Big Finish Productions
The Next Life
|Written by||Alan Barnes and Gary Russell|
|Continuity||After The Telemovie.|
|Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas|
|Synopsis: Washed up on the sandy shores of a paradise island, a wild-eyed shipwreck survivor is rescued by the wife of Daqar Keep, the richest man in the galaxy. Her name's Perfection. He's the Doctor. Together, they face a journey into the dark heart of this mysterious island, to discover the deepest secrets of this timeless cosmos. That's if the giant crabs, killer crocodiles and murderous natives don't get them first.|
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 9/2/05
A triple CD boasting the end of the 8th Doctor arc, with special appearances from Daphne Ashbrook (who played Grace in The Movie) and Paul Darrow (Avon off Blake's Seven). Sounds pretty good so far on all kinds of levels.
First off the 8th Doctor src in the alternative universe needed to be closed. Thankfully the new TV series brought the end sooner rather than later - but Big Finish had already been there too long. There was also the chance that C'Rizz would be left behind. Enough of the negativity though. I was also looking forward to this one for the guests and the main stars.
Three CDs means we get more of the excellent 8th Doctor and Charley. There's also more of Avon and Grace - which personally lit up this story for me. Lit up implies that I liked it very much though - but I have to clarify that by saying I liked the performances of the two guests here, and the continued excellence of Paul McGann and India Fisher. The story is a strange beast - but more of that later.
Paul Darrow plays Guidance, and he does it with no trace of the over the top performances that have graced both DW and B7. Here is a part against type - a religious zealot - the seriousness of the character is in stark contrast to the rest of the play. Daphne Ashbrook plays Perfection, and it's all rather Grace-like - and therefore pretty good. Of particular note is the banter between the Doctor and Perfection, totally exploiting to good effect the Movie relationship of the past. If we can't have Grace, then this more than compensates.
Charley's character in this play is a reaction to this Dr/Perfection interplay. She's gloriously jealous, and this allows India Fisher to shine. Quite a feat to stamp your feet, be amazingly over the top with jealousy (all negative traits) - yet still remain likeable and charming - which Charley remains at every step. I still can't find much to like about C'Rizz though. I was hugely disappointed with the end of this play, and what the future holds for this TARDIS team. I feel C'Rizz has brought very little to this series of audios. The more I listen to the character the more I grow bored by him. Thankfully C'Rizz is only a third of this TARDIS team though. I shall continue to buy the 8th Dr plays, but rarely have I disliked a lead character so much in any medium of Doctor Who.
Now onto the story by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell. After listening to episode 1 I wasn't sure at all. The Doctor was hardly in it, and all this dreamscape stuff with Charley and her mother, and C'Rizz left me nonplussed. Then me and my wife (who enjoyed it for the most part incidentally) listened to episodes 2 to 4 back to back. We were enjoying it, and were keen to carry on with it, simple as that. That's endorsement all by itself, but I quite enjoyed the shenanigans on the island. The Doctor and Perfection were fantastic together. C'Rizz was getting it in the neck from Guidance. It all sounded great, and even though the story won't break any records for stretching the format, it was solid enough on many levels.
The last two episodes were enjoyed in the same manner and, apart from C'Rizz not staying put, the end was all right too. Looking back a few weeks on, The Next Life brings back decent happy recall. A pleasant romp best describes it. And yet I can't say it was brilliant Doctor Who - very much run of the mill Doctor Who. Now I happen to like run of the mill Doctor Who, so it was perfectly acceptable. It just doesn't excel - a bit like the alternative universe arc as a whole. 7/10
The end... by Joe Ford 1/3/05
Hooray! It is the last story to be set in the divergent universe! And boy does it live up to the expectations of the stories that have led us here. Much like the other stories in seasons three and four there is little drama, little humour and lots and lots of dull exposition. Once again the performances are rather excellent but poisoned by some horrific dialogue and of course the production is typically lush with some really exotic sound effects and a dynamic musical score. Why don't you just read my review of Caerdroia... that says pretty much the same thing?
This story is 220 minutes long. That's three hours and forty minutes. I could have a run, have dinner, go on a drinking binge, come home and watch the whole of Talons of Weng-Chiang in that time. What is this bizarre obsession with Big Finish that longer is better? Aside from their Bernice Summerfield range, which at 65 minutes per story keeps a nice pace and rarely outstays its welcome, the Doctor Who stories just go on and on. If they could justify this length it wouldn't be so bad but the story that is told here could be cut to half the length without losing any of the depth at all. Characters babble on and on here and it takes until halfway through episode four (of six) before we actually learn something new and start wrapping up the arc. The first three episodes are far too concerned with trivial matters, the Doctor being hunted (which comes to nothing), Charley and C'rizz squabbling (which comes to nothing) and a whole bunch of characters with truly pretentious names (Keep, Perfection and Guidance amongst them) who spend the first half of the story pretending to be people they aren't thus wasting even more time. You could start the story at episode four and not lose anything vital.
