The two elements that the company was not able to port over with Tennant and Tate are perhaps the two most prominent; Davies’ words and Murray Gold’s music. Howard Carter’s incidental score doesn’t attempt to replicate the latter, but instead settles for invoking its scale and melodic approach, while simultaneously retaining the house feel apparent on other Big Finish releases. It works very well – and there’s a version of the Murray Gold Series Four arrangement for the ‘titles’ and ‘credits’, which should be plenty to send tingles up and down the spines of Doctor-Donna fans everywhere.
The words is a different matter, Davies’ entire five years of Doctor Who being an exercise in achieving a consistent universe – more often than not involving the showrunner providing the words in other people’s scripts himself. Here the authors of the three hour-long plays don’t have the luxury of Davies rewriting or even simply rubberstamping their plots and dialogue, so it’s delightful how closely this first volume of Tenth Doctor Adventures manages to capture the Doctor and Donna. There are some obvious allusions to, and even direct steals from, dialogue originally spoken by the characters back in 2008, but that’s just the surface glitter; each of the three writers manages to channel the two actors’ defining characteristics throughout – with the help of Tennant and Tate’s performances no doubt – regardless of the new situations the Doctor and Donna find themselves in.
And that’s where these audio plays might also have run adrift somewhat, being a quarter of an hour longer than the episodes that inspired them and not having the luxury of visual imagery – and more vitally visual performances – to help carry the stories and the relationships along. There was potential for the writers to attempt Davies-style stories without the pictures, or maybe worse go too far in another direction, but again a happy medium has been reached whereby a number of Davies’ preoccupations are embraced without the new writers feeling it incumbent upon themselves to replicate his style absolutely. As such the plots feel like Big Finish stories but slightly hemmed in, with fewer additional characters and locations, letting the main duo shine without opening things out too far and allowing for possible confusion for audio newcomers
Matt Fitton’s Technophobia opens the set, a cousin to the Peter Capaldi story Flatline by way of a location similar to that of The Big Bang and some of the premise of Peter Dickinson’s The Changes. Such is the way of Doctor Who, and particularly of Big Finish, that Fitton can take elements we’ve seen elsewhere and keep them fresh – the characters being our primary focus. It’s a natural feeling fit for a familiar but reimagined Tenth Doctor and Donna, finding themselves a couple of years into their 2008 future but still a little in our past. Next up is Time Reaver by Jenny T Colgan, a very human-shaped story in the most sci-fi of environments – a planet made entirely out of spare parts and with an undercurrent of timey-wimey – maintaining the slightly more tech feel of the collection than Davies would probably have sustained. The illustrations of the Time Reavers in action are perhaps a little more suited to television than audio, but otherwise it’s a smart little story that again forefronts the Doctor and especially Donna, maintaining the balance between TV-style action and the kind of thoughtful approach that audio encourages, with a finely judged touch of emotional back-story in keeping with Donna’s television trajectory.
Finally, there’s Death and the Queen by James Goss, completing the modern/future/past arrangement of the release. Probably the most playful yet also challenging of the three episodes, this finds Donna running off to get married, in a decision as ill-inspired as the last time she attempted to do so – and effectively bringing the character back to how she entered the Doctor’s life. As with the previous two stories, there’s a slightly Steven Moffat feel to Big Finish’s take on Russell T Davies’ format, in essence, the best of all possible worlds.
The guest actors, of which there are a number of familiar names throughout – albeit carefully chosen so as not to get lost given that the attention is obviously and rightly going to be on the two regulars – tend to give performances more akin to Big Finish’s usual output than the very natural performances the two stars have imported from their time on TV, particularly on the first two episodes. There’s the possible threat of a disconnect here, but generally, the mood stays the right side of a fine line, as if the TV cast had wandered into the set of the Cushing movies. Any clashing caused soon becomes a part of the experience, and the characters and situations soon divert the attention.As for Tennant and Tate themselves, they’re having an absolute blast. Tennant is perhaps the more natural fit for audio, his vocal gymnastics lending themselves perfectly to the format, but Tate pretty much matches him (The Catherine Tate Show being a fantastic training ground for verbal dexterity), and one of the very few issues is with the dialogue occasionally getting lost in the music – a problem many listeners will find all too familiar. This isn’t quite Doctor Who 2008 Revisited, and that’s not necessarily a problem; Davies’ final full series was the extremity of his emotionally resonant take on Doctor Who, and in other areas it suffered concomitantly. Tennant and Tate were its great success story though, the thing that brought it to a peak of popularity, and even for a reviewer who wasn’t overly fond of Tennant’s tenth incarnation, it’s great to have them back – like a comfortable pair of shoes that haven’t been worn in years. The indication here is that there’s going to be a lot more where this came from; they’re evidently having the times and spaces of their lives.
DOCTOR WHO: THE TENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES VOLUME 1 / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / WRITTEN BY: MATT FITTON, JENNY T. COLGAN, JAMES GOSS / STARRING: DAVID TENNANT, CATHERINE TATE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW