Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume Two: Starring David Tennant, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Rosie Cavaliero, Beth Lilly, George Watkins, Guy Henry, George Asprey, Nikolas Grace, Tam Williams, Mark Elstob, Lucy Briggs-Owen, James Joyce, Keziah Joseph, Maureen Beattie, Sean Biggerstaff, Anthony Stuart-Hicks & Nicholas Briggs. Written by John Dorney, Guy Adams and Matt Fitton and Directed by Nicholas Briggs – 5xCD / Download (Big Finish)
When Big Finish announced a couple of years ago that it had acquired a license to produce audio dramas based on the “New Series” of Doctor Who, I have to admit that I was a little trepidatious. For me, the audio company was irrevocably linked to Doctor Who’s “Classic Series” – the original span of episodes that began in 1963 and ended in 1996, with Philip Segal’s made-for-TV Eighth Doctor movie. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could do justice to the “New Series” – the collection of episodes that began in 2005 and continue to this day. It was just that I didn’t think they needed to; The works of David Tennant, Matt Smith, even Christopher Eccleston was still fairly fresh in the public’s mind.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I still haven’t totally made my mind up. Of course, as an aficionado of all things Big Finish, there was no way that I was NOT going to dip into their New Series material; I just wasn’t sure it would have the same gravitas for me as their audios based on the classic material. I do have to admit that the one thing that sends that “fanwank” chill up my spine is when they are able to combine elements of both the New and Classic Series – much in the way they did with this spring’s UNIT: Assembled box set, which pitted Kate Stuart and Osgoode from the Matt Smith/Peter Capaldi era alongside Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton and Jo Grant (now Jo Jones) from the Jon Pertwee era.
But despite all the characters and organizations stemming from the New Series – UNIT, Torchwood, River Song, Winston Churchhill, to name a few – it’s the arrival of a Doctor on audio that really gets fans excited. There was never really any doubt in anyone’s mind that David Tennant would probably be the first New Series Doctor to make the move to Big Finish; he had, after all, been a staple of Big Finish Productions long before he was ever cast as the Doctor. Not only had he guest-starred in a number of Main Range, UNIT and Unbound audios, he also played the main character of Galanar (a very “Doctor-ish” character, incidentally) in the 6-part miniseries Dalek Empire III. So being no stranger to the audio company, it made sense that Tennant’s 10th Doctor would make the jump to audio sooner rather than later.
In fact, the only other New Series Doctor to appear in Big Finish stories thus far has been John Hurt’s War Doctor, who appeared in four box sets set during the Time War. These twelve episodes have definitely been seen as a bit of a “gift” to fans; it was a chance to get a little bit more out of Hurt’s “anti-Doctor” before the actor’s untimely death about a year ago.
And whereas David Tennant’s last box set was set towards the end of his tenure as the Doctor – showcasing Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble as his companion – Volume Two takes us right back to his roots, to only the second season of the revived programme. Christopher Eccleston had just left, and it was David Tennant’s first season as the Doctor. The companion? Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler – the original template for the New Series companion and, to this day, still beloved by New Series fans across the board.
Joining Billie, for the first story at least, is Jackie Tyler, played again with gusto by Camille Coduri. Where the stories are specifically set during the confines of Series Two is a bit of a mystery; there is no mention of Mickey Smith, and both the Daleks and the Cybermen are referred to, which seems to place the stories somewhere after Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel.
The organization of the box set seems fairly well-thought-out. It begins with an invasion story set on modern-day Earth. This is followed by a “pseudo-historical”, set during the time of the Regency. The final tale is a future-set, base-under-siege type story featuring the Ice Warriors. By following the pattern of present-past-future, the set makes use of the wide tapestry available to the TARDIS crew. And we even get an old enemy, as an added bonus.
Infamy of the Zaross by John Dorney
The first story in the set sees the Doctor and Rose responding to a call for help from Rose’s mother, Jackie, who is down in Norwich, visiting her friend, Marge. Almost immediately upon her arrival, Jackie is witness to an invasion attempt by an warthog-like species known as the Zaross. Contacting Rose by means of her daughter’s trans-galactic cell phone plan (provided to her by the Doctor all the way back in The End of the World), Jackie alerts the time travellers to the presence of these mysterious aliens – made all the more mysterious when the Doctor, for the life of him, can’t identify the species at all. Who they are, and what they are really doing on Earth becomes the focal point for a puzzle that could only be written by Big Finish golden boy John Dorney.
