Big Finish’s latest experiment is a full cast audio box set featuring a recast Twelfth Doctor. Jacob Dudman assumes Peter Capaldi’s velvet mantle for a three episode epic that struggles to find its own unique voice
Timejacked! is the second in the Doctor Chronicles range, representing a bold new experiment from the Big Finish team. It’s true that over the past few years selective use of recasting have allowed listeners to explore bygone eras we’d otherwise never get to hear from again. To tell stories that would otherwise go untold forever. And similarly, the winning of a licence to create audios featuring the characters and concepts of 21st century Doctor Who, excepting the current era, has opened the Big Finish canvas to a world of new possibilities. But after they’ve secured the talents of David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston (Christopher! Eccleston!), and unleashed a whole new generation of beasties on the classic Doctors, these new full cast audios featuring the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors but not Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi poses an undeniable question: Why?
It’s a question, sadly, to which Timejacked! never finds a particularly enlightening answer. In recent weeks, Big Finish have explored the whole of the Third Doctor era from Liz Shaw to Sarah Jane. Those sets underlined just how unique those years were, and how impossible it is to revisit certain classic styles of Who without recasting. But this three episode box set stands in contrast to that. There’s little here to create a feeling like this had to be a Twelfth Doctor adventure. Surprisingly few dialogue tweaks would have seen Timejacked! serve perfectly well as a vehicle for any of the modern Doctors.
So why recast Peter Capaldi, rather than slip this into Eccleston or Tennant’s busy queues? Even as a showcase for Jacob Dudman’s undoubted talents as a mimic it’s a doubly odd choice. His Twelfth Doctor, while serviceable, is easily the weakest of his Doctors, and and a minor redraft would have made it a perfect bit for his much superior Eleventh.
New pseudo-companion Kiera Sanstrom, an experienced but cocky Time Agent, provides a perfect foil to Dudman’s Doctor
But let’s put aside such existential questions. Instead, how does this set fare on its own merits as a slice of Doctor Who? In true Steven Moffat style, these three episodes flow into one another but with a major change of gear following each cliffhanger, blurring the line between a three-parter and a trilogy. Opener Flight to Calandra introduces Time Agent Kiera Sanstrom and presents the initial thread set to unravel the plot. Abducting the Doctor, stealing the TARDIS, and bringing them both to the planet Calandra to fix a global disaster quickly helps define Kiera’s character. She has the quest for adventure the Doctor usually admires (everything kicked off because, basically, she was bored.) And underneath everything she does care, or else she wouldn’t be going to such extreme lengths to correct her mistake.
But the Time Agency trainee’s fatal flaw is her tendency to overreach herself. This is a woman who thought she could keep the Doctor under control, after all. Keira, as ably played by Bhavnisha Parmar (aka Yaz’ sister Sonya in recent series of Doctor Who) turns in a sprightly, fun performance with a perfectly judged mix of moxie and sulkiness. Her banter with the Doctor as the power dynamic between them constantly shifts is the highlight of the set. She’s two parts Clara Oswald’s snark and refusal to be impressed to one part Captain Jack’s roguish cockiness.
Journey to Calandra surprises by finding a new twist on an old Star Trek standby, the transporter malfunction
The plot itself is distinctly Star Trek, though that’s not a criticism. Strictly forbidden by intervening in the development of a more pre-contact world, Kiera gave them transporter technology anyway for reasons of her own. Now the global system is churning out more and more transporter duplicates of anyone who’s ever used it. Meanwhile the entire society is buckling under the pressure of an exponentially growing population.
There are the ethical concerns you’d expect about what to do with the duplicates, and plenty of blame to go round; the Doctor’s equally peeved with both Kiera for being so foolish in giving the technology, and the Calandrans for grabbing the shortcut with both hands without putting in the century of scientific development to understand how to use it safely. If anything, though, it’s a pleasure to see Doctor Who not only grumpily addressing such a Trek problem, but finding a variation on the ‘transporter gone wrong’ story Trek itself doesn’t seem to have done.
Split Second is an almost incident free runaround to connect the other two episodes
Middle episode Split Second drew laughter and praise with the ‘best synopsis ever’ of the one line “Oh dear. That wasn’t meant to happen. ” But in truth there’s not much more to the episode than that. The Doctor and Kiera realize that her time meddling had more far reaching consequences that they’d first realized and set out to fix things. From there things proceed with a video game style logic. There are seven locations and seven devices to activate. They travel to each one in turn and use those devices. The difficulty level in the obstacles they face in each place steadily ramps up. And that’s it. Against that background the Doctor and Kiera essentially orbit each other in a continuous restatement of the same argument. As middle episodes go, Split Second sets new standards for running in place.
The Weight of History places Keira and the Doctor in real physical and moral peril as they face the consequences of Keira’s mistake
Things pick up considerably with the finale The Weight of History. While the pair have averted the complete collapse of the universe, things are not all well on Calandra. Their entire history has been changed, warped around a mysterious woman they call the Founder. Trapped in a world where the Founder can reshape both the physical world and history on a whim, the Doctor and Kiera have to find a way to put things back as they should be. And for Kiera that means finally fully facing the consequences of what she’s done. Holly Jackson Walther is plainly having a whale of a time in a masterclass in malicious campery as the villain. Though it’s a bold choice to match her against the Twelfth Doctor, as it makes comparisons to Michelle Gomez’ unassailable Queen of Evil unavoidable.
Future Doctor Chronicles will need to work hard to identify stories which fully exploit their placement in the Doctor’s life
Timejacked! ends in a manner that makes sequels possible but not inevitable. And the Doctor and Kiera dynamic is certainly one worth exploring further. If nothing else Bhavnisha Parmar is an actor Big Finish should hold on to with both hands.
No doubt the invincible Big Finish charm offensive will be working to convince Peter Capaldi that Big Finish sessions has more comfortable studios (and better lunches!) than others he’s worked with. Until then, future Doctor Chronicles need to dig a little deeper to find stories that justify the format. Stories as unique to the Doctor they feature as the UNIT era is to the Third Doctor; stories so compelling they would be a tragedy to leave untold.
Timejacked!, for instance, is set at a time in the Doctor’s life defined by him not leaving Earth, but has him immediately leave it anyway. A set exploiting the world of St. Luke’s might work better, perhaps. One growing stories out of how the Doctor fits in with the rest of the faculty, students with hidden secrets, or even his side gig playing guitar at the local bar. With a stronger sense of place and time in Doctor Who history, the Doctor Chronicles range may yet grow to be one of Big Finish’s key ranges.
Doctor Who: Timejacked!
The Doctor’s been timejacked!
Rookie Time Agent Keira Sanstrom needs the Doctor’s help, and she’s prepared to go to extreme measures to get it. Unwillingly whisked away from St. Luke’s University, the Doctor quickly discovers that being forced off Earth is only the start of his problems…
Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Chronicles – Timejacked! is available as a collector’s edition CD box set (at £19.99) or digital download (at £16.99), exclusively from the Big Finish website.