Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter

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Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter – Starring Georgia Tennant, Sian Phillips, Sean Biggerstaff, Stuart Milligan, Sarah Woodward, Clare Corbett, Arabella Weir, Silas Carson, Rosalyn Landor, Olivia Darnley, John Dorney, Pek-Sen Lim, Ariana II, Sara Houghton, Paul Courtney Hyu, Adele Anderson & Anthony Calf.  Written by Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Christian Brassington and Adrian Poynton & Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Some ideas for television and audio spinoffs are not that obvious. Sometimes, as in the case of Jago & Litefoot or Counter-Measures, it takes years to realize the potential of certain characters. Other times, as in series like Gallifrey, or even Graceless, the possibility of a spinoff becomes more and more evident as the parent show progresses. Spinoffs can be a strange breed of show; in many instances it takes a keen eye and a sharp imagination to devise a scenario that will work. Other times it depends on the availability of the actors. But often, a lot of stars must align for it to work.

But then there are spinoffs that were just screaming to be made from day one. I’m not talking about spinoff series that were “artificially manufactured” by the powers-that-be, created in the parent series as a “backdoor pilot“. These are a different breed altogether – series like Torchwood on television and Vienna on audio were already in development before the spinoff characters and elements even appeared in Doctor Who proper. No: I’m talking about situations that worked out so well in the parent show that it would almost be a crime to not create a spinoff series. A good example of this (and, incidentally, one that has not been exploited yet!) is the Paternoster Gang that found prominence in the TV series during the 11th Doctor’s era. Many wonder why such a well-liked team hasn’t been given their own series yet; on audio, Big Finish seems to have the right to use the characters individually, but not yet as a group. On television, we inexplicably got Class instead of a Paternoster Gang series; perhaps Steven Moffat or Chris Chibnall is planning something in the not-so-distant future.

Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter is another one of these spinoff possibilities that fans were expecting almost from the moment Georgia Tennant (née Moffett) first stuck her head out of that progenitor machine in Stephen Greenhorn’s Series Four story The Doctor’s Daughter. Given that Tennant is not only the wife of 10th Doctor David Tennant, but also the daughter of 5th Doctor Peter Davison, it seemed crazy to not allow her to expand the role she originated during the David Tennant era. Even the bigwigs at Big Finish seemed to realize this: “I guess it was almost an obvious thing to do, really,” producer David Richardson concedes in this box set’s behind-the-scenes extras. “There was so much potential in Jenny as a character…I mean, she’s newly formed in The Doctor’s Daughter…there is so much that can be done with her”. In fact, it almost seemed that “that ending”, where Jenny undergoes a pseudo-regeneration, steals a spaceship and blasts off to traverse the stars was tacked on for that very purpose of exploring the possibility of a spinoff. And yet, for years we heard nothing.

When Big Finish announced that they would be re-introducing the character of Jenny to the Whoniverse, there was certainly some questioning among fandom. Believe it or not, ten years has passed since Jenny first appeared on our screens (The Doctor’s Daughter aired in May, 2008), and many wondered if the character was still relevant. In many ways, however, that’s a fairly silly observation to make, given that Big Finish’s bread and butter are characters that were only “relevant” in the show years and years ago. It was 32 years, for example, before Jago & Litefoot made a glorious return on audio in The Mahogany Murderers, and they have since become Big Finish’s most successful spinoff, with 13 series to their name as well as last month’s farewell box set and a handful of crossover episodes – and the only reason the series is ending at all is because of Trevor Baxter’s untimely death last year.

With all this in mind, Jenny’s arrival at Big Finish is a hugely welcome development. Georgia Tennant, under her maiden name Moffett (“Peter Davison” is a stage name – his real last name is Moffett) is no stranger to Big Finish. She has already appeared in numerous productions, beginning all the way back in 2000 with Red Dawn, which she did opposite her father. She has also appeared opposite Colin Baker in City of Spires and opposite Paul McGann in Rule of the Eminence (part of the Dark Eyes 3 box set).

Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter is a fun mix of genres: although it definitely focusses more solely on spacefaring adventures than many of the Doctor Who box sets that Big Finish is now producing, it also includes an Earthbound story to break up the mix. There are also ongoing plot threads running through the four standalone adventures, most of them having to do with the origin of Jenny’s enigmatic companion, Noah (beautifully underplayed by Sean Biggerstaff), as well as a cyborg bounty hunter, the Colt-5000 (a deliciously evil Siân Phillips) who has been pursuing Jenny in the hopes of gaining access to her Time Lord ancestry.

