Donna Noble: Kidnapped!

Posted in Audio by - March 11, 2020
Donna Noble: Kidnapped!

Released March 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Every companion undergoes personal growth while traveling alongside the Doctor and confronting injustices and uncomfortable truths, and in turn each companion changes the Doctor by affording the ages-old Time Lord a new set of eyes through which to experience the universe that always seems in need of a helping hand. This unique relationship has perhaps never been quite so spectacularly displayed, however, as when Donna Noble joined the Tenth Doctor following a bombastic and riotous one-off debut in ‘The Runaway Bride.’ Set after her emotionally harrowing experiences after having her ideal life presented and taken away in the two-part ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead,’ Donna Noble: Kidnapped! thrusts the one-time Chiswick temp into the spotlight as a whole new universe of danger awaits her while she simply looks for a return to normality away from the TARDIS.

Attempting to bring Donna out of herself, Sylvia has requested that Donna’s married schoolgirl friend Natalie join her daughter for a catchup and a harmless round of speed dating in ‘Out of This World’ by Jacqueline Rayner. Wisely, however, Rayner begins her story on a much more somber note as the two Nobles discuss Donna’s travels with the Doctor’s and the emotional harm that she has suffered and could continue to incur. Few characters have matured quite so much as Donna within a tenure on the show, and Catherine Tate beautifully attests to the sheer wonder Donna experiences with an implicit understanding that the good may always be counteracted in some way by the bad. Earnestly asking her mother if she would ever trade any of her own experiences in her past, this is a rare moment of pure openness between the two very strong-willed characters that was never really seen on television, and this more tender moment as well as a more aggressively protective one later do tremendous work in further fleshing out the well-meaning parental dynamic of Sylvia that would come to focus in David Tennant’s swansong during the threat that Donna could remember everything she was once forced to forget.

Unsurprisingly, however, the speed dating scene is one filled with levity as Donna certainly pays little regard to advertising herself truthfully and assumes that she will make the cut with every man she meets. Tate and Niky Wardley have over the years crafted an immense relationship and chemistry through other projects, and that familiarity instantly bleeds through to ‘Out of This World’ to lend this rekindled friendship the sense of closeness and longevity that is needed to realistically carry the narrative weight of this box set. And although the guest characters don’t quite come to life as sparklingly as the core cast, the script with its relatively intimate cast certainly introduces plenty of misdirection to keep the ultimate truth behind a recent spate of bizarre disappearances unknown until the very end. Indeed, bookended by the Doctor Who theme of the era rather than a unique tune specific for Donna, ‘Out of This World’ truly manages to feel like a Doctor-lite episode that makes natural use of Donna’s current state of mind, culminating in a powerful scene that truly shows Donna assuming control of the narrative as the past she looked to temporarily leave behind comes crashing back into her life.

Forced to pilot the TARDIS at gunpoint to keep Natalie and herself alive, Donna inadvertently lands on the planet Valdacki in the middle of an invasion in the spectacularly titled ‘Spinvasion’ by John Dorney. Donna, of course, would go on to take an increasingly prominent role outside of traditional companion territory as her series reached its culmination with “Journey’s End,” and so it’s fitting to see her assume the mantle of the Doctor and to seize the opportunity to bring about a change for the better even as her de facto companion wants nothing more than to leave. Tate easily assumes control of this story with Donna’s confidence, brashness, and shrewdness all on display, and Dorney peppers in plenty of genuinely humorous dialogue to ensure that the momentum in a story about the power of PR in persuading a population to accept invasion never slows. With Natalie capably uncovering key information to pass on to those who can likewise affect change, ‘Spinvasion’ deftly captures the essence of the Doctor and companion relationship and again highlights the personal growth that Donna has undergone in such a short period of time.

Timothy Bentinck, Phil Cornwell, and Nisha Nayar all combine to bring this very unique invasion to life while maintaining a sense of gravity despite the very ludicrous notion at its heart. Indeed, the tremendous comedic touches interspersed throughout and the strong performances that accentuate them so well more than compensate for the fairly straightforward trajectory of the plot that strangely casts aside the eponymous kidnapped angle almost straight from the start. In fact, even though the soundscape doesn’t do much to suggest the world itself or the alien threat visually, the story manages to work just as successfully by leaving so much up to the imagination and instead focusing on the fascinating dynamic that Tate and Wardley bring to these roles in a situation that neither character expected to encounter. At any other time, ‘Spinvasion’ might be seen as a light bit of filler filled with vibrant characters and a unique central concept, but the current state of PR and the gullibility of the masses when presented with anything presented as even remotely true regardless of its veracity gives this title an added weight and relevance with a story that becomes all the more bleak in that context.

