A 40th anniversary story for Doctor Who, and the 50th Big Finish Doctor Who audio. Written by Gary Russel and Alan Barnes, it is notable for featuring the actors who play five Doctors and 18 companions.
Oh, and... it's four hours long.
The TARDIS is having a bad day. First of all, the Eighth Doctor made her contain a mass of leaked anti-time, and it exploded inside her. Secondly, this caused Zagreus, who shouldn't even logically exist, to come into being and to fully merge with her Doctor. And now Zagreus is stalking through the TARDIS after hitting Charley in the face, slamming doors, growling, and going completely mad.
With the Doctor and Zagreus fighting for dominance inside one single body, and both being hit hard with panic and extreme loss of identity, the TARDIS manages to delete the door between her inner rooms and her control room. She steers a conscious part of the Doctor's mind towards a ball of shiny light, and distracts Zagreus with many a "divergence": a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from the library, bits of philosophy, Cheshire cats, Schrödinger's Cat, lead boxes, trees falling in forests, questions, ramblings and death traps. She projects herself to him as the Third Doctor (using archival voice clips from "Devious") and then goes to see Charley, who is cowering in the console room.
Charley's having a bit of a confusing day as well. She's suddenly back with her mother, and finds herself acting out bits and pieces of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while turning into a bunny rabbit. And her mother's taking her to a Doctor named Zagreus. Except that this Dr. Zagreus looks and sounds exactly like her friend the Brigadier. And is actually another manifestation of the TARDIS. The TARDIS explains that since Zagreus can never enter the outside world, the TARDIS and her Doctor will simply have to spend the rest of their lives together — possibly billions of years. Possibly forever.
The TARDIS takes Charley into three hologram re-enactments of important events: A reverend obsessed with humanoid evolution (Peter Davison) in the Cold War accidentally opening a rift in time and space; a spy of an ancient vampire race (Colin Baker) attempting to assassinate Rassilon for stealing regeneration from his species; a Mr. Alt Disney (Sylvester McCoy) waking up from cryogenic sleep in his Gallifrey theme park and realising that billions and billions of years have passed and that a rift in time and space is right is front of him. Charley finds herself forced to take on the parts of a Corporal, of Rassilon, and of a Mickey Mouse Expy in these stories, still mixed up rather confusingly with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as well as with her memories. The TARDIS, still appearing as the Brigadier, watches and learns. It's revealed that when Rassilon created time travel and regeneration, he also spread the Gallifreyan genotype throughout time and space, so as to promote "healthy" bipedal races and create a better universe. The victims of his Evilutionary Biologist scheme were the Divergence, a race (or species, or perhaps a genus...) whose evolutionary branch was quietly muffled away in a space-time Moebius strip by Rassilon. Charley is tremendously confused by all this.
Meanwhile, Lady President Romana of Gallifrey is dictating a novel she's writing to K-9, about a thinly-veiled Doctor Expy ("Sigma") who fights monsters. After a phone call (and gratuitous cameo) from the Doctor's brother, Irving Braxiatel, she meets Leela for the first time and they head off to see what the hell is going on.
Zagreus and the Doctor, still one person, are still going mad, panicking hard, and also quite suddenly betrayed by the TARDIS, who has had quite enough of his bullshit at this point. Him always bringing in young girls was bad enough, him forgetting the distinction between love and friendship with Charley was pushing it. But him now having forced her to let anti-time explode inside her after first giving a grand speech about never taking someone else's life, and her being forced to spend forever with a raving mad Eldritch Abomination inside her, not to mention his terrible taste in music... she's absolutely had it. She tells him in very clear terms that she quits. Rassilon has much better plans for her. Plans that involve the part of Zagreus that's in her mind. Because the TARDIS is definitely Not Herself today. Just as Zagreus has merged with the Doctor's mind, Zagreus is also the TARDIS. She casts Charley out of her, into certain death. The Doctor wants to save Charley's life, but he can't leave the TARDIS, for fear of inflicting Zagreus on the world... so he watches Charley disappear into the distance. She ends up in what seems to be the Death Zone and is forced to play the Game of Rassilon with Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. All of whom have odd memories of being the Doctor seeping through into their minds.
