Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Chronicles: Volume One – Starring Jacob Dudman, Samuel Anderson & Ingrid Oliver. Written by David Llewellyn, Una McCormack, Mark Wright & Lizbeth Myles & Directed by Helen Goldwyn – 4xCD / Download (Big Finish)
Unless or until Peter Capaldi joins the crew at Big Finish, and probably even after that if David Tennant’s anything to go by, Jacob Dudman will be the Big Finish Twelfth Doctor. He’s played him now in a couple of Short Trips, and if there’s a tinge on Ten underneath the sighing weariness of Twelve, that’s not a problem – in fact, it’s almost spot on for the character himself. With Dudman’s Twelve joining his Ten and his Eleven in a set of Chronicles, Big Finish is taking a big leap – Short Trips are one thing, but the Chronicles are something entirely else. In the first place, they’re multi-cast adventures, and in the second, they have more time, and a broader scope with which to show off the Twelfth Doctor’s personality at various points in his life – but that comes with more opportunities to get things badly wrong.
Would you want to be on the wrong side of those eyebrows?
So there’s more bravery than might be immediately apparent in taking on the voice of the Twelfth Doctor in something as long and full-on as a Chronicles box set.
This first set of Chronicles is a fairly neat summation of the Twelfth Doctor’s time, at least prior to his meeting Nardole, sitting still for several decades at a university, teaching Missy about compassion, getting involved with Bill and spending the majority of a series waiting to die.
There’s a celebrity historical story with some creepy invasive blood and a bunch of really determined rats in Crimea. There’s a school trip with a difference as Danny ‘PE’ Pink tags along for a ride and gets involved in alien M.A.S.H. There’s a solidly confusing timey-wimey story with soldiers from the past besieging a castle in 2015. And there’s Osgood’s dream come true as she gets to take a trip in the box and ends up being just a little bit Bond.
Sound like fun?
The Charge Of The Night Brigade by David Llewellyn takes the Twelfth Doctor to the Crimean War, to Mary Seacole’s ‘British Hotel.’ For those who need the Wikipedia version, she was a British-Jamaican contemporary of Florence Nightingale, in much the same line but with added succour for the spirit through food, rest and a relatively comfortable recuperative environment, rather than just strictly medical repair. Also, known to be a bit of a tartar.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Twelfth Doctor takes to her immediately, though it takes her rather longer to warm to Captain Eyebrows, and he has to prove his worth to her before she throws in her lot with him against a new and extra creepy danger.
The story itself is a straightforward body-horror tale to ease us into the set – an infection that isn’t an infection, a blood sample that reacts to investigation, possession, gestalt rat-creatures, one of the most scary single ideas in the history of Who – meat and drink to David Llewellyn, to be fair, and meat and drink too to fans of the grimmer tone of some early Capaldi stories. There are callbacks to The Waters Of Mars and to James Herbert’s seminal horror shocker, The Rats, while also resonating deeply with the early Capaldi tone of anti-war sentiment at all costs, and particularly the futility of innocent lives thrown away fighting conflicts that on the grander scale are utterly pointless. In fact, you could argue that’s a theme of this set – its anti-war credentials run through the four stories, albeit you might have to squint a bit to see them in the fourth story.
Mandi Symonds adds her voice to the first episode as Mary Seacole, but most of the rest is delivered by Dudman, as both Twelfth Doctor and narrator, as well as the supporting characters who make the story work. Symonds gives a welcome up-turn in tone too, a sharpness to contrast with he Twelfth Doctor’s exhaustion, and hope, and strange, alien humour. She shows the shift in Seacole’s attitude towards the lanky Scottish interloper as he proves to be the only one who can actively help her with the outbreak of a strange new sickness.
