Oh yes! The Doctor and Donna are back! Three new adventures from Big Finish send one of the most popular TARDIS teams running up and down corridors once more. And this time Wilf and Sylvia are along for the ride…
In its 20th anniversary year, it can perhaps be a little too easy to take Big Finish for granted. Starting off with the three eighties Doctors, it was a major coup for them when Paul McGann joined the fold. But the Eighth Doctor’s presence now seems like as much a fact of life as the colour of the sky. While in 2012, many a fan did a comedy pratfall from their chairs when the miracle of Tom Baker returning to Doctor Who was managed. Yet, again, with Baker plainly loving every second of it, it seems impossible to think of him ever stopping now. But, despite being on its third volume, there’s still a heady excitement to The Tenth Doctor Adventures.
After all, nine episodes on, David Tennant still hasn’t even exceeded on audio a single season’s worth of his TV run. It’s all the more remarkable considering that both Tennant and Tate have gone on to — well, obviously nothing’s bigger and better than Doctor Who, dear reader; but suffice to say they’ve done very well for themselves. This set could consist of three hours of the two reading the script of The Twin Dilemma. You’d still pass the time grinning from ear to ear. As it is, what we get here is a hell of a lot better than that. Plus – Bernard Cribbins! Bernard! Cribbins! Talk about a casting coup…
The set follows the familiar pattern of adventures in the present, future, and past
Structurally, The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 3 takes its cue from the often reused pattern of the Davies Era. So in No Place, strange and alien forces intrude on the cozy and familiar world of the present day (well, of a decade ago anyway). While in One Mile Down we visit an alien world in the distant future. And finally, The Creeping Death brings the Doctor and his companion into the past where a real world historical event is revealed to have some distinctly unearthly aspects not recorded by history.
The ordering of these adventures is the set might slightly wrong foot you however. No Place is plainly set near the end of their travels, with Sylvia not only knowing about their adventures but wearily, grudgingly, accepting of them. One Mile Down follows next despite being set so early in their friendship Donna can’t remember what the sonic screwdriver is called.
No Place leads the volume with a tale of haunted houses and reality TV
No Place’s slot at the top of the boxset is well deserved however. The script from James Goss is the one which most succeeds at feeling like it’s walked straight off of Russell T Davies’ MacBook. Its addition of Bernard Cribbins’ Wilf and Jacqueline King’s Sylvia alongside Tennant and Tate also lends it special magic. And magic, or rather supernatural things which go bump in the night, are central to the play’s killer hook. Opening in true ‘we now join this adventure already in progress…’ style, we swiftly learn the Doctor has bought a dilapidated old mansion on little more than a whim. He’s installed Donna as his fake wife, along with his new ‘in-laws’ Wilf and Sylvia on a major renovation project and, to top it all off, applied to be featured on daytime TV show Haunted Makeovers.
Quite why he’d do any of this is as big a mystery as exactly what’s making the piano bite people, and lumps of Something Nasty to appear in the soup. But both questions get satisfying conclusions by the end. Along the way there are some tense, or even grotesque moments. And casting this most friendly and bouncy of Doctor in the Seventh Doctor style role of conducting events around him while keeping his real goals close to his chest is surprisingly effective.
The reunion of the Noble family is as fun as you’d expect
But it also achieves that balance of humour against the darkness essential to the era it recreates. As the house bleeds a foul ectoplasm, Sylvia sighs “Go on then, do your thing where it’s disgusting and you lick it.” And the premise of Haunted Makeovers – so simultaneously ridiculous and banal it’s hard to believe it’s not actually propping up an afternoon schedule somewhere – is plaid to the hilt. Take a creepy, neglected old house with a spooky reputation with new owners who’ve bought it cheap. Then advise them on how to flip it into a modern, bright home to sell on for a handsome profit. Goss certainly gets the annoying, pun filled patter of Joel, the presenter, down pat. “Does the Devil have the best designs?” Perhaps not, but No Place certainly does.
One Mile Down is a cautionary tale painted in shades of grey
One Mile Down, meanwhile, reflects modern concerns by transplanting them to an alien world. The city of Vallarasee is a marvel of the galaxy, a place of astonishing and ancient beauty and architecture. Unfortunately, it’s also at the bottom of an ocean – a sacred place to the aquatic species called the Fins. Which is a bit awkward for the tourists who want to take a selfie with it. Sure, you could wear a breathing mask and swim but… well, wouldn’t it easier to just cover it with a dome, pump out all the water and cover it all with stairs since you know can’t swim up to any of the doors? That way, it’s only indigenous people who’ll have to wear helmets in their own city. Ah, that’s better.
In writer Jenny T Colgan’s hands, the ever encroaching and corrosive influence of human capitalism on Fin culture is convincing. In fact, it’s the must disturbingly plausible premise this side of Davies’ own Years and Years. But most impressively, Colgan doesn’t paint the characters in black and white, but shades of grey (albeit very, very, very dark grey for some of them). Human administrator Andrea (Rakie Ayola) is very much cast in the classic ‘Mayor from Jaws‘ role; stubbornly denying anything is wrong and doing everything she can she suppress the news of leaks in the dome. And yet, her arrogance isn’t totally misplaced.
