Neverland is the most latest of the main range Doctor Who audios from Big Finish that I have listened to. It stars Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor, India Fisher as the audio-only companion Charley Pollard and Lalla Ward as Romana, who was a regular on the TV series back in the 1970’s.
Now, it’s not the latest main range Doctor Who audio to be released, make no mistake. Indeed, it came out in 2002, and is number 33 in the line which now boasts 230 titles! But, it is the most recent one that I have listened to.
Neverland something of an odd format: instead of being four roughly 25 minute episodes (a common story length for the classic series), it features two episodes, each of which is over 70 minutes long!
The plot is significant for listeners of this series: it resolves the ongoing mystery of Charley Pollard’s existence that began when she was rescued out of history in her debut appearance in Storm Warning. But it also sets up the next run of 8th Doctor adventures, with the formation of the anti-time creature Zagreus and the Doctor’s own possession by same. (Actually, it’s more complicated than that – as far as I can tell, Zagreus didn’t actually exist except in legend until the events of this story, sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy I guess). It also re-introduces Rassilon (the legendary Time Lord founder) into the series, as played by Don Warrington. This is done with almost no explanation or comment on its significance, but apparently its significance becomes more apparent later on.
The story also features an intriguing menace: ghost-like “Neverpeople” who dwell in an “anti-time universe” who turn out to be the remains of Time Lords who have been erased from history by the “Oubliette of Eternity”. And who now, unsurprisingly, are out for revenge, threatening Gallifrey and the whole universe in a way that remains narratively connected to the core story of the Doctor and Charley.
So…to summarize, we’re talking about an epic-length story with heady science fiction ideas which dive deeply into the series mythos and are of great significance to our characters, and featuring a return guest appearance by a beloved former companion. Unfortunately, in spite of all those credentials, it’s not very good.
There’s nothing really wrong with the performances or the production or the dialogue. The problem with Neverland is just that its requires burdensome amounts of exposition and explanation to move itself along.
We have to learn first of all about how the Time Lords are heading into the anti-universe in order to chase up the secrets left behind by the Rassilon when he fought the anti-creature known as Zagreus only to discover that Rassilon is still alive in the anti-universe but kept in stasis and looked after by these mysterious Neverpeople who feed off of time energy but who turn out to be departed Time Lords destroyed by a terrible weapon that most people have ever heard of because it erases the memories of its victims from the universe except that they are actually lying and so a Time Lord who wants to depose Romana from the presidency and establish Rassilon back into power engineers a political coup to help them except Rassilon really is dead and Zagreus never existed and the Neverpeople are planning on destroying Gallifrey with the help of this Time Lord whose mind they have now taken over but actually at the end it seems Rassilon is around after all and that Zagreus is indeed becoming real and…
It’s like a giant run-on sentence except that it goes for nearly two and a half hours.
The idea of a weapon that erases people from history is fascinating, especially with the implication that this means that its wielders don’t remember that they’ve actually used it. But sadly the pacing of development of these ideas is awkward and fails to capitalize on the drama inherent in the idea. Instead, once we’ve dug through all the backstory and gravitas of the situation, we are left with a fairly mundane murderous army whose plan is to drop a bomb on Gallifrey. One feels like the expanded story length was simply necessary to fit in all the explanations (false and real) and to give the beginning of the story a forced sense of tension to keep us engaged. All of that is unfortunate because the scope of what is being attempted here really is vast and the potential high. But grandeur of the ideas and implications that are included in this script just aren’t enough to make the story enjoyable.