Girl in a Bubble

Posted in Audio by - September 01, 2023
Girl in a Bubble

Released August 2023


Despite an intriguing premise that had seen a good friend seemingly erased from time while another acquaintance fully seized upon the opportunity to shape the world in her vision of purity, this Sixth Doctor and Mel saga has rather shockingly failed to live up to its immense potential due to questionable narrative and characterization choices all along the way. Nonetheless, Big Finish looks to end it on a high with one final box set featuring the entanglements of Hebe Harrison and Patricia McBride, Purity Unbound.

In Jacqueline Rayner’s ‘Girl in a Bubble,’ the TARDIS has arrived in Hebe’s flat in a world the Doctor and Mel no longer recognize. To make matters worse, the Hebe here is also unlike the friend they once knew, living a secluded life surrounded by armed guards and watched over and served by Ron who likewise has no memory of his former or current wives. In a land where there are no disabilities or ailments allowed, strict curfews are enforced, a limited list of approved reading materials is provided, and even specific meals and food allotments are scheduled, Hebe presents something of an enigma and just one of many intriguing elements for the Doctor and Mel to investigate. Nobody knows that she even exists, but she has been receiving strange and threatening letters in the post, letters that Mel realizes are far more important to unraveling the paradoxical nature of this world than Hebe could ever hope to know.

‘Girl in a Bubble’ most succeeds by finally presenting a realization of McBride’s inner desires that have been teased for so long. Wisely avoiding the insertion of overt symbols of familiar totalitarian states, Rayner nonetheless manages to create an ominous sense of oppression as members of society attempt to live within the narrow parameters of acceptable behaviours. Peppered within this, however, are signs of a simmering and silent rebellion, a ramp outside a restaurant when there is no need for handicapped access furtively catching the Doctor’s eye. However, precisely because of the all-watching nature of the patrols on the streets, there are also many conveniences taken to progress the plot to where it needs to be for the bombastic climax. Primarily, it seems implausible that a facility under the acronym D.O.C.T.O.R. that is so obviously a lure by Purity for the Doctor has not been judiciously surveilled for his arrival, especially when the Doctor’s very arrival in this time is the one element needed to put into motion the scheme to solidify this timeline as the true one and given the threat he imminently poses. It also defies explanation that Elise- the woman Ron married in the original timeline- who has been brought through to this timeline and imprisoned to act as a bridge of sorts would be allowed to write and send letters to anyone, let alone to the address she knew Hebe resided at in her own time. Purity has no reason whatsoever for Elyse and Hebe to ever meet here, and given that a complete list of addresses with documented residents at each is available for patrol units, this whole plot element defies explanation and serves only as a contrivance to bring all of the characters back together in front of Purity while providing the Doctor a means to potentially set history right.

Still, the loving discussion and inclusion of Evelyn Smythe’s legacy and inspiration to others is a testament to the Sixth Doctor’s audio era as a whole and to a beloved past companion. There is little denying the incredible impact that Maggie Stables had on Big Finish’s productions and on the incredible development of the Sixth Doctor, and having her be so vital to the quiet acts of rebellion against Purity is magnificent. And although Purity could have emerged definitively victorious within seconds of the Doctor arriving had she been paying attention to take out the threat he posed just as he arrived, the performances as a whole are strong and spectacularly highlight the determination of the Doctor and Mel as they pursue every avenue available to try to save their friend while Hebe and Ron try to reconcile who they are with who they may once have been and hope to be once again. While also showing the inadvertent fallibility of the Doctor when he realizes that a casual aside in the past may have resulted in all of this, there is plenty to enjoy throughout ‘Girl in a Bubble’ which finally presents a much-needed boost for this very uneven arc. Unfortunately, despite the Doctor’s protestations that McBride is more layered than many may think, the arrival of Purity at the end showcases a one-dimensional and overtly villainous figure that undermines any sense of nuance for this storyline and seemingly presents a difficult barrier for the subsequent two tales to navigate following this gripping but somewhat bumpy opener.

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