doctor and Aisha were able to step in) I still very much appreciate the quiet little tale being told here.
Finally, we get John Dorney’s The Long Way Round. Ever since Dark Eyes 4’s Life in a Day, I have loved Dorney’s work and will have to admit to looking forward to his stories in each box set with my particular keenness. He is such a good writer, combining heartfelt, powerful narratives with twisting, clever, science fiction plotting. The Long Way Round is no exception, although feels very different from anything he’s done before. A series of two character, very claustrophobic feeling scenes that take place over a series of days. What made this story so brilliant was the way he utilised each of the characters to move on the plot. All their doubts, all the anger, all their love and loyalty is tested and put on display, and Annabelle Dowler, who plays the antogonist, does a brilliant job and holding the whole story together. Interwoven throughout all the main story are delightful little scenes with Tom Baker’s Curator, and isn’t he having a lovely time playing the mysterious eccentric holder of universal mystery? And he even gives us a passing hint to explain why 2020 for the Doctor wasn’t didn’t quite match out own. Nicely done, Dorney.
All in all, this was Doctor Who at its best. McGann, Walker and Morahan continuing to be a sheer delight and surely establishing themselves as one of the iconic TARDIS crews, but a huge congratulations to Rebecca Root and Tom Price for being able to step into that firmly established dynamic and seeming fully at home.
Now. Please…. let the next one come out soon. Very soon!
Stranded 2 was produced by Big Finish and can be purchased in both digital format and on CD here.