As they have shown in a number of their other box sets, including the new UNIT series as well as The Diary of River Song, Big Finish has had a great deal of success mixing the new with the old. Not only does Jenny mark the first appearance of the Ood in a Big Finish audio, it also features the return of a fan favourite Big Finish character – the scheming Urodelian crook Garundel who had previously appeared opposite the 7th Doctor in the audios Black and White and Starlight Robbery.

A mention also needs to be made of Joe Kraemer’s wonderful series theme song. It begins by taking obvious influence from the main Doctor Who theme, but quickly diverges and becomes something new and wholly original. Sound and music design has always been one of Big Finish’s greatest strengths, but Kraemer hits this one out of the park; it’s the best original theme song since Jamie Robertson’s theme to Graceless appeared in 2010. In fact, the nuances of Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian’s sound design are one of the absolute joys of listening to Jenny; each story has its own distinct flavor, and yet there are tangible audio threads linking every episode. It’s this level of sophistication that makes the entire box set feel like one huge space opera.

Stolen Goods by Matt Fitton

Escaping a near-collision through a hyperspace portal, Jenny finds herself on the receiving end of the interplanetary version of a “fender bender”. That’s all fine and well, except that the other party happens to be Garundel, space swindler extraordinaire and intent on taking Jenny for all she is worth (which, fortunately, isn’t that much). As Jenny quickly begins to realize that Garundel’s accusations are part of one big scam, who should appear on the scene but cyborg bounty hunter Colt-5000, who has been sent by some mysterious party to capture Jenny. Referring to her as a “Time Lord” Colt-5000 seems to know a lot more about Jenny than might be healthy for her, and with Garundel and his cohorts working against her as well, the Doctor’s daughter must use all her resources to make her escape.

Fortunately, there is a ship. There are many ships in Garundel’s garages, actually, but this one is special: a “creepy white pod with no markings” that actually still has an occupant – a cryogenically frozen man who has no memory of who he is or why he is aboard the strange ship. Deciding to call her new companion “Noah” (she says, “I can’t just call you ‘nowhere’, can I? – or maybe I can…”), Jenny is now faced with the task of getting both her and her new friend away from numerous parties who want them dead.

Matt Fitton had the unenviable task of re-introducing Jenny to audiences after an absence of ten years from the Doctor Who universe, and he does it with total style. Rather than giving us an exposition-heavy story with the sole purpose of “bringing us up to speed”, he instead decides to pick up pretty much exactly where the television show left off. Although we eventually learn that some time has passed since Jenny blasted off in her stolen ship at the end of The Doctor’s Daughter, for all intents and purposes Stolen Goods might have begun right at that point. She is still very much the wide-eyed innocent the Doctor left for dead, absolutely jubilant at the prospect of discovering the universe. In fact, the only thing to give away the fact that any time has passed at all since we last saw Jenny is the arrival of the Colt-5000 cyborg, who it seems has been following her for some time.

Stolen Goods also makes use of a fun ensemble cast; Sarah Woodward is perfect as stumbling scam artist Vesh Taralesh, and Clare Corbett alternates between threatening and sensitive as Lukaku, Vesh’s indentured servant. But the real show-stealer again is Stuart Milligan as the Urodelian scam artist Garundel. Armed with a quip for every possible scenario, Garundel is as just as feisty as we remember him, but he is also not above displaying a level of viciousness that tells the audience he is a force to be reckoned with.

In many ways, Stolen Goods acts as a prologue for what is to come; it sets up the ongoing threads that will take us through the next three stories. And yet, it is a delightful story in its own right. Sometimes the best tales are not universe-shaking, but are rather small-scale: basically Stolen Goods tells the low-key story of the spacefaring version of a minor automobile accident while setting up big ideas for the future. And in the end, it’s a lot of fun.

Prisoner of the Ood by John Dorney

Jenny finds herself without any of her memories, trapped beneath an invisible dome in a depressingly ordinary suburb on 21st century Earth. But all is not as it seems: how she got there, who erected the energy barrier and the location of her companion Noah are all pieces in a puzzle involving one of the galaxy’s deadliest criminals as well as the strange race known as the Ood.

