He’s back – and it’s about Ten.
At long, long last Big Finish has been allowed to enter the hallowed realm of post-2005 (don’t call it Nu) Who… properly. Oh, they’ve dabbled before. And yes, the classic Doctors meeting new-era monsters was fun; yes, River Song was able to turn a shapely audio ankle or two; and yes, Churchill was (just) the right side of weird.
But now? Now we have the real deal! We got us a Doctor!!!
There are a couple of small spoilery nuggetettes in the review below, so careful now.
David Tennant and Catherine Tate reprise their roles as the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble respectively in a three story box-set placed somewhere before Silence in the Library (inasmuch as there’s any way of telling). The set opens with Matt Fitton’s Technophobia, in which the inhabitants of near-future Britain find themselves under assault by their own technology – but is there more going on in the Underground than delays and rail strikes?
Second up is Jenny Tiberius Colgan’s Time Reaver: on the spaceport planet of Calibris a devastating weapon has been released to the black market, and the Doctor and Donna must find and destroy it before it does the same to the galaxy.
Lastly we have James Goss’s Death and the Queen, in which we see one of Donna’s many weddings in full, disastrous, and this time quasi-Ruritanian, flow.
One of the things I love about this box set is the way the tone of the post-2005 TV series has been so well captured. Or, indeed, tones: Fitton’s Technophobia, for example, has all the feel of a season 3 or 4 Russell T Davies script, and in many ways could be considered a close cousin of Partners in Crime in that the mundanities of life – in this case, everyday technology – become the big threat. Similarly, the infamous scene in Davies’s Rose involving the potentially comical burping dustbin is paralleled here with (and look away now if you don’t want to be spoiled) a rampaging hoover chasing a terrified man around a room. In all honesty, I would argue that Fitton’s scene is the more successful of the two, in that the set-up absolutely conveys the threat of the monster in the man’s eyes, before revealing the comical truth of the situation. (And if that analysis is not the driest way to suck all the fun out what is a fantastic scene, I don’t know what is.)
If Technophobia feels Daviesian, then Colgan’s Time Reaver has all the tone of a later-era Matt Smith story (for all that it stars Tennant). Calibiris, the manufactured spaceport planet housing a million different alien species and twice as many illegal practices, is effortlessly brought to life in literally two or three lines of the pre-sig – and to be honest, its status as alien melting pot is made believable in a way that was never quite managed with Akhaten off of the telly.
Goss’s Death and the Queen is the odd one out here, in that its tone is decidedly Big Finish. But that’s not to damn it with faint praise, of course: there’s a reason the Big Finish tone works so well for audio. With Death and the Queen the through story is compelling and unputdownable; the reveal at the end satisfyingly pulls things back from the metaphysical just in time (though part of me guiltily slightly wishes it hadn’t); and the whole thing is riddled with Goss’s talent for underplayed banter and humour. (“Not one of my best weddings… not one of my worst.”)
Tennant comes back to the role with relish, and through all three pieces one feels one is only a breathless moment away from the next hyperactivated ‘allons-y’ (which actually hardly ever gets said, I think). To be honest, the aspect of Ten’s character that comes across throughout these pieces is that very childlike excitement – it’s like he never stops running and excitedly fixing things. And while this is absolutely appropriate for the three stories here, it would be interesting to see future audios explore the more introspective side that Ten often portrayed.
Tate, too, feels like she has never been away too, with Donna’s affection for the Doctor still openly and obviously only equalled by her disdain for him, and her horror at the thought anyone might think they were doing the naughty together.
At the end of the day it feels like the listener isn’t returning to Ten so much as being dropped into the middle of season 4, and that is largely down to Tennant’s and Tate’s skills in reinterpreting roles they left eight – is it really eight?! – years ago. Of course it’s helped that they have a great supporting cast, including Borg Queen Alice Krige and stalwarts of the Big Finish rep, Dan Starkey, Beth Chalmers, Niky Wardley, John Banks and Terry Molloy.
Howard Carter is to be congratulated for both sound design and score. The former is as strong as ever, evidenced not least by the way in Time Reaver it helps create the Calibris atmosphere so well, so quickly. Similarly the scores are just fantastic: suitably Goldian and entirely evocative of the era. And of course one other integral part of the ensemble, Tom Webster’s artwork, is absolutely beautiful – he really must be persuaded to run a masterclass at the next Big Finish day.
Overall, this is a joyous box set, full of all the humour, fun and excitement that is expected of the Tennant era. None of the electric relationship between Tennant’s and Tate’s characters has gone away, making this whole release feel less like another BF box set and more like a celebratory event. If you have any affection for the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, buy this set now: you won’t be disappointed.
So come on, Big Finish: bring on the next box set or two, soon as. And a few for Matt Smith too, while you’re at it, why not? And dare I mention Chr…?
Well, a boy can dream.
Written By: Matt Fitton, Jenny T Colgan, James Goss
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
David Tennant (The Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble)
Niky Wardley (Bex), Rachael Stirling (Jill Meadows), Chook Sibtain (Brian), Rory Keenan (Kevin), Jot Davies (Lukas)
Alex Lowe (Soren), Sabrina Bartlett (Cora), Terry Molloy (Rone), John Banks(Gully), Dan Starkey (Dorn)
Death and the Queen
Blake Ritson (Rudolph), Alice Krige (Queen Mum), Beth Chalmers (Hortense), Alan Cox (Death)
The Tenth Doctor Boxset is available from Big Finish Productions from 16 May 2016.