Released December 2013
‘Afterlife’ picks up from the harrowing conclusion to ‘Gods and Monsters’ with a distraught Ace holding the Doctor responsible for Hex’s death and forcing him to travel back to 21st century Liverpool. Seeking Hex’s friends and family, the Doctor, Ace, and Sally each try to come to terms with Hex’s death in order to move on.
‘Afterlife’ is somewhat uneven and unsubtle in places, but it deserves full credit for trying to bring emotions to the forefront. Ace is initially the focus of this tale, and Sophie Aldred does well in bringing out heartbroken rage to exemplify just how badly Ace has been hurt. While the Doctor does come off as a bit foolish and ignorant by suggesting that Ace just needs to get her blood sugar up to feel better, the first episode highlights the emotional gulf between the Time Lord and his companion while once again suggesting that Ace has been traveling with the Doctor for so long that she might be unable to return to the real world.
Interjecting a previously-untold adventure with Hex into the pain of remorse through narration from Hex in a letter to his grandmother works exceedingly well, heightening the sympathy of the present while reminding everyone of the unique compassion that burned so brightly within Hex. Back on Earth, the scenes between the Doctor and Hex’s grandmother are definite highlights within an uneven secondary gangster plot that tries to once more tie the Elder Gods into events, Hex’s discussions with a fire elemental in his quest to return to Earth a particularly rocky moment.
As mesmerizing as Jean Boht is as Hilda Schofield, though, Sylvester McCoy easily becomes the highlight of this story after the first episode. The flashbacks utilized here perfectly encapsulate how secretive this incarnation of the Doctor is, and though he ultimately ends the story by asking Ace to once more trust him without explanation, the personal journey he undergoes during his discussions with Hilda and his painfully awkward attempt at a eulogy is superb. It’s rare that the Doctor is forced to stare at the consequences of his actions, but Ace’s determination in making the Doctor do just that pays immense dividends.
Ultimately, though, the return of Hex in the form of Thomas, a man without any of Hex’s memories, will be the most tangible lasting plot development of ‘Afterlife.’ Ace struggles with emotion throughout this story and acts rather irrationally as guilt and sorrow consume her, and the claims that she is moving on are clearly indications of the exact opposite. In a way, Ace’s desire to bring her friend back no matter the consequences sets up a potentially incredible storyline to explore exactly what type of person Ace has become, but future stories will bear the burden of fleshing out this development in a hopefully meaningful and impactful manner.
‘Afterlife’ lacks the subtle nuances to reach the pantheon of the greatest tales of emotional fallout, but it bravely treads into honest emotional territory for much more extended periods than the vast majority of Doctor Who stories before it. While some of the discussions and motions are repeated from earlier in the Hex arc, the end result is still a strong conclusion to the Hex range. McCoy delivers a powerhouse performance anchored by an incredible speech at the end and Aldred does well as the grief-stricken and irrational Ace, but only time will tell how the return of Thomas plays out going forward.