Review by Jacob Licklider
Getting David Tennant to reprise his role as the Tenth Doctor is one of the biggest successes in Big Finish’s recent years and after two successful volumes of adventures, they are back with Volume 3. The main draw to this box set is the return of Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott in the first release of the set and as always bringing Tennant and Catherine Tate together will get fans excited.
Volume 3 opens with James Goss’s ‘No Place’, a horror story framed as a found footage paranormal home improvement show. A very visual hook effectively used in Dark Shadows: Beyond the Grave and Goss actually includes quite a few parallels. Both releases are tightly plotted character dramas which end in horrifying twists. No Place has the edge of a premise where the Doctor, Donna, Wilf, and Sylvia are all living together for a filming of ‘Haunted Makeovers’ hosted by a man called Justin who is the eternal sceptic. The plot is simple, haunted happenings in this old mansion are continuously denied by presenter Justin as they become more and more dangerous.There are bones dug up in the backyard, a crashing chandelier, and a final little twist to rationalise just about everything in the audio. Goss does this little trick with director Ken Bentley as there are several ‘cut outs’ to different scenes making the listener wonder just what is tricks and what is real. A standout in this audio is Tennant and Tate playing the Doctor and Donna as a married couple; to play into the illusion of luring this show to filming in their house. They play the characters as overly saccharine, having little nicknames for each other and trying so hard to convince the crew that they are happily married that nobody in the real world would buy for a moment. Tennant’s Tenth Doctor is also freed; like his other audio appearances, from the overly melodramatic trappings of the Russell T. Davies era. The Doctor is allowed to be the aloof genius that Tennant excelled at playing instead of the more whiny version of the character seen most often in Davies’ scripts. Bernard Cribbins also makes an amazing transition to audio, portraying Wilf just as well as he did in his on-screen appearances and it is only the writing of Jacqueline King’s Sylvia Noble which lets the story down. Sylvia is much closer to Francine Jones from Series 3, with a nature of not trusting the Doctor and throwing doubt on his abilities which may have made sense if this was set before The Sontaran Strategem and The Poison Sky, but as it is set afterwards so she acts more out of character than anything. Still No Place is an excellent little horror story to keep you chilled throughout. 8/10.
Up next is Jenny T. Colgan’s One Mile Down, a story with quite a bit of commentary on exploitation of cultures and a step down from No Place. The ideas behind One Mile Down are great: the city of Vallarasee is an underwater paradise which has been colonised by human beings while the aquatic indigenous life are forced to live in suits and do menial labour. With a premise like this the obvious path would be the Doctor and Donna arriving to stoke the flames of revolution, and because that doesn’t happen the story seems to leave the listener a little bit cold. Colgan’s script is wonderful for the Doctor, being the one to continuously be looking for the reason as to why humans have taken over, only stopping when the leaks in the air dome start happening. Donna is perhaps a little too close to a tourist personality and is almost lacking empathy into the plight of the natives. Colgan doesn’t give Donna much to do during the runtime, instead focusing on side characters including a stereotypical bigot and an inter-species couple; who’s romance falls apart because the human female is only using her fiancé for perceived social clout. With about six characters in the one-hour story One Mile Down is incredibly crowded, even with Donna being placed in the background. Colgan’s cluttering the story with too many elements doesn’t allow the great ideas of a subjugated underwater city and a pair of Judoon as an almost buddy cop pairing which again doesn’t get enough screen time to develop. Judoon in Chains this is not, yet there is still enjoyment to be had with One Mile Down. The clutter still has good ideas, the direction is great, and as always Tennant and Tate have an excellent chemistry throughout the piece. 6/10.
The final adventure for the Tenth Doctor and Donna is The Confessions of Dorian Gray and Dark Shadows alum Roy Gill’s The Creeping Death, the sets only historical adventure. Set against the backdrop of the Great Smog of London, this instalment follows the classic formula of an alien menace being a part of a famous historical event. As with many historical settings the sound design of The Creeping Death is key to executing a story like this: the quiet footsteps on the streets to having little background noise evokes the empty streets of London, and the interior of the Natural History Museum.
The alien invaders are insectoid creatures which feed off pollution, giving this story a political slant much like One Mile Down, yet The Creeping Death keeps its ideas spread out and gives everything time to breathe. Gill gives each of his characters a distinct voice from Ivy the Usherette, Richard and Terry the star-crossed lovers (well star-crossed for 1952, nowadays things would be different), and Alice Aiken the actress. The story’s climax reminds me of one of Big Finish’s early failures done well; though I won’t tell you which one for fear of spoilers. There are comments on environmentalism and homophobia in 1950s London done incredibly well in the hour run-time the story has allotted to it. As always Tennant and Tate are great and Ivy feels like she could become a permanent companion by the end of the story. When Donna mentions she approves of Richard and Terry’s relationship the actors give an amazingly accurate portrayal of having weights lifted from each other. The tone while more akin to thriller with a base under siege format over the horror of No Place. Gill’s first full-cast Doctor Who audio drama is a great success and the pinnacle of the box set leaving the best for last. 10/10.
The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 3 while having one story that is just above average, it can be described as a smashing success. Tennant and Tate have the best chemistry of any of the Tenth Doctor teams, Ken Bentley directs with aplomb, and as always Big Finish’s sound design teams are excellent. 8/10.
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