Rassilon gives the TARDIS a new body and destroys her old one, melting it down in the Foundry of Rassilon. The shock of seeing that traumatises what's left of the Doctor and allows Zagreus to take over almost completely. Rassilon begins talking Zagreus into controlling anti-time for him. Because Zagreus is not a product of anti-time. Zagreus is its master — which Zagreus himself, who didn't exist before this day, is quite happy to find out. Romana, Leela and K-9 look on in horror. Zagreus uses the Forge of Rassilon to create a makeshift Vorpal Sword of anti-time out of what's left of the TARDIS' body. Rassilon is ready to depose Romana (by force, if he has to) — he picked Leela specifically for this adventure because, not being a Time Lord, she's easy to hypnotise and can bypass all the psychic sensors. Rassilon wants to replace Romana with Zagreus as president. Because Zagreus can travel freely into the Divergent universe and, using an anti-time Vorpal Sword, murder every last Divergent alive to secure the existence of the Time Lords. One thing Rassilon never counted on, however, was that Zagreus has calmly watched the history of the Divergence when Charley lived out those three scenarios... and is pissed. Zagreus easily overpowers Rassilon and casts him into the Divergent universe to be torn apart by the Divergence.
When the Doctor (still merged with Zagreus) and Charley are finally reunited, and the Jabberwock can be slayed with the Vorpal Sword, he begs Charley to kill him. Kill him. Kill him. Kill him. Kill him. Because he knows she loves him. Genuinely, really loves the Doctor. Zagreus can tell, too — he can tell how she's secretly thought about the Doctor in the hours before the dawn, how her little human heart ached for him while he was gone. And Charley hopes that he will love her back, as he promised when their roles were reversed. She knows there's no other option, and she kills him with the Vorpal Sword. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy look on, now back to life and still just as imaginary. Their presence makes Charley realise that there's still hope for the Doctor. Because the Vorpal Sword transferred their essense, their imagined memories of being the Doctor, into Zagreus' mind, causing the Doctor side of him to grow strong again. But it's the TARDIS herself, in the end, who overcomes the part of Zagreus that's inside her.
With a little flask of "drink me!", she revives her Doctor and finally (finally) explains what happened: when Zagreus and the Doctor merged, she used Zero Energy (the shiny light ball) to calm the Doctor part of the new mind-merged entity, and used the biggest piece of nonsensical piffle she could possibly find in order to confuse Zagreus: the memories of "Alice in Wonderland" in Charley's mind. A story so confusing that even anti-time itself couldn't fathom it. The timeline of the Divergence is now safe, and the TARDIS absorbs the Vorpal Sword back into herself. The Doctor and Charley are free to go. Romana is tremendously confused and a bit upset that the day was saved using nonsense, but she and Leela are happy to go back to their normal lives, now as friends. They head off to go star in Gallifrey together.
The Doctor realises that Zagreus is still merged with him on some level, and that he can never fully be himself again. He hopes to leave Charley on Gallifrey and travel to the Divergent universe together with the TARDIS, to live out his life in peace and solitude in a world without time. Charley disagrees and, with the help of the TARDIS, sneaks aboard as they vworp off.
- Actor Allusion: Bonnie Langford plays Goldilocks, an evil fairy, mainly to allow her to let loose her famous piercing scream. Langford also spent much of her time previous to Doctor Who in the theatre, playing fairies and other girly characters.
- Adaptation Expansion: Alan Barnes first wrote about a talking TARDIS in humanoid form in the Doctor Who Magazine comic "A Life of Matter and Death", and mentions in the author's notes that he loved the idea so much that he ended up expanding it to four hours in "Zagreus".
