The Tenth Doctor Chronicles: Defender of the Earth

Posted in Audio by - November 24, 2023
The Tenth Doctor Chronicles: Defender of the Earth

Released November 2023


With David Tennant returning to screens as the mysterious Fourteenth Doctor to mark Doctor Who’s sixtieth anniversary, Big Finish dips into the recent past to join in the celebrations by bringing Tennant’s iconic Tenth Doctor- as voiced by Jacob Dudman- back to the fore in the second volume of The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, Defender of the Earth.

‘The Thing in the Forest’ by Trevor Baxendale takes the Doctor to the relatively little-explored Norwegian reaches of World War II. Crossing paths with resistance fighter Ilsa Johansen who is seeking a British soldier, he uncovers an otherworldly presence and the associated military intentions and missteps that now imperil everyone. With a limited cast of essentially three characters and a confined environment as they attempt to flee and understand the roars around them, not much is done with the Scandinavian setting aside from utilizing the lush forest landscape, but tying this creature to the undead Draugr of Norse mythology is a nice touch that adds a more specific element to this locale. And while the contrasting and at times competing styles of narration and dramatization that this range features do somewhat take away from the claustrophobic tension and intense fear that is obviously present as the creature all but has them trapped, the revelation that the creature is sensitive to certain radio waves and that there have been attempts to weaponize it despite a lack of clear understanding perfectly speak to the pride and arrogance as well as the ultimately dangerous and domineering elements of human nature. Through it all, though, the Doctor remains a beacon of hope and optimism as he fights to stop the cycle of death and destruction that the travesties and fears of war continue to feed, and the frightening realization that any mission in a war may be one’s last along with the desire to remain remembered in the better life that will hopefully result for one’s family proves to be an effective narrative backdrop as consequences for the unknown and unspecified actions of one and of many become all too immediately palpable and resonant. Dudman more than impressively conveys the intonations and emotions of Tennant’s vocal mannerisms to bring the Tenth Doctor vividly to life once more, and his ability to seamlessly switch voices and to narration capably carries the story as his version forms a strong rapport with Camilla Arfwedson’s Ilsa who has so dedicated herself to helping the resistance cause. ‘The Thing in the Forest’ is not necessarily the most impressive or groundbreaking narratively, but it expertly highlights Dudman and proves to be an enjoyable and solid opening instalment to join in the Tennant-based celebrations.

Despite the TARDIS being a living, sentient being, storylines rarely utilize this facet of the Doctor’s travel capsule, making ‘The Opacity Factor’ by Carl Rowens instantly intriguing as the TARDIS takes the Doctor to the dark side of the moon and an isolated base dedicated to the studying of artificial intelligence and how these programmed entities can come to think beyond programmed parameters. In a base completely cut off from civilization to avoid any sort of interference or infection should the experiments go wrong, the arrival of the Doctor is understandably met with a great degree of suspicion, albeit a suspicion allayed by the warnings of his arrival by the artificial intelligence, Saggy. Interestingly, as it becomes clear that Saggy is communicating with the TARDIS to enhance its own knowledge and experiences, the Doctor is distraught just as much by the fact that this intelligence has found a way to communicate with his TARDIS in a way he never has. Of course, he has plenty of experience with artificial intelligences going beyond their remit, and he implicitly understands that Saggy will not be content to sit idly by as the humans uncover its inner workings just as much as he understands that any success of this research will not have a benevolent outcome no matter the initial intent. Unfortunately, despite a strong outing from Thalissa Teixeira as both the base leader, Jenel Kilum’bu, and Saggy that brilliantly brings forth the unique dynamics of a woman hoping to achieve the impossible with no external contact before a predetermined time and of an artificial intelligence constantly growing but never revealing its true self to those around it, the plot plays it very safe by proving that humans ultimately cannot be trusted and by suggesting that artificial intelligence will always attempt to assert control over humanity when advanced enough. This latter plot element is, of course, extremely topical and relevant as artificial intelligence continues to see its role expand within society, but the plot progression is ultimately extremely linear with little attempt at misdirection or more comprehensive character exploration or development. Nonetheless, Dudman continues to impress as the Tenth Doctor and easily brings forth the sadness, determination, and brutal honesty of this incarnation who will hold nothing back in his attempt to help as many as he can without letting go of his own principles, and there is certainly more than enough intriguing elements to maintain interest from beginning to end.

