The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles

Posted in Audio by - August 24, 2018
The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles

Released August 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Big Finish has for years found immense success revisiting classic series Doctors’ eras with contemporary cast members voicing the role of his or her Doctor in The Companion Chronicles, and the company has likewise found undoubted success with its more recent forays into the realms of the modern update. While the decision to essentially recast the recent iterations of the titular Time Lord in order to offer a more Doctor-centric take on the more narration-driven format of The Companion Chronicles was understandably met with some trepidation, especially with David Tennant reprising his role for full-cast audio adventures, Nicholas Briggs in The Ninth Doctor Chronicles and Jacob Dudman in The Tenth Doctor Chronicles nonetheless proved remarkably adept at capturing the tones and nuances of their intended incarnations, offering an exciting and believable alternate avenue for these beloved eras to continue to develop as Jacob Dudman now returns to headline The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles.

Through the eyes of Amy Pond, the early Eleventh Doctor era unfolded with certain fairy tale elements throughout, and AK Benedict perfectly captures that thematic thread in ‘The Calendar Man’ as the Doctor and Amy land on a mist-shrouded world where nobody thinks anything is wrong except for one young woman hiding in the shadows and persistently writing in her notebook. The intensifying fog of the setting brings with it an immense foreboding and claustrophobia, and as colonists continue to go missing and history appears to be rewritten, the sense of unease only continues to develop as the Doctor on his final regeneration faces his own mortality when a figure from his peoples’ legends makes his presence known. It is unsurprisingly with the titular Calendar Man that the story excels, and this being who will not stop until he kills the Doctor represents judgment on how the Doctor has lived his many lives. This being is said to kill people who have not lived well and wisely, writing them out of history into his book at a rate of one life per day, and though he would allegedly die if he convicted an innocent, the Doctor is not so sure that he can proclaim his own innocence.

It’s quite apparent that Matt Smith’s vocal inflections are much closer than David Tennant’s to Jacob Dudman’s natural voice, meaning that there are unsurprisingly several scenes in which the similarity between the two is staggering. Of course, this also does mean that the narration and the Doctor’s lines do sometimes bleed into each other a little bit before they can be distinguished when delivered in rapid succession, but this and the unsurprising fact that his Amy is far removed from Karen Gillan’s are minor quibbles in what represents a solid foundation for this new set of stories. With the steady hand of Helen Goldwyn directing and a strong performance from Eleanor Crooks as the woman whose writing proves to be so important in this ever-changing world, ‘The Calendar Man’ captures the mystery and excitement of its intended era wonderfully with a clever spin on a familiar concept of the time.

The set continues with ‘The Top of the Tree’ as Simon Guerrier further fleshes out the Doctor’s time with Kazran Sardick that was only hinted at in ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Here the two find themselves tangled in the branches of a very large tree that has its own environment and gravity, soon becoming entwined in the middle of a fight for survival among the myriad of species within this strange ecosystem. With richly-described flora and fauna within this evocative environment, this energetic story with an incredible amount of verticality as the Doctor and his acquaintances descend and ascend to stay ahead of the mounting dangers takes a very visual core concept and translates it to the audio medium exceedingly well.

‘The Top of the Tree’ features no evil villain as such, and simply showing a multifaceted struggle for survival as the Doctor attempts to help a tribe of primitive humans that has a long, mysterious history with the tree and its many levels is a refreshing angle for the story to take even if it does take away from some of the more focused emotion that the Doctor so often exudes when he can put a face to his foe. Still, as the tension mounts and the environment turns ever more dangerous, the father/teacher role that the Doctor again fills for Kazran as this young man learns to be more confident and self-reliant always remains front and centre, and Jacob Dudman and Danny Horn have an immense chemistry that truly makes it seems as though these two have been together for several journeys already. Though the story itself doesn’t directly play into the developing arc that Kazran’s Christmas special revealed, the unique setting and pacing add an extra element to this wholly self-contained and tense story that only falters by sometimes becoming a bit too repetitive with scenes of climbing even with the different dangers faced.

