The Tenth Doctor Chronicles

Posted in Audio by - April 21, 2018
The Tenth Doctor Chronicles

Released April 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following Destiny of the Doctor and the more expansive The Ninth Doctor Chronicles that firmly proved the popularity and viability of the modern era of Doctor Who in the audio medium without the lead actors present, Big Finish now delves back into the David Tennant era with the aptly-titled The Tenth Doctor Chronicles. Since the release of Big Finish’s original Tenth Doctor serial ‘Death’s Deal’ featuring Donna Noble, of course, David Tennant, Billie Piper, and Catherine Tate have all again reprised their beloved lead roles for the company alongside so many more actors of memorable recurring and supporting characters, meaning that this release carries with it much higher expectations to prove that this range can coexist with the full-cast audios of the same era being produced.

Helen Goldwyn’s ‘The Taste of Death’ opens this set as the Doctor and Rose sample the high life on the resort planet MXQ1 run by the famous Bluestone brothers. With the options to visit luxury accommodations and exotic beaches, the two instead become fascinated by the culinary delights on display, and Rose soon finds herself following her fellow guests’ example by gluttonously and continuously devouring a particular dish without hesitation or remorse. The Doctor remains unaffected by whatever seems to be triggering this response, and he soon learns that the chef Orentino is here to look for his brother, himself a chef looking to earn his degree who has gone missing without warning, ostensibly under the pretense of being headhunted for a lucrative contract like so many others before him. With the Doctor joining the chef and Rose taking on the role of elite guest to look into the business dealings of the Bluestone brothers, it soon becomes clear that not all is at it seems as themes of slavery and a very particular premium export business come to prominence.

Realistically, there are only a very few select paths that a story about people going missing in a food-based setting can go, but Goldwyn does well to keep the ultimate truth hidden while delving into the darker underside of this resort world and the appetite its food produces before revealing the Raxacoricofallapatorian tie beneath the Bluestones’ famed exteriors. The cover of the set and the blurbs for each of the remaining titles hint at the Slitheens’ involvement in ‘The Taste of Death,’ and Goldwyn does well to lessen the overt comedy that pervaded their initial television appearances to amplify their very visceral threat without sacrificing any of their unique quirkiness. Indeed, with callbacks to those early episodes and a greater development of their desire for fortune and status in relation to their extended family members, this is a far more nuanced take on the species even as the stakes and schemes remain as grandiose and horrifying as ever. ‘The Taste of Death’ is well-paced and well-directed, revealing key information at a steady pace to ensure emotional investment until the end, and just as Arinzé Kene excels as the emotion-fueled Orentino, Jacob Dudman passes his first Big Finish test as the Tenth Doctor with aplomb by capturing the cadence and enthusiasm of David Tennant to remarkable effect in the vast majority of scenes, enhancing the verisimilitude while also narrating and giving a voice to Rose.

Matthew J Elliott continues the set with ‘Backtrack’ in which the Doctor and Marth after crashing in the vortex find themselves upon time ship The Outcome that offers reasonably affordable temporal cruises. Finding out that something as important as time travel is being used simply for commercial profit infuriates the Doctor, but the corners that the host Nathan Hobb has cut to make this practice so lucrative quickly come back to haunt everyone aboard. Freeman Agyeman is the only Tenth Doctor main companion to not yet reprise her role for Big Finish, but ‘Backtrack’ exemplifies the very best of the character of Martha Jones by putting aside the unrequited love angle of her relationship with the Doctor and bringing to the forefront her extensive medical training when a normally harmless fungus suddenly becomes deadly due to faulty temporal equipment. Extraterrestrial diseases are, naturally, something beyond the scope of her textbook and practical experience, but her medical principles are sound and she makes the most of the information given to her in a high-pressure situation to make a meaningful difference for the many different beings around her affected as the prospect of an even more dangerous outbreak looms large.

John Culshaw gives a memorable performance as the shady Hobb who cares only for himself even as the lives of those under his charge come to be at risk, willing to literally take the nuclear option to protect his own interests and reputation rather than face any sort of legal or moral fallout from his actions. Culshaw imbues Hobb with a suave and charismatic voice and mannerism, making his inevitable self-centredness all the more effective within the context of the story that makes the most of the remaining time jumps the ship is capable of performing to wonderfully enhance the overall drama and tension. Packing a few surprises near the end of its confident and visual but fairly straightforward plot, ‘Backtrack’ again features strong pacing and another strong impression of David Tennant from Jacob Dudman who recaptures the essence of the Tenth Doctor’s enthusiasm, anger, and determination with ease while also providing tight narration and a generalised performance of Martha to provide a steady experience from beginning to end.

