Doctor Who – “The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume 1”

The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume 1 is a triumph for Big Finish as their first official release for a post-revival Doctor. Eight years after their last official story, David Tennant and Catherine Tate portray the same chemistry that made the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble one of the all-time great Doctor/companion pairing and give fans both old and new another taste of their singular magic.

X X X X X

Cast
David Tennant (The Doctor)
Catherine Tate (Donna Noble)

Technophobia
Niky Wardley (Bex)
Rachael Stirling(Jill Meadows)
Chook Sibtain (Brian)
Rory Keenan (Kevin)
Jot Davies (Lukas)

Time Reaver
Alex Lowe (Soren)
Sabrina Bartlett (Cora)
Terry Molloy (Rone)
John Banks(Gully)
Dan Starkey (Dorn)

Death and the Queen
Blake Ritson (Rudolph)
Alice Krige, (Queen Mum)
Beth Chalmers (Hortense),
Alan Cox (Death)

Written by:
Technophobia – Matt Fitton
Time Reaver – Jenny T Colgan
Death and the Queen – James Goss

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Released: May 2016

Trailer – http://tinyurl.com/ztagyaf

X X X X X

When the Doctor and Donna visit London’s Technology Museum for a glimpse into the future, things don’t go to plan.

The most brilliant IT brain in the country can’t use her computer. More worrying, the exhibits are attacking the visitors, while outside, people seem to be losing control of the technology that runs their lives.

Is it all down to simple human stupidity, or is something more sinister going on?

Beneath the streets, the Koggnossenti are waiting. For all of London to fall prey to technophobia…

Matt Fitton, one of my favorite Big Finish writers, kicks the box set off with Technophobia, a story that evokes memories of the 1970’s BBC childrens serial The Changes. The Doctor and Donna take a trip just a few years into Donna’s future for a quick peek at the Smartphone Revolution. CEO Jill Meadows is doing the press rounds for the release of her company’s latest tablet, complete with a voice-activated assistance program, but she’s having problems remember how to use the technology. It’s not just Meadows however. The rest of London soon finds themselves forgetting the fundamentals of modern technology – not just sending e-mails and calling on the phone, but failing to read words from a teleprompter and even seeing the Underground’s escalators as magical staircases whose metal teeth will eat any who step upon them. The more one knows about modern technology, the more this affliction affects them. For Donna Noble, fresh out of the mid 00’s, she can withstand the devolution of understanding better than most. But what about a Time Lord from a technically advanced race?

It would have been easy for the machines to be the cause of the phobias gripping London, but Fitton goes the other way. An alien species is preparing to take over the Earth. Not by conquest or warfare, but by offering to take care of a human race that has forgotten everything they ever knew about technology, including concepts such as language and fire. It’s a neat twist on how to take over a planet as well as a way for Fitton to spin a story like this without falling into the cliched “TECHNOLOGY IS EVIL” trap. There is still discussion about how technology, by way of making communication easier, is taking away more and more of humanity’s free time, but it’s not hitting the listener over the head like a sledgehammer or crashing anvil. The story also contains a few moments where Donna, only ten or fifteen years removed from the story’s level of technology, is caught unawares and confused (”A Justin Beiber movie in 3-D? Isn’t that kind of…wrong?”)

Technophobia is a great story to open the box set with because it perfectly encapsulates the Tenth Doctor era. There’s the constant use of the sonic screwdriver for nearly every purpose, the Doctor offering the bad guys (the Koggnossenti, a perfectly forgettable one-shot alien race) a chance to walk away without consequence, and the turning of their own weapons against them in a very clever moment (how could an alien race utilize a high-tech hyperdimensional transmat ship without mishap if they’re forgetting how to use it during take-off?), and a proto-companion in the form of company temp Bex as played by Niki Wardley. To Big Finish fans, Wardley is best known as companion Tamsin Drew from the Eight Doctor Adventures while to television fans she was the best friend of chav Lauren Cooper from The Catherine Tate Show. Without any surprise, Wardley and Cooper bounce off each other so well during their time together, but Wardley also shines during her moments opposite David Tennant, as she covers the twin concepts of “the companion being clever” and “the companion stating the Doctor is being clever” with Tennant gleefully returning her volleys. Rachael Sterling (of ITV’s Tipping the Velvet and The Bletchley Circle) also shines as Jill Meadows, as her collapse from “technical genius” to “can’t even draw a simple circuit” is harrowing to listen to, and this is before the loss of her language skills causes her to suffer an emotional breakdown.

X X X X X

Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn’t want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach.

The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonisingly.

The Time Reaver.