I always find it difficult to not immediately jump to the John Dorney story in any given box set; like Matt Fitton, Dorney has proven himself time and time again with highly original stories and some of the best twists in Doctor Who audio. He was an obvious choice to introduce the Ood to the audio medium, and does an excellent job capturing the malevolent pragmatism of this alien race. From the very beginning, we learned that the Ood were a very benign species, but extremely receptive to the psychic influences of other peoples. It quickly becomes apparent that this aspect of their being plays largely into the plot of this story, as does their dual nature, something that was very apparent in stories like The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and The Doctor’s Wife.

Some of the best horror and sci-fi stories deal with the gruesome and the fantastic set against a very ordinary backdrop. This is something that Prisoner of the Ood does admirably. The “ordinary”, in this case, is Leafield Crescent, and it is the residents themselves that help to create that wonderfully eerie feeling of normalcy being invaded by the horrific. Rosalyn Landor, Olivia Darnley and John Dorney himself all complement each other as typical suburbanites, the type who will call a residents’ meeting when their block is invaded by alien creatures. And one-time female Doctor Arabella Weir is perfect as out-of-her-depth Angie Glazebrook, the newcomer to the neighbourhood who introduces Jenny to the others on the street.

Prisoner of the Ood may seem straightforward, but its seemingly-simple plot conceals a much more complex Memento-style story that involves Jenny regaining her memory and figuring out just how she ended up in such mundane yet inexplicable surroundings. But it is also very much a base-under-siege adventure, with the attacking Ood growing in numbers as the story progresses. Only when the pieces fall into place at the end does everything – including the Ood’s monstrous behaviour – makes sense.

Neon Reign by Christian Brassington

Jenny and Noah arrive on the planet Kamshassa where women slave in the factories, the men live out their lives in a drug-induced stupor and everyone lives in perennial fear of the Dragon King, the mysterious ruler who rose to prominence decades before.

Rushed to safety by Shoon-Wei, a young woman who works in the Ministry, the heart of Kamshassa’s governmen, Jenny and Noah learn about the horrors of “chup”, a terribly addictive substance that keeps the men of this world in an almost trance-like state, while the women work without reprieve in order to feed the addiction of their fathers, brothers and sons. As Jenny works behind the scenes to fuel a revolution, Noah must evade the Colt-5000, who has arrived on Kamshassa in search of its prey.

The real triumph of Neon Reign is once again the sound design; the culture of Kamshassa (like other Kamishi castes – see below) is heavily based on East Asian civilization, with reference to writing that seems very close to Chinese pictograms and a musical elegance that lies somewhere between Chinese and Japanese. All this is conveyed through a gorgeous soundscape; in under an hour an entire society is depicted through the music, spoken words and background sounds that make up this world.

Arina Il is delightful as Shoon-Wei, and Paul Courtenay Hyu is pitiable as the tragic Po, who is very much meant to be the “everyman” of this world. The history of Kamshassa and its people – the sons of Kamishi – crosses over with other established Doctor Who lore. The Sanukuma Caste, from whom the Sons of Kamishi are descended, were encountered by River Song and the 8th Doctor in the Diary of River Song stories I Went to a Marvellous Party and The Rulers of the Universe. Other castes were encountered by UNIT in the UNIT: Shutdown box set and again by River Song in the audio Signs.

Neon Reign has a lot going for it, but unfortunately the decision to focus on gender politics makes the entire story feel a little preachy. In the behind-the-scenes extras, Georgia Tennant talks about how she wanted a feminist slant on this story, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, that doesn’t mean we need to be inundated with the message “women good, men bad”, which is what seems to be at the heart of this tale. Luckily, Noah’s involvement mitigates this a little bit, but I for one am more interested in a future where men and women can work in harmony with one another rather than as antagonists.

Zero Space by Adrian Poynton

Jenny and Noah crash-land onto the Eye of the Storm, an incredibly advanced space station in the middle of Zero Space, a region devoid of anything – stars, planets, gas, dust…even molecules and atoms. Still pursued by Colt-5000, the travellers make a horrifying realization: some of the space station’s technology could have a devastating effect, assisting their cyborg pursuer in bringing her nefarious plans to fruition.