- Alternate Timeline: Two are discussed, with one featuring the Doctor witnessing the collapse of multiple worlds and another has him facing down the Horde on Oblivion. Mind you, later Big Finish releases would suggest they may not be so alternate.
- Always Someone Better: The Divergence would have been this for the Time Lords.
- Animal Mecha: Or animal robots, if you prefer.
- Back Door Pilot: For the Gallifrey series of audios. We see Romana and Leela meet for the first time, and learn of Braxiatel's role on Romana's council.
- Baritone of Strength: Rassilon and The TARDIS / Brigadier.
- Battle Butler: Leela, for President Romana.
- The Cameo: Jon Pertwee is in the adventure as the "previous Doctor" the TARDIS shows Zagreus due to the marvelous magic of Stock Footage. It's actually audio pulled from the fan production "Devious", and thus can be disguised as new dialogue since the source material isn't so immediately recognizable as a mainstream Doctor Who episode.
- The Cassandra: An actual character named Cassandra (whom no one believes about Rassilon until it's too late).
- The Chains of Commanding: Lady President Romana.
- Chekhov's Gunmen: The three somewhat minor characters who are revealed to carry some of the Doctors knowledge.
- Closest Thing We Got: Townsend, Tepesh and Winkle may only look like the Doctors, but they have enough of the Doctor's knowledge for Charley and Romana to conclude that they're the best chance at saving the true Doctor.
- Cold Sleep, Cold Future: Winkle wakes up to find himself at the end of the Universe.
- Continuity Nod: Braxiatel, previously only seen in the Bernice Summerfield Universe, appears in the Doctor Who audios for the first time.
- "Where there's life, there..."
- "Splendid fellows, all of them".
- "And I fear the moment's not been prepared for."
- "There should have been another way."
- "[Mel] tried [killing me] with carrot juice. Nearly succeeded, too."
- "If we fight like animals, we die like animals!"
- "I never got to go to Black... "*is cut off*
- "A better exit than I ever had, a bang on the head, I ask you!"
- Continuity Reboot: In a way — this is the end of the Charley Paradox storyline, and sees the Doctor and Charley temporarily leave this universe.
- Create Your Own Villain: The Time Lords, or more specifically Rassilon is responsible for the Ancient Vampires being the way they are.
- Curse Cut Short:"... I.e., it won't get a whacking great spike stuck up their—"
"Oh! I've... got you now."
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul
- Demonic Possession: Zagreus to the Doctor. And also, the TARDIS. On a lesser note, Leela is "possessed" by Rassilon into trying to kill Romana.
- Determinator: The Doctors."No matter what happens, no matter the odds, we never, ever, ever give up!"
- Dirty Communists: Miss Foster, who is sabotaging the Dionysus Project.
- Dragon with an Agenda: Two of them:
- The TARDIS is the Dragon to Rassilon, and she's doing it because she's ticked at the Doctor. Or so she thinks. She's really being controlled by Zagreus.
- Zagreus is also the Dragon to Rassilon, but he becomes a Dragon Ascendant after deciding he's had enough of Rassilon's oppression of the Divergents.
- Eldritch Abomination: Zagreus.
- The Divergence appear to be this.
- Enemy Within: Zagreus has possessed both the Doctor and the TARDIS.
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Dark Tower.
- Evilutionary Biologist: Rassilon, who stole regeneration from the vampires, went all ethnic cleansing on the "lesser species", and stuck the Divergents in a completely new universe so his secret wouldn't get out. And that's before the story even begins. During the story, he deposes Romana and tries to kill her, kills the Doctor-avatars the TARDIS has conjured, and manages to Batman Gambit the TARDIS — well, the bits of Zagreus possessing the TARDIS — into trapping the Doctor in the Divergent Universe. Fortunately, Zagreus decides he's had enough of being Rassilon's puppet.
- Evil vs. Evil: Zagreus against Rassilon.
