They say you should never meet your heroes. Even the Doctor says that in this Short Trips tale. But it’s a good thing his companion, Charley Pollard did request a meeting with her idol…
The idea is simple: the Eighth Doctor takes Charley to meet the Victorian explorer, Pieter Mon Marchè, have a chat, grab an autograph, and then go on their way. Except Pieter is proving rather elusive. Despite trying to follow his adventures using his travel journal, wherever the TARDIS lands, Pieter simply isn’t there. When the Doctor reveals Pieter’s legacy, the question must be asked: has someone removed him from time? And what can the Doctor do about it?
It’s been far too long since I’ve listened to anything starring Ms. Pollard (India Fisher). She’s not been in the Doctor Who Main Range since 2009’s Blue Forgotten Planet, but she’s fortunately returned in a few other audios, including Short Trips: Foreshadowing, Destiny of the Doctor: Enemy Alien, and The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure (not to mention Charley’s own series). And it’s great to hear her again here.
The Eighth Doctor has some fantastic companions, and as the first introduced by Big Finish, Charley’s rightly held in high esteem. Fisher is obviously a real pleasure to listen to, effortlessly slipping between narration and dialogue in a way few can actually master; in fact, the subtle differences are incredible. It all just flows beautifully.
Similarly, her impersonation of Paul McGann is excellent. She exaggerates the pomp, and absolutely nails his speech pattern. She gets across his enthusiasm well, but also pulls off the delicacies of his performance, meaning The Man Who Wasn’t There is very easy to visualise in your mind.
(Where’s the petition to get Charley back regularly…?)
But a narrator is only as good as her story, and this one is… well, exceptional.
Writer, Ian Atkins is the producer for the Short Trips range, and he’s a perfect fit because he just gets it. He naturally knows Doctor Who through and through (Terror of the Autons fans will find a particular scene especially pleasing), but he also understands how to make the medium fly. He embraces its constraints and tells an intimate tale that nonetheless feels important, and certainly spans the decades. The story beats are well-timed, and there’s a great deal of warmth and good humour that shows what a solid pairing Atkins and Fisher are.
You might find its inspiration in Robot of Sherwood (2014), or the time-twisting plot of A Christmas Carol (2010), but it’s equally reminiscent of Jules Verne novels, Around the World in 80 Days and Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Saying that, while Verne’s books have never really captured me (I’ve not given them a proper chance though), The Man Who Wasn’t There is compulsive listening. 40 minutes goes by in 20.
While the denouement is sign-posted, it’s still really smart, and the pay-off is surprisingly sombre. Somehow, the ending remains uplifting, which feels fitting for this incarnation of the Doctor, early on in his adventures in time and space.
Very witty, very clever, and very engaging, The Man Who Wasn’t There gets a solid 10/10 from me.
Short Trips: The Man Who Wasn’t There is out now, priced £2.99 as a download.