KYLE BARGHOUT: This was one boxset I really wasn’t looking forward to.
NIC FORD: Good start…
KB: As much as I love Big Finish’s output and the tweaks they have made to other parts of the Doctor Who range to improve it, anything New Who was always going to be unwelcoming for me. The RTD era was one of the weakest series of the shows entire history in my opinion. It set a trend of smugness and an air of self satisfaction that I feel has only grown under Moffat. It sacrificed plot and logical story telling for dramatic yet nonsensical, emotional scenes. Worse, the 40 minute format utterly ruined any chance of detailed character development.
NF: Well, Kyle and I have famously always disagreed here. For me, Who post-2005 has been an absolutely triumph, building on a brand of story telling that was always strong and refashioning it for a modern audience. As with every wannabe Who writer, I’d change almost everything if given the chance, of course; but that’s more testament to how inspiring I’ve found the modern show than criticism of it. And for me, Russell Tiberius Davies is the master crafstman of TV drama.
KB: However, time has taught me never to doubt Big Finish. After all, they managed to take the 40 minute format and do wonders in the 8th Doctor Adventures range. So I decided to give it a go and was pleasantly surprised.
NF: Course, here we completely agree. I love what BF have done for all the Doctors, but Eighty especially. Glad you’re on board. 😉
KB: The first thing I noticed was the great audio mix. Gone was the ever bombastic Murry Gold which many have complained drowned out the scenes due to poor mixing. Moveover, the music accompanies the scenes and aids with the tone, rather than attempting the listener to feel a certain way.
NF: Weirdly, I both agree and disagree. I think you’re right to say how well the music in this set complements the drama. But personally, I found this to be another example of something BF does rather well: provide music that is entirely in keeping with the TV era that the audio drama is trying to emulate. And with this box set, I really felt the channelling of Gold. I love his anthems – and more than once while listening to this, felt another was just around the corner. Hats off to Howard Carter for managing to please both of us!
KB: The acting is actually really top notch. I was never one for David Tennant’s Doctor but here he comes across very much toned down, almost giving off a Tom Baker vibe. Billie Piper as well has certainly improved as an actor and manages to really work well with the emotional scenes she is given. It would seem that the excesses of the original BBC production are nowhere to be found, and we are left with characters that have an almost charming schoolboy mischief about them – and it works wonders. If Big Finish can maintain this take on the characters then I would certainly be willing to participate more with my wallet in this range.
NF: How on earth can you use the phrases “toned down” and “Tom Baker vibe” in the same sentence?! Yes, I don’t think one can fault the acting; but for me, Tennant’s characterisation was, if anything, louder and more colourful than it had been on screen. Almost a pastiche of his TV Doctor – which, I have to say, worked rather well, so that’s not a criticism.
As for Ms Piper: I’ve never had a problem with her acting chops, but I will say that, for me, her portrayal of Rose here actually didn’t work as well as it might have done. For some reason, she came across as far less Powell Estate, far more Kensington and Chelsea, than her TV counterpart – slightly more RP, maybe? – and as such, I found it hard to reconcile what felt like two different characters.
While we’re on the acting, though, a quick shout out to Camile Coduri who was yet again absolutely great in John Dorney’s Infamy of the Zaross. Where’s the Jackie Tyler boxset, BF?
KB: So that’s enough about the production, what about the stories? Well, they are a bit of a mixed bag. Infamy of Zaross starts out quite interestingly, with a small scale alien invasion of one town. I half expected the monsters from the Android Invasion to show up, given the concept, but was alas disappointed. While the reveal and the intentions of the aliens is kind of interesting, it did somewhat lack originality and required a bit too much suspension of belief in my honest opinion. However, this is much more a character piece and helps expand on Jackie Tyler’s character quite nicely.
NF: I found this a pretty interesting take, and quite enjoyed the conceit. However, I would say that it did one thing that’s become a little bit prevalent in BF stories of late: scenes in which innocent bystanders are ruthlessly killed while our heroes and NPCs alike stand around and watch with barely a murmur. (Torchwood: Aliens Among Us – Changes Everything is another that springs to mind.) I mean, the Doctor absolutely frowns on that sort of thing, and says so loudly; but I can’t help thinking that in the Whoniverse of old it would have evinced actual horror and outrage, rather that just a sharp ticking off.
KB: The Sword of the Chevalier was very enjoyable and I did chuckle at the somewhat mild sexual humour. An interesting take on a historical tale, it does tend to step into the ‘alien of the week’ trope that plagued the latter half of the original Doctor Who run. I can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity to be a purely historical piece, which is something we never saw in David Tennant’s original run. The cast however are turely wonderful, and it was really kind of interesting to hear Big Finish’s “No.6” playing the role of the villain. I’d say this was possibly the best story of the box set and I do hope Guy Adams gets another shot.
NF: Yes, another good one; personally, the more alien races the better for me. I loved the chevalier, and the excuse s/he gave to again expose the Doctor’s side in the increasingly relevant gender politics debate. A slightly weak denoument for me, in that the reason for the baddies’ defeat was revealed as a character trait that I felt was a bit nailed on. A bit too Chekov’s Albatross*, for my liking. (*That’s the one where in the third act of Uncle Vanya an albatross swoops in and attacks the cook, and everyone says ‘blimey, where the hell did that come from?!’)
KB: Cold Vengeance sees the 10th Doctor go up against the Ice Warriors. It is always good to hear Nick Briggs do his amazing voice work on one of my personal favourites, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. It was also interesting to see Big Finish utilizing Cold War’s take on the Ice Warriors to make them a more threatening menace. The story is pretty much plot by numbers. Ice Warriors wake up and want revenge, Doctor gets involved, fight breaks out and the Doctor does something clever to win. This perhaps is the weakness of this story as it feels like nothing is new. Even the setting in an intergalactic frozen food store has been ripped from other Big Finish stories, or TV episodes like Dragonfire. The biggest weakness of this story is perhaps it seems to suffer from lack of exposition. For one, we are never given any reason as to why only 3 people are working on a huge orbital supermarket. In fact, the small amount of cast makes the overall threat somewhat lacking as a result. Despite some flaws, the story is still enjoyable, but this listener can’t help but feel the story needed to try and do something a little new.
NF: Gotta say, I loved this – and often for the same reasons Kyle didn’t (sorry Kyle!). The small cast made the whole thing more claustrophobic than it may otherwise have been, and that worked for me. And the fact that there was little expostion meant that the pull-back-and-reveal at the end had more punch than – considering what it actually revealed – it possible might have done. Overall, I think Matt Fitton’s script, ably abetted by the same great cast, was a great closer to the boxset.
KB: So has Big Finish managed to do another magic job, as they did with the Colin Baker era? Not quite, but it is certainly going in that direction. I would certainly say that critics of New Who should try give this one a go as it may surprise you. Fans of New Who will simply lap it up, especially due to the dynamic nature between the two co-stars. A good start to a relatively new range. I hope to see what else Big Finish can do with modern Who. 7/10
NF: And at the end of the day, I can only echo that. I really hope that BF and Tennant build on their relationship: the first two boxsets have been great, and one can only imagine that there is more great stuff to come. More 10th Doctor boxsets please, BF. A firm 8/10 from me.