Big Finish Review: Doctor Who Stranded 1
The Eighth Doctor, like Jon Pertwee before him, is well and truly earthbound. The Doctor and his team have been stripped of their transport, their power and their agency: that’s the irresistible hook of Stranded, the new Eighth Doctor adventure from Big Finish. The story opens with the Doctor, Helen and Liv marooned in London after the TARDIS lost power during the closing moments of Ravenous 4. Their refuge is 107 Baker Street, the chic townhouse which the Doctor has occasionally called home over the years. Days in limbo turn into weeks, and there are dark forces beyond their four walls who aren’t waiting to be invited in.
Stranded 1 has been written by Matt Fitton, David K Barnes, Lisa McMullin and John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st July 2020. Here's the synopsis...
The TARDIS is gone. Stranded in one time and place, the Doctor, Liv and Helen seek refuge in Baker Street. But the house has changed: they now have neighbours – not all of them welcoming. And someone has a dire warning for the future.
The Doctor and friends face their greatest challenge yet: living one day after another, in 2020 London.
1.1 Lost Property by Matt Fitton
Trying to find a way to resume his travels, the Doctor calls in some old favours.
As the residents get to know the new arrivals, something else finds its way into Baker Street, seeding suspicion.
Helen meets a man with a very familiar face – and a terrible warning.
1.2 Wild Animals by John Dorney
After weeks of London living, some of the TARDIS crew are finding it easier to adjust than others.
Liv has found a new friend, but Helen is worried about the Doctor.
And when a tragic crime takes place, the Time Lord must learn the limits of his powers.
1.3 Must-See TV by Lisa McMullin
There are new arrivals in Baker Street: Sergeant Andy Davidson, and the helpful Mr Bird.
The Doctor isn’t happy that someone else in the house is more useful than him. When the residents’ TVs start to malfunction, he suspects foul play.
Someone is watching...
1.4 Divine Intervention by David K Barnes
As the Doctor becomes desperate, Helen and Liv advise him to accept their situation.
Liv makes a date - but gets more than she bargains for when the whole household comes along.
And when a threat from the future finally arrives, the Doctor is placed in real danger. It’s time for the truth to emerge...
Doctor Who has flirted with everyday domesticity before - The Lodger is a great example of this, playing the Doctor’s alienness in the middle of a human environment for laughs. And Human Nature, of course, disguised him as a human and left the problem-solving to the companions. Stranded is a nice blend of both, shifting a lot of the heavy-lifting plot-wise to the Doctor’s friends, while finding both humour and pathos in his sudden uselessness and frustration.
Lost Property (a great pun) opens in medias res with Helen (Hattie Morahan) and Liv (Nicola Walker) on Camden Road, taking regular journeys to check on the clapped-out TARDIS - which has been sitting useless for six weeks. Their situation seems fairly hopeless.
The opening chapters bring a somewhat expected cameo - Helen and The Curator (Tom Baker) have a nice chat, with Helen unaware of the man’s true identity. Baker’s role here isn’t quite as substantial as the cover art promises, but he makes a big impression nonetheless. Before leaving, The Curator imparts a dire warning. “It all begins in Baker Street.” That would be 107 Baker Street, the Doctor’s occasional London residence: once a beautiful townhouse, but now carved up into flats since the Doctor’s last visit, and shared with multiple other residents. They’re a colourful cast of characters, grounding us in Stranded’s interpretation of modern-day London.
Lost Property takes its time to set things into place - it uses the luxury of being part of a four-story running time to stretch out, lay the foundations of the story to come, and sketch out the new characters. That’s much appreciated, given the sheer number of residents we meet in this first part. There are some very modern tensions between the residents, which is a nice detail which helps us to get our bearings. We get to know them, and their everyday problems and worries are contrasted with the Doctor’s more cosmic concerns, in a way that’s subtle and nuanced. There’s a theme here of life going in circles, knowing what needs to be done but getting nowhere with it - for some listeners, that’s probably quite relevant right now.
In the next part, Wild Animals, we find that Liv is getting on very well with her new housemate Tania (Rebecca Root), and working at a convenience store to support her friends. Helen, meanwhile, is thinking about becoming a history tutor. We find that the Doctor has taken up his own quarters in the attic of the building, and has been working himself into a frenzy of thwarted energy: as Helen remarks of the Doctor, “he’s been a wanderer all his life”, and finds himself directionless. The most exciting event to take place here is Liv fixing a cash register, until the shop gets robbed and Liv gets shot - giving the Doctor a new crusade to devote his hours to, re-introducing him at his most driven and reckless. Meanwhile, the first hints of something amiss at Baker Street are introduced.
“Do you get shot often?”
“Depends… it’s relative, isn’t it?”
The sound design of Stranded is up to Big Finish’s usual impeccable standards. Echoes and muffled sound faithfully illustrate the acoustics of the average London flat share, a grand old building carved up into discrete units with thin walls, which really conveys the sense of a real physical space. One minor criticism is that the London of Stranded feels relatively small and subdued - where are the police sirens, or the throngs of tourists?
Must-See TV, part three, deepens the mystery as a new character is revealed to be more deeply connected to the Doctor’s world than we anticipated, and the team finds that their homes are being surveilled very closely. It’s also the first sniff of a character we can truly describe as a villain.
The final chapter Divine Intervention ramps up the drama, and explores the Doctor’s responsibility to the people around him even as he chafes at his very comfortable imprisonment. A final development raises the excitement to action-movie levels, and gives the Doctor a terrible choice to make: meanwhile opening up exciting new possibilities for the story.
The cast and crew interviews for Stranded are typically extensive, and pretty much everyone involved gets a chance to speak about the uniqueness of the story. Director Ken Bentley discusses the challenges of writing a Doctor Who largely without technology or aliens. He mentions that the Big Finish team “look at who we’re working with… and give them stories that we know they’ll respond to”, in order to avoid getting stuck in a sci-fi rut. Writer Matt Fitton boils down the essential concept of Stranded into an enticing elevator pitch - asking “what would happen if the Doctor moved into your street, and was stuck there?”
Paul McGann shares his enthusiasm about the concept, and the chance to introduce feelings of bitterness and frustration as another ‘flavour’ of the Doctor. Nicola Walker asks how the crew will cope when they’re unable to travel through space and time - of course, not very well at all. For Liv, it’s her first taste of being normal and taking a pause. She compares the Doctor to a superhero whose powers have been taken away, while Hattie Morahan goes into detail about how Helen is forced to repurpose her skills for an entirely new world. All of the interviewees involved speak sincerely of their eagerness to work on something brand new and unique.
Disc 3 makes good use of its extra space with nine tracks of incidental music from across the story. Jamie Robertson, a stalwart of Big Finish stories for both Tom Baker and Paul McGann’s Doctors, is on fine form here, and the tracks range from romantic to spooky with equal success.
Some Final Thoughts...
Overall, Stranded 1 is a great introduction to what could be a real highlight of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures. There’s sci-fi intrigue and mysterious new characters, but more importantly it pushes the characters we know and love out of their comfort zones. I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that Stranded raises the bar for Doctor Who's depiction of transgender characters: there's a moment here that may make you do cartwheels of joy. It's a wonderful affirmation of the values that Doctor Who stands for.
While it’s emphatically not the best starting point for Big Finish novices, if you’re enticed by the high-concept, a quick Google (or our look back at the Eighth Doctor era on Big Finish) should give you all the necessary information to begin your journey here. Though sometimes, it’s good to be thrown in at the deep end.