On the plus side it is better than Zagreus but that was the aural equivalent of having your scrotum set on fire. There are some wonderful ideas in play here and one character shines out of all this dreck (which I shall go into later). There are even a few good twists that were entirely unexpected, nothing to the quality of excusing this horrendous side step into the divergent universe but pleasing nonetheless.
I am not a huge fan of The Five Doctors but one of the things it does very well is portray Rassilon in a very good light. The Tomb of Rassilon is a marvellously creepy idea and his gift of immortality to Borusa at the stories end reveals what a duplicitous bastard he could be. You can see why there was so many legends built up around him, this mythic, awe-inspiring character the Time Lords live up to. Well ya-boo! to Big Finish (namely Gary Russell and Alan Barnes) who have taken this one decent thread of Gallifrey continuity and soured it. Thanks to the divergent universe arc I am now convinced Rassilon is nothing more than a faux-Master, a big melodramatic bully who screams and shouts and waves his fists but never actually gets anything done. He is pretty pathetic in The Next Life, a lingering background presence to guffaw and insult the Doctor and his friends but in the end of the day provides no threat at all. We never learn what he was really up to this universe or why, just that he wants to go home. And most insulting of all his spectacular and devious scheme is defeated when a secondary character (not even the Doctor or Charley) pushes him through a door. As I believe I have said before all that build up... for this? Did they bring back Rassilon just to belittle him? My friend Matt would be furious about this because he loathes it when Big Finish take the piss out of the TV series and in this case I would have to agree. Rassilon's return, whilst initially spectacular, was a bloody great flop. A shame because the cover suggests a showdown between the two most famous Gallifreyans but it just never happens. Instead he gets a last scene where he screams "NOOOOOO!" just like every other cheesy villain.
Charley survives again! Will this woman go on forever? For once I see a sunny horizon because it pleases me to admit that Charley was the best thing about The Next Life by a square mile. No matter how badly they fudged the divergents storyline and destroyed any credibility Rassilon might have had nothing can take away what Barnes and Russell achieve with Charley here which is to practically re-introduce her as the feisty adventuress she used to be. For too long now the writing for Charley has been generic and repetitive with nothing new said about her character. She was starting to look a bit stale despite India Fisher's best efforts (and that is some effort let me tell you). Although the conversations with her mother in episode one are nothing but padding they are absolutely vital for Charley who is finally showing some real growth. When she admits that people dying doesn't affect her the way it used to and her recollection of her reaction to Rathbone's death in Storm Warning there is a real melancholic feeling of Charley having lost that naive, childish side to her personality and having grown into a strong young woman. Similarly touching is her memories of going to Crystal Palace and how magical it would be to return there, it brings us back to seeing the story through the companions eyes and here there is doubt that Charley is yearning to return to out universe (I don't blame her).
But best of all is her bitchy banter with Perfection, surely the highlight of the entire story. Listening to ex-companion Daphne Ashbrook and current companion India Fisher throwing some of the most hilarious insults at each other is a delight and more of this sort of rowdy humour would have benefited the play no end. It confirms what was already my belief, that India Fisher deserves plaudits for her portrayal and it was the material that was lacking these past couple of years.
Don't get me started on C'rizz though who must be the most ill conceived companion since Adric yet twice as annoying. Big revelations for C'rizz fans in this story (that's all none of you then): he used to be a mass murderer (SHOCK!), he was brainwashed by his religion (GASP!), his father has been waiting for him on the blue planet ever since he left with the Doctor (SHUDDER!) and he is an evil Turlough clone who betrays the Doctor at the drop of a hat (NOOO!). He's rubbish; but worse he's we've-seen-it-all-before rubbish who's dumped with some truly cringe-worthy dialogue. I thought he had reached his nadir when they drudged up Lyda in the first episode and allowed a little more time to get angsty over her death (again... even Anji wasn't that bad!) but he soon put on his sour face and started viciously squabbling with Charley (I thought they were best friends?) and then when you think he cannot sink any lower they pull out the "Ahahaha Doctor! I'm not betraying you to Keep! I'm betraying you to Rassilon!" Why the Doctor did not just leave him behind at the climax is beyond me. Despite a few sporadic moments of fun C'rizz has frustrated me from day one and The Next Life confirms he was going nowhere all along and will serve as little more than a bland buddy-buddy.