Writer Adrian Poynton weaves a fascinating story involving a space station where no space station should be, one of the most advanced labs in the galaxy, a “wormhole bomb”, and two hundred religiously superstitious clones, each of them absolutely certain that he or she will die if a long-feared event should take place.

Zero Space’s biggest accomplishment is its sense of “fullness”, despite the fact that it has the smallest guest cast out of all the plays in this set. In fact, not including the regular characters of Jenny, Noah and Colt-5000, there are only two additional actors in this story. And yet, Anthony Calf and Adèle Anderson are both spectacular, playing all the cloned versions of Cal and Dreyda, the original inhabitants of the space station, to tremendous effect.  What’s really incredible about each of their performances is the level of nuance between different iterations of what is supposed to be the same two individuals. Rather than playing identical clones, Calf and Anderson are both able to find just that right amount of refinement to suggest the slightest distinction between each rendering of these two characters. And at the risk of praising the audio arrangement yet again, it’s Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian’s sound design that seamlessly takes two voices and turns them into two hundred.

In many ways, Zero Space satisfactorily wraps up a number of ongoing plot threads that have been plaguing Jenny and Noah since the first story in this collection. On the other hand, however, there are not only many questions that remain unanswered, but a plethora of new issues and puzzles are also introduced.

And that’s where Zero Space really succeeds: the best way a box set such as this one should end is by leaving its audience wanting more, and that’s exactly what this story does. Enough plot lines are tied up to bring this chapter in Jenny’s life to a satisfactory conclusion, but we as an audience know that there’s much more to come. And that’s always a fun thing to recognize when one has enjoyed a series as much as this one: that this isn’t just a one-off adventure. In fact, if this final story (including the surprise “Easter egg” in the closing moments of the box set…but then, I’ve said too much already!) is anything to go by, it looks like Jenny will be around for a long time.

Overall, Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter is a blast, a tour de force that every fan of the Tennant era has been waiting for, for a long, long time. And credit needs to be given where credit is due: director Barnaby Edwards has obviously treated this as a labour of love. Many audiences will be unaware that it’s harder than it seems to take a newly-born character who has barely forty minutes of screen time and weave an entire series around her. In many ways, it’s the same brief that was given for Jago and Litefoot, but where that series had six episodes to establish such loveable characters, The Doctor’s Daughter rose out of only one single (albeit slightly longer) episode.

One of the things Edwards had going for him was the fact that his leading actors were not as immediately available as other high profile Big Finish names. “It all kicked off about a year and a bit ago,” he admits in the behind-the-scene extras, “and we started doing scripts for that, and then…because Sean and Georgia are so busy it was quite a difficult time to kind of schedule…and eventually we got it. But the great thing about that is that it meant that the scripts were super, super, super honed for it, because they had gone through lots and lots of different processes…and you know, this one is one of those rare ones where nothing was rushed.”

And finally, what would the series be without Georgia Tennant herself? One of the things that can be said about this series is that it’s genuinely funny, a factor that is largely thanks to Tennant’s performance, which seems to have jumped right off the small screen and into our headphones. One must wonder how much her “Doctorish” quips were the result of careful planning and rehearsal on her part, or simply her husband of almost seven years rubbing off on her! (In the final moments of episode four, Noah says to Jenny, “You really are the Doctor’s daughter, aren’t you?”, to which she replies, in a very David Tennant-like voice, “Oh yes!” It may as well have come right from the 10th Doctor’s lips!) but there’s much more to her humour than simply imitating her “father”. Whether it’s verbally dismantling Garundel’s schemes right before his eyes (“This whole thing is a scam!” she exclaims. “Oh – and you two are idiots!”) or renaming her newly-stolen spaceship the Jenny One (“Shh!” she hisses at Noah. “It’s a name. Just go with it!”), Tennant brings a fast-paced humour and a delightful quirkiness to the role.

And that’s what’s so wonderful about this series. She’s not the Doctor, she’s not bound to his continuity, she has a fascinating history all her own, and yet many of the character traits that have drawn fans to the Doctor over the years are there, just in a slightly…different way. After finally hearing Jenny, on her own and in all her glory, one can’t help wondering if this could have been the future of the Doctor Who universe. Jodie Whittaker, eat your heart out. Peter McAlpine

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