It was only a matter of time before Big Finish was able to start making audios with David Tennant, and it’s exciting that they’ve finally started! Thankfully, the audios are also good! A bit uneven, but still good. It’s also worth noting that all of the stories in this box set are stand alone. There is no plotline that spans the entire set, which disappoints me a bit as I prefer my box sets to be part of one large story, but I appreciate that it allows the set to be accessible to any and everyone. But I digress. In this set, written by Matt Fitton, Jenny T Colgan, James Goss and directed by Nicholas Briggs, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) continue their journey through time and space together in three stand alone stories. From technology fearing people to illegal weapons to Death itself, the Doctor and Donna must unravel the mysteries that always seem to plague them whenever and wherever they go. (Spoilers ahead)
Technophobia (by Matt Fitton)
Damn, this is the first audio from Matt Fitton that I haven’t really cared for. In a society that’s growing ever increasingly reliant on technology, what happens when an alien race arrives and makes humans afraid of that technology? That’s the central premise of the episode, and it’s… fine. From the Big Finish website: “When the Doctor and Donna visit London’s Technology Museum for a glimpse into the future, things don’t go to plan. The most brilliant IT brain in the country can’t use her computer. More worrying, the exhibits are attacking the visitors, while outside, people seem to be losing control of the technology that runs their lives. Is it all down to simple human stupidity, or is something more sinister going on? Beneath the streets, the Koggnossenti are waiting. For all of London to fall prey to technophobia…” Like I said, it’s fine. It’s not a bad episode, but I didn’t care for it much, either. The first fifteen minutes, or so, are incredibly tedious to get through. Thankfully, the episode does pick up after that, but it can be a bit tricky to actually make it to the point where the episode starts getting good.
You’d think that with the extra run time this episode has compared to episodes of the Tenth Doctor’s run on TV that the aliens and their motivations would be better elaborated on. Well, you’d be wrong. They’re as underdeveloped and uninteresting as most any of the monsters were in David Tennant’s run (with a few exceptions, of course). Instead, the supporting cast has to do the heavy lifting and make the Koggnossenti seem threatening. Yeah, the idea of an alien species being able to turn back the evolutionary clock on humans and make us super dumb again is threatening, but the way it’s executed in the story is just kind of… boring? Borderline tedious, really. I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but this story just didn’t do it for me. It’s not bad; the dialogue is spot on and there are a lot of stellar performances from the guest cast, but it’s just another meh episode for me. In a way, it fits right in with David Tennant’s run as the Doctor as I found a lot of his episodes to just be “meh”. So kudos to fitting right in? (3 out of 5 wands)
The Time Reaver (by Jenny T Colgan)
I liked this episode a lot more than I liked the previous one, that’s for sure. From the Big Finish website: “Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn’t want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach. The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonizingly. The Time Reaver.” I really like how this one really feels like a proper 90s space adventure. Like something you’d find on Star Trek: TNG or Firefly (I know Firefly was the early 2000s, but shh.) It takes place in a spaceport full of smugglers selling items of dubious legality. Our heroes are there for a fairly innocuous reason and end up getting dragged into a mess when something inevitably heads south on the planet. It’s just lots of fun.
The other thing that really makes this story work is how clever the idea of a Time Reaver is. Sure, the audio effect that’s used whenever the weapon is fired can be a bit annoying, the concept of the weapon itself is really great. It’s like something you’d expect the Time Lords would have made during the Time War, which makes the way the Doctor reacts to the presence of Time Reavers all the more interesting. He recognizes them as some of the worst weapons ever created, and he’s seen a lot of weapons. I appreciate how all of the characters were written; many of them are filled with shades of gray, and shades of gray are always more interesting than black and white characters are. It’s just an all around enjoyable episode with strong performances from Catherine Tate, David Tennant, and the guest cast. It’s rad. (4 out of 5 wands)
Death and the Queen (by James Goss)
And to think, this idea sounded so good, too. From the Big Finish website: “Donna Noble has never been lucky in love. So, when, one day, her Prince does come, she is thrilled to have the wedding of all weddings to look forward to. Though the Doctor isn’t holding his breath for an invitation. And her future mother-in-law is certainly not amused. But on the big day itself, Donna finds her castle under siege from the darkest of forces, marching at the head of a skeleton army. When it looks like even the Doctor can’t save the day, what will Queen Donna do to save her people from Death itself?” I both love and hate this episode. In terms of plot, it’s really great. Well executed, well plotted, and well paced. My problem comes with the characterization and the dialogue. The Tenth Doctor seems unusually obtuse in this story, especially at the beginning. I mean, he was always a bit obtuse, but here it’s infuriatingly so, and it just feels… wrong? It’s inconsistent with how he’s been written in the rest of this box set and fairly inconsistent with his character in general. Add to that the unnatural and somewhat out of character dialogue that both he and Donna have to say, and you’ve got something that feels vaguely like Doctor Who but also wrong.
The side characters are frustrating as well, particularly the Queen Mum (Alice Krige). She’s written as the stereotypical “evil” Queen who’s too controlling of her son, and it’s just boring. She’s so one dimensional, it’s frustrating. The Prince (Blake Ritson) isn’t really much better, unfortunately. So much time is spent on other things that they’re not given any time to be developed. Even Death (Alan Cox) itself isn’t developed all that well. But, he’s the most entertaining and engaging of all of the antagonists, so, at least that’s something. Overall, this is an episode with an interesting premise, poorly written characters, but, at least, mostly enjoyable. (3 out of 5 wands)
Oddly enough, The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Volume 1 is reflective of exactly how the Tenth Doctor’s era was: extremely uneven. The first and last episodes of the set were mediocre at best, the middle episode was enjoyable, and the characterization of both the Doctor and Donna were kind of all over the place. As always, David Tennant and Catherine Tate delivered strong performances, but those performances can only go so far. The sound design is nice, and the episodes are well directed. It’s just that they’re let down by some uninspired monsters and uneven dialogue. I still recommend it, if only for that middle episode, The Time Reaver. That one’s lots of fun, and it’s nice having more adventures with Tennant’s Doctor.
(3 out of 5 wands)