Released December 2007
Ever story must come to and end, and ‘The Girl Who Never Was’ is the end to Charlotte Pollard’s travels with the Eighth Doctor. The Eighth Doctor is in a time of transition at Big Finish and, after just experiencing the loss of C’rizz in the ambitious but flawed ‘Absolution,’ Charley demands to leave in ‘The Girl Who Never Was,’ receiving a great sendoff for a beloved character with a solid script that provides tension and, more importantly, plenty of examples of the excellent chemistry between the two leads.
The Doctor accidentally lands the TARDIS in 2008 Singapore rather than 1930 Singapore, causing further rancor for Charley, but the Doctor determines that there is some sort of anomaly in 1942 Singapore that is diverting the TARDIS and keeping them from reaching their intended destination. Charley learns from a stranger that there have been sightings of a mysterious ship near Singapore throughout the decades, one that originally disappeared in 1942 and one which the stranger is very interested in finding.
The SS Batavia, a freighter that vanished in the Karimata Strait while fleeing the Japanese, provides a suitably atmospheric and creepy setting, and the legends of sightings during electrical storms before suddenly disappearing from radar gives an extra level of mystery to the proceedings. Obviously setting a story set on an abandoned ship and featuring characters who want to salvage whatever they can from it is not a unique premise, but writer Alan Barnes takes the story to an extra level by crafting some fine characterization and interactions between the Doctor and Charley, effectively ending each episode on a strong cliffhanger, and even bringing back the Cybermen, a foe Charley has not seen since ‘Storm Warning.’
The Cybermen are used to great effect in ‘The Girl Who Never Was,’ and- taking the cover’s image away- their surprise resurgence midway through is genuinely surprising. These are the older models of Cybermen, and full credit must be given to Nicholas Briggs who completely recaptures their unique speech mannerisms perfectly. As always, their plan is to convert humans in order to ensure the survival and propagation of their own race, and their sights have changed from the SS Batavia to the world itself. With a unique time travel aspect and a Cyberman ship stranded in the year 500,002, the entire story is an exercise in logic, including the ultimate resolution that seals their fate, cementing this as easily one of the strongest Cyberman stories yet.
The rest of the supporting cast is quite strong as well, though the clear highlight is Danny Webb’s Byron, both the one in 1942 and the one in 2008. Byron is a reckless, greedy, but still somewhat charismatic entrepreneur who is unafraid to cut a deal with the Cybermen when presented the opportunity, and his greed and unwillingness to leave directly ties into Charley’s ultimate fate. In a way, Byron is the antithesis of the Doctor, and the contrasting styles of the two characters work wonderfully well together. Elsewhere, Anna Massey plays the experienced Miss Pollard very well, adding a sense of mystery to the character, and Amanda Root’s Madeline Fairweather stands out as the lone female aboard a male-dominated ship.
Unlike C’rizz in ‘Absolution,’ Charley is directly involved with all of the action in ‘The Girl Who Never Was.’ Despite harbouring a frustration and anger about C’rizz’s death and her unwilling acceptance that it is time for her to leave, she can’t help but be drawn into the adventure at hand and reclaim the spirit that made her adopt the moniker Edwardian Adventuress in the beginning. As the mystery unfurls and she even comes close to taking on the position of Cyberplanner herself, Charley is always in the middle of events and proves for one final time what a strong and brave woman she truly is when given the opportunity. At the same time, Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor seems more emotionally invested in events, trying to sway her into staying with him longer and showing just how important Charley truly is to him. The scenes in which he believes Charley is lost to him forever are heartbreaking and easily some of McGann’s finest in a very fine story overall.
The ending, rightfully or not, is what always makes the story, and the end of ‘The Girl Who Never Was’ is spectacular, full of twists until the very end and even beyond. With an attempted hypnosis, a seeming death, and a powerful sacrifice to ensure the Cybermen and Byron meet their due fate, the final episode of ‘The Girl Who Never Was’ successfully closes out the story of Charlotte Pollard, bookending her final adventure with the Eighth Doctor with a note she’d written before her initial kidnap, a note that perfectly summarizes everything great about this duo.