Ever since the start of the chain of stories in this universe I have been wondering where the Zagreus energy went because it did not seem to be affecting the Doctor at all aside from making him a bit dull. The Next Life resurrects this long-forgotten thread in what is probably the best twist in the story. Turns out its Perfection, the sultry babe who has been sticking close to the Doctor throughout the story! The moment she reveals herself is rather exciting but fails to explain the previous three hours of flirty banter with the Doctor, going as far to offer to shag him and re-populate the universe (I kid you not). I can see why she wanted to be near the Doctor, his TARDIS being the key to returning to the "proper" universe and all but in hindsight their relationship throughout the story is a bit perverse.
Caerdroia promised a series of adventures with the TARDIS and a jolly Doctor but both seem absent in The Next Life. The story forgets about the TARDIS far too often for it to be more than a background presence and the Doctor is bogged down in too much nonsense to impress either. He gets to scoff a load of bugs and deny killing a child and hide from crocodiles and chat about becoming Adam to Perfection's Eve and none of it has anything to do with anything. The only reason the Doctor is vital is so Perfection can babble on about the divergents and explain away what this whole misconceived idea has all been about. He also fits a key into a lock that gets them home. Bravo, what a hero.
During one mind-numbingly long piece of exposition Keep and Perfection finally explain about the divergents, the Church of the Foundation, the Doctor's journey through the Interzone, etc. What shocks me is there are some terrific ideas involved, especially the idea of a universe that evolves to a certain point and then starts all over again and a planet that travels around the galaxies and destroys life as it passes your planet. What annoys is that it is just exposition and nothing dramatic is done with these meaty ideas. Audio limits you to simply talking about things but you can still take a great idea (Chimes of Midnight) and dramatise it well. The Next Life tosses its ideas in the air and leaves them there, refusing to assemble them into a satisfying narrative. A shame.
And finally allow me to congratulate Big Finish for what has to be the ultimate sellout, that truly, truly awful cliff-hanger that proves once and for all this company is just pandering to the fans and their desire. Say what you will about BBC books they go down their own path and if you like it fair enough, if you don't it won't change their minds. But having the Doctor walk through a door into our universe and being confronted by Davros and a bunch of Daleks says to me that this company is desperate to appeal to the new audience next year. Another Dalek story. Whoopidedo! Just what we all wanted...
The Next Life isn't diabolical but it isn't very good either. It feels like it goes on forever without ever really going anywhere and as a wrap up for the past two seasons it feels inadequate, failing to deal with a handful of unanswered questions. The story was rush written to get the Doctor and co back into our universe and it skips over all the ideas Gary Russell clearly had in mind for wrapping everything up. I hate to say it but it feels as though the season should be longer to effectively deal with some of the ideas. But let's be thankful it's not and we can get back to good old fashioned adventuring. And let's never speak of the past two seasons again.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 7/4/05
Curtailing (albeit prematurely) the Divergance Universe arc, The Next Life is a great tale,thanks to the combined writing of Gary Russell and Alan Barnes. Storywise, the TARDIS seemingly breaks up, attempting to land on a mysterious planet, whilst C'rizz and Charley are tormented by Rassilon via situations from their past, as the Doctor finds himself on an island getting on both the bad and good sides of husband and wife Daqar Keep and Perfection respectively. This storyline alone is only really justifiable as a four parter, but the writing and performances do carry you along.
The first episode is reminiscent of Zagreus, with its dreamscape images featuring Anneke Wills as Charley's mother and Jane Hills as L'da; both of whom give excellent performances it has to be said. This is merely a plot device to sideline the two companions however; it could have been cut out, but nothing is lost by its inclusion. Certainly the pace slows down during the Doctor's segments and thanks to strong performances from Paul Darrow (who surprisingly doesn't ham it up at all) as Guidance and Daphne Ashbrook as Perfection, whose interplay with Paul McGann was one of the highlights of the TV Movie; in this aspect The Next Life delivers.
Similarly, the regulars are great, Charley whilst the least well served is excellently played by India Fisher, whilst Conrad Westmaas gives his best performance yet as C'rizz. Ultimately, the tale is about the lead however, and Paul McGann seemingly tapping into hidden reserves of energy, betters himself yet again in his portrayal. Added to this is a clever and unexpected plot twist, which serves as a teaser for the future and The Next Life bows out on a high.