Time Reaver takes place on Calibris, a planet where the entire culture revolves around transpiration. It’s not only an intergalactic transit hub with high-speed trains and worm-holes for transport, (Donna describes it as King’s Cross Station on a massive scale) it’s also a place where parts for any sort of vehicle can be found, procured, or jury-rigged…even parts for a Type 40 TARDIS. The Doctor drops the TARDIS off for some much needed repairs, but soon discovers that the normally lawless and wild planet is slowly being tamed by the bureaucratic aliens known as the Vacintians. There is an ulterior motive to the Vacintians’ presence however. A shipment of weapon was stolen from their home planet, and they are desperately trying to recover them. Once the Doctor discovers the horrible nature of the weapons, he forces himself into the investigation. Whether or not the Vacintians want his help or not, the Doctor will recover the weapons and ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hand. Or tentacles.

Jenny T Colgan, writer of The Boundless Sea from the River Song box set, gives us a dark story set on a fantastic alien world. Big Finish’s sound team does its best work with Time Reaver, with the noise of a bustling transit hub always hovering in the background, whether it’s a concourse or a seedy hole-in-the-wall, allowing the listener to easily picture the hectic and crowded nature of Calibris. There are wormholes, points that instantly take a passenger from Point A to Point B, and then there are “worm-holes,” which the Doctor suggests not eating before taking a trip on. The secondary characters are the denizens one would expect to find on a world such as this – the sleazy crime lord Gully, who has his tentacles in everything, played by veteran BBC and Big Finish actor John Banks. Gully is a fine villain, the kind who’s kind until it’s time to twist the knife or shoot somebody, and easily loses his cool the moment things don’t go his way. Dan Starkey (the Sontaran butler Strax from the television series) has a supporting role as Gully’s right-hand man. He does well for the brief period of time he’s involved in the story, but I couldn’t help but wish he had an expanded part. On the other side, Terry Molloy (aka Davros from the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctor eras as well as numerous Big Finish productions as both Davros and various other characters) is the head of the Vacintians, Rone, who attempts to both stonewall and grudgingly assist the Doctor. His hesitance is traced to the fact that it was his daughter Cora (Sabrina Bartlett from DaVinci’s Demons and the Twelfth Doctor episode Robot of Sherwood) is the one who stole the weapons and is trying to sell them. What’s great about both performances is that neither of the pair are acting out or spite or evil, but acting out of a hope for something better, Rone to bring his daughter back home and Cora out of youthful naivety. It turns out the Vacintians’ home planet is dying, and the race was using the weapons in an attempt to lengthen their final days, while Cora wanted to give the rest of the universe the same experiences.

However, the method of choice is a time modulation device so horrific, any race or civilization that invented it immediately banned it. The Time Reaver is a device that extends the sensation of a moment, making an instant into seconds, seconds into minutes, and minutes into hours. Sounds good on paper. But imagine using the device to ensure the good vibrations of a party and starving to death because the few minutes it would take you to grab a sandwich would be nearly two weeks to your body. Or that by attaching a Time Reaver to a bomb, anyone caught in the explosion would feel the burning of their skin, the air being ripped out of their lungs, and the eternal heat for years before finally dying. It’s the type of weapon I wouldn’t be surprise the Time Lords or Daleks would have used during the Time War, and the Doctor forcing his way into the investigation makes perfect sense for that conflict’s final survivor. Sadly, the race for the Time Reavers boils down to a repetition of “give me the guns,” “I won’t give you the guns,” “give me the guns,” “I won’t give you the guns,” repeated and acted out over and over again in different variations that takes up a good portion of the story’s back end. The method the Doctor uses to get rid of the Time Reavers however is a jaw-dropping moment that reminded me of Heaven Sent and helped kick the story back into gear all the way to the ending. And while Time Reaver (and indeed, all of the stories in this set) are stand-alone stories, this one features two callbacks to the TV series – a character telling Donna Noble that there is something on her back (in this case a bomb), and the Doctor, once everything has settled down, suggesting that the pair’s next journey should be to a nice, relaxing library…

X X X X X

Donna Noble has never been lucky in love.

So when, one day, her Prince does come, she is thrilled to have the wedding of all weddings to look forward to. Though the Doctor isn’t holding his breath for an invitation. And her future mother-in-law is certainly not amused.

But on the big day itself, Donna finds her castle under siege from the darkest of forces, marching at the head of a skeleton army.

When it looks like even the Doctor can’t save the day, what will Queen Donna do to save her people from Death itself?