In another story without a traditional companion, ‘The Light Keepers’ by Roy Gill sees the Doctor once more cross paths with the enigmatic Dorium Maldovar, the 52nd-century black marketer who proved so important when fulfilling his debt to the Doctor at Demon’s Run. This is the first performance of Simon Fisher-Becker as Dorium since 2011, and he perfectly captures the cadence and tones of this unique being perfectly in a script that emphasizes the undoubted friendship filled with aggravation and provocation between the Time Lord and him. With the Doctor owing Dorium some 260,000 credits after a typically bombastic entrance and Dorium impounding the TARDIS until he receives payment, the two team up once more to look into just why the self-styled Beacon People are so fervently digging for minerals in his shuttle park and what really goes on inside their lighthouse.

This is a tale that perfectly portrays the contrasting flippancy and severity of the Eleventh Doctor, and he quite rightly becomes wholly consumed by the mystery before him as he tries to determine if this particular beacon is one proclaiming safety or danger. As the light within continues to become ever brighter despite resources continuing to falter, the Doctor realises that this lighthouse is not a lighthouse at all, and the mantra of these beings tending to the light relates to the enduring imprisonment of an ancient force that is on the verge of returning. In an unexpected but welcome bit of modern series audio cross-range continuity, that force is revealed to be the Lux that featured so heavily in Tales from New Earth, and featuring them in a standalone story helps to further develop the potentially immense threat that they pose. Featuring an intriguing twist on the Lux’s Lumen as the Doctor tries to prevent a disastrous reunion that will allow the Lux to spread unfettered, the very visual nature of the waking Colossus ends up being the more effective portion of the Lux threat whose motivations remain somewhat generic and ill-defined without knowledge of their previous appearances. Nonetheless, it’s very much the character work that comes to the forefront in ‘The Light Keepers’ as Dorium becomes more directly involved in the action and provides a key item that proves vital to the Doctor remaining alive, providing another enjoyable instalment fueled by strong performances and steady direction.

Rounding out this collection is ‘False Coronets’ by Alice Cavender that picks up on the show’s hints of Clara knowing Jane Austen as the Doctor and Clara arrive in a nineteenth century London dungeon in which Austen awaits her fate at the guillotine. This is an 1815 Britain with no Prince Regent following the dethroning of the King and is instead a republic under control of the Chief Operating Engineer who came to power in 1802. Knowing this is not how history should play out, the duo travels back to 1800 before they witness Austen’s fate become fixed and tries to make sense of the land of anachronisms and differences before them. With an unknown force making use of a dubious process that structurally alters the brain to reinforce new material, the revolution is quickly gaining momentum, and the possible future glimpsed continues to become more likely as one unexpected individual strives to leave this place no matter the collateral damage.

This is the story that best captures the often frenetic pacing of the Eleventh Doctor era as the Doctor follows the royal route while Clara and Austen follow a mysterious figure who has just recently instated himself in the local culture. Indeed, it’s the assured chemistry between these two that carries the bulk of the episode, and Clara’s voice and mannerisms is much more in line with Dudman’s own than Amy Pond’s to make the verisimilitude all that much stronger throughout this more complex narrative. Nathalie Buscombe gives an incredible performance as the strong-willed and intelligent author who finds her beliefs challenged but who never falters in her conviction, and Austen’s willingness to accept and adapt to concepts so incredibly alien to her time in this science fiction twist on a very period piece makes for a memorable appearance that likewise brings out the best in Clara whose own strong will becomes so crucial to the chaotic resolution at hand. ‘False Coronets’ is arguably the strongest story of the set simply because of the risks it is willing to take with time and its storytelling conventions that truly make it seem like a lost story of its intended era, and it unquestionably caps off this intriguing look into a much-loved era with incredible style.

The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles should appeal to any fan of Matt Smith’s tenure even without Matt Smith being involved given those many moments throughout in which Jacob Dudman eerily evokes the unpredictable mannerisms and nuances of this multifaceted regeneration. Though not all of the stories deliver a profound emotional or narrative weight and though the incredible amount of roles Dudman is asked to perform do occasionally if momentarily bleed into one another, the overall result is another polished and well-directed example of how Big Finish will be able to ensure that the more modern incarnations of the beloved Time Lord continue to experience the wonders and dangers of exploring all of space and time for years to come.

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