Doctor Who: Short Trips: All Hands on Deck – Performed by Carole Ann Ford, Written by Eddie Robson & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – Download (Big Finish)
Doctor Who is a show of the gaps. We see the adventures that the showrunners and writers choose to show us, knowing full well there’s an almost infinite universe of other potential stories with each and every incarnation of the Doctor that exist out there in the dimension of Potential, waiting for other writers or our own imagination to conjure them into some sort of form, some set of lines that make them ‘real.’
All Hands on Deck is a bit special.
Since Doctor Who came back in 2005, with the notion of the Doctor suddenly being ‘the last of the Time Lords,’ and the rest of the high-collared, stiff-necked species having died in a series of great Time wars, we’ve wondered what that meant for all the other Gallifreyans it’s been our pleasure to know. Romana? Dead? The Master? Dead? (Errr…notsomuch, as it turned out). The Rani? The Monk? Not – not Susan?
There’s always been some wangling with the idea that Susan was ‘safe’ on Earth in the future, in the aftermath of the Dalek invasion. The life she had there has even been given some additional detail in previous Big Finish stories, which introduced us to the Doctor’s great grandson when he came on board the Eighth Doctor’s Tardis for a cross-generational reunion.
But here, Eddie Robson delivers us a moment and a half. Susan, back on Earth, post-Dalek, living back in what was once Coal Hill School, but is now a residential complex. A mystery. A creepy, metal mystery that in and of itself is enough to give you a few spinal shivers. And a reunion with the Eighth Doctor, not in his Tiggerish, Bill Hickock, exuberant enthusiasm for the universe…but in his later years, short-haired, old-eyed and trying to save his granddaughter one more time, from the greatest threat she’s ever faced.
If the ending of Susan’s time on the TV version of Doctor Who at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth was a case of the First Doctor almost forcing her to grow up, to follow her own path because she wouldn’t if he hadn’t made her do it, All Hands on Deck is the corollary to that moment, when the Doctor tries to save her from a fight, and Susan, grown up and self-determined, makes a choice that’s all her own.
There’s no way, at least as yet, of knowing what happened to Susan in the Time War, but this is the moment when that 21st century plotline intersects with Susan’s history and her life on Earth, so you’re not going to want to miss it for anything. Carole Ann Ford plays Susan as her later self, in keeping with the already extant Susan and Eighth Doctor stories we have, but there’s a lightness to her voice this time out that is almost suggestive of William Hartnell’s ability to look old but suddenly play the Doctor with an impish, youthful delight – as though age is an entirely voluntary concept for Time Lords. That lightness helps enormously when she drops the steel into her voice when dealing with her grandfather and his plans to save her one more time, because the contrast catapults you straight back to early Susan in The Unearthly Child, threatening to stay on Earth and leave the Doctor if he doesn’t let the feckless schoolteachers go. Robson, without any heavy-handedness or even specific mention, evokes these points of memory along Susan’s lifetime in the writing, and Ford knocks them out of the park.
This is a very special Susan story. Get it. Get it now. It will fill one of those gaps in the universe of Potential for you, and leave you saddened and satisfied in equal measure. Tony Fyler