Joining the Doctor and Rose on their adventures this time is Marge’s daughter, Jess (played by Beth Lilly). Although she is essentially a de facto companion to the Doctor in this story, her own motivations reflect those of the Zaross in many ways. Specifically, Jess lives in constant hope of a callback to Simon Cowell-run TV talent shows like X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Funnily enough, this desire for fame and celebrity fits right in with the Zaross’s ambitions, and provides the context for a burning indictment against this superficiality that seems so prevalent among the youth of today.
Where Infamy of the Zaross really succeeds is in its recreation of an era of Doctor Who that has (despite my earlier protestations) long passed. Jackie’s relationship with the Doctor has the same warmth and humour as it did over a decade ago (“Hello, trouble!” she says when she first sees him) and some of the most enjoyable scenes are characterized by the banter between the three series regulars. In fact, it really is glorious to hear the Doctor, Rose and Jackie together again – it’s a pity we didn’t get to hear Mickey as part of the set, but who knows what the future may bring?
The Sword of the Chevalier by Guy Adams
Back in the days when Big Finish was in its infancy, and everyone and his mother seemed to be making audios, BBV Productions made a series of plays based on the long-running spinoff property Faction Paradox. Two of these audios featured the “Sieur d’Eon”, one of the nom de guerres often applied to Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumon, a French diplomat and spy who was best known for, among other things, dressing as a woman. In fact, for many years, it was never wholly known if the Chevalier d’Eon, to use his proper title, was actually a man or a woman. Sent to England by Louis XV, he (“bear with the pronouns,” the Doctor says, “I’ll probably have a headache by the time I’m finished!”) got into trouble with the French court and only returned to France years later, when Louis XVI pardoned his past misdeeds. In the Faction Paradox audios, the Sieur d’Eon teams up with Cousins Eliza and Justine (though there is no love lost between the Sieur and Justine) in order to defeat an army of Peking Homunculi located under Buckingham palace
So it seems fitting that, one day, the Chevalier d’Eon would one day encounter the Doctor proper. Arriving in 18th-century Slough (“a quarter to Pride and Prejudice”…“half-past Blackadder Series Three”, as they describe the Regency) to view William Herschel’s great 40-foot telescope, The Doctor and Rose become acquainted with the Chevalier d’Eon when the Doctor decides to show off his sword-fighting proficiency. But all is not as it seems: slave-traders from the Consortium of the Obsidian Asp – a loosely affiliated group of criminals – are on Earth. Infiltrating a costume party held by socialite Christopher Dalliard, the Doctor, Rose and the Chevalier d’Eon must stop the slave traders before they can get away with some of Britain’s best and brightest.
Utilizing one of Britain’s more colourful historical periods to the fullest, The Sword of the Chevalier has the potential to be a fun, historical romp. There are even a couple of interesting Easter eggs for those with well-tuned ears (the use of the Chevalier, last heard in the BBV Faction Paradox series, is one; another example occurs when the Doctor decides to dress as a harlequin during the costume party – a definite throwback to the costume the Fifth Doctor wore in Black Orchid). But all this is in danger of becoming overshadowed by what feels like an ideological agenda; the nature of the slave-traders’ appearance (not mentioned in this review to avoid spoilers!), coupled with the Doctor’s description of the Chevalier both conspire to make this a story more about postmodern identity politics rather than a fun piece of historical sci-fi. But perhaps that’s nitpicking. Because, let’s be honest: the final reveal with regards to the slave-traders’ true appearance is quite shocking.
And it’s the re-creation of the world of the Regency that is the true “main character” here; the rich, colorful, over-the-top lifestyle when art, literature and high society flourished. Some of this audio’s greatest comic moments are digs against the pompousness and overabundance of the period; Rose, for example, quickly becomes bored with the Chevalier’s flagrant self-promotion, And the Chevalier – played with relish by Nickolas Grace – seems to be completely oblivious to the rolling eyes around him. His indignation at being originally excluded from Grace’s party is hysterical, and only made worse by the fact that it’s only thanks to the Doctor’s psychic paper that they get into the party at all.
