It's hard to believe that it's been over five years now since we lost Caroline John, the actress perhaps best known for playing Doctor Liz Shaw alongside Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor in Doctor Who's 1970 season. Yet despite appearing on the long-running series for a single season, fans never forgot the character and the actress returned to reprise the role numerous times on audio for Big Finish Productions in the years before her passing. The last story recorded before her passing, the appropriately titled The Last Post, stands as a tribute to character and actress alike.
For a character sometimes seen by fans as having been ill-served on TV beyond her initial introduction, Liz Shaw was greatly expanded upon in this single release. The Last Post is told in a series of meetings, conversations, and letters between Liz and her mother, Dame Emily Shaw (played by Rowena Cooper). Unlike her daughter, Dame Emily is no scientist but one thing she does have in common with her daughter is that she has secret work of her own. Not only do we meet Liz's mother (described rightfully as "delightful" at one point) but also learn of Liz's sister, nieces, and nephews. It's a neat bit of character development and one that opened the door to a sequel mentioned in the extras interview that, sadly, weren't able to come to pass.
Despite that, listening to this release makes clear Caroline John's consummate skills as a performer. A noted stage actress whose pre-Who credits included working with Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre, John was perhaps an actress never well served by the series she was best known for but Big Finish made up for it in spades with her Companion Chronicles and this one especially. She not only is a wonderful actress to bounce off of in the form of Cooper but is given a chance to play both dramatic scenes and narration, allowing for both actress and Big Finish to make the most of her skills and the Companion Chronicles format. Indeed there may be no better moment(s) for John than the one that opens the story and is reprised in context later in the story where she announces “My name is Liz Shaw and I've come to stop the end of the world!" That only adds to how enjoyable the story is.
That may also be in part because it's a story that's one part tribute to that first season of the Pertwee era as well. The first episode's exchanges take place sometimes between scenes from those stories or fill in some of the details about their aftermath. There's a certain thrill to be taken out of listening to the two go back and forth as Liz tries to explain to her mother her work at UNIT (only to be surprised her mum knows the Brigadier) or Dame Emily comments on her outfits and hairstyles just as fans have over the past four decades. Indeed there are references to many of the Earthbound TV stories of the 1960s and 1970s which will make fans quite happy.
Yet writer James Goss wasn't content to just write a piece that effectively boiled down to a continuity checklist. Even as he weaves in references from Spearhead From Space, The Silurians, and The Ambassadors of Death, Goss is weaving in his own story. A thread that runs through this story and eventually builds up to the first episode's superb cliffhanger. Goss brings this threat front and center in the second episode which also brings Liz to the fore as well. The result is a fine SF thriller that also weaves in much of what the single with Liz Shaw what it was.
Indeed, that might be the best way of summing up The Last Post. An unintended final performance from one of Old Who's most under-utilized performers, the story stands as a tribute to an era of the series and to the actress that brought Liz Shaw to life. It does in a story that weaves in compelling stories and fine performances along the way which showcases not just an excellent Doctor Who story but a highlight from across Big Finish's nearly twenty years of audio drama storytelling.