A Wrong Charley…?

Big Finish Folly, Part 99 – The Condemned, by Eddie Robson

The Doctor’s in the Grim North again – this time it’s Manchester, 2008. Ackley House is not a pleasant place to live in – the phones don’t work, the lights go out, there’s a prisoner is the basement. Meanwhile, in another flat, there’s a murdered alien. DI Menzies’s main suspect is the Doctor, but it seems that’s the least of his problems, because his new companion is a very odd woman called Charlotte Pollard…

New season, new companion. And because of the way Big Finish Folly works, we’re approaching the story of Charley Pollard arse about face. Perhaps the Doctor would appreciate that – particularly this incarnation, whose history of meeting companions is chronologically challenged to begin with. Seeing Charley Pollard’s story from this viewpoint gives the listener a very different perspective on the character: we know as fans that she’s travelled with the Eighth Doctor, that she believed he had died at the end of their time together, but we as listeners haven’t actually encountered these stories yet and so her character is as much a mystery to us as she is to the Doctor himself. Conversely, when she turns up again later in the Eighth Doctor’s run (if I ever get there!) we’ll know that the story isn’t going to have a happy ending – but we won’t know when that ending is going to take place…

Confused yet? Let’s crack on to the story itself then, shall we? The plot turns up just as the Doctor is giving his new companion a suspicious sideward glance, and it turns out to be all about secrets and hidden identities. Charley is hiding her real identity; Dr Aldrich is keeping a rather big secret, and so are the alien Shinx; the Doctor knows has already met Menzies in her future; and the poor chap in the basement has his own problems…

There’s a lot of to-and-froing here – in the Tardis, in police cars, (and by bus, for the Doctor at one point!) and a large number of characters too. While the Doctor and DI Menzies make like Scott & Bailey, Charley gets handcuffed to a bed and given a crash course in takeaways. There’s a bizarre mix of the alien and the mundane – witness Menzies and Sixey snooping through a bathroom for clues.

Menzies is as broad and sarky as she was in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, though this time less knowing. Backdrops of sirens and old bleepy telephones add to the CSI: Bolton vibe. The McGuffin turns out to be an insurance fraud, of all things, such mundanity hidden behind an off-the-wall buildings-as-invasion-tool idea that actually does make sense (who here has gone to see Sheffield Council at Howden House and not felt terminally depressed?).

It takes a while for the dust to settle. Several things about the denouement are unsatisfactory, not least the sudden, off-screen demise of the major villain. Charley’s handling of her situation is odd – she seems more amused than disconcerted by this different incarnation of the Doctor, her slips and trips slightly knowing and arch. You’d think that the Doctor wouldn’t want her back in the Tardis, given his history with Black Guardian Fifth Columnists (Turlough), but he appears to regard her as a curiosity to keep at arm’s length instead. It looks like this relationship won’t be an entirely happy one…

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