Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
For the latest tales from the Doctor Who world we return to New Earth. With a host of familiar characters and lots of new ones.We Kick of with Escape from New New York by Roy Gill. A story that has the heavy lifting to do of re-establishing the world and introducing the characters we will be dealing with in this set, as well as a running story going between the smaller stories. Devon (Kieran Hodgson) is a native of New New York, where his parents settled before their untimely death. He lives and works there with his boyfriend Thorn (Matthew Jacobs-Morgan). When Thorn goes missing, he almost literally runs into now Senator Hame (Anna Hope) who is on the trail of something sinister beginning of New Earth.
I must admit to finding it a struggle at first to get why I care about Devon. As a new character I feel we go straight into an adventure without feeling the heart of why we are on his side. This is something we get into more as the story goes on, I just would have liked to have this up front or to have gone in through the eyes of Hame who we already know and feel for and maybe that way we get to know and feel for Devon that way. The relationship between him and Thorn is interesting but we don’t get much time with it before Thorn disappears. This is not to say that this story isn’t good. It does it’s job of setting things up and introducing the Lux as the bad guys of the set, just a lot to fit in that for me might have been been better done differently. There is definitely the feel straight of the bat of the world Russel T Davies created and that is particularly well done. I also have to give a mention to the scene stealing performance by Dan Blaskey as the Duke of Brooklyn.
In Death in the New Forest by Roland Moore Devon is now working for Hame and on his first mission for her he meets Sapling Vale (Yasmin Bannerman) who is a cutting of the great Jane of the Forest of Cheem. She is investigating the suspicious deaths of many of her fellow trees. As luck would have it for her and Devon, our favourite Timelord is also on hand to help with the investigation.
This is where things heat up. Even before the Doctor shows up Bannerman adds to the feeling of the familiar and invested me in the story from the beginning, even though she is playing a different character. This in turn made me care more about Devon. Also, what a great way of bringing the actor back after her original character burned in her debut outing. Being a tree, a cutting makes sense. I can’t say I was originally a fan of the idea of talking trees in Doctor Who. I liked the character just the idea of trees gaining sentience left me a little cold. But in this story, like in the end of the world, once I got past that, the story is brilliant. Hodgson does an amazing 10th Doctor impression that really gives the feeling of the character being there. Then added to the mix as elder treeXylem Maple Dorm, Derek Griffiths is wonderful and it’s really a pleasure to see him pop up as an old family favourite. He just is a wise elder in this that you could listen to him talk for days. I think what is key to what I love in this story is an ensemble cast of characters throughout the story.
So after going through the city & the forest, Paul Morris pens a story in The Skies of New Earth. Devon is posting as a reporter as a debate is about to be help on an energy project for the city of New Caelum. But when it appears this energy project may have a more sinister end, Devon is joined by the Doctor and they must call upon the Bird People and a friendly Solar Bear to help save the day.
This is another story with a lot going on, that it for the most part juggles well. Firstly I want to give a shout out to Toby Hadoke who plays a plethora of parts. I instantly recognised his voice as the debate moderator. But even though I have interviewed him and met him a few times, I would never have guessed him as the Scandinavian Silver haired bear Oscar. A man of many talents indeed and a stand-out character to a lead in any future sets. The bird people are interesting and all seem to have characterisations from the different types of bird they are derived from. As one slight qualm, even as a life long sci-fi fan I did get a little bit lost on some of the technobabble around the solution that saved the day. I replayed it twice but still couldn’t really get it, but this could just be me! As with the story before the Doctor is used very nicely. He is an ingredient in the story that feels needed, but he’s used in a way that lets the characters of this story shine.
Finally The Cats of New Cairo by Matt Fitton sees Hain being summoned by the Exalted High Persian (James Dreyfus), taking Devon with her to New Cairo. A place like in our Cairo where cats are held in great esteem. Whilst Hain wants to shine a light on the Lux, she soon finds out others want to work with them and with help the Lux might have a disastrous end game for all the diverse people of New Earth.
A very nice conclusion to the set which sees the Doctor only making a cameo, but at a time when it really feels right for the people we have got to know through the set take centre stage. James Dreyfus is wonderful as the Persian and clearly relishes the part.
For me this is a good first set for New Earth directed by Helen Goldwyn, but not without some things I’d like to see ironed out before a next set. Some of which will naturally be dealt with as we have established what the story structure is. Even before I heard in the extras that RTD had been contacted for his blessing and had given his ideas of what he would put in the set, I could feel the touch of his style in the writing. I do have to turn off the part of my head which finds it a little incredulous that every place name would be called new “insert Earth place here” or that every creature on Earth has evolved to be humanoid as have the trees. But as above, once I do this I can admire how they have created characters with this as a a starting point. What would a bird person who decanted from a jackdaw sound like compared to a crow man?
The few comments above aside, the standard of writing is really high as with all Big Finish. Maybe why I hold them to a high standard, because they are that good!. I think certainly now they have established this world it would be a surprise if we didn’t return to it.
You can buy it now on CD or download here https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/tales-from-new-earth-1683