Sure, a second Donna Noble wedding. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about the fact that the Doctor has never even heard of the country of Goratania, a country that proudly proclaims that it’s had 500 years of peace? Or that Prince Rudolph asked Donna to marry him after a whirlwind courtship? Let’s talk about how the Queen Mother loathes Donna and wishes her son would have found someone better? And there’s a dark cloud hanging over Goratania. Literally. And it’s demanding its price be paid. The Prince and Queen Mother are perfectly calm at sending their soldiers out to die, as long as the wedding goes through, immediately followed by the coronation of Rudolph as king. To Donna, it’s all a big squiggly. To the Doctor, it sounds like someone should have read the fine print that rests at the bottom of Goratania’s flag…

James Goss closes out the the first volume with a story that mixes a hint of horror with some flat out comedy. Even though Death is a central character to this story, Death and the Queen is one of the funniest Big Finish stories I’ve ever heard. The horrific moment comes when the soldiers of Goratania sacrifice themselves in an attempt to stop the dark cloud, but beyond that this story focuses on Donna’s determination to have her fairy tale wedding and the Doctor banging his head against the wall trying to figure out just what’s so special about Goratania, a small country with a language that not even HE can read!

The comedy comes from the interactions between characters – the Queen Mother (played by Alice Krige, the Borg Queen from Star Trek as well as numerous other movies including Chariots of Fire who absolutely detests Donna, the mama’s boy Prince who continually tries to convince Donna that he loves her and that his mother loves her and she just needs to “give Mum a chance” and how everything he’s done is for Goratania. The way Blake Ritson plays it, the listener is wondering the entire time whether or not he does love Donna, as sometime it’s obvious he’s not while other times there is just the slightest chance that he might be telling the truth. Beth Chalmers, a Big Finish veteran, plays the handmaiden Hortense who also bounces off Donna/Tate very well, as well as also serving as the sounding board to the Doctor during his moments of being incredibly clever. Alan Cox is Death, the demanding figure who wants what was his. The truth behind Death’s actual identity is very well done (the Doctor says at one point “nice to meet you Death, we just keep missing each other) and the reason for 500 years of peace is also a nice revelation. The standout moment comes during Donna’s (wedding) dance with Death, with Donna’s plan to deal with him having to be heard to believed. But it’s definitely quintessential Donna Noble.

If you’re a long-time Big Finish fan, you probably bought this box set the day it went on pre-order. If you weren’t a Big Finish fan, or had never even heard of Big Finish, you may have picked up this box set solely because you were a fan of David Tennant, or more specifically (maybe) a fan of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, or even more specifically (definitely) a fan of the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble. Well, as I mentioned earlier, all of the great and grand things about this Doctor/companion pairing are on display in this box set. From the very beginning of Technophobia, the hyperactivity of the Tenth Doctor and the “I am barely putting up with you, sunshine” attitude of Donna Noble are at the forefront, immediately quashed down by Bex inquiring if the two of them are…together (”No.” “Of course not.”). Just hearing the two together, how easily they play off each other and off of other characters, the quiet “not quite insults” they make about each other, the Doctor not wanting Donna to leave him to get married but understanding why she wants to even as she keeps trying to tell him she doesn’t WANT to get married, Donna trusting in the Doctor (“I have a plan and it involves the Doctor showing up halfway through to fix the rest.”) and the Doctor trusting in Donna after taking care of the cache of Time Reavers, Donna oohing and awing over a train driver with muscles or insisting on wearing a wenching dress so the Doctor could take her to the Planet of the Boys (which the Doctor insists is NOT a real place)…I could honestly go on and on and on, but if you’ve made it this far you can hopefully hear my complete and utter joy in these words. Nicholas Briggs said in Vortex magazine that the toughest part of putting the box set together was getting Tennant and Tate in the studio at the same time as they were so busy. Recording them separately was NEVER an option. Just hearing them together once again…and that theme music, complete with opening sound effect…goose bumps. These aren’t Big Finish scripts with the Tenth Doctor randomly slotted in because Tennant was available. Technophobia, Time Reaver, Death and the Queen…these ARE Tenth Doctor stories

The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume 1 are three-stand alone stories. There’s no story arc as in Dark Eyes or the two War Doctor releases, and there’s no mention or callback to Rose Tyler’s appearances during Donna’s season or the events of Turn Left. These three stories could easily be slotted in anywhere between The Fires of Pompeii and Silence in the Library as televised episodes and nothing would have changed. There’s nothing weird, different, or experimental about these stories. They’re exactly what fans hoped for – more enjoyable stories starring two beloved characters from the show’s history, and Big Finish, Catherine Tate, and David Tennant more than deliver. Top marks.

What makes me the most excited about this box set? Volume 1. Meaning there just might be more stories in our future…

Cobi’s Synopsis – Big Finish, David Tennant, Catherine Tate, three solid stories, and the sensation of hearing the Tenth Doctor’s theme again make The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Volume 1 a worthwhile purchase for any fan of Doctor Who and an almost mandatory one for fans of Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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