The Time War is coming for the Eighth Doctor. With the first box set of the Time War due this month, Big Finish is giving us insights into how the devastating event affects some of the people that the Doctor has travelled with in the past. Today, I’ll be reviewing the latter of these two Short Trips, All Hands On Deck, featuring the Eighth Doctor revisiting his granddaughter, Susan.
Everyone Susan Campbell cared about has gone. Most of them died in the second Dalek invasion, and her grandfather never visits. She’s living in what used to be Coal Hill School, helping Earth rebuild again.
Then, one night, she’s called away to help with an emergency. A piece of appropriated Dalek technology is malfunctioning, and everyone’s afraid of what it might do…
This is just the first in a sequence of predicaments facing Susan – and the connection between them will shape the rest of her life.
Susan’s back at Coal Hill, although it’s no longer a school (something must have been planned for Series 2 of Class or something, I don’t know), it’s been a block of flats for over a hundred years. Two Dalek invasions of Earth can’t destroy the memory of Coal Hill, or two of it’s greatest teachers.
We quickly learn that the year is approximately 2213, and Susan’s decided to downsize. If you know a lot about Big Finish lore, especially when it comes to the Eighth Doctor and Susan, hearing that will be ultimately bittersweet. A nice little nod to the Big Finish die hards, and an intriguing little detail for those not as initiated.
I think it’s fairly easy for Doctor Who fans to forget just how amazing Susan is as a character. On the TV show, she’s always seen as the naive one, especially when compared to her grandfather, because of her age; the writing certainly didn’t make her seem as strong and as independent as the deserved. You almost forget that she too is a Time Lord. Within the first five minutes of this story, Eddie Robson has written Susan so brilliantly that you get the opportunity to revel in her intellect, kindness, compassion and skill. In brief, within the first five minutes, Susan would be making her grandfather, the Doctor, very proud.
Around the halfway mark, there’s a peculiar little twist; an unlikely and unexpected invasion on Earth, not too dissimilar from the invasion in The Power of Three. Susan is well and truly resourceful, she’s a brilliant woman who possesses the greatest traits of the Doctor.
The Doctor’s entrance into the story is brilliantly playful and foolish. I love my minds eye sometimes; because the Eighth Doctor can be a right buffoon at times. A brilliant, bonkers buffoon. There’s an interaction between the Doctor and Susan as they talk about the Time War that is extremely well written and underplayed. It would have been easy for this speech to be grandiose and pompous, with the Doctor being extremely eloquent and poetic. Instead, we get a different version of the Eighth Doctor, that really fits in with the feeling of the Time War.
The conclusion of All Hands On Deck is honestly, quite harrowing. Eddie Robson has written a story that could easily be the start of an entirely new series of adventures, with Susan at the helm. Part of me is dying to know what happens next, and another part of me is too scared to find out. This is what a story should be; a canvas in which most of the details are painted, but the blank areas are the bits that make you think; that make you question the whole, and that make you scared to finish the piece.
Should you want to purchase All Hands On Deck, it’s currently available as a download from Big Finish for £2.99 which you can purchase here.