Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Twelfth Doctor Chronicles Vol 1
After last year’s two Short Trips Dead Media and The Best-Laid Plans – and ahead of May’s multi-Doctor tale Regeneration Impossible – Jacob Dudman performs the Twelfth Doctor in four full-length stories as part of the Doctor Chronicles range.
In a departure from previous volumes, this release features no narration of companions such as Clara or Bill. Instead, each adventure features the Doctor meeting or travelling with a one-off companion for the duration of the episode.
The Twelfth Doctor Chronicles Vol 1 was directed by Helen Goldwyn and produced by Alfie Shaw. Hear it exclusively via the Big Finish website until general release after April 30th 2020. Episode synopses are as follows:
The Charge of the Night Brigade by David Llewellyn
In the rat-infested camps of the Crimea, Mary Seacole offers a vital service to the beleaguered troops, serving up rice pudding and treating the wounded at her ‘British Hotel’.
Mary’s no-nonsense attitude is tested by the Doctor’s arrival. Together, they must deal with a strange infection not of this Earth...
War Wounds by Mark Wright
When Danny Pink finds the TARDIS door open in a Coal Hill storeroom, he can’t help wondering about Clara’s double life and the truth about the Doctor.
But he gets much more than he bargained for. Stuck amid an alien war, can Danny and the Doctor stop arguing long enough to make it out alive?
Distant Voices by Lizbeth Myles
Cameron is haunted by strange voices. As she gets on with her job conducting tours around Rochester Castle, she hopes that they’ll just go away.
Fortunately for Cameron, the Doctor has joined her tour. He hears the voices too, and he knows what they mean. Time itself is starting to fracture...
Field Trip by Una McCormack
Osgood gets an offer she can’t resist when the Doctor drops in – her first flight in the TARDIS!
The Doctor is calling on Osgood’s expertise to stop an invasion, but what begins as a fact-finding mission quickly becomes something far more dangerous. Osgood’s intergalactic field trip is about to get very hands-on!
The Charge of the Night Brigade
The opening instalment is not only a welcome return for the Twelfth Doctor and Jacob Dudman, but also acts as a fascinating depiction of an under-appreciated historical figure in the form of Jamaican hotelier and wartime nurse Mary Seacole.
Dudman must be commended for his masterful quasi-performance as Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Although the vocal performance comes across as a little strained in comparison to Capaldi’s original – owing to the age difference between the two actors – Dudman captures the essence of the Twelfth Doctor’s vocal mannerisms. This includes his impatience around authority figures and the glib repartees that conceal a dazzling hidden empathy, enabling Dudman to fully realise this Doctor’s vocal range.
This is a Twelfth Doctor story, but its protagonist is undoubtedly Mary Seacole. Such a remarkable woman who accomplished what she did for medicine during the Crimean War could have no less than an entire episode devoted to revealing her aptitude in the face of hardship, her initiative and spirit, and her resistance against authority. She does not suffer fools gladly, and rightly so.
One of the most fascinating qualities of range such as the Doctor Chronicles is the ability, via narration, for listeners to view the Doctor through someone else’s eyes – such as Mary’s. This story, with such a well-drawn character like Mary, is one of those tales.
The Crimean setting is well realised by writer David Llewellyn, who populates the episode with moustachioed senior officers and highly unpleasant conditions (open wounds, squelching mud, constant rain), helped by simple but effective sound effects. The hour-long runtime, uncommon to revival-era Doctor Who, allows all facets of the narrative to be fleshed out, from character to setting to alien threat. The Charge of the Night Brigade is a great start to the Twelfth Doctor Chronicles.
War Wounds picks up the idea, post-The Caretaker, of Danny Pink’s mistrust of and wariness around the Doctor, having the former decide to confront the latter upon finding the TARDIS in a stationery room at Coal Hill School. Danny sees the Doctor as a dangerous figure – and considering Clara’s eventual demise comes about because she emulates the Doctor, this is an entirely reasonable position to take.
The episode is a welcome opportunity to flesh out the character and to retroactively improve series 8 further. Danny’s unassuming and lighthearted charm is contrasted with an internalised trauma that triggers flashbacks to his time as a soldier. These were done well on the show in 2014, teased out across the course of the series, and Mark Wright picks up on that thread here.
