Afterlife is one of those stories which you don’t want spoiled before you listen to it – but equally is almost impossible to review without giving away at least some of the major story developments. Suffice it to say that the first episode is a tour-de-force for Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, putting this Doctor/companion combination into the sort of emotional drama that you’d expect to see in the new series in the aftermath of the death of a fellow TARDIS traveller. Once they arrive in Liverpool, the pair are separated for the majority of the rest of the story (although the Doctor isn’t alone: “Private Barbie” does come to his assistance when he’s facing a hostile crowd): Ace becomes embroiled in what seems like a battle between rival gangs but is in fact much worse.
Spoilers follow: highlight the next section only if you’ve listened to Afterlife:
And Ace then encounters Hector Thomas – the spitting image of Hex – who, we learn (a little sooner than I anticipated), is indeed Hex, returned to life by the Powers That Be, but only allowed a year on Earth… and he doesn’t know who he is during that time. Ace, of course, is sure that Hector is her Hex, and even when things go horribly wrong, is determined to restore him.
Which brings me to my biggest problem with Afterlife. Why can’t people stay dead in the Big Finish Doctor Who universe? Although I wasn’t overly keen on the epilogue of Gods and Monsters, because I felt it cheapened Hex’s sacrifice, that’s nothing to this: we now know that there is at least a further trilogy of stories.
It’s nothing against Philip Olivier or the character of Hex: I think both have been great additions to the Doctor Who universe, but the power of Gods and Monsters is in that sacrifice… and indeed the power of the first episode of this story derives from Ace’s anger and the Doctor’s impotence. We’ve been here before with Charley Pollard, and it’s starting to get to the stage where you begin to step out of the drama because there’s that gut feeling it’ll all be undone. Fine for the Master or the Rani to act like this on the TV series, and of course there’s ample precedent with Peri’s resurrection, but please, let’s allow the TV created characters to be the only ones who have to walk away from a story!
Matt Fitton presents a well-rounded script which juggles many demands and puts the listener as well as the characters through an emotional wringer. It will be very interesting to see how the Seventh Doctor’s adventures continue from here…
Verdict: A strong drama. 8/10