A Review by Charles Berman 20/3/14
Apparently the Divergent Universe storyline was brought to an early end with The Next Life because of the news that Doctor Who would be returning to television with a Ninth Doctor; Big Finish didn't want the "current" releases to be in the middle of a long arc that might alienate new listeners. Pushed onstage before it was ready or not, though, The Next Life worked for me really well as a way to close the arc. Having Alan Barnes write the script was the right choice. The fact that he had written most of Charley's significantly character-developing episodes gives her overall story a real sense of purpose and solidity which, together with India Fisher's ebullient performance, cement her as a top companion. Plus, Barnes' scripts, which initially really showed their author's roots as a writer for the more visual medium of the comic book, seem to get stronger in certain ways each time. And Barnes is maybe the one writer so far to engage fully with what was done with Charley in Scherzo - the most character-changing appearance for Charley that he himself didn't write.
Barnes nominally wrote this with Gary Russell, who led the Big Finish line at the time. Just going off gut feeling, alone I can't help but think that Russell was mainly there in a capacity to script edit and keep The Next Life in line with Big Finish's other releases. I have no evidence for this, but (like Zagreus) The Next Life doesn't remind me at all of Russell's solo works, which I mainly haven't enjoyed.
There are a lot of threads to pick up and tie off from the Divergent Universe saga and even the stories leading up to Zagreus. To do this, Barnes (and theoretically Russell) make heavy use of a lot of very high concepts in this story. They work, though. And to give them time to be explained gradually and with a sense of tension, the story is an extra-long six episodes. I feel that's a good move. In four episodes, the explanations would have been rushed enough that things would have started to feel silly or cursory. At six, the revelations come at pace that feels right, and because of the combined load of the work that this story must do for its place as the conclusion of the arc as well as what it sets up as a story in its own right, there is none of the sense of padding that sometimes afflicted six-parters on television.
C'rizz, for only the first or second time, is really well-characterized and interesting here, much more so than in his fairly forgettable introductory story (the circumstances of which are revisited). Kudos to Barnes for pulling that off. He ends up doing so by, at least partially, making it so that the fact that he was so undistinguished for a while is explained by the nature of his character, and positing that he was created deliberately to be the Doctor's companion. Shades of Sam Jones perhaps, but taking C'rizz into the Doctor's original universe promises interesting things.
It seems appropriate that, in Paul McGann's last story as the "current" Doctor before the television introduction of Christopher Eccleston, there should be such concern with the theme of sex and love as it pertains to the Doctor - a theme which would become so prominent in the new series. And it seems doubly appropriate that the character of Perfection who raises the issue here should be played by Daphne Ashbrook, who Paul McGann caused so many waves among fans by kissing onscreen in 1996. Ashbrook may be stunt casting for her role in the TV movie (even acknowledged with a joke about the Doctor saying "there's no Grace here"), but she plays Perfection fantastically. Her rivalry with the jealous Charley is pulled off really well from a writing and performing standpoint; Perfection sounds attractive enough to be a threat, but calculating enough that Charley's reaction feels justified. Good on Barnes for picking up the leads from Scherzo on the relationship between the Doctor and Charley that other writers had not been so concerned with.
The Doctor's clear preference for expressing the kind of love we know he has for Charley over the ultimately tawdry flirtation of Perfection is excellent. And it performs the rare feat of actually developing the character of the Doctor in a way that feels organic.
The Next Life -- as suggested by the title -- is also pretty concerned with religion as a theme. It seems to take a pretty cynical view of it, and in way that is developed pretty coherently throughout the narrative. Religion appears throughout as a means to control people through deception, and is an actual impediment to reaching literal progress (actual access to a universe where time and therefore progress can exist) and a literal next life for the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz. This engagement with religion is refreshing - and the stance taken makes sense - in the context of a series where God- and Devil-like creatures appear as science-fiction creatures but organized religion is often absent. In a world where "higher powers" are part of the natural world, an organized church can only be a means of control.
McGann is still great in these audios and gives one of his best performances yet, bouncing between his very different chemistries with Daphne Ashbrook and India Fisher, and investing the events going on with the importance that they need. His exhortations at the end against the squabbling that could destroy the TARDIS crew feel right as a way of leading into their new series of adventures, folded into Big Finish's regular releases.
The Divergent Universe arc had some lows (Creed of the Kromon stands out) and some astronomical highs (Scherzo and The Natural History of Fear), but it didn't always feel completely unified or purposeful. The Next Life is a really good way to end the arc that makes it feel as if it was always those things, which is quite an accomplishment.
Charley Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There by Jacob Licklider 5/2/20
The Divergent Universe Arc is often slated for being quite a bad story arc, which the writers had no idea on how to figure out where they wanted to go with this. The arc doesn't ever have its actual villains show up, and it was cut short by two seasons with the returning of the show to television. This was of course done not to alienate potential new listeners coming to see what the fuss was about with these audio dramas and of course the fact that Gary Russell was unsure of whether or not Big Finish would have their license renewed for another year.