- Executive Meddling: In-universe, Uncle Winkie wants to prevent this happening to his creations.Uncle Winkie: I wanted to ensure they could never be sold off, never be rented out to some cheap downmarket operation, never be licensed out to a third party who might dilute their charm and beauty or use them to promote fast food restaurants or appear in pop videos.
- Expy: Sylvester McCoy as "Uncle Winkie", who's basically "Walt Disney IN SPACE!".
- Face–Heel Turn: The TARDIS turns evil due to the Anti-Time explosion
- Fairy Companion: An evil (and robotic) version in Goldilocks.
- Fantastic Racism: Rassilon doesn't like the Divergence.
- Faux Affably Evil: Ancient Vampire Teppish.
- Flash Sideways: Eight gets to see his alternate self's life in the Eighth Doctor Adventures. The whole "having a heart ripped out and destroying Gallifrey" thing properly freaks him out.
- Due to this being the Whoniverse, this doubles up as a retrospective example — it's when the Doctor asked when Romana will become corrupt like Morbius and Rassilon. Apparently, it is in the EDA ""The Ancestor Cell".
- If you were familiar with this audio before watching "The End of Time", Rassilon's predilection toward Big Bad-ery wasn't such a shock.
- If you listened to it before becoming familiar with the Eleventh Doctor story "The Doctor's Wife", it shows how the TARDIS can take a human form and how she's quite possessive of her Doctor.
- If you listened to it before watching the Eleventh Doctor's last regular episode, you'll find out that the TARDIS is annoyed that she's going to be the Doctor's Tomb.
- Time Lord technology using the form of the Doctor's companion like in "The Day of the Doctor".
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: Basically; not only do all of the historical records the TARDIS shows Charley feature the appearance of past companions and Doctors acting as major characters, but the TARDIS itself creates a projection of the Brigadier to communicate as someone important to both Charley and the Doctor.
- Gambit Pileup: Which has a lot to do with who's possessing who and who's working for or against who. Just try and keep track of Zagreus and the TARDIS in this.
- Gambit Roulette: The TARDIS is running one against Zagreus, the Doctor, and itself. Shame it's also being controlled by Rassilon.
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: Paul McGann has Ham-to-Ham Combat against himself, voicing both the Eighth Doctor and Zagreus.
- Hearing Voices / Laughing Mad / Sanity Slippage: The Eighth Doctor.
- Humanoid Aliens: The reason for the proliferation of so many bipedial, human-shaped aliens in the Whoniverse is given a roundabout explanation here. Basically, Rassilon was a big ol' xenophobe, and ensured any species he didn't like the look of never actually came to pass. So born were the Divergents.
- Insane Troll Logic: When the TARDIS locks Zagreus inside a Schrödinger's Cat lead box, Zagreus tells her that he's dead now, so she'd better let him out. When the TARDIS pointedly remarks that dead people generally don't talk, Zagreus tries to convince her that she's mad for talking back to a dead person, so she'd better let him out.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: "Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed and eats you when you're sleeping..."
- It's All About Me: Rassilon is determined to defy the laws of the universe and make everything the way he feels it should be.
- Jerkass: Peter Davison as the utterly dickish Reverend. Talk about Playing Against Type...
- Lampshade Hanging:
So what have you got squirrelled away [here]? The Hairdryer of Rassilon? The Hoover of Rassilon? The Rassilon Patent Trouser Press? "These creases last forever!"
- The Doctor snarking to Rassilon about a Running Gag.
- After the TARDIS gives an explanation of the events which sounds like utter rubbish, Romana points this out and Leela says, "I do not see what is surprising. You all talk nonsense all the time."
- Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy treat the events like a performance, and neatly anticipate that the critics will call the whole thing overly long, confusing and derivative.
- The Death Zone on Gallifrey looks suspiciously like Wales to Charley.
- Madness Mantra
- Once the Doctor gains enough control to talk to Charley, he begs her to "Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me."