Attempting to return home after their unexpected adventure on Valdacki, Donna instead pilots the TARDIS to the Middle Ages and a monastery under siege from literal burning knights in James Goss’s ‘The Sorcerer of Albion.’ The great sorcerer Parval has summoned Merlin for assistance, and Donna quickly assumes that guise just as the Doctor would in ordinary circumstances, only to just as quickly end up imprisoned for failing to use her magic to help during this crisis. With Donna accordingly sidelined for a significant portion of the story, ‘The Sorcerer of Albion’ thrusts Natalie into the spotlight, and Wardley gives a profound performance that emotionally captures the true effects that traveling in the TARDIS can have on a person as well as the toll that being in a sometimes-strained marriage has brought upon her. Through two stories Natalie has already become a dynamic presence, but it’s here that she becomes a truly well-rounded and nuanced figure, and the narrative deftly incorporates both of these facets as it becomes clear that the TARDIS has come here for a reason and as the interactive hologram takes on the guise of Natalie’s husband- the last person she wants to be here with- to assist her in her search for a particular book that provides a gloriously long-standing continuity reference.

Of course, the titular sorcerer is integral to this story, and David Schofield gives a sterling performance alongside Lydia West as Parval’s apprentice and granddaughter Vivien. Providing a fitting comparison to the First Doctor and Susan early in their travels that is at times poignant and at others humorous, this pairing truly allows ‘The Sorcerer of Albion’ to revel in the historical inaccuracies of the so-called pseudo-historical genre, and the suggestion that the granddaughter is far wiser and perhaps even more competent than her seemingly powerful grandfather who may be little more than just a normal man is an intriguing element for the script to play up that should sit well with fans of all ages. Naturally, the script toys with familiar elements such as advanced science being mistaken for magic, but the immersive soundscape and genuine sense of fun surrounding Natalie’s surprisingly emotional journey that allows her to connect with Donna much more deeply help to create an engaging journey that both makes use of everything that has been suggested before and sets the scene for a bombastic finale back in the present day.

Returning home in Matt Fitton’s ‘The Chiswick Cuckoos,’ Donna is shocked to find that her mother is under the impression that she has finally gotten on with her life and become the ideal daughter she has always wanted despite being absent with Natalie aboard the TARDIS for a month. Following a familiar voice that leads her to the psychic paper, Donna and Natalie soon find themselves thrust in the middle of another alien invasion that was hinted at in the opener of this series. The whole of the Earth is at stake and the Doctor is uncharacteristically out of action though by no means absent from the main narrative due to the clever reimagination of a trusted device, and Catherine Tate and Niky Wardley give their most powerful performances of the set to highlight just how incredibly capable and brave these two women are as they quickly uncover and directly take on the nefarious Collectors’ duplicate scheme that features such an expansive scope that both Big Finish’s own UNIT officer Josh Carter as well as David Tennant’s own Tenth Doctor come to cameo.

Any story featuring duplicates is inherently a difficult one to realistically pull off, but the writing and acting in ‘The Chiswick Cuckoos’ keep what could have easily become a convoluted and confusing affair from becoming anything of the sort. With plenty of twists in its narrative and a surprising climax, this is a story that flies by effortlessly with a brisk pace that never relents and with incredible emotions at its core as Niky and Donna connect ever more deeply over the different paths their lives have taken and how reality and expectations have diverged, as Sylvia’s best intentions don’t always yield the best results, and as the Doctor and Donna share a poignant scene that shows just how understanding the Doctor can be and how deep their true friendship is. This is certainly the most complete tale of this set and uses the immense character work that the preceding three serials as well as all of Donna’s earlier and ensuing adventures put in place to maximize on this beloved companion’s potential whose inevitable and heartbreaking fate begins its approach. Thus, while Donna Noble: Kidnapped! as a whole may not be wholly groundbreaking, its individual entries are all immensely enjoyable, expertly directed and acted, and absolutely certain to fulfill the desires of fans of Catherine Tate as well as of Donna’s immense personal journey alongside the Doctor.  

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.