Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 3
The Tenth Doctor era continues to prove one of the most popular eras of Doctor Who, and his series alongside Donna Noble proved one of the most memorable from the New Series. After first reuniting in 2016, David Tennant and Catherine Tate return for three further tales, this time teaming up with mother Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble) and grandfather Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott).
The third volume of Tenth Doctor Adventures is directed by Ken Bentley and produced by David Richardson for Big Finish. It is available either in a limited edition set or as individual stories (see the website for details). The synopses are as follows:
No Place by James Goss
It's ‘Haunted Makeovers!’ The home improvement show with a spooky twist.
The Noble family are hoping to cast out a few spirits along with the old bathroom suite. Presenter Justin joins Donna, Wilf, Sylvia and the Doctor for the latest edition of his reality TV series.
Of course, Justin knows that any supernatural phenomena can be faked. Ghosts can't possibly be real. Can they..?
One Mile Down by Jenny T Colgan
Donna and the Doctor take a holiday in the beautiful underwater city of Vallarasee.
Things have changed since the Doctor last swam through. Vallarasee is now enclosed in an airdome, with Judoon patrolling historic sites. Now, instead of tourists wearing breathing-helmets, native Fins are forced to adapt.
But leaks are trickling into the dome. The Judoon must be persuaded that disaster is imminent, or thousands will be trapped, as the waters rise...
The Creeping Death by Roy Gill
London, 1952, and a deadly smog envelops the capital.
But something even more dangerous - and alien - is hiding within the mists.
When the Doctor and Donna get lost in the fog, they find a motley group of Londoners trying to make their way home.
Very soon, the stakes are raised, as death creeps along fume-choked streets, and not everyone will make it out alive...
The three adventures follow a similar mixture of stories from the previous two releases, reflecting the time-jumping nature of the show: contemporary, futuristic and historical.
Doctor Who meets Homes Under the Hammer meets a haunted house story in No Place. The crew of ‘Haunted Makeovers’, a haunted house renovation show, visits a home owned rather humorously by Dr John Smith and his wife Donna, ostensibly to investigate the hauntings reported to occur there.
David Tennant and Catherine Tate are simply fantastic together. The pair show an immediate and intense rapport that was clear from their episodes on-screen in 2008. The cringeworthy husband-and-wife dynamic the Doctor and Donna force themselves to put on for the cameras while acting as the owners of the haunted house they are investigating is hilarious. The ‘cutesy’ names and moments of forced affection are top-notch and fit the characters perfectly. This is also a fun inversion on the usual trope of their denying any romantic connection, as was frequently assumed on-screen.
The Doctor cannot help but stray out of role, however, and heads into typical Doctor territory with stray references to past alien encounters while boldly taking charge; again, this is classic Tenth Doctor.
Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King are very welcome inclusions to fill out the main cast and set the story firmly in Series four of Doctor Who, when Sylvia and Wilf frequently made appearances in contemporary-set stories. The quartet of characters has an instant and sparkling rapport just like they did ten years previously. There is also mention of Wilf’s military background, only partly explored on screen, which is a great addition.
These four main characters are the highlight of the story, and react to the background of hauntings and superstition in ways that accurately reflect how they were originally written. With slow-building scares, a ghostly sound design and faintly-detected voices – plus a few jump scares – No Place never quite crosses over into full horror, but instead drills down into character interactions and the emotional core.
Writer James Goss mixes the ghosts with the humour for an atmospheric and familial story. He effectively uses the documentary-style narrative to heighten the creepiness and otherworldliness of the haunted abode, and uses the tight-knit main cast to play into themes of family, houses and belonging – to prove that there is, indeed, no place like home.
One Mile Down
One Mile Down, Jenny T Colgan’s second Big Finish story for the Tenth Doctor, draws upon common fantasy tropes and meaningful themes to create a fun yet resonant Doctor Who tale. Noticeable parallels are evident between the imagery of this story – an underwater city, fish species living with humanoids, and elements of the sound design – and the 2018 film Aquaman, which dealt with similar aquatic imagery and worldbuilding.
Yet Jenny T Colgan has taken this setting and written a visually and thematically rich story with expansive world-building that integrates ideas surrounding the ethics of tourism, the subjugation of indigenous people, cultural prejudice, inter-species relationships and the human destruction of indigenous environments for their own capitalist ends.
