Doctor Who: Short Trips: The Siege of Big Ben – Performed by Camille Coduri, Written by Joe Lidster & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – Download (Big Finish)
Jackie Tyler divides Doctor Who fandom just as much as her daughter Rose and David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. If you’re a hater of any of that, this probably isn’t the release for you.
A quick primer for any non-geeks who’ve wandered in (Welcome. We don’t bite. Well, we do, but only each other – honestly, you should see the carnage sometimes…). There were, in the end, two Tenth Doctors, as played by David Tennant. There was the full-on chatterbox Time Lord who had previously been Christopher Eccleston and would go on to turn into Matt Smith through what we rather laughably call the ‘natural’ process of regeneration.
Then there was The Other One.
The one who was created from the first Tenth Doctor’s amputated hand, a bit of a zing from earthgirl Donna Noble, and a wallop of temporal jiggery-pokery courtesy of Davros.
We call it a metacrisis.
We’re not sure why.
Anyhow, this second Tenth Doctor (or Mr Blue-Suit as it will, absurdly, be more straightforward to call him) was only part Time Lord. He could, for reasons of scripting convenience, age at a roughly human rate, probably die, apparently tell Rose Tyler he loved her, and (squeamishness alert!), probably go off and have metacrisis-earthgirl spawn. As the end of the on-screen Tyler arc, Mr Blue-Suit, our-universe Rose and our-universe Jackie were left on an alternative universe’s Earth, while the Doctor we knew spun on to his eventual Math Smithy destiny and beyond.
Since then, precious little has been heard of the Tyler’s and Mr Blue-Suit, a Doctor allegedly ‘born in battle’ and as such rather too eager to just…erm…blow the bejesus out of the enemy, rather than saving people.
Step forward Joseph Lidster to give us a peek at life in the alternate universe.
The story of The Siege of Big Ben is, on the face of it, a standard alien invasion, oh-look-it-must-be-Thursday affair. Where it grows to be so much more than that though is in the narration given to Jackie Tyler, and the wonders it reveals about life, love and alien invasions on their alt-Earth.
We said earlier that if you were a hater of the Tenth Doctor era and the Rose-Doctor-Jackie domestic triangle, this wasn’t the release for you. Lidster does his best to tempt you in though, hinting that all is not well in alt-paradise, with a Doctor who, helping alt-UNIT, may not in fact be love’s young dream, and who remains relatively untested in the business of saving planets and lives. In other words, this is not the Tenth Doctor you think you know.
It absolutely is, however, the Jackie you know. Camille Coduri returns to audio Who at Big Finish to give a powerful and subtle performance as Jackie, mixing her trademark gossipy style that’ll make you laugh out loud with that sudden drop to quiet and truth that made her part in stories like Love and Monsters so wonderful and agonising, and made you want to call your mother. Jackie has lots to be thankful for, and she is, but she’s also a stranger in a strange land, (a land without Eastenders, for God’s sake!), who misses the world she left behind, and its people, and the Doctor who made people better than they were, for all his bouncy bonkers chatter.
When the chips are down, it’s Jackie who saves the day during The Siege of Big Ben, because she has experience of the Doctor she knew (Mr Brown-Suit?), the one who solved problems, and talked, and talked, and oh-my-life talked, rather than taking the easy, explosive route that this new ‘dark’ Doctor seems all too eager to embrace. That means she’s able to think things through and use compassion in a tight spot, where his solution is a very big bang that would kill them both.
Lidster’s script has all the zing and bounce you need if you’re putting Jackie Tyler front and centre, but it makes some solid points about the difficulty of a happy ever after story where you wake up the next morning and have to serve the chips. It’s funny, and clever, and packed with extras for the die-hard geeks, and yet it tells a story that feels true both to what was shown on-screen and to the reality that happy ever afters take work, and often need people to learn lessons, to change, to grow better than their lives have demanded of them before, if they’re ever to be really happy.
Big Finish is currently on a spree of new releases, spinning off characters and world from New Who. From the evidence here, the company could do worse than commissioning a box set of ‘The Tylers – Earth Defence.’ After all, Rose was responsible for reminding the Ninth Doctor of all the things it took to really ‘be’ the Doctor – courage, compassion, the importance of the ‘little people,’ and the ability of anyone to make a difference. Joseph Lidster and Camille Coduri work together, under the expert directorial eye of Lisa Bowerman, to make us believe there’s no reason the Tylers couldn’t do the same for the battle-born, angry, fallible, perhaps-too-human alternative Tenth Doctor, Mr Blue-Suit.
If it doesn’t happen…well, it will in my head.
And now, it probably will in yours too.
You’re welcome. Tony Fyler