The Short Trips range of Doctor Who stories from Big Finish are famous for taking sideways angles on well-known Doctors and companions, giving us new perspectives on character we think we fully understand.
The time of the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, ended with there being two versions of that character; the one we all knew and mostly loved, who went on to turn into Matt Smith, and a more human version, famously ‘born in war’ and so having a tendency towards recklessness and blowing stuff up, but with one heart, who stayed behind in a parallel dimension with Rose Tyler, her faithful mum Jackie, and the rest of her family.
Flight Into Hull! by Joseph Lidster is the second of two Short Trips to pick up the story of what happened to that stranded Doctor, and how things went in the parallel world. For Who-fans, these are precious things, little glimpses into a part of the show’s story that have been closed to us for years. They’re also, of course, a way of catching up with the wonder that is Jackie Tyler, played on-screen and performed and read here by Camille Coduri.
In the first story, we learn of a ‘Human Doctor’ who’s moody, shackled, not that happy with Rose and trying to build his own Tardis to get the hell out of alternative-Dodge to roam the stars and the time vortex like he somehow feels he should, while being ever keen to blow stuff up (including himself) in a vaguely heroic attempt to ‘be’ the Doctor he thinks he should be. That story ended with the Doctor and Jackie Tyler at serious, sulking odds, and her telling him to buck up his ideas and be the Doctor she remembers – the one who would give people a chance, the one who made people better, rather than tearing them to pieces from a rigid standpoint.
Flight Into Hull! takes the story forward, with the Doctor and Jackie trapped on a Zeppelin flying to Hull (there are reasons, just go with it), having a solid sulk at each other until confronted with an alien threat. There are interesting elements to the nature of that threat – imagine everything you know you could be if only you applied yourself…and then imagine it turning up and arguing that it’s got more of a right to your life than you have. Possibly a bit Red Dwarfy as plot elements go, but here it’s used at first to seemingly confirm the Doctor in his arrogance about Jackie Tyler and her ‘little human’ nature, compared to his own potential – this was a Doctor, remember, whose progenitor, the mainstream Tenth Doctor, was absolutely not above a sulk about his role in saving puny humans and how he could ‘do so much more.’ That sense seems to be festering in the blue-suited bosom of the Human (or Metacrisis) Doctor, trapped on one planet, in one time zone, surrounded by humans who on the wrong day would, to be fair, annoy the halo off many a human saint.
What comes in response to that is a passionate, sometimes angry, sometimes brilliantly evocative speech from Jackie about how not everyone can be Mr Brilliant, can overleap the challenges of life and ponder on the Big Questions. Some people have to face the crises of the everyday – the raising of a daughter, the finding of money for a school trip when there’s no money to be found, the establishing of standards when they seem irrelevant, and the care given to everyone, big or small, important or menial, over the little things that make life better and make the world still want to go around. It’s gulp-giving stuff, and you may well find there’s something in your eye by the end of it. In a way it’s also a heart-cry for the ‘traditional’ companion, the human who can boggle and go ‘What’s that, Doctor?’ The people who are ordinary, and who, in that very ordinariness, find what’s special about themselves through exposure to the Doctor’s example, his doing what can be done, his standing up against the bullies of the universe.
Ultimately, the alien threat in this story comes down to a game of Chicken with a Doctor who’d rather die than blink. And perhaps perversely, it’s in the wake of the alien threat, faced with certain death in a burning Zeppelin, that the Doctor and Jackie have their moments of epiphany with each other, and we get to hear what the Doctor actually thinks of Rose and Jackie both.
Coduri is absolutely faultless in a role she knows well, despite having last played it on screen over a decade ago, and Lidster’s script does lots of cool things – takes us into the Metacrisis Doctor’s emotional state, stands up for dinnerladies and other caregivers the universe over, puts out the stall for equality of humanity irrespective of brain, or job, or position in life…oh, and crashes a Zeppelin into the Humber Bridge – this is still Doctor Who, after all.
It seems unlikely these two Short Trips were commissioned with the idea of an audio series in mind, but the combination of Lidster’s vision for the troubled alt-Doctor’s life, and Coduri’s enthusiastic portrayal of the proud single mum that is Jackie Tyler show the potential of what that series could be. Maybe, Big Finish? The Tylers – Defenders of the Earth? Just saying…
Pick up Flight Into Hull! (and its predecessor, The Siege of Big Ben) today and go back in time and slightly sideways for a new and inspiring take on the Doctor Who you think you know. Tony Fyler