- Zagreus keeps reciting his own nursery rhyme in order to retain his sense of self. Since he's going mad, he gets stuck a few times and it devolves into "I am he who sits inside your head! He who... he... who... does something else and then... eats... bread...?"
- The Madness Place: Where the TARDIS, in the guise of Schrodinger's Cat places the Zagreus-possessed Doctor, to try and calm him down and get him to figure out what's gone wrong.
- More Expendable Than You: Charley considers herself this compared to the Doctor.
- Mythology Gag: Teppish wears all black, Uncle Winkle calls him "poorly dressed". He gets a snap back from Teppish about his "garishly coloured coat" and as everybody knows in Doctor Who the Sixth Doctor wore a garishly coloured coat.
- The Nth Doctor: An odd example — the Doctor's previous incarnations are represented as bizarre manifestations such as an English clergyman (Peter Davison) or an ancient vampire (Colin Baker) or a children's toy designer (Sylvester McCoy), in order to protect the Doctor from Zagreus. They're not actually there, though.
- Omnicidal Maniac: If Zagreus is unleashed, he would destroy all of creation. Rassilon wants to use Zagreus and the Vorpal Blade to destroy every non-humanoid species in existence, including those who do not yet exist.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Leela.
- Our Vampires Are Different: They had regeneration before the Time Lords and were wiped out by Rassilon because they were too much of a threat.
- Phlebotinum Overload: The Matrix going haywire at the beginning, unable to stabilize itself.
- Previously on…: Justified, seeing as the last time we were with Eight, it was a YEAR ago.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I AM BECOME ZAGREUS!!!".
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves
- Rhymes on a Dime: Goldilocks employs Limericks with gusto.
- Sadistic Choice: Romana swears that the Doctor and the possessed TARDIS cannot return to the true universe from the Divergent Universe.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Both subverted and played straight. No one wants Zagreus or the other Divergents to escape, but to do that, the Doctor himself must be imprisoned, since he's possessed by Zagreus.
- Sharing a Body: Zagreus with the Doctor and the TARDIS.
- Significant Anagram: Neither Eight nor Charley gets "Saviltride" until it's too late — "Evil TARDIS".
- Skewed Priorities: When the Doctor is theorizing aloud about the situation, the TARDIS cuts in to ask, "Don't mind if I torture you, Doctor? This is a dungeon after all," to which the Doctor distractedly replies that he carry on before resuming his train of thought.
- Spaceship Girl: This was one of the first stories to have the TARDIS take the form/body of someone else and converse with the Doctor, predating the Neil Gaiman-penned Moffat episode. "The Doctor's Wife" by eight years. Alan Barnes was inspired by a Doctor Who Magazine comics story with a similar plot (at the time, Barnes was largely in charge of the Doctor Who Magazine Eighth Doctor stories, and re-used some of them in the audios.)
- Species Surname: The animal robots.
- Spirit Advisor: Zagreus sees the Cheshire Cat this way.
- Stealth Pun: In the middle of a lot of philosophy references, the Doctor starts chopping down trees in a forest. The TARDIS hears.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Reverend Matthew thought the biblical angels could have been this.
- Talking Animal: Animalistic robots, actually.
- Take That!
- Charley pondering: "Not heaven then... Hell? Oh, and what do you know, it looks like Wales."
- Eight sneaks in a nice one in-universe when he refers to "... every civilized society in the universe. Oh, and the Time Lords."
- That Man Is Dead: Zagreus, about the Doctor.
- Two Beings, One Body: The Doctor and Zagreus, as well as the TARDIS and Zagreus.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist
- Rassilon, who just wants Gallifrey to be all-powerful again.
- Zagreus, too, who just wants revenge on Rassilon for screwing over the Divergents.
- Wham Line: "Either we get the Doctor back from Zagreus — and if he can't be helped, we kill him." — Romana.