The Doctor’s Daughter is Still Running towards the danger, in four sparkling new tales of derring do
Jenny is back! Georgia Tennant returns as the Doctor’s daughter, first seen in the Doctor Who episode, well, The Doctor’s Daughter for a second boxset of adventures from Big Finish Productions. And with them they bring a tremendous sense of fun. Every Doctor Who spin off range brings its own flavour to a different unexplored corner of this massive universe. But while Jago & Litefoot prowled the foggy streets of 19th century London for infernal investigations, and UNIT pursues action packed missions impossible, Jenny feels closest to a carefree dance straight through the middle of Doctor Who’s home ground. A Time Lord and her companion arrive in a new place every episode, whether in history or among the stars. A wanderlust drive them on, along with a joyful desire to see the beauty of the universe. But the two inevitably find themselves righting injustices, toppling autocracies, and stopping monsters wherever they go. It recaptures the exhilarating thrill ride of the original Russell T Davies era at its most fun. In a way it’s the closest a Big Finish spin-off has been to being Doctor-Who-Without-Doctor-Who-In.
Jenny’s naivety and earnest belief in doing good allows the series to tell stories it never could with the Doctor
But like the Jenny theme’s relationship to Ron Grainer’s iconic music, the series itself could be described as hitting all the right notes, but not necessarily in the usual order. For instance, Jenny and Noah’s naivety means they view the universe in a wonderfully fresh way. The Tenth Doctor would often suck on his teeth twenty minutes in, and dredge up some arcane knowledge from his memory to explain the plot. But his daughter genuinely knows almost nothing about anything despite her great intelligence and natural instincts.
Jenny also a sort of vulnerable earnestness her father rarely shows. She feels a deeply seated drive to make the universe a better place. One which means she frequently has an ulterior motive when choosing a destination, more akin to the Seventh Doctor. Ironically, it’s her companion Noah (Sean Biggerstaff) who probably hits closer to the Tenth Doctor’s travelling philosophy. He would much rather just drift about and solve problems if and when they happen upon them.
Inside the Maldovarium sees the return of a familiar blue face as the mark in a comedy heist movie
First episode Inside the Maldovarium (or “Iinsiide the MALDOOOVaariuum” as Jenny melodramatically puts it) illustrates the duo’s divergent approaches neatly. The Jenny 7 (what’s the point in even having a spaceship if you can’t name it after yourself?) breaks down and has to make a forced landing on the asteroid base of notorious peddler of information and illicit goods, Dorium Maldovar (Simon Fisher-Becker). Dorium, as seen in Doctor Who’s A Good Man Goes to War and other episodes, presides over hive of scum and villainy the Maldovarium (because what’s the point in owning a bar if… well, you can guess). But while our heroes are put to work to pay off their repair costs, Dorium is holding an auction. And the only lot is something that Jenny badly wants to intensely personal reasons.
This setup plays out as a fun, breezy heist movie; Ocean’s 11 if the Eleven had absolutely no clue, and their intended victim affected an air of bemused indulgence. Adrian Poynton’s script playfully dodges around Dorium’s ultimate nature as either totally amoral or simply morally flexible. There’s just the right amount of doubt over whether he’s someone happy to do the right thing, or stop the wrong thing, so long as there’s profit in it either way. By the end even Jenny has more or less given up trying to work it out. Meanwhile, from the very first episode, Georgia Tennant neatly sketches this (very) slightly older Jenny. She brings just a hint more sardonic wryness to the now more confident and independent time traveller.
Altered States is an enjoyable riff on a Doctor Who standard as Jenny overthrows a supposed utopia by teatime
Altered Status goes even further in telling a typical Doctor Who story in a way Doctor Who never could. Supposed utopias hiding a downtrodden underclass and a revolution by teatime may be very familiar ideas. But the fun here is hearing Jenny and Noah confronted by ‘the Suits,’ who are very clearly a type of Cyberman, without having any notion of what they are. The potential of the scenario gives us possibly the best fusion of action and comedy in the set.
