Big Finish Review: Jenny - The Doctor's Daughter
After a decade of fan enthusiasm, petitions and rumours, popular one-off character Jenny has made her return to the Doctor Who with her own four-story boxset of adventures.
Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter was released in early June, and it was well worth the wait, with Big Finish releasing a fun-fuelled, dynamic and cohesive series of tales which are available to download here and on general release on the 31st August 2018.
Directed by Barnaby Edwards and produced by David Richardson, the set stars Georgia Tennant (who also acts as Associate Producer) as the titular Jenny, Sean Biggerstaff as Noah and Siân Phillips as COLT-5000.
Here are the synopses...
1.1 Stolen Goods by Matt Fitton
Jenny is new to the universe and keen to explore – but in unfamiliar spaceships, accidents happen. She’s lucky to have someone on-hand to help. A slippery, fast-talking someone, called Garundel.
Soon, Jenny is mixed up in cons and explosions. But she also finds something strange, inexplicable, and as new to universe as she is. She’ll call him Noah.
1.2 Prisoner of the Ood by John Dorney
Moving into Leafield Crescent, Angie Glazebrook is surprised by an unexpected caller. But not half as surprised as Jenny, suddenly transported to a suburban close on twenty-first century Earth.
And that’s nothing to the surprise of the neighbours when alien visitors start appearing. Visitors with tentacled mouths, carrying death-dealing orbs. The Ood have come for their prisoner…
1.3 Neon Reign by Christian Brassington
The Dragon Lord rules Kamshassa with fear. Half the oppressed population live in an addicted stupor, while the other half are forced into service. Factories belch poisonous smoke, and Dragon Guards patrol the streets, condemning dissenters to the Eternal Fire.
When Jenny and Noah arrive, it’s only a matter of time before they start a revolution.
1.4 Zero Space by Adrian Poynton
Out in deep space, in the middle of – quite literally – nowhere, Jenny and Noah believe they’ve found a safe haven. And, very possibly, some answers. But the space station holds many secrets, and it won’t be long before Jenny’s past catches her up.
Bounty hunter COLT-5000 is on her trail and will stop at nothing to hunt down its quarry… even in Zero Space!
Firstly, it must be said that the theme tune by American composer Joe Kraemer is instantly catchy and full of life, just like the stories it bookends. Drawing inspiration from the Doctor Who theme, this one adds all manner of uplifting orchestral flourishes that seem very appropriate for Jenny. Plus, there is some funky rock guitar reminiscent of the 2008 Tennant theme, bringing everything full circle. You will be nodding along to the theme in no time.
Stolen Goods, the first we’ve heard of Jenny for ten years, juggles the challenge of reintroducing a character after such a long interlude, telling a self-contained story containing a bunch of vividly-drawn characters, while also while setting up the longer four-episode story arc for the set. All things considered, writer Matt Fitton succeeds admirably, providing a fun and exciting maiden adventure for Jenny without the Doctor, with the necessary dose of mystery and dangerous escapades.
From the outset, Jenny finds herself embroiled in the machinations of a pair of slippery con artists. Her stolen spaceship has a run-in with a vehicle belonging to the snarky and slippery Garundel, a toad-like creature from the planet Rodel, and the lying and cheating ensue. Stuart Milligan’s Garundel is as far removed from the actor’s role as President Nixon in 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon as can be, and he appears to be having immense fun here.
Sean Biggerstaff’s Noah enters the fray as an amnesiac in cold storage awoken by Jenny during one of her escape attempts from Garundel’s clutches. Like Jenny, Noah is appropriately fresh-faced and innocent, providing the necessary moments of introspection and mystery that will continue to be scattered throughout the remaining episodes. The addition of Siân Phillips’ COLT-5000 bounty hunter cyborg (with as-yet-unknown motivations) makes for a highly dynamic cast and punchy adventure.
Overall, the episode is an effective kick-start for Jenny’s solo series, hints at a deeper mystery for Noah and propels listeners onto the next instalment.
Prisoner of the Ood
The second story, branded “the comedy one” in the behind the scenes, features the debut of the Ood in a Big Finish audio. They fit neatly into this tale, which also shows Jenny at her wittiest and most enthusiastic, and the entire experience follows on nicely from the first episode while building on the questions and themes that have been established.
Barring cameo appearances, it has been a while since the Ood featured in the television series (Already eight years since The End of Time!), meaning that it is brilliant to hear Silas Carson’s delightful tones once more. Although the voice differs slightly from the televised version, likely due to the original vocal effect not being used, the result is still recognisably – and wonderfully – Ood.
