Since 1999 a small independent company called Big Finish Productions have been making Doctor Who audio plays of mostly incredible quality. Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann have all been regularly recording brand new audio stories, and recently Big Finish were granted the licenses for everything Who related up to 2013’s The Time of The Doctor. They wrote stories about Kate Stewart’s UNIT, Winston Churchill’s adventures with Modern Doctors, River Song’s time travelling adventures, John Hurt’s wartime antics and, perhaps most importantly, The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble.
The last time David Tennant and Catherine Tate appeared together in Who was 2009’s The End of Time. He bid an emotional goodbye to the Noble Family by basically giving them millions of pounds with a winning lottery ticket. He then went off to hallucinate an Ood and regenerate. Lovely.
I think the thing that surprises me about these new stories is the overwhelming Big Finish feel of them (and that’s absolutely a positive!). I will always commend BF for their ability to include more main characters than just The Doctor. The best stories for me are the ones that involve their whole world. Stuff happens that The Doctor or his companion isn’t there to see, and that fascinates me. The post 2005 era is dominated by The Doctor and what he’s doing, he’s in practically every scene. Big Finish have always been much better at setting the scene. With Big Finish there’s a whole universe only the audience hear…
Before I get to the reviews of the individual stories, the main cast. I have never been the biggest fan of Ten or Donna. He got too grumpy and she was too shouty. Though those characteristics are still occasionally present (making Donna a queen in story 3 didn’t help) but I still admire the acting. Ten and Donna present one of the most fascinating chances for a totally platonic friendship in the midst of Russell T Davis’ soap opera. Tennant and Tate prove the characters come easily to them, sliding comfortably back into their roles and earning their keep. I can almost see why they’re so popular.
The first story, Technophobia is my favourite of the three. It begins as a simple piece about technology going awry as the DoctorDonna turn up in London in the not too distant future (insert some jokes from Donna about the modern age and Justin Bieber). All is not as it seems, and this is where Technophobia wins me over. It seems awkwardly predictable and the audience will begin to wonder if this is the basic rogue A.I story every sci-fi has beaten to within an inch of it’s life. But then more cogs turn and more and more the story develops. A truly intriguing plot line builds, I won’t give anything away but this is probably one of my favourite Ten/Donna stories… 9.5/10
Time Reaver presents us with possible the most intriguing weapon in the whole Whoniverse. Landing on a planet not too dissimilar to the Cantina from Star Wars, The Doctor soon realises something isn’t quite right, can total order be made from total disorder? Colgan manages to capture the humour both Tennant and Tate brought to their roles and isn’t too shy to use it. Likewise there’s drama enough to cement this story’s place as a rather creepy tale. The titular weapon, a time reaver, deserves more usage in Who stories. Capable of slowing down the time someone experiences the weapon itself doesn’t initially seem all that deadly. But then Donna begins to wonder, if every second for us is weeks for them, will an itch last the rest of their life? 8/10
Pulling up the rear we have Death and The Queen. As The Doctor aims for a holiday in Blackpool, we join our heroes on the French Riviera. When Donna is swept away by a charming prince from a country no one has ever heard of, The Doctor is rightfully suspicious. He’s also overly childish and remarkably un-Tennant like but never mind that. Death and The Queen is an intriguing story with plenty of references to the existing show, it manages to bring some more passion into Donna’s character (the dialogue with the maid is excellent). The pace is however rather awkward. I think the term ‘plods along’ describes this aptly. It never really gets going or builds to anything and then finishes. Each scene is brilliant, and you’ll love it from moment to moment, but considering it as a whole narrative and it flops. 7/10
Despite not having the budget of BBC Wales and the entire Welsh Orchestra at their disposal, the incidental music heard is remarkably good. Big Finish in general have been going from strength to strength with their music, and Howard Carter brings his usual expert flair of capturing a moment. The key to making good incidental music is that the audience doesn’t notice it’s there unless they’re paying really close attention. It blends in and finishes off each moment.
If I have one hope from this set, it’s that more NewWho audience listen to Big Finish. They absolutely deserve it. Buy the limited edition box set here: Big Finish.
And remember, these are all new adventures for Donna to forget about…