Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard - The Further Adventuress, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard - The Further Adventuress, Review

Matthew Kresal catches up with an old friend.
Two decades ago, Doctor Who and Big Finish were in very different places from today. This month in 2001 saw the release of their first Eighth Doctor audio, Storm Warning, seeing Paul McGann reprising the role nearly five years after the 1996 TV Movie and seeing him traveling through time and space alongside the self-described "Edwardian Adventuress," Charlotte "Charley" Pollard. Played by India Fisher, Charley would be a staple of the early years of Big Finish's Eighth Doctor output before traveling alongside Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and landing a spin-off series of her own. Even so, there's a fondness for those early days among fans that's clearly rubbed off on the company itself, as proven by the release of four new adventures with the duo in The Further Adventuress.

Each told across two roughly half-hour episodes, the four stories may run half the length of your average Eighth Doctor and Charley audio, but they have every bit of the spirit of their predecessors. Set between Minuet in Hell and Invaders from Mars, in a gap between their first two seasons, the set runs the gauntlet of tales across time and space in proper Doctor Who fashion. The Mummy Speaks! by Alan Barnes launches the boxset with a cracking pseudo-historical, set in 1840s Paris, for example, involving an Egyptian mummy, sideshows, and a whole host of references to works set around the city (including a particular 1979 Doctor Who serial). Barnes, who wrote the first audio for this duo, proves more than up to the task twenty years later, cramming a lot into an hour with its twists and turns, plus setting the tone for what's to follow.

The rest of the set moves firmly into SF territory, capturing the feel of those early audios. Lisa McMullin's Eclipse offers a high concept story involving a human colony in the future and the nightmarish Moth-like Hellstrung, offering some wonderfully gothic imagery alongside an eco-thriller. Eddie Robson offers up a romp with his script for The Slaying of the Writhing Mass, with a distress call sending the Eighth Doctor and Charley into the temporal equivalent of a traffic jam involving a civilization's greatest legend, a bored teenager, and the threat of the web of time coming undone. There are plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the early audios and some familiar tropes at play, but McMullin and Robson put their own spin on them to make their tales familiar but tantalizingly new.

The set closes with a sequel to one of those original audios. Nicholas Briggs' Sword of Orion brought the Eighth Doctor into a face-off with the Cybermen, to be sure, but it also created a rich world in terms of the Garazone system and the Human-Android war in Orion. Having explored the latter in the underrated Cyberman spin-off series, Briggs takes listeners and this TARDIS crew back to Garazone for the aptly named Heart of Orion, creating a tightly paced thriller that picks up on a dangling thread from that earlier audio. The Blade Runner influence on Sword of Orion and Cyberman comes back into play here as well, with imagery from that film evoked by dialogue and sound design but fitting neatly into the story Briggs wants to tell. For fans of the Eighth Doctor and Charley, not to mention their early audios, Heart of Orion brings this set to a close on a nostalgic but forward-looking note.

As is so often the case, the set works as well as it does because of its cast. As strong as the writing was (and still is), it was the chemistry between McGann and Fisher that solidified this team twenty years ago. And there can be no doubt, listening to this set in recent days, that the chemistry is alive and well even now. It's become something of a cliche when reviewing Big Finish, but listening to them here was as if some lost episodes had been unearthed and dusted off. The banter, the gentleness, taking the mickey out of each other, it's all here and in spades. Plus, as was the case in that first season, director Ken Bentley and producer Emma Haigh surround them with a strong cast playing multiple roles alongside incoming guest actors. Add on Joe Kramer's cinematic scores and some rich sound design, and there's plenty to love.

The Further Adventuress proves to be more than an exercise in nostalgia. It's a delightful reminder of a TARDIS duo from long ago whose chemistry remains strong even now. It's also a testament to Big Finish's output, the caliber of its storytelling abilities and productions. Because, across these four stories, they offer up a mix of the old and the new and offer a trip back in time to halcyon days.

If that's not pure Doctor Who, then what is?

Doctor Who: Charlotte Pollard - The Further Adventuress is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 28 February 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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