In one respect, Stranded has been released at exactly the right time, given how it deals with our heroes being locked down and unable to do many of the things that they enjoy. You see, a terrible calamity has struck the TARDIS and it’s forced the Doctor, Liv and Helen to live day by day in modern London.
In the other respect, the intention to write Doctor Who that better reflects 2020 has been blown out of the water by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. No matter, the Eighth Doctor is no stranger to diverging timelines and there’s a suggestion in this first story that things aren’t quite going to plan, web-of-time wise.
So, in the first of four daily reviews, let’s stick on our headphones and visit a slightly different 2020 London, where the only obvious upheaval is a strange blue box that has appeared on Camden High Street.
Matt Fitton’s Lost Property is very much a pilot for the new style of Doctor Who we’ll be listening to over the next four boxed sets. As such, it has a lot of elements to juggle – firstly, introducing the Doctor’s new home and its diverse range of residents. It’s a rich tapestry over at Baker Street, there’s a pair of bickering sisters, a slightly crotchety old couple, and a father and son dealing with an absent wife and mother.
The standout is Rebecca Root as Tania, billed as the Doctor’s first trans companion, she’s a welcoming and friendly neighbour who’s clearly taken a shine to Liv. It’s a feeling which may very well end up being reciprocated, though it’s soon clear that Tania is hiding something potentially sinister from her neighbours and her new friend.
Secondly, Fitton has to reintroduce the main characters and establish new tensions between them. The Doctor is struggling in his new role as Landlord, and dealing with the concerns of his tenants requires him to do a lot more admin than he’s ever had to do when out saving planets. Liv is making do, enjoying local bakeries, chatting up the neighbours and avoiding getting a job. This puts an added strain on Helen, the only Earth native in the TARDIS team to deal with forms, rising housing costs and parking permits.
Not only that, but the Doctor is a little too desperate to move on, bringing out a slightly reckless streak that suggests his inability to accept his current predicament that may lead to further tensions later on.
Then thirdly, Lost Property needs to obliquely set up the series arc. Lucky for Fitton, he has the gift that is Tom Baker to handle a lot of the mystery and portent, returning as the Great Curator. His scenes with Hattie Morahan as Helen, in particular, fizz with Baker’s natural charm as the pair riff on the infamous John Cleese and Eleanor Bron scene from City of Death – “Some say it’s art, others say it’s fly-tipping.”
It’s the best, and most magical moment in an episode that often buckles under the weight of continuity. For as much as this is a fresh start, there are various references back to previous Big Finish characters, plays and a tall, grey-haired Scotsman in a velvet coat.
Big Finish wants Stranded to answer the question: “What would Doctor Who be like if you took the Doctor Who bits out?” And yet, the Doctor Who bits are still very much in evidence. I hope that now the stage is set, the writing team have the confidence to run with this question and explore the new possibilities it presents. Though, with PC Andy from Torchwood due to pop by Baker Street, I’m a bit sceptical over how Doctor Wholess this series of boxed sets will actually be.
For now, though, Lost Property is a promising pilot that sets up some interesting questions, chief amongst them: Can the Doctor live one day at a time in his role as London’s only benevolent landlord?
To Be Continued…