Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 10/16/17 11:23 am
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In All Hands on Deck, Susan Campbell (Carole Ann Ford) is rebuilding following the second Dalek invasion of Earth. She's living at the old Coal Hill School now, and she's continuing to try and put the atrocities of the Daleks' invasion behind her, as she helps the human race. But a series of mishaps begin to worry Susan, making her wonder if the Daleks are about to return to Earth. But the invasion is odd enough, that Susan wonders if there isn't something else going on underneath the surface. All Hands on Deck tells the tale of Susan's involvement in the Time War. It's a brief story, just showing the earliest parts of it, and it's an enjoyable piece of work. Carole Ann Ford does a good job narrating the story, though I feel that she had some difficulty when narrating for the Doctor throughout the story. The story, written by Eddie Robson, is an average tale that coasts through most of the first 30 minutes, then ups the ante with an emotional ending to the story. Overall, it's enjoyable enough, and it will certainly frustrate those who wished to see what becomes of Susan in the Time War definitively. But it's a nice way to cap off the arc that Susan has had alongside the Eighth Doctor, and a nice way to lead into the Time War box sets.
Carole Ann Ford takes on the narration duties of this story, reprising her role as Susan Campbell, granddaughter of the Doctor. Ford does a good job narrating for herself and the rest of the story, injecting a weariness and sadness into her performance that matches the character she's developed into, following the events of The Eighth Doctor Adventures. Her take on Susan is simultaneously weary and sad, but also hopeful and contemplative. The highlight of her narration comes at the end of the story, with her annoyance with the Doctor and her anger at everything he hid from her and all the "challenges" he created to distract her from the Hypercube message. He closing monologue elicits memories of the First Doctor's speech to her in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, as the roles have been reversed. It's a strong way to go out for the character of Susan; some may not like it, but I found it to be a powerful moment, leaving her final fate to the listeners' imaginations. However, Ford's narration falls apart when she's asked to do an impression of the Eighth Doctor. Her impression is jarring, making him bounce around in personality from a bumbling Second Doctor to a petulant First Doctor, to a depressed Eighth Doctor. Ford can't seem to decide on how to portray the Doctor in this story, and makes him some combination of all of the Doctors. It's something that pulled me out of the story more than once, as I tried to figure out what Ford was trying to portray with the character, and it was the one complaint I had about Ford's performance here.
Eddie Robson's story is a more muted tale than probably most people were expecting. It's not a tale about Susan encountering the fringes of the Time War, but about the Doctor trying very hard to make sure that she's never touched by the Time War. I liked the nature of the story, the idea of several unexplained events touching Susan and her life throughout the story, building up to something else. It's an interesting theme to the story, and it makes for an exciting story. But the story falls apart a little bit when the reveal comes: that the Doctor has been the one causing these events. It's not that it's not a good idea, that the Doctor would be trying to give Susan enough to do to keep her away from the Time War, but just that it doesn't really mesh well with the Doctor's relationship with Susan. He is ostensibly her grandfather, who's helped her through many adventures and been with her through some of the worst tragedies of her life. For him to try and trick her reeks of the Seventh Doctor and his manipulations, which is something the Eighth Doctor doesn't do. It's a nice gesture that he would be trying to protect her, but there were other ways around this without having him revert to being the Seventh Doctor, in essence.
However, the story is able to stick the landing extremely well, with an open-ended finale, paralleling the closing moments of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Susan, having locked the Doctor out and summoned a TARDIS, tells the Doctor that she was never given a choice all those years ago, and would like the chance to decide her own destiny, stepping into the TARDIS to fight in the Time War. It's an ending that will probably frustrate those who wished to know definitively what happened to Susan in the Time War, but I found it to be a harrowing ending. We already know exactly what's going to happen to Susan. The Doctor has implied what happened to her throughout the history of New Who, which makes the ending of this story all the more tragic.
I'd also like to make special mention of the work on the music, down by Howard Carter. Carter has done a lot of work for Big Finish over the years, but his work here is just fantastic. It blends together a bleak soundtrack of a broken world with the more austere heavenly choir and church organ sounds that are typical of Gallifrey-bound stories. It works so well for this story, as the plot attempts to marry the two ideas a bit, showing the bleakness of Earth mixing with Time Lords, but also with Susan encountering the Time War. The work in the scene where the hypercube explains to Susan what is happening is harrowing, as the music swells a bit, eliciting an emotional moment, before dropping off suddenly, leaving the listener hollow. The work by Carter here recalls shades of his excellent work on the War Doctor series, and really deserves some recognition.
Overall, All Hands on Deck is a sort of muted story. The ending of the story is an excellent one, though I suspect it will be divisive to some who wished to know what happened to Susan in the Time War. Carole Ann Ford's narration work is generally solid, though I disliked her narration for the Doctor, as I felt that she wasn't able to really capture a specific Doctor's personality with her performance. Eddie Robson's story was enjoyable enough, building the tension throughout the story, and ending on an extremely strong note. However, it stumbles a little bit with the big twist of the story, and detracts from a lot of the earlier parts of the story. This may not be the definitive answer to what happened to Susan during the Time War, but it's still an engaging story, and one that sets up the events of the upcoming The Eighth Doctor: The Time War, Series 01 box set well.