Reviewed By: Drew Vogel
Review Date: 8/1/17 6:55 pm
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I've always grouped "Neverland", "Zagreus", and "The Next Life" together in my mind. They have a lot in common. On the positive side, they are all epic-scale adventures for the eighth Doctor and Charley. They're the big, significant stories that chart out the major turns of the ongoing narrative of those early eighth Doctor adventures. As such, they're quite significant for Big Finish as well. But on the negative side, they're all bloated, rambling, exposition-heavy, and tedious. I don't think it's any coincidence that they share these characteristics. It's precisely because these stories are so self-consciously important that they fail as stories. Their very epic-ness is exactly what brings them down.
The script is so concerned about being big and important that it doesn't bother to come up with a workable story. There is a story here, but it is told to us almost entirely through exposition, and it has almost nothing to do with the Doctor, Charley, and C'rizz. It's this semi-mythological story about a special planet that holds the key to escaping the Divergent Universe. The story consists of a bunch of characters competing with one another to escape. After they all get in each other's way, the Doctor and friends are able to escape, even though none of them even knew that escape was even a possibility before.
To put it more simply, none of the characters has any real agency. They're all just acting out whatever convoluted series of events the writer needs them to follow in order for the conclusion to come out right. And it's even worse than that, because most of the character spend most of the story doing things that have almost nothing to do with the story at all. Like Rassilon and Kro'Ka putting Charley and C'rizz through pointless hallucinations in Part One, and the endlessly tiresome flirting between Perfection and the Doctor (which is nothing but fan service anyway... the only reason Perfect is even in this story is so that they could cast Daphne Ashbrook, and the only reason to cast Daphne Ashbrook is because she played Grace in the TV movie). Eventually, after a whole story's worth of plot developments that don't lead anywhere, Keep, Perfection, and Guidance simultaneously explain the story to the Charley, the Doctor, and C'rizz (respectively). Nothing that happens before that point matters.
As bad as this is, it isn't as bad as "Zagreus". There's some genuinely strong character work going on here, especailly for Charley. The script heavily retcons C'rizz, but this mostly makes up for the fact that he was never given much of a character at all before now. The script also just abandons the idea that the Doctor can never return to his home universe by telling us that it was never really true in the first place. After telling us that the Doctor entered this universe in the first place to find Rassilon (another retcon), the Doctor takes little interest in him when they finally meet. And Rassilon himself is retconned yet again... as it is revealed that he's been trapped in the Divergent Universe for untold millennial (which raises the question of how he was able to participate in "Zagreus").
As for the Divergent Universe arc itself (judged separately from the individual stories that comprise it), this story is just one big white flag of surrender. It doesn't resolve the issues that have been teased along the way. At least, not satisfactorily. The Divergents themselves never even appear. It just wraps up the arc in a totally arbitrary manner, with a few throwaway references to "Zagreus" and "Scherzo" to make it look like there was some kind of plan all along. I don't believe it for a second. It seems pretty clear to me that no one at any point had any idea what they were doing. I chose my three "Other Recommendations" deliberately. Other than the introduction of C'rizz and Kro'Ka, nothing that happened in any of the stories since "Scherzo" has any significance at all to "The Next Life".