Absent Friends was the first story in the audio anthology Doom Coalition 3, produced by Big Finish Productions. It was written by John Dorney and featured Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka and Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair.
Publisher's summary Edit
Earth. The late 20th century. Across the world, the mobile phone is gaining popularity as more and more people decide to join the digital age. But for the residents of a sleepy English town sitting in the shade of a new transmission mast, that ubiquity has a troubling cost.
In 1998, Mr Selwyn of Superville Com watches a press conference that he recently gave, apologising for the eyesore of a transmission mast being put up in Calcot and offering each of the residents there a free mobile phone which he believes will change their minds. He receives a phone call and tells his boss that he believes everything went according to plan.
Although the Doctor intended on returning to Gallifrey to inform Padrac of recent events, the TARDIS materialises in Calcot, which Helen immediately recognises as England. The Doctor decides to give the TARDIS a complete overhaul whilst Liv and Helen enjoy a weekend in the country, taking them to get rooms at the local pub and giving them debit cards. Thanks to an archaeologist having left without paying there are two rooms, but Helen instead decides to go to London to see her family. Liv, although hesitant, agrees to cover for her.
Phillip knocks on the TARDIS door and assumes that the Doctor is a policeman sent to deal with nuisance calls that began when the mast was put up. Having found nothing wrong with the TARDIS, the Doctor heads to the pub.
On her way out, Liv hears the landlady, Kate, on the phone with somebody who keeps pretending to be her dead son and lets her know that she can talk to her. Liv bumps into the Doctor, who tells her that the TARDIS must have been brought to Calcot by an external force, and claims that Helen is sleeping and should not be disturbed. They head to the TARDIS.
In London, Helen tries to pay her taxi fare with her debit card and is confused by the decimal system. She arrives at her childhood home, which has since become flats, and calls the agent to find out who lives there.
Liv tells the Doctor about Kate's nuisance call and the free mobile phones, raising the Doctor's suspicions and prompting him to go with Liv to speak to Phillip.
Phillip tells the Doctor and Liv that he has been receiving phone calls from someone doing a flawless impression of his ex, Colin, who died in a car crash in the late 1980s and sounds like he did when they met twenty years prior. He also tells them of Kate's son, who died at the age of eight at a level crossing, and that Superville Com have an office at the mast.
George tells "Ruth" that he is not happy to see her as Helen's alleged robbery at the National Museum had tarnished the family name and the Sinclairs' reputation before disappearing. He apologises for treating her poorly for the sins of her mother when she goes to leave and insists that she stay, fetching some photo albums.
The Doctor and Liv meet Mr Selwyn, posing as freelance journalists, and, on the way to his office, learn that there is a locked office apparently containing sensitive information. The Doctor asks Mr Selwyn about the phone calls and he and Liv are both given free mobile phones to see what they think of them. Once they have parted, Mr Selwyn asks his secretary to call the boss. The Doctor inspects his phone and he and Liv discuss how artificial Mr Selwyn and the others at the office looked.
George shows "Ruth" a photo album, telling her of the deaths of his mother, father and brother and that his secret fiancée's father forbade their marriage after Helen's disappearance. She tells George that their father was cruel to Helen and their mother and that she is glad that he was driven to an early grave, prompting George to tell her to leave despite her saying that she had not meant it.
The Doctor's sonic screwdriver is unable to detect anything wrong with the mobile phones, suggesting that the transmitter is the problem. When the phone starts ringing, he tells Liv to answer it as he knows who will be calling him and he does not want to talk to them. She does so and speaks to her father, asking him what he said to her when she asked why he was not afraid of falling when they went mountain climbing on Kaldor. She puts the phone down and leaves after telling the Doctor that whoever is behind it must have used her memory.
