Slight spoilers ahead. Listen to all of Stranded 1 first.
I recently listened to volume one of Big Finish’s newest Eighth Doctor adventure series, called “Stranded 1”. I’ve not listened to any other recent Eighth Doctor adventures, so I’m not at all familiar with his current companions, or even the circumstances that led to them being stranded in modern-day London, but I’ve pieced together enough from these episodes to kind of understand. (It’s kind of the comic-book story syndrome, where things happen that link back to previous stories (for instance, such and such happens and you get a text box telling you, the reader, to refer back to Issue No. 45 of either that strand or some other franchise)) That might be a big bit of confusion for some listeners (not being explicitly told what led to this situation really bothered me), but maybe there’s enough setup here.
Anyway, the premise here is intriguing: the Eighth Doctor and his companions are stuck in modern-day London with no functioning TARDIS. The Doctor doesn’t even have his sonic screwdriver. UNIT doesn’t even currently exist (as per the TV episode “Resolution”). I guess Torchwood exists because (spoiler warning) two characters mention Torchwood, but this incarnation of the Doctor can’t be allowed to learn about Torchwood (the Tenth Doctor is the first one to learn about that organization, remember? The end of series two of televised Who?). So they move into a house the Doctor somehow owns on Baker Street. (How does the Doctor own this house? I don’t know. This set of stories makes no effort to explain this. Just go with it) That house has been converted into flats, so the Doctor and companions deal with neighbors.
Volume one is presented as four episodes, each the length of a standard 25-minute (approximately) episode. Each episode has a self-contained adventure while lending to an ongoing arc.
Episode one (Lost Property) establishes the premise, and introduces a character briefly seen in televised Who, that being the Curator from the end of The Day of the Doctor (that 50th anniversary episode that aired a while ago). Played by Tom Baker, this episode carries on the idea of never explicitly stating either that he is a version of the Doctor (he’s definitely probably not the Fourth incarnation and definitely probably maybe possibly a future incarnation who already knows all these events). All the hemming and hawing about that is a bit annoying, but it does allow that version to hint at what’s to come later in the series. Plus you get Tom Baker on audio, which is never a bad thing.
If there’s a complaint I have about how these episodes are structured, it’s how the brevity of the episodes doesn’t really allow each episode’s specific plot to develop and breath. Each episode is trying, simultaneously, to continue the ongoing plot while also doing its own thing. Often this leads to the episode-specific plot emerging in the last 10 minutes of the episode and being hurriedly resolved. Sometimes it’s not even resolved (maybe I had files missing from the end of episode three (“Must-See TV”, a phrase that I’m not sure translates to UK culture because I don’t know if that phrase was ever a marketing term there in the ’90s like it was here on NBC but whatever) but that episode ended really abruptly, like in the midst of the episode’s villain boasting and scheming) when the end theme plays. I wish each episode’s plot had time to develop more. As it is, only episode four feels really fleshed out.
Speaking of episode four, that’s where all the plotlines and character development really comes together. However, I want to make mention of some neat guest casting, that being Tom Price, reprising his Torchwood character of Sergeant Andy Davidson. He’s one of our two links to Torchwood, the other being a character that apparently actually works to Torchwood in some capacity. Andy even gets to hang out with the Eighth Doctor a bit in episode four (“Divine Intervention”), which is fun to hear.
We have new supporting characters introduced with the other flatmates in the Doctor’s building on Baker Street. There are some neat dynamics in play, and hints for future episodes. I’m intrigued to find out what role Torchwood is going to play in the ongoing story. I’m not too invested in the relationships forming, as I don’t know about the companions (one of the companions doesn’t like to carry a cell phone, presumably due to something that happened in a previous adventure. What happened? I don’t know. Stranded makes no attempt at an explanation, just a hand-wavey “well, it happened in an earlier adventure, go listen to that”, which is all fine and dandy but doesn’t help me here).
So Stranded is Big Finish attempting something altogether new in Doctor Who, and I’m always up for that. In some ways it succeeds (the new characters are interesting. If I had the time, it’d be neat to listen to introduction stories for these current companions, but I don’t, so…). It manages to still feel like Doctor Who while not having anything that makes Doctor Who Doctor Who (at best it’s sort of similar to the early Pertwee era, but there’s no UNIT for the Doctor to hang around with). In other ways Stranded fails (no time for episode-specific plots to develop).
Either way, I’m on board and eagerly awaiting Stranded 2, if and when that ever happens (given the current world situation). I recommend giving it a listen.