Charlotte Elspeth Pollard, “Charley” to her friends, played by India Fisher
has been a mainstay of the Big Finish Doctor Who
audio dramas ever since her first appearance alongside eighth Doctor Paul McGann
in the 2001 play, Storm Warning
. The eighth Doctor and Charley parted company in 2007’s The Girl Who Never Was
. However a surprise twist saw her being picked up by sixth Doctor Colin Baker
, with whom she shared a handful of adventures in which she sought to hide the truth of having already met the Doctor’s future self. Charley’s story appeared to have reached an end in 2009’s “Charley finale” trilogy culminating in Blue Forgotten Planet
which saw her left behind as an agent of the mysterious race known as the Viyrans.Nicholas Briggs
had promised that Charley would return in her series and five years later, following the eventual commissioning of Jonathan Barnes
and Matt Fitton
to write the scripts, it has finally arrived. At the start of The Lamentation Cipher
we learn that Charley has spent centuries in the employ of the Viyrans, assisting them in their ongoing mission to rid the universe of a deadly virus. However due to being mostly kept in cryogenic suspension for decades at a time she has barely aged at all since the end of her travels with the Doctor. A chance encounter with a slightly nerdy would-be adventurer called Robert Buchan provides Charley with an opportunity to attempt to escape from the Viyrans. And so begins a new series of adventures which see our heroine transported from a pub overlooking a spatial phenomenon known as the Ever-and-Ever-Prolixity to an encounter with lost explorers in a remote uncharted forest and an unexpected reunion with her parents. The Fall of the House of Pollard
is possibly the highlight of the box set. Anneke Wills
has previously played imagined versions of Charley’s mother Lady Louisa Pollard in the plays Zagreus
and The Next Life
and it is a joy to hear her bring the real Lady Louisa to life. She is joined by Terrence Hardiman
who gives a richly layered performance as her husband Lord Richard Pollard. Lord Richard swings between being a delightful curmudgeon to a somewhat unhinged individual who has clearly been affected by Charley’s disappearance six years earlier. The plot may have some parallels with popular ITV drama Downton Abbey
but the reunion scenes are worth waiting for and genuinely touching for those who have followed Charley’s story from the beginning.
Always in the background of events are Charley’s erstwhile employers The Viyrans. For the most part they are voiced by veteran actor Michael Maloney
, reprising them from Patient Zero
and Blue Forgotten Planet
. Whilst for the most part very robotic, Maloney add some layers to the different Viyran voices, particularly as the softly spoken Rogue Viyran who has a central role to the story running through this set. The Viyrans are often at their most frightening when they use their ability to assimilate the language and voice of those they encounter.
The set concludes with the suitably epic The Viyran Solution
, in which the mystery that connects Charley to the Lamentation Cipher and the Viyrans to the Ever-and-Ever Prolixity is brought to a head. Nicholas Briggs gets a welcome opportunity to steal several scenes playing corrupt businessman Bert Buchan, the father of erstwhile hero Robert, who attempts to exploit Viyran technology to make a profit.
Returning to the role after five years, India Fisher continues to inject Charley with effortless enthusiasm and reminds us why back in the days before the new television series Charley became such a popular companion and why she continues to shine as a lead character in her own right. Whilst not wanting to give too much away, although the label “series one” is fairly suggestive, the door is left open for Charley to have further adventures and this listener will certainly welcome a second series. However, the frequent references to Charley’s adventures with the Doctor act as a reminder of the slightly unsatisfactory conclusion to her travels and we can’t help hoping Charley will see her Doctor again one day.