Released December 2004
Whether because Big Finish feels that the time has naturally come or because of the arrival of the new televised Doctor Who coming in 2005, the Eighth Doctor’s adventures in the Divergent universe come to an end in ‘The Next Life.’ The end result is a satisfying tale that addresses and wraps up several lingering plot threads for the previous two seasons and successfully reintroduces the Doctor back to the normal universe.
‘The Next Life’ has many positive attributes, but there are some negative worth noting as well. Unfortunately, this is another story in which the Doctor speaks to himself in order to handle the exposition of the story, and though this is becoming an increasingly infrequent problem with Big Finish scripts, it is nonetheless just as jarring. The exposition is not handled that well with Charley or C’rizz either, both confiding to loved ones they know to be false in a sort of virtual reality experience. This approach ultimately provides a little bit of background for both companion characters but does little to advance the plot, giving the sense that ‘The Next Life’ is simply treading water before allowing itself to get on with its big events.
The ending itself is sure to cause a divide in its audience as well. The Doctor’s show of true friendship and companionship with both Charley and C’rizz is very touching and sentimental, but it does seem oddly placed given that the chance of escaping the Divergent universe is quickly shrinking. Likewise, the appearance of Davros waiting for the Doctor’s return lends a sinister edge to the otherwise triumphant return, but it does beg the question of how exactly Davros knew where and when to be.
However, as a whole, ‘The Next Life’ is immensely enjoyable. The tale features a quest of sorts as the Doctor, Kro’ka, and the well-written supporting cast try to reach the centre of the island while also needing to assemble a key. It is during this quest that the entire aspect of the universe not having time is addressed; the Doctor knows that this is an absurd concept given that things are happening sequentially, but the explanation that time does not flow linearly but rather in circles over and over again actually offers a rather satisfying resolution to the nagging issue.
The Divergents also make an appearance, though the means in which they do so is surprising since the figurehead is apparently a Frenchman, Dagar Keep, rather than some omnipresent and powerful alien race. The explanation, though, that Keep is the creature that the Doctor and Charley would have evolved into had they remained adjoined in ‘Scherzo’ is a brilliant callback, and the fat that he has absorbed the Divergents to add to his power is shocking; Stephane Cornicard is extremely effective and menacing in the megalomaniacal role.
Rassilon and the Divergents have been linked since well before the events of ‘Zagreus,’ and so it’s unsurprising that he should make a return at the end of the arc, again aided by his flunky Kro’ka who is noticeably more vengeful since his punishment in ‘Caerdroia.’ This is a Rassilon very much not in control, though, as he has already been defeated some eighty-four times, cycling back to his entry point into the Divergent universe and time continues to roll back on itself and begin again. He does show his conniving nature as he is able to gain control of Charley by using her jealousy against her, and overall Don Warrington makes the most of the role as written. It truly is the Kro’ka that has the standout scenes, though, as he reveals that he’s not the vicious enemy he’s been playing all along, helping the Doctor and suggesting that he’s just lonely and easily manipulated. In a way, it’s fitting that Rassilon and he end up filling the roles of Charley and the Doctor in ‘Scherzo,’ but it would have been nice to offer the Kro’ka some redemption after these events.
Surprisingly, Zagreus also makes a reappearance, disguised as Perfection and who is obviously drawn and attracted to the Doctor on some greater level still. Daphne Ashbrook rejoins Paul McGann for the first time since the 1996 television movie, and her performance in electric throughout, though unfortunately the dialogue turns to typical bombastic villainous fare once the revelation is made.
Considering this is the end of a story arc, the writers surprisingly shift a lot of attention away from the Doctor- still much happier since regaining his TARDIS- and onto the companions. Charley has some fine moments where she stands up to the foes and proves her mettle, but the love subplot that seemed finished in ‘Scherzo’ rears its head again when Perfection turns her attention toward the Doctor. Whether this plot thread becomes relevant again in the proper universe remains to be seen. C’rizz gets some fascinating character development, though, as finally more pieces of his past are revealed. While it’s not completely surprising that he has killed several people in the name of the Church of the Foundation given how coy he had been speaking about it before, the revelation that Eutermisans absorb the behaviour of those surrounding them and so are predisposed to betrayal is extremely interesting and rewarding and should pay huge dividends when back into the betrayal-ridden ‘normal’ universe. Paul Darrow’s Guidance is chillingly effective in the role while offering these insights.
‘The Next Life’ starts out as a rather typical adventure, and it is certainly fraught with some rather typical missteps in terms of lengthy and awkward exposition and overblown villainous speak, but it manages to overcome these missteps and offers a very rewarding experience that adequately ties together the past three series and instantly adds several layers of intrigue to the Doctor’s homecoming.