The Tenth Doctor, ever the moralist, takes a hard stance against the profit-oriented Andrea (Rakie Ayola) of the Intergalactic Trust. Andrea’s actions to place a giant air dome over the city and transform it into a tourist destination, while covering up workplace incidents and exploiting the local population as a labour force, are morally corrupt and make for a generally unpleasant individual. Her (inevitable) eventual downfall is a cautionary tale against an apathetic approach to engaging with indigenous cultures and unsustainable tourist practices.
Character-wise, the banter between Doctor and Donna lightens the mood among the serious issues involved, and Donna continues to reign the Doctor in and softens the volatile edges of his character. Despite Tennant’s voice sounding ever so slightly coarser than eleven years previously, still conveys the energy and vigour to convey the bouncy, run-about nature of the Tenth Doctor.
One Mile Down features Donna’s first chronological encounter with the space-rhino Judoon. The Nicholas Briggs-voiced security force are not the focus of the plot, but their presence ties the story into the series four arc. The inclusion of Clo, a “Judoon-in-training”, also expands the lore further while also adding a dollop of cuteness to the tale.
Although One Mile Down is on one level an exciting fantasy story about the once-underwater city of Vallarasee populated by a water-breathing and fish-like race, the exploitation of the indigenous population’s heritage sites for tourism and capitalist gain are meaty topics the story does not hesitate to address.
The Creeping Death
The set culminates with a dive into the Great Smog of London in December 1952. The story does a good job at capturing what must have been an horrific experience for thousands of people, although The Creeping Death focuses on a limited group of characters for reasons of practicality.
Roy Gill has written a very human story with an array of distinct and realised characters, each of whom has a backstory, although three of them are fleshed out more than others. The illegality of homosexuality, a reality of the era, is incorporated into the story beyond a surface-level mention, which in addition to compounding the authenticity of the setting, also fleshes out the two gay characters in a believable and resonant way.
The Doctor and Donna team up with cinema usherette Ivy (Lauren Cornelius), innocent Terry (Theo Stevenson) and his resourceful boyfriend Richard (Kieran Bew), acerbic and self-centred West End actress Alice (Helen Goldwyn), and brusque salesman Malcolm (Stephen Critchlow). The array of characters is impressive, and all flawed but human, people brought together by chance and forced to work together for their collective survival. This captures the essence of the Russell T Davies/Tenth Doctor era.
There is of course an alien presence in the smog seeking to execute its malevolent plan to take over the Earth, but this threat ultimately proves secondary to the human interactions and motivations. Each story in this set is not simply a ghost story, or a trip to an alien planet, or a visit to period in history – the episodes have meaningful messages to convey. In this case, Gill points to human pollution of the atmosphere and acceptance of same-sex relationships as topics which even in contemporary times are highly relevant.
There is a hint at the series four story arc (with one character mentioning there being something on Donna’s back) and references to other stories (such the Doctor helping victims of the Pompeii eruption, and “molto bene!”). Overall, Gill balances drama with a tone of exciting adventure while exploring an historical event in a resonant and meaningful way.
The special edition features a bounty of extra content, including 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew – full of engrossing tales, humour and producing insights – as well as an extra 50-minute disc of interviews and excerpts chronicling David Tennant’s presence at Big Finish. Of note here is the cast’s delight at being able to work again with Bernard Cribbins, as well as being together after ten years. There is an obvious rapport and close relationship between Tate and Tennant, and their presence in studio evidently proving highly enjoyable for all involved.
In addition, a five-minute music track from Howard Carter follows each adventure. No Place’s orchestral score is appropriately eerie and tense, music for One Mile Down evokes the wonder and scale of the planet Vallarasee, and The Creeping Death’s suite has a heroism and energy that reflect the action of the story.
The limited edition’s final disc takes a trip down memory lane and compiles extended excerpts and interviews from David Tennant’s previous involvement at Big Finish. These appearances range from those prior to his tenure as the Doctor, with stories in The Monthly Adventures (2001, 2004), the Unbound series (2003) and the third series of Dalek Empire (2004), to his return to the role of the Doctor in 2016 and 2017 alongside Catherine Tate and Billie Piper respectively.
The limited edition is worth the extra £3/$3 if cast and crew interviews and extra material are a personal highlight of the listening experience.
The third volume of The Tenth Doctor Adventures is a strong, well-made release. Three very different stories emulate three different elements of Doctor-Donna storytelling from series four, and each feature richly drawn characters and settings that heighten the quality of the drama. The two lead actors prove themselves just as impressive in their roles as they were in 2008, and the writers’ world-building captures the narrative essence of the show in a way that confirms this set as obligatory listening for New Series fans.