There’s no real reason for the Judoon to be in One Mile Down, but do you really need a reason?
Similarly, Donna spends much of the story teamed unwillingly with Garth (Christopher Naylor). Gareth’s an unapologetic racist (“I prefer the term ‘bigot’,” he sniffs at one point). But despite moving smoothly from one completely contradictory argument for the Fins’ inferiority to another whenever anyone engages with him, he nevertheless fights as courageously as anyone to save lives as things in Vallarasee go from bad to worse. On the other side, the Doctor is almost as thunderous about the conduct of some of the more militant Fins. While one human who’s very proud of their liberal credentials falters when push comes to shove.
One Mile Down also gives us the wonder that is Clo, an underdeveloped young Judoon whose squeaky hoarseness must be one of Nicholas Briggs’ greatest vocal challenges yet. In truth the Judoon are largely window dressing here. There’s little reason for them actually being everybody’s favourite Rhino headed star police rather than generic security guards. But, really, if you can include Judoon fining people for having a listed building fall on them, why wouldn’t you?
The Creeping Death seeks to add smog to the long list of everyday things Doctor Who fans are scared of
Final entry The Creeping Death brings us back around to the spooky and macabre, this time with a vintage twist. By far the greatest strength of Roy Gill’s concept for his story is the setting. It’s London in 1952 and the great capital has been struck down by a toxic, choking fog which fills the streets and seeps into people’s homes. This real world event, a combination of unusual weather conditions and grossly irresponsible planning decisions, killed 12,000 people. And while the early scenes feature the Doctor and Donna saddened by not being able to do much more than warn a few people to take a holiday, soon it becomes clear there’s another menace at work.
There’s a sometimes difficult line to walk in historicals. It lies between giving events a Doctor Who twist and taking away from the depths of human failings. In truth, The Creeping Death sticks half a toe on the wrong side of it, with the wonderfully named Fumifugium (Helen Goldwyn) claiming to have been working behind the scenes ‘encouraging’ human pollution for centuries. But if you ignore that one misjudged line, you’re left with a creepy monster in Who’s best traditions. It’s not the first time a horror tinged tale has sought to make fog itself the monster, any more than Silence in the Library was the first to make shadows the enemy. But like that Moffat penned tale, Gill’s Creeping Death is a superior example.
Gill assembles a strong cast of potential victims
Gill also takes another familiar tune and plays it like a master. A mix of almost random people find themselves stuck together, besieged by the Fumifugium. Some nice, some not so nice. Some doomed to die (ideally at intervals of 8-10 minutes) and some to live, changed forever by the touch of the Doctor. From the conceited West End actress to the affable WWI vet (Stephen Critchlow). And the cinema usherette who can’t shake the feeling she was meant for something more (Lauren Cornelius). It’s a group that would have fitted in perfectly on screen in 2008.
The love triangle between that usherette, Ivy, her ‘just a good friend’ Richard (Kieran Bew) , and his secret boyfriend Terry (Theo Stevenson) is another very Davies touch that adds heart to the tale. Though it does beggar belief slightly that Donna is quite so amazed to discover homosexuality used to be illegal.
The set captures everything people loved about Series Four, as if the Doctor and Donna had never been away
Between them, these three new outings for the last of the Time Lords and best temp in Chiswick form an effective miniature model of Series Four. And if you enjoyed that season then you’ll laugh, shiver and gasp equally at The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 3. It’s both a testament to David Tennant’s love of the show, and Big Finish’s ability to craft stories compelling enough to attract such names. Every volume of the The Tenth Doctor Adventures is still a thrilling gift, not to be taken for granted. But that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for more like this.
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 3
The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 3 is available directly from the Big Finish site in multiple formats. There’s a luxurious five disc slipcase limited to 5,000 copies. Meanwhile, the individual stories (No Place, One Mile Down, and The Creeping Death) are also available on CD and as downloads. Meanwhile The Creeping Death can even bought on vinyl exclusively from Asda, limited to only 1,000 copies, from the 24th of May.
Starring David Tennant (The Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott), Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble), Nicholas Briggs (Judoon), Rakie Ayola (Andrea), Kieran Bew (Richard Cooper), Lauren Cornelius (Ivy Clark), Stephen Critchlow (Malcolm Wishart), Eleanor Crooks (Patricia Derbyshire), Joel Fry (Justin), Helen Goldwyn (Alice Aiken, Fumifugium), Christopher Naylor (Pickus), Peter Singh (Jas), Theo Stevenson (Terry Hopkins), Robert Whitelock (Garth, Thispus)
Written by: James Goss, Jenny T Colgan, and Roy Gill
Director: Ken Bentley
Producer: David Richardson
Music: Howard Carter
Duration: 304 minutes