The antagonists in the story are some of the more original characters to come out of Big Finish in recent years, and the fact that they are part of a larger consortium – an audio version of the family Slitheen, perhaps? – makes them all the more interesting. Nevertheless, one could argue that the way in which the Doctor ultimately defeats them is perhaps a little too over-simplistic; not a deus ex machina per se, but certainly something that could have been a little better thought through.
Cold Vengeance by Matt Fitton
It’s always nice to see an old enemy come back to plague a new Doctor, and in the case of the Ice Warriors, it’s a bit of a double-whammy. Since the end of the Tenth Doctor’s era, we have seen the Marauders from Mars come back to plague both Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, and for many fans of the Classics Series it was a shame that David Tennant – a self-proclaimed Doctor Who fan in his own right – never got a chance to face them. In Cold Vengeance, the Doctor and Rose arrive on Coldstar, an orbiting, refrigerated station – a kind of Costco’s in Space. But where is there is ice, there’s Ice Warriors, and very soon our protagonists are being threatened in a typical, base-under-siege fashion – not only by the Martians, but also by space pirates, looking to liberate their nest egg in frozen calamari, or something like that.
As in the other stories in this box set, the Doctor and Rose are accompanied here by a pseudo-companion. In this case it’s Lorna, a young civil servant who is “just here to collect the recycling”. Played by Keziah Joseph, it’s Lorna who brings a certain kind of “21st century humanity” to the story; although she doesn’t come from a foreign time or place, her attitude, demeanour and…her station make her a good conduit through which the events on Coldstar are best viewed. And then there is the mother-and-son pirate team of Brona and Callum Volta, played by Maureen Beattie and Sean Biggerstaff. The morality of Doctor Who works best when there are characters that can find some chance of redemption, and Callum – fighting for approval in his mother’s eyes – admirably seeks that out here. The Ice Warriors themselves are, as ever, voiced by Big Finish stalwart Nicholas Briggs (who also directed the entire box set). Let’s be honest: the Martian warriors haven’t changed much since their initial appearance in the 1960s, and certainly on audio there’s not a lot that can be done to make them more interesting. But that doesn’t matter, because there is a nobility to these creatures that doesn’t really exist in any other Top-10 Doctor Who monster. And although these are definitely “bad guy” Ice Warriors – not the Federation lackeys we saw on Peladon – there is still definitely a story to be told here with regards to what happened 500 years ago when they first went into hibernation.
The question about where the Ice Warriors initially came from, and how they got on the station in the first place is a fascinating one, and is revealed slowly over the course of the episode. And that question has a lot more to do with the other Ice Warriors – the ones who were fighting these humans over 500 years ago when the group on the space station initially went into deep-freeze, and thus suspended animation. Because Cold Vengeance is about a lot more than simply an old enemy returning to extract its revenge. It’s about integration, and the fact that sometimes, enemies can become allies – in a weird kind of way.
All in all, The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume Two is a fun romp through some of the early days of David Tennant’s beloved iteration of the Time Lord. There is no doubt that part of the appeal of these audio dramas has to do with the nostalgia factor, and both David Tennant and Billie Piper expertly re-create characters they played on television close to a decade ago. Piper, in particular, successfully channels the Rose we remember specifically from Series Two – not the more hardened, battle-weary Rose that we see in Series Four (and certainly not the over-sexualized persona that The Moment takes on in the 50th Anniversary Special). And although David Tennant can certainly go a little over the top occasionally, he still absolutely nails his Doctor here.
Having seen a few comments on the Internet about this box set, I was more than a little surprised to find out that many people seemed to have preferred Volume One to this set. I’m not sure if it’s the quality of story that makes them say this, or if it has more to do with the feelings of nostalgia they get from these tales. While I’m a huge fan of Donna Noble, it was seeing (or, rather, hearing) Rose again that really excited me. The era in which these stories can be placed was a very important one; it was when everything was still very fresh and new, and Doctor Who hadn’t been back on our television screens for all that long. And while I would love to eventually see a little more risk-taking with the Tenth Doctor stories (perhaps some over-reaching plot arcs or – dare I say it? – a pure historical story?) I’m very aware that Big Finish are still “finding their feet” with this era of the programme. As with the previous box set, Volume Two shows that they are off to a very good start, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with next. Peter McAlpine