My personal thoughts on the arc is that it is flat-out underrated. Yes, it is extremely flawed and never takes full advantage of going further into the crazy nature of the universe, and the pacing of the two seasons is way off, as it was supposed to be four seasons. On the pacing, there is a way to fix it all so it works better. Start by making it three series and deleting The Twilight Kingdom from the entire story arc. Make the first season Scherzo, The Creed of the Kromon, Faith Stealer and then end the season with one of the stories originally planned for season 3, probably Time Works. Have the second season open with The Natural History of Fear, followed by Scaredy Cat, then The Last and of course finish with Caerdroia. The third season open with Something Inside, followed by the unnamed script from Gary Hopkins, then have Alan Barnes or Nicholas Briggs write a penultimate story ending in the TARDIS crash from the beginning of The Next Life and then continue with The Next Life. This would make for a much tighter arc, and, while we still would have had some duds, the pace would have worked out for the better, and it probably would have gotten a better reception from the fans. The wasted potential is the big problem with The Next Life, as it concludes the arc in a very hasty fashion, even though the story is an extended six parter. Good news, however, is that most of the rest of the story is on top form, and it's only the rather messy ending that takes down the story quite a few pegs.
Russell and Barnes are both great at writing the structure of this story, as it splits up the story into a two-part opening story and a four-part closing story. The two-part opening story is the stronger of the two stories, as it takes an introspection on the impact of Charley and C'rizz have on the total of history. Charley is taken back to Cardington to see her mother, again played by the brilliant Anneke Wills, to help her find out that her decision to get Simon Murchford drunk and take his place on the R101 actually helped save a lot of lives and had larger consequences on the Web of Time. India Fisher is great in these sections, as she gets to flex her acting chops and deal with the fallout of her decisions, which is great. Something similar happens to C'rizz, who, instead of seeing the ramifications of his actions, sees some of the strings being pulled, and we actually get a backstory. He was originally a monk of the Church of the Foundation, which teases us to the idea that he has killed people before. It is revealed that it is his lover L'da, whose family saved him from this life of murder and fell in love with him. Of course, the story ends with the Kro'ka, who is working for the Divergence, pulling them out and acting pretty much like he is a god miles above them. The Kro'ka here actually gets to be more menacing in the early two parts of the story, and Stephen Perring is relishing his chance for a good role after Caerdroia pretty much destroyed him.
The final four parts of the story are also very much split into two parts. Parts Three and Four for the most part takes the form of a Hinchliffe/Holmes-style reimagining of The Most Dangerous Game where the Doctor is accused of killing a little girl, and he is to be hunted as sport, which is a perfectly fine idea, and the minimal plot allows for a lot of character development in this section of the story. The Doctor is paired up with Perfection, played by Daphne Ashbrook, who killed the girl's mother and is to be hunted with the Doctor. Perfection is pretty much the embodiment of sexual temptation, and Daphne Ashbrook is a great performer. She is the wife of Daqar Keep, who bought her for her looks and abuses her; Ashbrook in these parts displays a lot of subtlety throughout the story. Her relationship with Charley is very much like two catty teenagers vying for the attention of a boy, which is great.
The rest of the supporting cast really only shine in Part Five and Six, where we get the plot surrounding the payoff to the anti-time infection and the Zagreus entity and the sound creature from Scherzo. Now, the ending is disastrous, with it not being resolved but comically stopped in its tracks as the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz are sent back into the universe proper. I'm going to spoil a lot here, so continue with caution, but it is revealed that the villain working with the Divergence to try and gain control of our universe is Rassilon, played by Don Warrington, who has been exiled as well and wishes to depose Romana as Lord President of Gallifrey.
Warrington is the best of the actors to play Rassilon, yes even better than Sir Timothy Dalton. The three main supporting characters are Perfection, Guidance and Keep. Perfection in these parts has the character shift, as she is revealed to be the Zagreus entity wanting to get into the TARDIS to infect time. Ashbrook is great with this, as well as Paul Darrow as Guidance who really doesn't have a big reveal, except he is C'rizz's father. Yes, don't ask me how, but he is a religious leader trying to tempt C'rizz. The performance is great, as it is Paul Darrow playing the role. Keep is also the other character, who is the sound creature from Scherzo. He is there to conclude the story and sign out the fates for the other characters.
To summarize, The Next Life is definitely a mixed bag of a story, but it does have a lot of good things, even though it could have been done a lot better than it was. 70/100