Review by Jacob Licklider
2019 saw Big Finish ending their then current Eighth Doctor miniseries with Ravenous 4, leaving the Doctor, Liv, and Helen stranded in London, 2020. The TARDIS has been destroyed and Baker Street provides the only refuge for the team in June 2020’s Stranded 1. While it has been nine months, hearing Stranded on the day it comes out feels like returning to some old friends who have been away for a while and thrown into a new scenario. From the outset, there is something different in tone and atmosphere that this set establishes. There is this through-line of Stranded that The Power of Three was attempting to have, but unable due to it’s 45-minute runtime. It becomes an ensemble set, with most of the cast simply people who live in the house on Baker Street, renting from the Doctor.
It is at this point where a diversion is called for to explain this set and the structure of this review. The musical ‘Company’ is a concept musical: the notion is that Bobby is celebrating his 35th birthday and the audience sees through his lens the lives of the married couples and girlfriends in his life. In this way, Stranded is a concept box set. The notion is that Thomas Brewster has been renting out the house to several different people and Stranded explores their lives.
There are certainly four different stories being told by four authors; Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Lisa McMullin, and David K. Barnes all give stories that are entertaining, but reviewing Stranded by looking at each individually and scoring them as such doesn’t work here. Instead, I am employing a style that looks at how the set plans character arcs, keeping spoilers to a minimum.
Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor is the real outsider in this set. The Doctor is an upper-class alien who has absolutely no concept of what the real world is like. Yes, he loves the Earth and is ready to save it, but a normal day-to-day routine makes absolutely no sense to him. He can’t sit still while there could be a problem to solve and an enemy to fight. It makes the Doctor become more selfish, and McGann goes back to some of his roots with the performance of the character in Stranded.
The Doctor is looking for a way out and any way that he can get access to money and materials to restore the TARDIS, but interestingly while unlike the exile in the Third Doctor’s era, there is progress made throughout the set. It’s the kind of progress that makes the goal seem much further away than it should be. McGann gives subtle variation in the performance to show that the Doctor really is learning something about how he affects the normal people living in Baker Street; he start out being unable to really name any of them, but by the end they’re going out to dinner as a group. It’s also a growth that the writers understand isn’t over yet, there are still flaws in the Doctor that this situation will force him to overcome.
The minor character of Robin, played by Joel James Davison, helps him get to where he is as the first person to really connect with the Doctor due to parallels in their lives.
Liv Chenka is the companion who gets the task of getting a job and having to provide for those at Baker Street and Nicola Walker plays her wonderfully. While Liv is from the far future, she is the one most equipped to get a job and live. Stranded gives Liv a journey into a sense of a normal life: for the last three miniseries she has been saving lives and planets, but on Earth she becomes normal. It’s odd and foreign to her, yet she finds her own little romance with Tania Bell, a woman living at Baker Street played by Rebecca Root.
Tania and Liv work really well as parallel characters, both living lives where they have learned to keep secrets from others (Tania is transgender), both putting up facades of strong characters with real vulnerabilities underneath. Root plays Tania with this layer of wit and sarcasm throughout the set, not being willing to open up to others. While many fans may have been hoping for a relationship between Liv and Helen, the romance here between Liv and Tania is just as sweet and almost more satisfying as the characters complement each other really well. Tania also complements the rest of the TARDIS team and as a companion she makes an impact.
The mother figure of Baker Street, perhaps due to being from the past, is Helen Sinclair, working essentially as the Doctor’s own assistant and conscience at several points in the set. While the Doctor is technically the landlord, it is Helen who actually makes sure that the tenants are happy. She also has to stand up to the Doctor at several points throughout the set; especially in the final story because she understands humanity better.
The writers do an excellent job of restraining the desire to show how much of a fish out of water Helen is, instead making her feel like the most experienced in how Earth society works. There are some faux-pas like not owning a cellphone and thinking the police would still be after her for the events of The Red Lady, but those moments are few and far between.
Stranded 1’s greatest strength is making London feel alive, with appearances and plots for Tom Baker’s Curator and Andy Davison from Torchwood, plus a slew of minor residents in the set, it really embodies a concept for a set. It is a set that can be a jumping on point and something different for a Doctor Who fan. 8/10.