Doctor Who

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 903654 62 9, BFPDWCD8L
Available now

The Web of Time has been stretched to breaking point, and the Doctor holds the Time Lords' only hope for repairing the damage. Must he sacrifice the life of his companion for the greater good? And can an old nursery rhyme about a monster called Zagreus really be coming true...?

When I was a child, just old enough to understand what was happening on the telly, each season of Doctor Who would comprise six stories, the last of which would always be a six-part epic. This was during the middle part of the Tom Baker era, and the epics in question were the likes of The Seeds of Doom, The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Invasion of Time. In my young eyes, this pattern seemed like an immutable law! Imagine my confusion when Season Seventeen, and each subsequent series, failed to follow such a trend...

I therefore found something reassuringly familiar about the structure of Paul McGann's second "season" of adventures with Big Finish. Like those Tom Baker seasons years ago, it has comprised six stories in total, and now reaches its conclusion with the sensational Neverland. Though not actually a six-parter, I believe this to be the longest single Doctor Who adventure that Big Finish has yet produced, weighing in at a whopping 145 minutes. They apparently had to drop two sets of episode endings and recaps in order to cram the whole thing on to two CDs.

Neverland marks the culmination of a story arc that has been developing over ten stories, ever since the Eighth Doctor defied the Laws of Time by rescuing Charley (India Fisher) from the doomed airship R101 in Storm Warning. However, the ongoing narrative isn't entirely brought to a close, because this season ends on a bombshell - a bombshell to rival the climax of Star Trek: The Next Generation's third series, or the final pages of BBC Books' The Ancestor Cell. I can't wait for Season Three...!

As you would expect with a return visit to Gallifrey, there are a number of continuity references. These range from the ancient tales of Rassilon discussed in The Deadly Assassin, through the Intuitive Revelation described in the New Adventures novel, Time's Crucible, to the war TARDISes that saw action in both the comic strip The Stockbridge Horror and The Ancestor Cell. (Indeed, several aspects of the plot bear a passing resemblance to events in The Ancestor Cell.) However, this background information is unobtrusive chatter that merely embellishes Alan Barnes' intelligent and witty script, and should not deter casual listeners. So long as you know your Rassilon from your Romana, then you should be OK!

As well as enjoying pleasantries with President Romana (another welcome guest appearance by Lalla Ward), the Doctor exchanges some particularly caustic banter with the ruthless Co-ordinator Vansell (Anthony Keetch once again). Meanwhile, India Fisher extends her range as both Charley and another creature in her image. I take back what I implied about this other "Charley" in my review of Seasons of Fear - she is in fact markedly different to the "Dark Sam" who featured in a couple of BBC novels.

This story could have done with being a little less long-winded, but nevertheless exudes an epic quality.

Richard McGinlay