The Last Post

Posted in Audio by - June 07, 2019
The Last Post

Released October 2012

Just as his ‘The Time Museum’ that began this run of The Companion Chronicles revisited and referenced several events and incidents from throughout Ian Chesterton’s tenure aboard the TARDIS alongside the First Doctor, James Goss in ‘The Last Post’ tells a harrowing tale that traverses the events of Liz Shaw’s sole season alongside the Third Doctor. As people continue to die at the exact time foretold in received letters, Liz uncovers a threat that could lead to the end of the world, and only her mother can offer her help.

This approach of having these strange deaths continue to occur concurrently with the known events UNIT was confronting at the time is a masterstroke because it emphasises the fact that these threats were not isolated incidents occurring one at a time. This puts the behaviour of the Doctor who was often somewhat aloof into a much greater context, and the stress and amount of work the Brigadier must handle has rarely been highlighted so successfully. Accordingly, it’s not simply the fact that Liz is playing second fiddle to a man or an alien that frustrates her given her extensive knowledge base and capabilities, and the resulting interpersonal conflicts are nuanced and realistic while complementing the dangers of the mysterious apocalypse clock extremely well.

‘The Last Post,’ of course, would end up being Caroline John’s final story in her beloved role, and it fittingly serves as an immense testament to the character that makes the absolute most of the emotion and determination John brought to every performance. With much of the story unfolding through letters between Liz and her mother, Liz is likewise humanized and fleshed out as a person much more than in most stories, and Rowena Cooper provides a fascinating counterpoint as Dame Emily Shaw who admits her daughter is brilliant but who still prefers the arts over the sciences. Since her mother has signed the Official Secrets Act more times than she can remember, Liz is able to open up about her true work and how the government and newspapers spin what is truly happening, and Emily in turn becomes the person Liz never had on television with whom to fully discuss her fears, hopes, and- with regards to the Doctor’s TARDIS console- even skepticism about what is possible. Emily’s mothering was always a tough type, and the firm but loving relationship these two are rebuilding is on full display and quickly lends an extra layer to proceedings when Emily receives a letter predicting her own death.

That Emily should be at least in a fringe capacity involved in these events is not surprising, but her inclusion on a committee the government has tasked to collate its collected population data and to upgrade technological uses of it is a wholly fitting one for this time period. With Professor Prestain’s machines adept at predicting futures based on data, information about life expectancy soon led to unerringly accurate predictions about individual deaths and then about the end of the world itself, the two seemingly interlinked and the latter thus able to be influenced to some small degree. Of course, with the Doctor out of commission and the Brigadier struggling with established protocols, Liz finds herself forced to confront this powerful machine on her known with only her own brand of cunning and intelligence. With surprising origins from far in the Doctor’s past, this emotionless and calculating machine is a fascinating presence on audio bolstered by the very real threat it has proposed to stop the end of the world, and this confrontation is a standout scene that definitively proves just why Liz was so invaluable to the Doctor and UNIT during her tenure.

Doctor Who and the audio medium have always been a perfect match, but the incredible sound design and direction that perfectly complement two strong central performances with events that put all of season seven in a new light make ‘The Last Post’ an altogether more captivating storyline that is absolutely a must-listen. The nature of the correspondence does mean there’s a bit more pure dialogue than usual, but ‘The Last Post’ presents a unique and enthralling experience that is a genuine testament to its lead, its era, and the franchise as a whole.

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