The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Volume Two

Posted in Audio by - September 21, 2021
The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Volume Two

Released September 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The Companion Chronicles successfully allowed Big Finish to explore the eras of the earliest Doctors with a small cast and interwoven narration, and it’s no surprise that the company looked to that format to bring the eras of the more modern Doctors into its fold without many of the lead actors reprising their roles. However, Big Finish has steadily shifted away from narrated stories to full-cast adventures in order to increase the scope and dynamics of the stories being offered, and The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles Volume Two has followed suit with Jacob Dudman’s iteration of the Eleventh Doctor returning for four more stories.

Doris V Sutherland opens this second volume with ‘The Evolving Dead’ as the Doctor arrives on the space station Romeo. At its core, this is a story of the Doctor crossing paths with the undead, variations of which have been attempted with varying degrees of success throughout the years. However, as the Doctor quickly comes to realize that he is nowhere near as alone as the station’s artificial intelligence insists, he likewise discovers that this strange condition has affected the station’s inhabitants in wildly different ways. Thus, while he is certainly on the menu for many, he is able to converse with others to better uncover the truth behind what has happened and the altogether more fearful danger that could spread unfettered. Of course, this does mean that several generic zombie tropes are rolled out in short order, but the variety of the threats on display as well as the parasitic notion at their core that the Doctor unwittingly gave second life to provide suitably engaging twists that maintain a freshness in a story that could have so easily fallen flat. Avita Jay is wonderful as the guiding and unnerving Evo, and although the important backstory between Babs and Maxwell does perhaps overstay its welcome given just how frequently the past relationship is addressed in the confined setting that creates such a tense atmosphere, Ayesha Antoine and Tom Alexander likewise give a great energy to a pacey script that captures the spirit of this era quite well. Strangely given his always-enthralling performances, it’s Dudman who falters somewhat here as he seems unable to hold onto the actual voice of Matt Smith as consistently as in previous adventures. Nonetheless, he expertly maintains the mannerisms and inflections of the actor, and although ‘The Evolving Dead’ is hardly the most revolutionary tale to reintroduce this Doctor to the audio medium with full-cast adventures, it’s certainly engaging and hints at the greatness that this format could allow.

Daniel Blythe takes the Doctor and his search for an alien intelligence to the shabby seaside town of Bayview in ‘The Day Before They Came.’ There, he stumbles upon Kayla Worthington, a young girl who seems surprisingly open to and understanding of the more advanced and alien ideas the Doctor presents. She, too, has been waiting for an alien invasion as she logs the events of each passing day, and this unlikely pairing creates a unique dynamic as an altogether more dangerous alien presence is revealed and Kayla’s true story comes to light. Unfortunately, while Kayla’s arc is an intriguing one that certainly taps into the desire that so many feel about wanting something more, the spongiform entity that has inadvertently been wreaking local havoc is decidedly less interesting. To be fair, Doctor Who stories that don’t have a genuine threat are quite rare, and the well-intentioned alien who was sent simply to monitor humanity but who arrived off course and in the middle of an environment that does not agree with its physiognomy is a strong enough foundation, but the quick escalation to a planet-wide threat of destruction because of that mistake seems to come out of nowhere and feels as if it was included simply to create a climax with amplified danger. It’s tonally jarring after a more subdued pacing throughout and serves to undo much of the sympathy that built up throughout the story. ‘The Day Before They Came’ is a story filled with smaller superfluous scenes that really only serve to extend the running time, and although there are plenty of strong character-driven moments as well, the overall experience is an unbalanced one that doesn’t carry with it any true sense of pace until the rushed ending. Still, Dudman gives a much more consistent performance here to capture Matt Smith’s intonations expertly, and the fairly unique premise at the story’s core is strong enough to help carry a story that doesn’t quite ever decide what it wants to be.

In Christopher Cooper’s ‘The Melting Pot,’ the Doctor lands on the planet Piir to partake in the local cuisine but is shocked to find the world and society before him so vastly changed from what he remembers. This is one of the rare Doctor Who stories to take place on an alien world inhabited solely by the natives with only one human present, but while the audio medium seems to be perfectly suited for doing so without the constraints of makeup and special effects budgets, the end result is something quite muddled as the natives come to life and signal their unique nature through an incessant trilling before and after each statement. The pitch of the voices expertly conveys the smaller stature of these beings, but the mannerisms come off as gratingly repetitive as the story wears on. Interestingly, in a story that quite prominently features religion and the belief system religion inspires, Cooper chooses to focus on the ability of certain individuals to subvert that belief system for personal gain. However, despite many engaging visuals- including of bow ties- and a local history that remains unknown or forgotten, the plot itself is unable to step out of fairly generic territory, disappointingly following the expected path of making the limited human presence the malignant force acting upon this planet. Nicholas Asbury gives a suitably strong performance as Preacher Stem who says all of the right things and has the ability to inspire those around him, but the story plays out like a slow march to the inevitable from the outset. It’s hard to fault Big Finish or Doctor Who for looking to further develop the vast potential that alien settings and societies allow, but regardless of the fairly formulaic plot, this is probably a story better suited for the pages of a comic than audio given the chosen sounds and voices somewhat letting down the production. This is certainly Dudman’s strongest performance at the Doctor yet of this set, but it’s very much a melting pot of ideas and sounds that don’t quite mesh into a satisfying whole.

Tessa North’s ‘A Tragical History’ closes out this second volume of The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles with the Doctor arriving at Hythe Prison. Life here is miserable for most, but others are living out their best lives within its walls; unfortunately, the vestiges of prestige and wealth on display are little more than a Faustian bargain, a simple distilment of humanity’s basest desires to mask perpetual confinement and death at the hands of the Ilyani, beings of pure consciousness. Much like the previous story, ‘A Tragical History’ explores the manner by which an external force can exploit a set of beliefs and norms for its own gains, but the internal exploration and characterization that this particular setup allows is incredibly satisfying as it encapsulates the internal struggles and prisons that the many different facets of individuals face while proving that even the Doctor is not immune to the whims of desire that can so easily overtake an individual in the right circumstances. There is at times an almost philosophical tone to the unique realities within the physical and mental prisons on display, creating a depth and resonance that was lacking from this set and resulting in one of the more satisfying recent offerings in any Big Finish range. The supporting performances of Laura Aikman, Bethan Dixon Bate, Paul Panting, and Venice Von Someren are uniformly strong and create an emotional environment that is far more grandiose that the confines of the prison should allow, and Jacob Dudman is at his very best as he effortlessly captures the vocal stylings of Matt Smith. Without question, this is the standout story of this second set, offering a tight and engaging plot that haunts and satisfies in equal measure as it looks inward to explore the best and worst of humanity and the prison’s occupants. After three intriguing stories that failed to fully realize the potential of the Eleventh Doctor era on audio, ‘A Tragical History’ proves just what Big Finish and full-cast adventures are truly able to offer even with Matt Smith yet to reprise his famed role.

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