Devastated after C’rizz makes his exit from the TARDIS crew, and outraged over the Doctor’s apparent lack of emotion about it, Charley decides she’s had enough time travel and wants to return home – even though history records her death aboard the doomed airship R-101. The Doctor tries to surprise her by taking her to her intended destination, Singapore in 1930, but the TARDIS is drawn off course in time, depositing the Doctor and Charley in Singapore in 2008. Now more disgruntled than ever, Charley tries to leave as the Doctor tends to the TARDIS controls to see what caused the time change, instead running into a man named Byron who not only seems to know who she is, but has a gun drawn on her the whole time. The Doctor arrives to foil whatever it is that Byron’s planning, and talks Charley into one last adventure – a trip back in time to the 1940s, and the source of the temporal event that redirected the TARDIS. The trail leads them to a docked sea freighter, but even there something is making a mess of the flow of time. Charley is stuck in the 1940s with a man who looks and sounds exactly like Byron – not a day older or younger – while the Doctor winds up back in 2008, only to find that Byron has staked a claim to this ship. An elderly woman accompanies Byron, and though he initially introduces her as his mother, the Doctor learns that her name is Charlotte Pollard, age 85, and she doesn’t remember anything about traveling in time – and she certainly doesn’t remember the alien invasion force stored in the ship’s hold…at least not until they stand before her, and then she remembers a single word: Cybermen.
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Danny Webb (Byron), Anna Massey (Miss Pollard), Amanda Root (Madeleine Fairweather), David Yip (Curly), Robert Duncan (Borthwick), Natalie Mendoza (Receptionist), Tim Sutton (Colville), Jake McGann (Young Man), Nicholas Briggs (Soldier)
Timeline: after Absolution and before Blood Of The Daleks Part 1 (for the Doctor), after Absolution and before The Condemned (for Charley)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A swashbuckling send-off for Charley, with a non-traditional time-space chase complete with Cybermen, makes The Girl Who Never Was doubly bittersweet. Not only does it break up the long-standing team of the eighth Doctor and Charley, a Big Finish fixture since 2001, but it does so in grand style with the kind of story that I really wish McGann’s Doctor had been getting all along. Girl takes a few of its cues from Titanic (and even points up the similarity by dropping in a line from the movie), with flashbacks and flashforwards, but this being Doctor Who, the events in each time zone impacts the other, and never quite in the way you might expect. Girl is loaded with red herrings all the way up to the end to keep you guessing – it’s actually the most fun I’ve had trying to figure out what was going on in a Big Finish audio for quite some time.
Though things start out slightly melodramatic by picking up where Absolution‘s melancholy ending left us, they don’t stay there for long. The story gets right down to business and stays with it. The really sad thing is that Girl points up how effective the team of Paul McGann and India Fisher used to be with the right story; here, at the end of the eighth Doctor/Charley stories, I feel justified in saying that too much of Big Finish’s voyages with the eighth Doctor have been convoluted head trips with weird, overreaching pseudo-science fiction macguffins for their own sake. Too much time was spent in the Divergent Universe, and on such bleak, moody fare as Terror Firma and Something Inside, and let’s not forget Zagreus. I’m not sure where I fall in the “rad vs. trad” debate that dates back to the New Adventures novels, but quite a bit of Big Finish’s eighth Doctor stories have been so far out there as to be neither. If they’d been more like The Girl Who Never Was – clever and inventive but not too concerned with hitting us over the head about how clever and inventive they are – I’d really be mourning the end of this pairing, rather than going “Oh, so that’s how it ends.”
But hey, even I was surprised at how it ends. As I mentioned before, the red herrings continue straight through to the end of the story – to the point that what you may think is the end…isn’t. In one of the most inspired twists in the entire Big Finish range, Charley finds rescue as the TARDIS rematerializes after the end credits…but the eighth Doctor isn’t her rescuer, and we get the true ending in the form of the music from Colin Baker’s era. Now I’m thoroughly intrigued, to say the least, at this plot development.
The Cybermen have been sorely missed, and here they’re refreshingly old-school, not the “alterna-Cybermen” from the new TV series. However, I’m a bit puzzled by Nicholas Briggs’ insistence on making them Invasion-era Cybermen. In an interview on the behind-the-scenes interviews following part four, Briggs states his preference for the look of that era’s Cybermen – but his approach to their sound here is completely strange, with the electronic voice treatment of Troughton-era Cybermen, but the singsong vocal delivery of the Tenth Planet Cybermen. While I appreciated the strangely-accented Tenth Planet delivery in the Cyber-origin story Spare Parts, it’s odd to have it crop up here – especially when a half-converted Cyberman turns up later with an Aussie accent instead of that delivery. Whatever they sound like, they at least act like the Cybermen of old here, complete with implacable marching Cyber-feet and the mantra of “you will become like us.”
The Girl Who Never Was is a rollicking romp through time and space of the kind that I’ve been yearning for with McGann’s Doctor, but it’s also specifically designed to clear the decks and make way for the shorter-length one-off episodes starring McGann and Sheridan Smith. Just when the Doctor and Charley were getting back to what they do best, it’s all over. But it’s hard to think of a better story to end their partnership – this really is one of the best Big Finish Doctor Who stories I’ve heard in quite a while.