Big Finish: Doctor Who STRANDED 3 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who STRANDED 3 Review

Matthew Kresal returns to the paradoxical timeline of Stranded.
The last couple of years has made for interesting times for the Eighth Doctor at Big Finish. Stranded, launched in spring 2020, breathed new life into the adventures for Paul McGann's Doctor and his TARDIS crew of Nicola Walker's Liv Chenka and Hattie Morahan's Helen Sinclair, leaving them stuck in London 2020 (or something that, pre-Covid, approximated it). Yet for the domestic air to the first set, introducing a large supporting cast, the seeds of an arc were being planted, which began coming together as the TARDIS regained its time-traveling abilities in the second set. Stranded 3 begins harvesting them across four intriguing episodes.

The set opens with Tim Foley's script for Patience, which sees the expanded TARDIS crew that now includes Rebecca Root's Tania Bell and Tom Price's Andy Davidson from Torchwood seeking out the limits of the altered timeline established in the second set. Yet, while this sounds like more typical Doctor Who fare than previous Stranded episodes, Foley's script keeps the character and emotionally-centric storytelling that has been at Stranded's heart. As much as Patience is about the time-altering paradox and the TARDIS pursued by the Judoon, its focus remains on small groups of people, isolated from one another. And, from that isolation, all of the testings of friendships and even romantic relationships that come from the experience. That Foley tells that story while also propelling the arc forward is a balancing act he presents with apparent ease, setting the standard for the entire set in the process.

Lizzie Hopley's episode, Twisted Folklore, finds the TARDIS crew on Rarkelia, where the forces of Divine Intervention are busy reshaping this alien society in its own image. Like Foley's opening installment, Hopley's script takes what is fundamentally one of Doctor Who's archetypal stories, arriving on a planet to try and overthrow an oppressive regime, and finds a Stranded twist on the format. In this case, by planting our point of view characters into an oppressed society and seeking how they cope. The Doctor, meanwhile, is off being the Doctor and dealing with Divine Intervention's twisting of him in their image. Questions of identity and communication lurk throughout the story, as Hopley explores the power of fairy tales and folklore, simple stories that nonetheless can shape our perceptions of the world around us from a young age. It's a powerful piece of writing and one that perhaps wouldn't be at all out of place in any of Modern Who's eras, either.

James Kettle's Snow brings things back to Earth and the Baker Street setting of much of the Stranded run. Having landed in a totalitarian 2050 in Stranded 2, the Doctor, Liv, Helen, and Andy head to 2035 to see how soon Divine Intervention took hold in the UK, encountering some familiar faces in Baker Street. Focusing on David Shaw-Parker's Ron in a world where climate change and Divine Intervention have taken hold, and the house at Baker Street is the only place on Earth where snow is still falling, this is a story about consequences, absence, and the things that fill in the vacuum they cause. It also allows Stranded as a series to dive into the dystopian genre once more, this time taking a look at it from the proverbial street view, focusing on characters such as Ron and Tania in a world that feels familiar and yet so alien. Doing so allows Kettle to pack some emotional punches along the way, giving Nicola Walker's Liv some of her best moments as a character.

As such, What Just Happened? is a stunning finale, packing punches in both the arc and character departments while continuing both the experimental nature of this set and the emotional focus of Stranded as a whole. Unfolding the story as Donry does might seem at first glance to rob the episode of some emotional impact, but instead makes the tragedy of events all the more terrible, seeing how they come to pass. Dorney's choice of starting at the ending and moving forward allows him to let consequences appear first, only to take the listeners back through to their origins, highlighting how often the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Having played around with format in the second set's finale, The Long Way Round, Dorney does so once again here, with a story that unfolds in reverse order. Stranded 3, thus, concludes with John Dorney's What Just Happened?, which continues the theme of consequences, albeit in a very different way.

For a series that has already been one of Big Finish's most experimental in terms of pushing the boundaries of Doctor Who storytelling, Stranded 3 kicks things up a notch. From finding ways to do character stories inside more traditional Whovian fare to telling a finale in reverse, this box-set is nothing short of a Big Finish showcase. Not to mention setting up the finale, due this coming April.

And this reviewer, for one, can't wait to hear it.

Doctor Who: Stranded 3 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 January 2022, 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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