|The Next Life by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell|
With the Divergent Universe having begun to resemble a very long joke that clearly isn't going well but which its teller must soldier on with nevertheless to save losing face, one wonders how it's premature sleighing by the new TV series must have been greeted; with dismay, or with relief. Either way, it was probably for the best. The only pity is that they were so guarded with showing it off while they had the chance. We never met the Divergence themselves, who I currently believe have been swatted out of being by a throwaway line in a middle-episode, leaving the legacy of the last two years as little more than what we were denied - any points of identification having been left behind in "our" Universe at the end of "Zagreus".
Thankfully, some lessons were learned by that exercise in drowning. There are no imaginary "Alice in Wonderland" themed worlds in "The Next Life". There are no talking TARDISes, or characters called Uncle Winky. No-one bleats on about Time Lord history for ages. Anneke Wills is back, but actually the characters created while Charley and C'Rizz sleep (who, in furtherly creepy fashion, actually know they are illusionary characters) are one of the best ideas here, and the device isn't dragged on for too long.
What has always bothered people (Gary Russell included, I'll bet) about "Silver Nemesis" is this bizarre notion that there are too many villains. To me, that was always the point, but at last finally I think I see what they meant. Sterling performances by Stephane Cornicard and Paul Darrow are diluted somewhat, both by the very presence of each other, and the notion that we're expected to accept two more big players (three, if you include Daphne Ashbrook, who is also great) into this long-running game for its last hand. It doesn't help that the motivations of all three are well-muddied by the time we get to our conclusion, and I'm still at a partial loss to explain who wanted what or what, indeed, any of them were doing there in the first place. And we haven't even mentioned Rassillon or our villainous company for the whole of the last year, K'roka.
There's another problem too, and it comes some way into Part 6 just as the Doctor, a being to whom existence away from his home Universe is like "losing a limb" is at last given the chance to hop through an open portal and return home. Unfortunately, Charley and C'Rizz are having a bit of a tizz so he doesn't because friendship is so much more important! Yes, you heard me, he'd rather not go back than have them a bit riled with each other, the big poof. It's silly and only one step away from suggesting they all say how much they love one another and have a group hug. And next time my family fall out, I'm going to dashed well take them to the brink of a divergent Universe and threaten them with a timeless existence until they make up.
What "The Next Life" has to its credit is a single recognisable setting, and the jungles and swamps of the "blue world" are as vivid and comfortable as similar well-conscripted settings. It brings to mind that imagination is one thing this season or its predecessor hasn't been short on; I can envisage it in my head as a TV show, and it cost a lot to make. Likewise, the Eighth Doctor could only be he, rolling witticisms about Ebay and academy confessions from his lips in the finest traditions of non-violent defence.
Of course, there's no use pretending we didn't know how it would end, and while part of you really did hope they'd have the balls to do away with C'Rizz before we got there, it's nice to see the 'doorway' back to our Universe opening once more at the end... even if it does lead to a silly 'cliffhanger' of a last scene that sends this crashing from epic to self-indulgence in a trice. I really hope there isn't a story hanging on the end of it, as from his few words here Davros is already getting boring. And it would kind of suggest they missed the point of what they were doing.
A game struggle to understand rather than a satisfying resolution, "The Next Life" at least exists on CD to re-absorb at a later date. Like the Robbie Williams book I got for Christmas last year, I'm sure the truth is in there somewhere. But we never did find out the reason why the TARDIS was floating down that river on the cover, did we?