Review by Jacob Licklider
Stranded as a miniseries ended its second set with the Doctor being thrust into the future with companions Liv, Helen, Tania, and Andy where the Earth has come under a fascist dictatorship run by Divine Intervention. Stranded 3 picks up where Stranded 2 left off and with any of the multi-set series from Big Finish, and especially for the Eighth Doctor Adventures, this is not going to be a set aimed at newcomers. It continues the character driven nature of the other sets and the general Earthbound nature of the previous two sets, but the TARDIS is now working enough so the Doctor can actually travel in time, none of the episodes being set in a normal 2020/2021, the closest we get being John Dorney’s finale dealing with some of Divine Intervention and setting up the final box set. As with the final story having the gimmick of starting at the end and going back to the beginning, that is how this review will be structured. We will be starting at the end and working our way back to the beginning as Stranded 3 brings something very different to the standard box set, even by the standards of Stranded making it some of the more interesting sets from Big Finish.
What Just Happened? is the perfect title for the story that John Dorney presents with the plot opening with the character of Robin, played by Joel James Davison, committing genocide. The listener then has to work their way backwards to the beginning where it can be revealed what he’s doing and why he is led down a path to commit genocide. Dorney’s script is a fascinating look at what happens when the Doctor influences someone poorly which makes for an interesting episode. It’s also the one where we can examine what happens when the Doctor is made into an authority figure, not the only time this will happen in this particular box set. Davison channels the almost childish nature of Robin, a character who thinks he knows what’s best for humanity from watching the Doctor and ends up taking his name. The trick here is that we get to watch as the TARDIS team slowly regresses to a point of ignorance, starting with the difficult decision of what to do with Robin and take care of him, going back to a point where they think that the evils on the Earth at this point must be just that, great evil. Not somebody that they know and care quite a lot about. It’s a brilliant conclusion to the set and brings everything together for the final box set out next year. 9/10.
James Kettle’sSnowfeels like a spiritual successor to Roy Gill’s UNIT Dating, dealing with the end of the relationship between Tony and Ron. It’s the 2030s, climate change has ravaged the planet, and Tony has passed on leaving an older Ron and continuing the theme of authoritarian control, the United Kingdom has fallen into a fascist dictatorship. Snow only falls around London, especially on Baker Street, and Kettle steeps the story in a hopeful melancholy. Ron is never chastised for still speaking to his passed partner, he’s just trying to live when the love of his life has moved on. Meanwhile, Tania has left Baker Street and is quite a bit older now after being left there at the end of Twisted Folklore, and she and Liv have their own problems to deal with. Neither characters actually know how to have the most standard relationship due to their time with the Doctor/Torchwood. The real emotional weight is also seeing just how insidious fascism is and how it creeps into the familiar, I won’t say how, but like Twisted Folklore before it it’s the highlight of the set. 10/10.
The surrealism continues with Lizzie Hopley’s Twisted Folklore where the Doctor is a mythical, fairy tale style figure on a planet where the cultural mythology has been warped by Divine Intervention. There is a song that runs through the entirety of the story and Paul McGann is placed in the background once again, especially in the first half of the story, but by the second half it’s his time to shine when he takes control. Twisted Folklore is kind of a surprise from Hopley who hasn’t impressed me this much in any of her scripts. It’s an examination on the meaning of fairy tales and how they can be used by the state to warp perception and quell rebellion. This is where the themes of the set really come to the forefront, when everything’s revealed there’s a built up rebellion and overthrow of the government. It could have easily been standard let’s overthrow the government story but Hopley steeps it in so much atmosphere and character where Liv and Tania’s relationship is strained and the listener is given some interesting insights into what their future might be. 10/10.
The box set opens with Patience by newish Big Finish writer Tim Foley, which continues Stranded 2’s theme of character drama by being a Doctor-light story. Helen and Tania are paired up in one mysterious area while Liv and Andy are in the other, both pairs at the behest of the Doctor while the Judoon chase them both. Foley’s script is reminiscent of Absent Friends and Whisper, dealing with a small group of characters to give the listener a chance to understand where they are. Splitting up Liv and Tania is fascinating as it gives Tom Price a really good chance to be the comic relief which he fulfils throughout the set, but here in particular as he can’t really function with the weird stuff going on. Foley’s only issues with the script is the Judoon, they’re fine, but they really don’t get enough focus to make them feel distinct that this had to be Judoon. It could have easily been a number of other villains or a simple off-screen presence to work. 8/10.
Clearly, Stranded 3 somehow manages to be the most experimental of the three sets released thus far as well as having a theme of anti-authoritarianism running through the entire set to great effect bringing it up to one of the highest sets from Big Finish in the eleventh hour of 2021. 9.5/10.
Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!