James Goss proved adept at writing for a companion’s mother with Jackie Tyler in The Ninth Doctor Chronicles tale ‘Retail Therapy,’ and in ‘Wild Pastures’ he turns his attention to Donna Noble’s mother Sylvia as this set continues its journey through the Tenth Doctor’s life. With strange things happening at the titular rest home, it’s Sylvia who steps up when the Doctor calls upon the Nobles for help, Goss tapping into the good nature and intentions of the character that would slowly start to shine through her brash exterior at the end of and after Donna’s time in the TARDIS. ‘Wild Pastures’ represents Jacqueline King’s first reprisal of Sylvia since David Tennant’s swansong, but she expertly recaptures the character’s proud and more acerbic tones that overlay her inherent compassion and eventual fear and confusion as people go missing and the Doctor becomes rather less than helpful while they are trapped within the rest home’s boundaries. Indeed, though she is one who doesn’t notice the obvious regardng the home’s lowly staff before her, she has no qualms about turning the dubious end-of-life financial scheme to her advantage to elevate those around her and allow their escape, providing a more direct means of resolution than might often be conferred in a story with the Doctor in control, thus highlighting the unique nature of Sylvia all the more.

Precisely because the Doctor falls victim to the scheme to some extent and cannot remember the most basic of information, ‘Wild Pastures’ takes a fairly unique approach to telling its tale that may not appeal to some as much as to others. There’s no denying that seeing the Tenth Doctor become rather fascinated with the stories on television and the denizens of the rest home is both charming and strangely believable, but in a story that’s played more comedically from the start, this is absolutely a starring vehicle for Sylvia as the Doctor only offers the most cursory of help to open locked doors and nudge characters in the right direction as needed. This is not a Doctor-lite episode by any means, but the Doctor is very much more of a secondary character here, albeit one who Goss’s words and Dudman’s stylings still bring to life spectacularly in these very atypical circumstances. ‘Wild Pastures’ dares to do something different and delivers an intriguingly quirky tale fronted by a strong-willed companion the Doctor doesn’t necessarily want and buoyed by true emotion and poignancy at crucial moments.

Guy Adams closes out this volume with ‘Last Chance’ as the Doctor bumps into Lady Christina de Souza on the African plains while trying to save a few creatures from extinction. This is a noble cause for which the Doctor proves willing to transgress the laws of time, but Adams wisely chooses to let the action play out naturally by having the heroes join forces to race against time to save the final great auks in Iceland rather than preach about conservation and the evils of trophy hunting and other human activities. The result is a grand adventure that finally allows Christina the opportunity to take in the magnificent splendour of the TARDIS while also testing her mettle alongside the Doctor as they must fight against the elements in this harsh environment at a crucial moment in naturalist history. Michelle Ryan effortlessly steps back into the role of the aristocratic Christina who thieves simply for the thrill of it following her sole televised appearance in ‘Planet of the Dead,’ brimming with an easy charm and confidence on the outside but internally lamenting the fact that the Doctor refused her request to join him on his journeys during their previous encounter. She’s brave and cool in the face of danger, and her moral compass is firmly aligned with the Doctor’s when confronted with true evil, proving once again just how memorable she could have been as a companion and setting a strong precedent for her upcoming self-titled Big Finish series.

Unfortunately, despite some truly wonderful interplay between Dudman and Ryan that sparkles with electricity and energy, this is the story where the setup of the small cast and narration subjectively proves to be the most problematic. The threat here is a simultaneously immense and very personal one, a singular man going through Earth’s history to capture the last remaining members of critically endangered species to capture, kill, and add to his own collection. This naturally draws a certain parallel to the Doctor as the last(-ish) of the Time Lords and the different paths these two characters have taken, but because the villain is given no true voice of his own with a distinct actor and is thus purposefully written as a man of few words to circumvent this, he never really comes alive as more than a simply generic evildoer committing immoral but not illegal acts rather than the complex but misguided individual that the script seems to suggest on many occasions. The narration also takes on a much more invasive role in this story, with Dudman’s narrator actively drawing listeners to different times through flashbacks to both remind listeners of key previous events and to fill in plot elements that happened earlier outside of the audience’s frame of attention. This certainly is a valid storytelling device and adds a unique flavour to this release compared to the others, but it also seems more intrusive than it needs to be and breaks up the natural flow and progression of the story a bit too much.

Overall, then, Big Finish must be commended for being willing to take this risk by offering narrated dramatizations of a recent era that the actors have proven willing to revisit and recreate. The advent of Jacob Dudman and his uncanny impersonation of the Tenth Doctor that is nearly pitch perfect for the vast majority of these four stories unquestionably lends a degree of authenticity to this set, and he proves more than capable of anchoring new adventures within this unique format. With some stories that are perfect for the audio medium and some that could easily be envisioned on television, The Tenth Doctor Chronicles offers a thrilling whirlwind tour through the Tenth Doctor’s wildly diverse life that uses the innate charisma of its actors to offer four distinctly pleasant and enjoyable experiences.

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