Released May 2016
As enjoyable as the Tenth Doctor’s televised era was, especially with Donna as the companion, it’s an unavoidable truth that viewers unfortunately did not get to see much of the universe beyond Earth. There are obviously some fantastic exceptions to that statement, but writer Jenny Colgan takes the amazing duo and places them in the darker, grittier corner of the universe on the spaceport Calibris as they search for a replacement fluid link for the TARDIS.
The pre-title sequences does a nice job introducing John Banks’s villainous octopus-like Gully, and it’s clear that this is going to be a grimmer affair them most stories of the era as the grimy, seemingly-authoritarian state of Calibris is gradually introduced. Of course, not all is quite as it seems, and the titular time reaver gun is a bit of a dual-edged prospect, able to slow down time for an individual so that they can experience prolonged happiness or pain depending on the circumstance. This is a truly terrifying concept for a weapon that would not feel out of place in the depths of the Time War. Sabrina Bartlett brings out an immense likability in Cora despite her misguided attempts, and the ultimate revelation about her comes quickly but makes perfect sense in the context of the story.
The sound design in any typical Big Finish production can often be taken for granted, but it is exceptionally strong here. Regarding the time reaver itself, the viewpoint of both the victim and witness is explored, the former expressed as an echoing void and the latter expressed as very slow speech. More impressive is the handling of the raucous spaceport, though, which clearly has the potential to be overwhelming given all of the day-to-day sounds and people present. Colgan included a clever plot device to circumvent this sensory overload with the introduction of psychic earplugs that can filter out anything someone is not trying to focus on, and these end up playing a bigger role later in the story in a couple of very well-realized scenes.
This story, much like ‘Technophobia’ before it, reiterates the sentiment that Donna truly is the perfect match for the Tenth Doctor, and Colgan expertly captures their easy camaraderie. ‘Time Reaver’ is filled to the brim with excellent performances both from the leads and the supporting cast, and the inclusion of Dan Starkey and Terry Molloy in roles other than their famed Strax and Davros, respectively, lends an air of familiarity to the otherworldly events. Colgan is clearly very confident in her writing style and she deftly weaves in elements from Russell T Davies’s writing as well, especially with Donna casually being noted to have something on her back. The overall story elicits just about every emotion along the way, and though it may ultimately be a bit mechanical and formulaic as the deeper mystery slowly comes to light, Tennant is afforded some very classically Doctor-like moments along the way as he goes from boyish charm to utter fury and even shows off his swordsmanship once again.
‘Time Reaver’ may not be the most unique story, but it’s another very strong entry that truly feels like it could be a missing story from the era. Full of multi-faceted and deep characters that show both their good and bad sides as well, an immensely vivid setting, some nice humour mixed in with the unsettling drama, and a dark coda, Colgan makes a strong debut in the feature-length audio medium and hopefully continues to makes contributions going forward.