Without spoiling the plot for you entirely, the theme of The Charge Of The Night Brigade is all wrapped up in the continuation of war, the ever-constant resurgence and return of power-hungry madmen and egotists, and the sacrifice of innocent lives to achieve their goals. It’s a melancholy theme for a melancholy Doctor, but Llewellyn and Dudman together show a recognisable Twelfth Doctor being dark, mysterious, hurt, uncertain and yet doing the best he can to solve a horrible problem, to save lives, and to make a positive difference. His is a light that shines through the baggage of himself, which isn’t an easy thing to portray if you’re originating the character, let alone if you’re stepping in to a well-worn pair of shoes and trying to recapture that essence, but Llewellyn and Dudman together give us a Twelfth Doctor in the Crimean War that retrospectively adds lustre and heartbreak to his final on-screen adventure against the backdrop of the trenches of World War One. If you have a fear of rats, this one’s going to drive you screaming up the wall. If you love the Twelfth Doctor, you’ll hear him here, living again in the audio medium and still working out how to be the Doctor, how to be a good man, and what such labels even mean when you’ve lived as long as he has.
War Wounds, by Mark Wright is that most unlikely of things – a trip to an alien planet with the Twelfth Doctor and Danny Pink.
No wait, come back!
The dynamic between Danny Pink and the Twelfth Doctor was among the oddest ever depicted on the show – a character loved by a companion, but who hated and mistrusted the Doctor’s motives in taking people away, while the Doctor himself took a distinct dislike to Danny because he’d once been a soldier. All in all it was somewhat forced, a way of taking the ‘human connection’ element of previous characters like Jackie Tyler, Francine Jones, Sylvia Noble, and Rory Williams and turning up the heat and the antipathy until it boiled. But whereas all of his predecessors found a way to make peace with the Doctor and his adventures, Danny Pink never really did, and only once he’d been turned into a Cyberman did the Twelfth Doctor actually seem to learn any respect for him.
As such, he’s perhaps an odd character to bring back for an adventure alongside the rangy, insulting Time Lord, especially when you know going in that if it’s to fit with the established on-screen arc of their relationship, it’s either going to have to confirm both characters in their mistrust of one another, or it’s going to have to involve a reset button.
We won’t tell you which it is, but certainly one of those things happens here. Mark Wright takes us into a story that is basically an alien episode of M.A.S.H, a film and show already well noted for its anti-war message. As such, pitch the ex-soldier, still haunted by his wartime actions, and the ex-warrior, still haunted by his, into a field of relatively pointless imperial conflict and you have an interesting situation to begin with – the war is admittedly futile, except inasmuch as it stops the advance of a despot, which the Doctor would perhaps usually have been all over. Here, we see him in triage mode – relatively quickly moving to a field hospital, patching up patient after patient after patient, irrespective of their combatant status or the side they’re on. It’s a chance for Danny to see a different side to the Twelfth Doctor, and when one particular patient turns out to have political significance, it’s a chance too for the Twelfth Doctor to reassess the one-time soldier who’s become a teacher, a passer-on of knowledge (in a somewhat ironic foreshadowing of the Twelfth Doctor’s own career). It will surprise no-one that they each more or less insist on taking the wrong and unhelpful lessons from this experience, but there’s perhaps a little melting in their attitudes as they each begin to appreciate the complexities of each other’s positions, before it all goes necessarily wrong.
What War Wounds ultimately gives us is an anti-war treatise that jives neatly with the M.A.S.H ethos and that of the early Twelfth Doctor, more information than we got at an early stage of Danny Pink’s on-screen life about the specifics of why he quit the army, and why he still sees it as a worthwhile thing, even if it’s no longer something he can personally bring himself to do, and a multi-layered tragedy. There’s the tragedy of war, absolutely, the almost mundane horror of bodies needing to be patched up or needing to be disposed of because, as Doctor puts it, ‘someone wants a bigger garden.’ But there’s also the tragedy of the friendship that could have been between the Twelfth Doctor and Danny Pink if only either of them had ever really managed to get over themselves and see the truth of the other, rather than taking opposing positions in relation to Clara Oswald’s destiny. That sometimes being a good man, woman, human, reptile or superintelligent shade of the colour blue means picking up a gun to defend the innocent is something Danny Pink believes in fiercely. That it’s something the Doctor has already had to do, and that it’s something from which in this spiky incarnation more than most he is fleeing from is a tragedy of timing that means the two will never become the friends they could have been. Mark Wright, with War Wounds, delivers a script which shows us the potential that’s lost, while giving Samuel Anderson and Jacob Dudman some room to really play their roles.
When Lizbeth Myles writes a story, one thing you can be absolutely sure of is good characterization. Her entry into his box set, Distant Voices, is no exception to this rule. We don’t actually think Lizbeth Myles could write a poor character if she tried.
