The last of the… current series? Sort of? … Erm, of the Ninth Doctor audio dramas has arrived and it’s neatly split into a single episode and a two-part finale, though I will say that the finale will have a lot to live up to as this story, “Fond Farewell”, was great. Well written, acted and felt extremely of-era, there’s a lot to like, so let’s take a look!
Fond Farewell is the intergalactic funeral parlour with a difference: the deceased attend their own wake! Invited by celebrated naturalist Flynn Beckett to his memorial, the Doctor finds he’s not quite the man he was. But who would steal the memories of the dead?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
I mean, effort has gone into the robot attendants, but otherwise the cover seems a little… barebones.
The story has a very RTD vibe, maybe a little Moffatt in there as well, it has a lot of similar beats so fits into the era really well. The Doctor arrives as the funeral of Flynn Beckett (James Doherty), an Indiana Jones adventurer type (but all about being a naturalist rather than archaeologist) who he met just before this story. There he meets Sasha Yan (Emily Taaffe) Beckett’s assistant who was also with him on his previous adventure, and The Doctor is soon shocked by the revelation that the guest of honour at the “event” is Beckett himself, which made for a great pre-credits tease. Fond Farewell is the name of the funeral service and the company that has the technology to copy a person’s body, mind and memories so they can attend their own funeral / wake in an artificial body that only lasts half a day. The situation gets odder when Beckett doesn’t recognise either The Doctor or Sasha when he and his wife (widow, I guess?) Idara (Sienna Guillory) walk by. We get a flashback to The Doctor, Beckett and Sasha on their previous mission where Beckett, who knew he only had six months to live due to an incurable disease, asks The Doctor to attend his funeral because people might be out to get him one last time.
This all leads to The Doctor investigating Fond Farewell and the woman currently in control of the machines Winifred Whitby (Juliet Stevenson) as well as the A.I. Thomas (Charlie Hamblett), meanwhile the robot attendants start going crazy and begin to kill the attendants of the funeral while screaming “I’m still here!”. Killer robot attendants is a rather big cliché, but it’s done well here. The Doctor links his mind with the A.I. and finds that Beckett’s memories of his last mission and of Sasha in general have been removed and stored on the A.I. rather than put into the facsimile and those fractured memories are what’s causing the robots to go crazy. When confronted with the revelation Idara confirms she removed them because Beckett had cheated on her with Sasha and she wanted her last day with him to be one with the husband she thought she knew. The old memories are put back in and it all goes down “off screen” (or whatever the audio equivalent of that is) as we simply cut to The Doctor and Sasha saying their goodbyes.
Not really anything, honestly. It’s a perfect hour of Doctor Who, especially Ninth Doctor / Russell T. Davies Doctor Who. About the only thing you can rag on it for is the unoriginality of the killer polite robot attendants but this is hardly the only time Who has reused a sci-fi cliché!
Probably the worst offender of an overall boxset cover focusing on one story, but there you go. Can’t deny Cybermen and the Brig aren’t the big draws!
The polite sounding killer robot attendants calls back to the VOC Robots from Fourth Doctor classic TV story “The Robots of Death” (plus their many reappearances in other media) as well as the Hosts from Tenth Doctor no-so-classic TV story “Voyage of the Damned”.
The idea of digitally storing a copy of a dead person, their image being used and an enemy that stalks people while repeating a single phrase all made me think of the Tenth Doctor classic two-parter “Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead”.
Fond Farewell was a great single part episode, full of great writing, acting and a very of-era presentation overall. Sure the killer robot attendants wasn’t very original even for Russell T. Davies era Who let alone Who in general, but it works well within the story, so who cares? A rare 5 star for the Ninth Doctor, though that’s mainly due to have so fewer stories than the others, to be fair. Let’s hope there’s many more to come!