Caught up by the Doctor, Liv tells him that he is not good with people and that she blames herself for not having diagnosed her father's illness because she was away. The Doctor says that they will break into the office at night and put a stop to it. That evening, they get into the locked office and the Doctor hacks into a computer before being caught by Mr Selwyn. They realise that the people at the office look artificial only because they are businessmen and that the company's name comes not from "supervillain" but because the boss, Mr Superville, is French. Mr Selwyn is guilty only of insider trading.
Walking free, the Doctor suggests that nobody is behind the calls and that it is a natural result of time distortion, meaning that Liv really did talk to her father. As Liv talks about how guilty she feels for being rude to him, Helen arrives and tells the Doctor that he has to take her back home.
The Doctor scolds Helen for visiting her brother and tells her that her future is fixed and he cannot change time. A phone rings and Liv answers it after being warned by the Doctor not to try to save him. Her father asks if she will be home for her mother's birthday and she tells him that she loves him. The Doctor and Helen leave for the TARDIS, giving Liv space to stay at the pub for the night.
The Doctor and Helen are led to a clock in Phillip's shop by the sonic screwdriver, a clock which Phillip tells them has attachments that go nowhere and cogs that do not connect, as though it is part of a larger clock. Attempting to scan it blows up the screwdriver. They go to Liv and tell her that the clock, which has been boosted with artron energy, has been causing the phone calls by warping spacetime, and which the Doctor says they will be taking to an alien friend in London. Before leaving, Liv convinces Kate to answer the phone to her son and say goodbye to him.
In London, Liv and Helen wait for the Doctor to finish with his friend. Helen holds onto her phone, regretting proving her father right about her and hoping that her mother will call so that she can apologise. Liv convinces her to visit George, but Helen then receives a call from him and realises that he died shortly after she left him. She gives the phone to the Doctor and heads off for the train, followed by Liv. The phone starts ringing in the Doctor's hands and, despite saying that he will not answer it, he does so.
- The Doctor - Paul McGann
- Liv Chenka - Nicola Walker
- Helen Sinclair - Hattie Morahan
- George - Jeremy Clyde
- Angus Selwyn - Ian Puleston-Davies
- Phillip Cook / Kal - Richard Hope
- Kate Drury - Anna Acton
- Sandwiches are served at the press conference.
- Calcot has a village green, a church and a pub. It is not far from London
- After the Second World War, Helen went on holidays to the Lake District.
- The Doctor gives Liv and Helen debit cards with the PIN "2311".
- Helen gets a return ticket.
- The Doctor runs a diagnostic check on the TARDIS.
- Helen asks a taxi driver what "2.50" is in shillings.
- Phillip receives calls from his ex, Colin, who died in a car crash in the late 1980s. They met in the armed forces circa the 1960s.
- George gets Helen a cup of tea.
- George says that Mrs Sinclair would have loved to have a granddaughter.
- Mr Selwyn offers the Doctor and Liv tea, coffee and water. He says that he is partial to a HobNob.
- The Doctor and Liv have a ginger beer and a fizzy water.
- Mr Selwyn is guilty of insider trading.
- The Doctor says that they will take the clock to a friend who runs a lost property office at the London Underground.
- This story won a BBC Audio Award in the category of Best Online Only Audio Drama in January 2017.
- This story was recorded at The Moat Studios.
- Liv says that she has been to London (AUDIO: A Life in the Day, The Red Lady) and the coast (AUDIO: Beachhead) and might as well do "the bit in-between".
- Liv recalls seeing mobile phones in Stegmoor. (AUDIO: Beachhead)
- Helen mentions being on the run with the police. (AUDIO: The Red Lady)
- Helen pretends to be her daughter when she meets her brother George. Molly O'Sullivan did the same when she met an older David Walker in the 1970s. (AUDIO: Eyes of the Master)
- Liv mentions climbing mountains on Kaldor with her father. (AUDIO: The Sonomancer)
- The Doctor told Helen not to contact her family in Stegmoor. (AUDIO: Beachhead)
- The clock was previously discovered by River Song in The Sonomancer.
- The Doctor's alien friend appears in Lost Property, in which he is named Midge.