Georgia Tennant makes the most of a script full of lovely moments for Jenny. Temporarily split from Noah she’s given a substitute sidekick in the form of SF barbarian ‘demi-queen’ Sogo (Deeivya Meir). And Tennant’s vein of sprightly irony perfectly serves dialogue that often pokes mild jabs at some Doctor Who tropes. (“You’re the boss, calm omnipotent robot voice person.“) The resolution to Altered Status may be a little quick and easy, but it suits the tone of Jenny. I’m not sure anyone wants to see these characters beaten down by pyrrhic half-victories. Not yet, anyway.
Calamity Jenny might wink at the audience a little too broadly, but it has a deceptively clever, action-packed plot
John Dorney pushes the irony and self-awareness just a smidge too far in third entry Calamity Jenny. Michael Brandon (The Stolen Earth, Dempsey & Makepeace and, often forgotten, Dario Agento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet) is the Old West narrator telling us the tale of Calamity Jenny and her sidekick, the Boy with No Name. It’s as warm and funny performance as you’d expect from Brandon, with a nice line in metatextual humour. Though it does occasionally sticks a toe over the line with dialogue that’s a little too self-aware (the two Jennys even having the same name is “condemned as an improbable contrivance.”). This is nevertheless a neatly twisting and turning tale of mistaken identity. They’ve barely arrived and Jenny is locked up from the crimes of an identical looking femme fatale ‘Calamity’ Jenny. Noah, meanwhile, is tied up in the bedroom of Calamity herself. With a soundtrack by Joe Kraemer that’s some of Big Finish’s most cinematic music ever, and a deceptively clever plot ticking away under the Blazing Saddles frontage, it’s a story that comes within a hair’s breadth of hitting the target dead centre.
Her Own Worst Enemy tries to prove to Jenny’s cyborg nemesis that it’s a wonderful life
Finale Her Own Worst Enemy ups the stakes for our heroes considerably. The Colt 5000 is back. Siân Lloyd’s relentlessly murderous and sassy cyborg assassin, half RoboCop and half headmistress of a Catholic all-girls school, bedeviled Jenny and Noah throughout their first series. Jenny has now deliberately sought the Colt 5000 out with what’s a truly terrible plan, even for her. She plans to travel back along its timeline and change whatever events caused it to originally become a killer cyborg. But it’s at least a less terrible plan that that of Colt Industries. Colt are evaluating people with half baked therapy sessions, and forcibly converting anyone with insufficient self worth into cyborgs to give their lives purpose. As Jenny points out, that’s a recipe for a surviving elite of narcissists and sociopaths, purged of introspection.
The characters’ tour of the little ways we make the lives of others better brings allows Tennant to show a more reflective, but no less optimistic, side of Jenny
It’s also bad news for Geraldine Diamond, the future Colt 5000. A struggling artist who, after a mediocre career, is doubting her own ability, is the next in line for ‘auditing.’ Jenny’s time travelling solution mixes A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, as she brings Geraldine on visits to her past, present and future to try and show her the true scope of the positive effect she’s had on the world. Lloyd is a delight as Geraldine, uncertain of herself but also brave and principled, regretful but not bitter.
It’s another opportunity for Tennant to show her range and strength too, as Jenny quickly shifts from scheming to get the target off her own back to being genuinely invested in Geraldine as a person. The story also gives us an audacious climax that really does make a third series for Jenny an absolute must. And hopefully sooner rather than later.
Jenny: Still Running is an enthusiastic bout of pure adventure in a genre that can sometimes take itself too seriously
Genre fans routinely fall into the trap into assuming darker is better, than angst is more adult, and that cynicism is cool. Doctor Who fans certainly aren’t immune to that. But Still Running’s formula of breezy wit, wholesome adventure, and cheerful banter hits the perfect spot. Having carved out its own niche in the Doctor Who universe, it’s a place it would be a crime not to visit again.
Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter: Still Running is available to own as a collector’s edition box set at £24.99 and as a digital download at £19.99, exclusively from the Big Finish website. Big Finish listeners can also save more by ordering Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter & Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter: Still Running in a bundle at £48 on CD and £40 on download.