The tone is spry and the dialogue sparkling. Writer John Dorney afford all the characters fantastic individuality, clearly enjoys evoking wild reactions from everyday people, and (spoilers) does not miss out on upping the body horror factor with a visceral human-to-Ood transition scene.
In featuring the Ood, the story predictably includes elements of mind control and suggestion, although Dorney adds a nice subversion on the usual tropes, which is seeded nicely earlier in the episode. Prisoner of the Ood continues the momentum established in Stolen Goods and had me racing to listen to the next part.
“Men? Work? Men are to be revered and provided for!”
Neon Reign takes Jenny and Noah from the domestic to the futuristic, where they land on the planet Kamshassa, ruled by the tyrannical Dragon Lord and home to some antiquated views on gender roles. Orwellian vibes are quickly evident, with residents witnessing hourly television announcements telling them to wake or to sleep, and strict rules being enforced with immediate ‘processing’.
Jenny and Noah, accompanied by Arina II’s forward-thinking and capable Shoon-Wei, swiftly intervene with the established order, being whisked up into what feels like a two-hour blockbuster film in half the time. The plot moves very fast, but rather than making for a confusing and rushed listen, this simply works to ratchet up the fun factor. There is also an unexpected and highly welcome link to another corner of Big Finish lore – it is great to see the producers embracing the idea of crafting their own mythology within the Doctor Who universe while incorporating well-known and existing elements from the television series.
Kraemer’s score from the very first seconds designates an ethereal, Blade Runner-influenced tone with a significant shift away from the action and suburban themes of the two previous episodes, showing shows his versatility and talent as a composer. (The isolated music score at the end of the boxset is a delight to listen to all over again!)
Jenny once again shows an unbridled exuberance to help out, do good and be kind. She might know her way out of a sticky situation and be handy in a fist-fight, but she’s a lot more than that (she’s smart, and not arrogant about it like her father can sometimes be…). All things considered, this is an atmospheric listen with a message to share – and a fire-breathing dragon to top it all off.
Zero Space rounds out the set with an expectedly climactic tale full of hurtling spaceships, high-science fiction concepts and numerous near-brushes with death. This episode brings things to a head, with a confrontation between Jenny and COLT-5000 and the temptation of finding out more about Noah’s backstory and origin.
Jenny and Noah visit the “most cutting-edge science research facility” situated in the midst of a region of zero space – space where there nothing should exist – populated by two sets of identical scientists. More so than the preceding episodes, this script deals directly with the mystery surrounding Noah’s heritage, and adds into the mix the mystery at the heart of the space station called The Eye of the Storm.
I’ve mentioned Kraemer’s score a few times, but it’s just that good, and I came to appreciate it more and more across the course of this set. Early in this episode, it takes on recognisably Star Wars-esque vibes in a frankly fantastic atmosphere-inducing way, helping to set the stage for the final good-versus-bad confrontation at the story’s climax.
The story is still full of wit and humour though, and although Adrian Poynton’s second recorded script for Big Finish (after the Fourth Doctor tale Dethras) ultimately leaves us without definitive answers as to Noah’s background and to COLT-5000’s fate, it nonetheless brings Jenny’s first solo outing to an exciting and emotionally resonant close.
And that ending!
An added hour featuring interviews with the crew and cast is included at the end of the set. Of particular interest are details about the long production process from inception to recording, which took around 18 months. Script editor Matt Fitton explains the idea behind the series tone and John Dorney talks of drawing on his upbringing in creating the setting for the second episode. Plus, Tennant’s enthusiasm for the character and her potential are clear, and we learn of what her increased involvement in the production as Associate Producer means.
All of the cast are seen to be enjoying themselves thoroughly. There are also some fascinating anecdotes especially from the cast of Neon Reign, including from Pik-Sen Lim and her real-life daughter Sara Houghton about filming the 1971 story The Mind of Evil, which was directed by Pik-Sen Lim’s husband at the time, Don Houghton.
This boxset, although definitely a fun and action-packed adventure, isn’t afraid of having something to say, with each story in some way dealing with themes of freedom, individuality and breaking away from one’s oppressors/overlords. Jenny herself quickly learns that seeing justice prevail is the way to go, proving herself to truly be her father’s daughter.
Questions are asked but not all are answered, leaving room for follow-up releases – and judging by the reaction to this set, it will not be surprising to see Jenny’s adventures captured on audio for many years to come. Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter is crazy, high-octane and triumphant, showing Jenny at her wittiest and most daring. This is science fiction-comedy adventure at its best.