Focusing on the life and experiences of a tour guide at a regional British tourist attraction (spoiler alert – no Judoon were harmed in the making of this audio), Distant Voices has a distinctly Sapphire And Steel vibe – Cameron, a font of all knowledge about Rochester Castle, is corrected beyond the point of vexation by a mysterious white-haired Scotsman when she tells a tour group about a siege of the castle in the run-up to Magna Carta. Not one for hanging about, Myles escalates us quickly from Cameron (played with highly likeable companion-gusto by Emily Redpath) hearing voices, seemingly of ghosts from 1215, to sudden mistfalls that isolate Rochester in time, to the 13th century intruding into the 21st, and from there, to important decisions that will dictate the future of Cameron’s life, as well as, just possibly, life for everyone in Rochester, the world, and the universe of space-time.
Distant Voices covers its ground at impressive speed, while never rushing too fast to let us engage with Cameron and the series of dilemmas that slam into her life the day she meets the Doctor. And that’s really the vibe here – while she’s eminently likeable and a solid potential companion, Cameron is someone to whom the Doctor, among a whole series of other unlikely events, happens, an event with consequences, rather than necessarily a lifelong friend. For all that, Lizbeth Myles delivers a story that bowls along, gives us some solid historical peril, turns a corner that puts everything in a new light, and ends on a satisfying, semi-melancholy but distinctly ‘right’ note. As with the first two stories, the notion of war and casualties is prevalent here, and there’s actually more going on than historical armies besieging the modern ruins of a castle, but here, more than in the first two stories, the Twelfth Doctor is able to handle the idea of war as a universal reality, while still raging and mourning for the innocents caught in its crossfire. Of all the stories in this set, this is probably the most richly enjoyable, and it’s one you’ll return to for the chemistry between Dudman’s Twelfth Doctor and Redpath’s Cameron.
Having said that, step forward the unstoppable double-act of Una McCormack on writing duties and Ingrid Oliver, bringing everyone’s favourite UNIT-geek Petronella Osgood back to the Twelfth Doctor’s world in Field Trip. Joyfully, unlike her TV appearances, this time Osgood’s not just a clever part of the UNIT team. This time, the Doctor comes to pick her up specifically for her first assignment in space and time – it’s Osgood’s dream day out.
Except she quickly realises that adventures in time and space don’t necessarily conform to the skillsets she has. While the Doctor tells her he needs her specifically to deal with some politicians, it’s not long before she’s running along unnervingly high things, mingling with spies, hacking casino programmes and breaking the bank, all to try and stop a modern, technically bloodless form of warfare – the warfare of enforced commerce, uninvited access to markets, and the turning of an otherwise quite happy planet full of people into little more than relentless consumers. Recent Bond movies have shifted away from megalomaniacs in lairs to unscrupulous business moguls, and that’s reflected here as ‘Nella, Petro Nella’ steps into the field, to help the Twelfth Doctor stop just such a ruthless market-leader.
There’s something altogether glorious about hearing Osgood and the Twelfth Doctor finally gad about the galaxy, fighting corporate crime, and Petronella’s particular skillset does come in handy in an early stage of the adventure. But it’s actually hearing her step outside that comfort zone into the busy, dangerous world of corporate espionage, and still nail it that makes us high-five the imaginary Osgood in our own heads. Everyone who’s watched Osgood or listened to her in the UNIT box sets has always known she’s better on a much broader scale than she realises. There’s joy in hearing her prove that at least a little to herself in this story, which means we leave the box set on a real, smiley high.
The Twelfth Doctor Chronicles: Volume One is more or less a must-buy – it’s a collection of gorgeously written previously unseen adventures for the Grumpiest of the Time Lords, that blends variety of story with several slices of his life and the moods of each of them. It leaves the way clear for plenty more sets in the Chronicles series at various other points of course – adventures with Nardole, adventures with Bill, adventures with Missy even? – and it proves the case for writing more adventures in this series. Unless or until Peter Capaldi joins the crew at Big Finish, his seat in the Tardis is being kept wonderfully warm for him by Jacob Dudman, and the writing his Doctor is inspiring is second to none. Tony Fyler