The fish-out-of-water Danny has a less awe-struck and adoring view than most of the Doctor and his knack for dropping in, picking someone up out of their daily business and transporting them to a different place entirely. This inversion upon the typical way companions – and audience members – idolise the Doctor is very much a Moffat-like trope for how it subverts the usual approach to both the Doctor archetype and trips in the TARDIS (think Clara in The Snowmen, Bill in The Pilot).
Mark Wright invests the story with exuberant description and worldbuilding – look no further than a dinosaur in army uniform holding a gun – and Samuel Anderson’s performance has an energy that, coupled with enthusiastic narration from Dudman, never lets the story dip below engaging. Ultimately, the exploration of Danny’s qualms with the Doctor in War Wounds enhances the themes of series 8 and the function of Danny’s character.
Emily Redpath, a first-timer at Big Finish and on audio, appears as Cameron in a kind of haunted house – or rather, haunted castle – story written by Lizbeth Myles (who also scripted last year’s The Astrea Conspiracy).
Cameron is a tour guide at Rochester Castle who hears strange voices; continuing the themes of combat and war of this whole volume, those voices are those of soldiers from a past conflict bleeding through to contemporary England. Cameron and the Doctor are soon dragged physically back into the past into the midst of a castle siege. These historical sequences are full of knights and clashing swords, and is accompanied by an authentic-sounding musical score from Ioan Morris.
Myles keeps the narrative close to Cameron as she experiences the time shifts alongside the Doctor. This provides a level of intimacy for showing her involvement in the action, while also depicting moments from the castle’s history. This specificity works well within the dimensions of the Chronicles, for how the range uses a very limited cast of two in any given episode. Later, when the narrative shifts again into the far future, the drama stays close to the character of Cameron and allows Redpath to shine and Dudman to continue his admirable performance as Twelve.
Although Distant Voices is far from an essential episode of Doctor Who – and probably the least essential of these four episodes – the fresh combination of Redpath and Dudman is pleasantly intimate in its execution of a partly-historical story, and highlights the talent of its two young performers.
UNIT series regular Osgood is reunited with the Doctor in Una McCormack’s closer to this first volume of Twelfth Doctor Chronicles. An appearance from Osgood’s Zygon (or is it human?) “sister” and use of the sonic sunglasses place this script firmly within series 9.
McCormack’s witty script allows for a lot of Doctor-Osgood interaction, which is never a bad thing, and gives a nice continuity from their time spent together in the 2015 Zygon two-parter, which was also Osgood’s last television appearance. There is tangible joy at her being brought along on an adventure with the Doctor.
Her technical wizardry comes in handy too, justifying the team-up for the purposes of this story and setting the stage for a fun romp. We see more sides to Osgood, from a fear of heights to a surprising suaveness when going undercover at a casino.
Dudman, again, brings his A-game to portraying a wide range of accented individuals. His skill as a performer is such that you quickly forget it is a single actor portraying multiple people instead of a full cast. Consider the audience’s disbelief effectively suspended.
McCormack describes the world vividly and lends a healthy serving of satire of business and trade exploitation – which also ties into the series arc of invasion and ‘warfare’ (in this case of the corporate kind). McCormack has issued a solid adventure for a character pairing who deserve more time together.
Each episode is supplemented by brief behind-the-scenes interviews. To begin with, Dudman explains the relative difficulty of achieving Twelve’s voice in comparison to Ten or Eleven (the latter of whom he finds the easiest). His working relationship with director Helen Goldwyn is clearly delightful for all involved.
The script editor explains the rationale for pairing Twelve with the no-nonsense Mary Seacole, interpreting the characterisation of the Doctor early in this incarnation as a spikier version of the more openly empathetic character who emerges across his era. Mark Wright describes his intention to riff off M.A.S.H. when exploring Danny Pink’s relationship with the Doctor, whereas Samuel Anderson slips right back into the role over five years after last appearing.
Guest actor Emily Redpath is praised for her openness to direction despite her relative inexperience in audio drama, while Dudman lauds Doctor Who for its educational ability to open up periods of history to the audience, particularly for younger members of the audience. Be sure to listen right to the end of the fourth disc to catch Matt Fitton’s laugh-out-loud final comment.
Although Dudman’s age works against him in portraying the full depth of Capaldi’s Doctor, he should be praised for invoking a performance from a man forty years his senior, as well as his extensive preparation and perpetual enthusiasm. His engaging main performance, alongside those of returning quasi-companions and new faces alike, is the centrepiece of four fun, well-written and thematically rich episodes of Doctor Who that draw from one of the newest and freshest eras of the show.