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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Other Lives

Yesterday, I started to review the latest Big Finish release, Doctor Who: Other Lives. However, I wrote so much about the history of Big Finish that I never actually got around to reviewing the story. I'll rectify that today.

"Other Lives" is the 77th release in Big Finish's line of Doctor Who audio adventures. It is also one of the most low-key, being mostly a straight historical drama. The Doctor lands the TARDIS in the Crystal Palace during the Great Exposition of 1851, as a favor to one of his companions, Charlotte, because she's "always wanted to see the Great Exposition." The Doctor's other companion, C'Rizz, stays aboard the ship, he's a humanoid reptilian alien, as his appearance might cause a stir.

While exploring the Crystal Palace, The Doctor and Charley get separated, as they always do. Charley meets the Duke of Wellington and they quickly become friends. Meanwhile the Doctor is ejected for not having a ticket. Charley returns to the TARDIS, only to find the Doctor is missing. She and C'Rizz leave the ship (stupid idea there, but necessary for the plot, I guess) to look for him. They split up with C'Rizz searching outside while Charley searches inside. The Doctor, though, has managed to raise the funds to buy a ticket (by street hustling via the "shell game") and goes back inside to the TARDIS. When he arrives, he finds a French couple admiring his ship. They turn out to be French royalty, and the Doctor stops an assassination attempt by hustling them into the TARDIS. After dispatching the assassin, the Doctor goes to hustle the pair out of his ship when it suddenly disappears. At that moment the authorities arrive. The Doctor is arrested.

While searching for the Doctor, Charley again meets the Duke who's looking for the French couple who were in his charge. C'Rizz is shanghaied and winds up in a circus sideshow as the half-man, half-animal Carrizo! The Doctor is rescued from jail by a woman he met briefly at the Exposition who is convinced that he is her husband, Edward, who has been missing in Africa for a year.

Three plots, all intertwined but separate. Charley impersonates the female half of the French couple to avoid an international incident. The Doctor helps his benefactor by impersonating her husband so that she can keep their house. C'Rizz escapes from his captor and gains a measure of revenge. This story is no grand science fiction space opera, it's just a simple little comedy of errors. It's also the most endearing Paul McGann Doctor Who story in ages. McGann excels at the whimsical, and there are plenty of whimsical moments woven throughout this story, like the aforementioned street hustling scene. In fact, all the actors do excellent work here. India Fisher gives Charley an independent streak, in this story, that the character has lacked, and needed, for many appearances. And, Conrad Westmaas, unfortunately, is the only thing that usually makes C'Rizz interesting. This time, though, even C'Rizz has a compelling storyline.

In fact, the only downside is the horrible ending. The Doctor sees in the paper that the French dignitaries will be making an appearance at the Grand Exposition and goes to confront them, and get back to his ship. Meanwhile Charley and C'Rizz are actually impersonating the French couple, to stave off an international incident. They are all reunited (in another great whimsical moment which finds Charley complimenting her disguise, "not even my mother would recognize me," immediately followed by the Doctor finding her and yelling, "CHARLEY!"), the TARDIS suddenly reappears and they all leave. The End. Ugh. Oh, and as a post script, the woman's missing husband also suddenly appears and they are reunited. Double ugh (even though it is a heart-touching moment). There is absolutely no explanation given as to why the ship took off in the first place, nor why it returned right then. No explanation as to where the missing husband has been, nor why. No explanation for anything, really. The only plot that they seemed to follow-through on completely is the one involving C'Rizz.

For this release, I have to say that less science and more fiction adds up to another winner for Big Finish, but only because of the enjoyable journey and despite the ending.


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