In Alice Cavender’s ‘Freedom or Death,’ the Doctor lands in 1913 and meets a Suffragette who dreams of a war and a world she cannot possibly comprehend. Naturally, the Doctor is quick to understand that an alien influence is at least partially to blame, and he commits himself to understanding if May’s is the only mind that has been affected. Finding a creature that can feed off of fear and thus amplify and perpetuate its own fearsome influence, the Doctor realizes that the coming of the First World War could prove even more devastating to humanity should this Symbiol creature be allowed to strengthen and spread. Unfortunately, the script and frequent shifting between narration and acting doesn’t quite allow the breadth of emotions to fully develop in regard to this creature, and while the visions that May experiences are certainly resonant, the manner by which the creature is given voice falls somewhat flat with its vast potential hardly allowed to develop beyond more than those visions and the Doctor’s speculations. Yet even with a somewhat muted resolution with opposing emotions and hormones proving key, ‘Freedom or Death’ is most successful when it steps away from that otherworldly threat and instead focuses on the very real plight and emotions of the suffrage movement. Of course, the Tenth Doctor in particular is wonderful at bringing forth the most brilliant elements of normal individuals to allow them to achieve greatness, and Dudman expertly imbues his iteration of Tennant’s incarnation with the same honesty, trustworthiness, confidence, and compassion to prove that this is very much the same beloved character. Impressively, Cathy Sara matches his energy and determination at every step as the two Suffragettes, May and Sophia. Though the Doctor refuses to discuss the future with May, she understands implicitly that a greater threat is coming and that the time is now to make noise and upset the establishment that is so eager to keep things exactly as they currently are without votes or voices given to any more within society. Intriguingly, this is a script that also includes the male component of the suffrage movement as the working class remains an important aspect, and Sara expertly conveys the frustration and idealism needed for someone to assume such an important role at such a vital time in history. It can’t quite overcome the fact that its threat remains somewhat unrealized and nebulous given how heavily it features, but ‘Freedom or Death’ is nonetheless brimming with sparkling ideas and strong characterization of its leads to make for another engaging listen.

Defender of the Earth concludes with ‘The Siege of Shackleton’ by Una McCormack and the Doctor arriving in the future when the last vestiges of humanity are struggling to survive in isolated settlements in a snowless Antarctica that has become the last habitable zone on an overheated Earth. This is a story that is overly blunt with its critiquing of humanity’s response- or lack thereof- to the known threat of climate change, but the consequences shown generations from now nonetheless paint a grim picture that perfectly highlight the need to suitably respond to this known and growing danger. With resources increasingly sparse, it’s perhaps no surprise that tensions exist both within and among different settlements that are so far apart from each other, and even when logic dictates that the other settlements under these conditions could not possibly mount airborne attacks, human nature remains consistent and shows a refusal to look beyond the obvious to other possibilities that fit the facts much more soundly. Sadly, this is another story in which the alien involvement seems secondary to the visceral plight of humanity as a whole, and this particular gill-breathing menace that is looking to destroy all of humanity before it can do further damage to this and other worlds never truly comes across as anything nearly as powerful as what is suggested. Disregarding the chosen vocal styles and sound effects that make them quite difficult to understand regardless of intent due to their physiology, the inefficiency of their attacks that leave so many refugees alive with no immediate movement against other settlements in such a relatively small area hardly presents the most formidable threat. However, with the Doctor determined to help humanity despite his frustration with the previous disregarding of the climate change threat, the slightly darker characterization that bled through into the Tenth Doctor at the end of his life comes to the fore here, an element that Dudman portrays nicely. This is not an infallible hero, and he’s become weary of selfish and self-centred actions when others need help while he continues to do his best to help everyone overcome so many misgivings and misunderstandings. Rebecca Brewer as Natalia Blok provides a strong performance to bring forth the many complicated emotions fueling the population at this time and the spark of optimism and actual humanity that still persists, and while Natalia’s rather blunt and flat statement that she now believes in aliens after seeing one despite the Doctor’s many declarations previously robs the character and plot of any meaningful emotions at such a crucial and long-overdue revelation, the overall human element again capably carries this final story in what proves to be a wholly entertaining but unquestionably uneven set that through it all still wonderfully celebrates the character of the Tenth Doctor himself.

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