Big Finish: Doctor Who - STRANDED 2 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - STRANDED 2 Review

Matthew Kresal is stranded. Again.
As longtime readers of this site may recall, last year's Stranded 1 set was something that I rather enjoyed. Indeed, after a dozen box-sets across three different series, its tale of the Eighth Doctor, Liv, and Helen stuck on Earth in 2020 was refreshing after one box-set after another with more universe-ending stakes than I wish to count. But by the end of the set, with the TARDIS re-gaining the ability to travel in space but not time, a new question arose: would Stranded lose its specialness when your lead characters aren't as stranded as they were?

Now, eight months later, Stranded 2 is here to answer that question.

As with Stranded 1, Matt Fitton opens the set to a lion-share of world-building. Set in the aftermath of Divine Intervention's finale, Dead Time sees the Doctor, Liv, and Helen taking the TARDIS on a test flight. Albeit a very crowded one, with both Tania Bell (Rebecca Root) and Andy Davidson of Torchwood (Tom Price) along for the ride and a stowaway in the form of teenage Robin Bright-Thompson (Joel James Davison). Where they arrive, however, is a very different Earth than where the Doctor expected to land. Perhaps the most traditional Who story yet in the series, Dead Time uses its placement in the Stranded line-up to tell a fun runaround, even while Fitton is subtly laying down the seeds for the future. It's not quite the opener you might expect, but it’s a welcomed one, all the same.

The middle stories of Stranded 2 are very much character pieces, fleshing out those living in the flats inside the Doctor's Baker Street House. Roy Gill's UNIT Dating is a perfect case in point and a delicious one at that. For it turns out that the lovely older married couple of Ron and Tony (David Shaw-Parker and Jeremy Clyde) have a history with the Doctor going back to the days when he was last stranded on Earth in the company of UNIT. Split between the Doctor and Andy at UNIT back in the day while Liv and Helen check in on the couple in 2020, Gill's script offers a neat little story of time loops and paradoxes. Not to mention a chance to bring back a monster from the Third Doctor's era and giving Jon Culshaw another opportunity to shine as the Brigadier, perfectly capturing the early 1970s tones of the much-missed Nicholas Courtney. More than that, Gill's story is one about love, memory, and changing attitudes, one that creates some beautifully done character moments that had this reviewer wiping away tears while driving down the road. While it's still early in 2021, UNIT Dating is already a contender for one of Big Finish's best stories of the year.

Baker Street Irregulars from Lisa McMullin sends the Baker Street clan even farther back in time after an unexploded Second World War bomb sees the Doctor taking sisters Zakia and Aisha (Avita Jay and Amina Zia) for a spin in the TARDIS. The wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) had its HQ on the same London street, with their grandparents being part of its organization. While the Doctor and Helen get the sisters involved in some spy action, Liv and Tania face relationship troubles while dealing with the said bomb when it first landed in 1941. Part spy story, part family drama, and part SF thriller, McMullin deftly handles all three genres in the space of an hour, neatly dividing between them so they don’t overwhelm the others. If anything, one wishes there'd been more focus on the spy story to an extent, especially given that the final scene pushes the family drama sub-plot well into soap opera territory. Still, with its juggle of genres and plot threads, Baker Street Irregulars is a 21st-century callback to the historicals of sixties Doctor Who and features some fantastic sound design work from Benji Clifford recreating the Second World War on audio.

The set concludes with a script from John Dorney, The Long Way Round. Coming back around to the alternations to Earth's future, the TARDIS travels thirty years forward in time, only for the travelers to get captured the moment they step out the door. This 2050 isn't the Britain that they knew, as the interrogator Houlbrooke (Annabelle Dowler) quickly informs them, and one of them is directly responsible for it. Or are they?

Exclusively told as a series of interrogation scenes between Houlbrooke and the various regulars, as well as in seemingly unconnected scenes between Tom Baker's mysterious curator and a twelve-year-old girl named Gemma in the present day who has noticed the TARDIS coming and going, Dorney and the cast paint a whole world in words, and not a pleasant one. The Long Way Round is full-on dystopian, and its play on identity and motives ranks it alongside previous Big Finish adventures in that Who sub-genre in Natural History of Fear and Live 34. But what separates those earlier audios from The Long Way Round is how much this story becomes a lynchpin for Stranded as a whole, picking up on a loose arc built over previous audios and solidifying it. In doing so, it also launches Stranded in an entirely unexpected direction.

But after all of that, is Stranded still Stranded? With the way that McGann's Doctor is always chomping at the bit straining against his limitations, to the way Liv and Helen confront aspects of their lives and their pasts, to the threat to Earth's future introduced, the answer remains a definite yes. While perhaps a step back toward what we'd consider "normal" Doctor Who, Stranded 2 still retains its predecessors unique feeling. Just with a sense of foreboding hanging over things with an arc now in place, something for Stranded 3 to hopefully pick-up upon in November.

Doctor Who: Stranded 2 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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