Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Short Trips: The Infinite Today
Rounding off Big Finish's January Doctor Who content was their latest short trips, featuring classic companion Jo in an adventure with a very different Doctor - the Eleventh - narrated by Katy Manning herself.
The Infinite Today has been written by Sharon Bidwell and directed by Nicholas Briggs. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here. Check out the synopsis below...
Jo Jones is travelling. Setting out from London Gatwick to Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick.
Jo Jones is travelling once again. Setting out from London Gatwick to Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick with the same crew and passengers.
Jo Jones is travelling once again. Setting out from London Gatwick to Mexico, she lands back at Gatwick with precisely the same crew and passengers, again.
Jo Jones is travelling once again…
I'll be joined by my son Ben, a huge Doctor Who fan and regular Big Finish reviewer , to discuss this latest short trips...
Baz Greenland (aged 38)
After making her on-screen return as Jo in 2010 The Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor, Katy Manning has had a bit of a resurgence as a modern day version of the classic Third Doctor companion, appearing in last year's wonderful Big Finish Torchwood tale The Green Life with Captain Jack Harkness. Now Twenty First Century Jo Jones is back again and this time she encounters Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor once again, following their first meeting in that The Sarah Jane Adventures classic.
While we don't actually have Matt Smith back, Manning does a sterling job of narrating the tale of Jo's encounter with a younger, looking older Doctor. Her enthusiasm is boundless as she brings Sharon Bidwell's story to life and its one that plays to the companion's strengths. With a strong moral thread concerning climate change - environmentalism being one of Jo's greatest passions - The Infinite Today has a timely message for its audience and one I would argue handled a bit more subtlety than recent Doctor Who episode Orphan 55's superb but hamfistedly executed narrative centre.
Groundhog Day-style storytelling is often a lot of fun, and there's a lot to enjoy as Jo becomes increasingly more confused and frustrated by her repeated flights to and from Gatwick as time itself is continually repeated. The reveal - and how it ties into Jo's attempts to save the environment - is nicely drawn out, piece by piece, with Manning having a lot of fun with the various alien voices inside Jo's head. Admittedly, she doesn't quite capture the inflections of Matt Smith's Doctor in her performance, but then her strength always lies with creating Jon Pertwee's gruffer, more direct performance.
Did the story fill the full 45-minute time frame of an Eleventh Doctor story? Not quite. There is a sense that the middle section meanders a little as Jo continues her investigation and her encounters with the Doctor provide (somewhat surprisingly) the least compelling element of the narrative. The ending, however, is superb, with Manning's enthusiasm boundless as the story reaches its climax.
The Infinite Today is a charming little tale, with Katy Manning's enthusiastic narration and a strong morale message selling writer Sharon Bidwell's story. As someone who adores Matt Smith's Doctor, I could have largely done without him. While his skills and experience certainly come in useful in resolving the threat to Jo - and the story serves as a nice little sequel to Death of the Doctor.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
Finally, my favourite Doctor! Since Big Finish had received the license for stories featuring the modern Doctors, they've been surprisingly lacking in the areas of Doctors Nine and Eleven. However, that partly changes with the return of the Eleventh Doctor reuniting with Jo Jones for the first time since The Sarah Jane Adventures' Death of the Doctor.
On screen, those two had already struck up a great chemistry and relationship, so on audio how would it play out? Well due to the lack of Matt Smith, not as well. Katy Manning does her best to recapture the essence of the Doctor and Jo, and it is good, but any two-hander performed by only one person was always going to be a bit of a struggle. It also must be said how Manning's impression of Smith's Doctor does sadly fail to capture the essence of his voice, veering of towards more of a Pertwee impression (Understandable considering). However considering that she is a lot older than Smith, capturing his voice was always going to become a tough task.
But what of the story itself? The first thirteen minutes play out as a good old fashioned mystery in the style of the movie Groundhog Day. How Jo deals with being looped around is fun to listen too, as she tries to narrow down who might be messing with time. However, when the Doctor finally makes an appearance, the time loop element is sort of lost, as a large chunk of the plot is revealed. The scene of the Doctor and Jo discussing matters like Jo's environmental protests is a sweet listen, with references to the Axons and Cliff littered in. The way that Smith's Doctor reacts to certain elements hear does feel like the way he acted on screen, changing from silly to sad to cunning, and his disgust at a yogurt he took from a woman is great.
Then we get to the main aliens of the piece. They sadly are the weak link in this story, just spewing suggestions and exposition so we can understand the flow of events, and we feel all the more cheated when we don't even see them get defeated, and it's implied they just get a stern talking to by the Doctor. However it picks up again in the final prolonged ten minutes of the Doctor and Jo having a catch up in a taxi as the Doctor reveals he knows when Jo is due to die, and about all the losses he has and will sustain.
Overall, The Infinite Today is a fun little tale, which does drag in places, but is ultimately a reunion between the Eleventh Doctor and Jo, with some emotional touches sprinkled in and some comedy. It's a good inauguration for the Eleventh Doctor into the Short Trips range, and hopefully paves the way for many more stories for him to come.